Urban Dharma Newsletter -
July 13, 2004
This Issue: Buddhism & Nagarjuna
1. The philosophy of Nagarjuna's Middle Way in the context of
the Four Noble Truths. - Thomas J. McFarlane
2. Nagarjuna (c. 150-250) - The Internet Encyclopedia of
3. Seventy Verses on Emptiness - Nagarjuna
Book/CD/Movie: The Wisdom of Nagarjuna - 190 Pages -
(1.6 MB) - A Free ebook from Urban Dharma
to praise others for their virtues - Can but encourage one's
own efforts." - Nagarjuna
derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing
in themselves." - Nagarjuna
is pleasure when a sore is scratched, But to be without sores
is more pleasurable still. Just so, there are pleasures in worldly
desires, But to be without desires is more pleasurable still."
The philosophy of Nagarjuna's Middle Way in the context of the
Four Noble Truths. - Thomas
First Noble Truth: there is suffering, the world is impermanent.
In our terms, this truth expresses the mundane truth that all
things are empty of inherent existence, they are conditioned
and relative. Because we cling to them as if they were permanent
and substantial, suffering is the inevitable consequence.
Second Noble Truth: there is a cause of suffering. The cause
of suffering is clinging to the relative as absolute, the conditioned
as unconditioned, the insubstantial as substantial. The ignorance
of the true emptiness or sunya-nature of things, the confusion
of the real and unreal, is the root error that leads to all
Third Noble Truth: there is an end to suffering. Because
even emptiness is empty, because relativity and conditionedness
themselves are not absolute, suffering is not ultimate. While
the mundane nature of the conditioned is conditionedness, yet
in its ultimate nature, the conditioned is itself the undivided,
unconditioned reality. While the ultimate reality is beyond
the distinctions that hold in the world of the determinate,
yet the ultimate reality is not wholly separate from the determinate,
but is the real nature of the determinate itself. It is because
we already are identical to the unconditioned reality that we
can recognize this truth and become liberated from the imagination
that we are otherwise, and thereby end our suffering.
Fourth Noble Truth: there is a path that leads to the end
of suffering. The Middle Way is the non-exclusive way that destroys
the ignorance of clinging to the relative as absolute. Through
the method of criticism, extreme views are shown to lead to
contradictions which reveal the truth of sunyata with regard
to all things. Ultimately, even sunyata or relativity itself
is denied as absolute, revealing the unutterable unconditioned
reality which is the ultimate nature of ourselves and all things.
Nagarjuna (c. 150-250) - The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
referred to as “the second Buddha” by Tibetan and
East Asian Mahayana (Great Vehicle) traditions of Buddhism,
Nagarjuna proffered trenchant criticisms of Brahminical and
Buddhist substantialist philosophy, theory of knowledge and
approaches to practice. Nagarjuna’s central concept of
the “emptiness (sunyata) of all things (dharmas),”
which pointed to the incessantly changing and so never fixed
nature of all phenomena, served as much as the terminological
prop of subsequent Buddhist philosophical thinking as the vexation
of opposed Vedic systems. The concept had fundamental implications
for Indian philosophical models of causation, substance ontology,
epistemology, conceptualizations of language, ethics and theories
of world-liberating salvation, and proved seminal even for Buddhist
philosophies in India, Tibet, China and Japan very different
from Nagarjuna’s own. Indeed it would not be an overstatement
to say that Nagarjuna’s innovative concept of emptiness,
though it was hermeneutically appropriated in many different
ways by subsequent philosophers in both South and East Asia,
was to profoundly influence the character of Buddhist thought.
Life, Legend and Works
little is known about the actual life of the historical Nagarjuna.
The two most extensive biographies of Nagarjuna, one in Chinese
and the other in Tibetan, were written many centuries after
his life and incorporate much lively but historically unreliable
material which sometimes reaches mythic proportions. However,
from the sketches of historical detail and the legend meant
to be pedagogical in nature, combined with the texts reasonably
attributed to him, some sense may be gained of his place in
the Indian Buddhist and philosophical traditions.
was born a “Hindu,” which in his time connoted religious
allegiance to the Vedas, probably into an upper-caste Brahmin
family and probably in the southern Andhra region of India.
The dates of his life are just as amorphous, but two texts which
may well have been authored by him offer some help. These are
in the form of epistles and were addressed to the historical
king of the northern Satvahana dynasty Gautamiputra Satakarni
(ruled c. 166-196 CE), whose steadfast Brahminical patronage,
constant battles against powerful northern Shaka Satrap rulers
and whose ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempts at
expansion seem to indicate that he could not manage to follow
Nagarjuna’s advice to adopt Buddhist pacifism and maintain
a peaceful realm. At any rate, the imperial correspondence would
place the significant years of Nagarjuna’s life sometime
between 150 and 200 CE. Tibetan sources then may well be basically
accurate in portraying Nagarjuna’s emigration from Andhra
to study Buddhism at Nalanda in present-day Bihar, the future
site of the greatest Buddhist monastery of scholastic learning
in that tradition’s proud history in India. This emigration
to the north perhaps followed the path of the Shaka kings themselves.
