In 'Nagurjana, the limits of thought', Graham Priest defines essence to be 'For something to have an essence (Tibetan: rang bzhin; Sanskrit: svabhava) is for it to be what it is, in and of itself, independently of all other things.'

Who in the European tradition defines essence in this way? Or is the notion of substance more appropriate?


Svabhāva is a bivalent term in Madhyamaka thought; on the one hand, it corresponds (roughly) to Spinoza's notion of substance; on the other hand, it corresponds (roughly) to a Platonic conception of Essence.

Jan Westerhoff's book Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction does a nice job of covering the territory.

If you are interested in reading Nāgārjuna in more depth, Priest's co-author on the paper you cite, Jay Garfield, has published a nice translation with commentary (aimed at a Western audience) of Nāgārjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way.

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  • I have Jan Westerhoffs book, but I find Grahams style more accessible. Thanks for the reference, I may give Garfields book a try. What I'd really like is translation into Bengali as its nearer the sanskrit I presume he wrote in. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 25 '12 at 8:37
  • Did no one earlier than Spinoza give a definition of substance? – Mozibur Ullah Sep 25 '12 at 8:38
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    He did write in Sanskrit; the original text is readily available on the Internet. Not sure about Bengali translations, though. As for Substance, Aristotle did (as ousia) but was not (as far as I recall) as strict about it being self-existent. – Michael Dorfman Sep 25 '12 at 8:41

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