The school’s name is based on the idea from Buddhism that it follows a middle way, steering clear of extreme beliefs like eternalism (everything exists forever) and annihilationism (things have a core essence that disappears when they cease to exist).

Nagarjuna: The Founder of The Middle Way School

Nagarjuna, an influential figure in Buddhist philosophy, lived during the 2nd century CE in ancient India. He is renowned for his profound teachings on the concept of Sunyata, or emptiness, which became a cornerstone of Mahayana Buddhism. Nagarjuna’s works, such as the Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way), emphasized the middle path between extremes and advocated for the understanding of reality beyond conventional distinctions. His philosophy greatly influenced the development of Madhyamaka (“Middle Way”) school and had a lasting impact on Buddhist thought and practice throughout Asia.

The Madhyamaka School: Embracing Emptiness

The Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, whose followers are known as Mādhyamikas, was one of the two main schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism in ancient India. The other school was the Yogācāra.

The Madhyamaka school, or the “Middle Way” school, delves into the nature of reality and existence. It posits that all phenomena lack inherent existence or inherent nature—a concept known as emptiness or shunyata. According to Madhyamaka, clinging to fixed views or concepts leads to suffering, and true wisdom arises from understanding the interdependent and impermanent nature of reality.

The main idea of Madhyamaka Buddhism is that samsara and nirvana are essentially the same. This can be hard to grasp unless you see things in two ways: either separately or as one. When you see the world in a dualistic way, with separate objects (including yourself) coming and going, that’s samsara. But when you don’t see things this way, that’s nirvana. In other words, nirvana is the undivided “true nature” of samsara.

The Doctrine of Two Truths: Ultimate and Relative Realities

A cornerstone of Middle Way Buddhism is the doctrine of the Two Truths: the ultimate truth (paramarthasatya) and the relative truth (samvritisatya). The ultimate truth pertains to the ultimate nature of reality, which is beyond conceptual understanding and transcends dualistic thinking. It encompasses the concept of emptiness and the interconnectedness of all phenomena. On the other hand, the relative truth refers to conventional reality—the everyday world we perceive and interact with using our senses and concepts.

Middle Way Buddhism suggests that everything exists in two truths: absolute and relative. In the absolute sense, all things are united as one, but in the relative sense, there are many distinct things. So, in a way, things are both one and many. We can’t claim there’s only one, nor can we say there are multiple. Instead, we say, “not two.”

As Jigme Lingpa states: “Another way of distinguishing the two truths is to say that there is the “way things appear” and the “way they are.”

Sambhogakaya, also known as “The Enjoyment Body,” represents what’s called “conventional truth.” It’s about how we perceive things initially, seeing them as separate from ourselves (like the distinction between subject and object) or understanding the independence and interconnectedness of the things we can observe and name. Sambhogakaya is visible only to those who reach advanced states of realization.

Paramarthasatya, or “ultimate truth,” denotes the doctrine of Emptiness (sunyata). It signifies the independently arising nature of all phenomena, including oneself.

 “Transcendent wisdom is to be understood and meditated upon. It is by such thorough meditation that the unsurpassable result is gained. Thus the ultimate truth for Bodhisattvas is Transcendent Wisdom.” The Prajnaparamita Sutra

What’s truly intriguing about Emptiness isn’t just understanding it from books or observing reality—it’s the direct experience through visualization and meditation, especially in sacred religious art. During meditation and visualization, the mind enters a state of non-duality, free from the concepts of existence or non-existence. It’s believed that in this state, meditators fully experience Emptiness.

Emptiness unleashes the boundless radiance of innate consciousness. Vajrayana practitioners can attain it by reaching a profound understanding of the mind’s true nature through meditation, once the veils of emotions, ideas, and concepts are lifted.

Practicing Middle Way Buddhism

Practicing Middle Way Buddhism involves cultivating mindfulness and equanimity. It encourages individuals to navigate life’s complexities with a clear and balanced mind, avoiding the pitfalls of attachment and aversion. By embracing the Middle Way, practitioners seek to find peace within themselves and harmony with the world around them.

Middle Way Buddhism offers a path towards inner peace and enlightenment by navigating between extremes and embracing the wisdom of moderation. Rooted in the teachings of Nagarjuna and the Madhyamaka school, this philosophy encourages practitioners to transcend dualistic thinking and cultivate a balanced perspective on reality. With mindfulness and compassion as guiding principles, Middle Way Buddhism continues to inspire seekers on their journey towards spiritual fulfillment and harmonious living.


  • Lingpa, Jigme, and Commented by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche. Treasure of precious qualities. Book one: Sutra teachings. Translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Boston & London, Shambhala, 2010.
  • Lingpa, Jigme. Treasury of Precious Qualities. Book 2: Vajrayana and the Great perfection. Translated by Padmakara translation group, Boston & London, Shambhala, 2013
  • Nagarjuna’s Middle Way: Mulamadhyamakakarika