Connie Kassor – Why Can’t Mādhyamikas Finish What They Started? An exploration of awakened awareness (ye shes)

Prof. Connie Kassor

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Lawrence University

Why Can’t Mādhyamikas Finish What They Started?
An exploration of awakened awareness (ye shes)

The Philosophy of Religions Workshop is excited to host Prof. Connie Kassor of Lawrence University, who will be presenting on a portion of her upcoming book Accounting for Awakened Awareness: The Madhyamaka Philosophy of Gorampa Sonam Senge (linked below).  Prof. Kassor summarizes the topic of the workshop as follows:

“What I’m exploring here is the nature of a fully awakened buddha’s awareness (ye shes, jñāna). According to Gorampa, a fully awakened being’s mind can be understood from two perspectives: From a Buddha’s own perspective (rang snang), conventional phenomena do not appear. But from the perspective of others (gzhan snang), it can be said that conventional appearances do exist for a Buddha. This is a strange and seemingly unsatisfying position that has puzzled me for some time.
I think that Gorampa arrives at this position for three reasons: first, he is thoroughly committed to a logically coherent and consistent system of thought; second, he is committed to reading Candrakīrti as literally as possible; and third, he finds the position on this matter put forth by his philosophical opponent Tsongkhapa unsatisfactory.
What I am puzzling over — and what I hope we can discuss together — is why Gorampa arrives at this position. Might there be some other, more satisfying way that someone like Gorampa can successfully refute Tsongkhapa while also remaining faithful to Candrakīrti and to Madhyamaka systems of logic and reasoning?
What follows is largely informed by the Synopsis of Madhyamaka (dbu ma’i spyi don), Gorampa’s longest and most detailed Madhyamaka text. This text describes Madhyamaka in terms of the basis (gzhi) that is to be understood, Madhyamaka in terms of the path (lam) that is to be practiced, and Madhyamaka in terms of the result (‘bras bu) that is to be realized. Gorampa’s investigations into the nature of an awakened being’s mind occur in the final Result section.”

This workshop will focus on a pre-circulated paper (contact the Workshop for the password if you plan to attend) and will be largely discussion-based. We hope to see you there!

TOMORROW, April 14th, 12:30 PM, Swift 201

Hosted by the Philosophy of Religions Workshop at the University of Chicago.


The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions is committed to being a fully accessible and incl usive workshop.  Please contact Workshop Coordinators Danica Cao (, Audrey Guilbault (, or John Marvin ( in order to make any arrangements necessary to facilitate your participation in workshop events.

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