In the vibrant intellectual life of a not very tranquil north
India then, Nagarjuna came into his own as a philosopher.
occasion for Nagarjuna’s “conversion” to Buddhism
is uncertain. According to the Tibetan account, it had been
predicted that Nagarjuna would die at an early age, so his parents
decided to head off this terrible fate by entering him in the
Buddhist order, after which his health promptly improved. He
then moved to the north and began his tutelage. The other, more
colorful Chinese legend, portrays a devilish young adolescent
using magical yogic powers to sneak, with a few friends, into
the king’s harem and seduce his mistresses. Nagarjuna
was able to escape when they were detected, but his friends
were all apprehended and executed, and, realizing what a precarious
business the pursuit of desires was, Nagarjuna renounced the
world and sought enlightenment. After having been converted,
Nagarjuna’s adroitness at magic and meditation earned
him an invitation to the bottom of the ocean, the home of the
serpent kingdom. While there, the prodigy initiate “discovered”
the “wisdom literature” of the Buddhist tradition,
known as the Prajnaparamita Sutras, and on the credit of his
great merit, returned them to the world, and thereafter was
known by the name Nagarjuna, the “noble serpent.”
the tradition’s insistence that immersion into the scriptural
texts of the competing movements of classical Theravada and
emerging “Great Vehicle” (Mahayana) Buddhism was
what spurred Nagarjuna’s writings, there is rare extended
reference to the early and voluminous classical Buddhist sutras
and to the Mahayana texts which were then being composed in
Nagarjuna’s own language of choice, Sanskrit. It is much
more likely that Nagarjuna thrived on the exciting new scholastic
philosophical debates that were spreading throughout north India
among and between Brahminical and Buddhist thinkers. Buddhism
by this time had perhaps the oldest competing systematic worldview
on the scene, but by then Vedic schools such as Samkhya, which
divided the cosmos into spiritual and material entities, Yoga,
the discipline of meditation, and Vaisesika, or atomism were
probably well-established. But new and exciting things were
happening in the debate halls. A new Vedic school of Logic (Nyaya)
was making its literary debut, positing an elaborate realism
which categorized the types of basic knowable things in the
world, formulated a theory of knowledge which was to serve as
the basis for all claims to truth, and drew out a full-blown
theory of correct and fallacious logical argumentation. Alongside
it, within the Buddhist camp, sects of metaphysicians emerged
with their own doctrines of atomism and fundamental categories
of substance. Nagarjuna was to undertake a forceful engagement
of both these new Brahminical and Buddhist movements, an intellectual
endeavor till then unheard of.
saw in the concept sunya, a concept which connoted in the early
Pali Buddhist literature the lack of a stable, inherent existence
in persons, but which since the third century BCE had also denoted
the newly formulated number “zero,” the interpretive
key to the heart of Buddhist teaching, and the undoing of all
the metaphysical schools of philosophy which were at the time
flourishing around him. Indeed, Nagarjuna’s philosophy
can be seen as an attempt to deconstruct all systems of thought
which analyzed the world in terms of fixed substances and essences.
Things in fact lack essence, according to Nagarjuna, they have
no fixed nature, and indeed it is only because of this lack
of essential, immutable being that change is possible, that
one thing can transform into another. Each thing can only have
its existence through its lack (sunyata) of inherent, eternal
essence. With this new concept of “emptiness,” “voidness,”
“lack” of essence, “zeroness,” this
somewhat unlikely prodigy was to help mold the vocabulary and
character of Buddhist thought forever.
with the notion of the “emptiness” of all things,
Nagarjuna built his literary corpus. While argument still persists
over which of the texts bearing his name can be reliably attributed
to Nagarjuna, a general agreement seems to have been reached
in the scholarly literature. Since it is not known in what chronological
order his writings were produced, the best that can be done
is to arrange them thematically according to works on Buddhist
topics, Brahminical topics and finally ethics Addressing the
schools of what he considered metaphysically wayward Buddhism,
Nagarjuna wrote Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mulamadhyamakakarika),
and then, in order to further refine his newly coined and revolutionary
concept, the Seventy Verses on Emptiness (Sunyatasaptati), followed
by a treatise on Buddhist philosophical method, the Sixty Verses
on Reasoning (Yuktisastika).. Included in the works addressed
to Buddhists may have been a further treatise on the shared
empirical world and its establishment through social custom,
called Proof of Convention (Vyavaharasiddhi), though save for
a few cited verses, this is lost to us, as well as an instructional
book on practice, cited by one Indian and a number of Chinese
commentators, the Preparation for Enlightenment (Bodhisambaraka).
Finally is a didactic work on the causal theory of Buddhism,
the Constituents of Dependent Arising (Pratityasumutpadahrdaya).
Next came a series of works on philosophical method, which for
the most part were reactionary critiques of Brahminical substantialist
and epistemological categories, The End of Disputes (Vigrahavyavartani)
and the not-too-subtly titled Pulverizing the Categories (Vaidalyaprakarana).
Finally are a pair of religious and ethical treatises addressed
to the king Gautamiputra, entitled To a Good Friend (Suhrlekha)
and Precious Garland (Ratnavali). Nagarjuna then was a fairly
active author, addressing the most pressing philosophical issues
in the Buddhism and Brahmanism of his time, and more than that,
carrying his Buddhist ideas into the fields of social, ethical
and political philosophy.
is again not known precisely how long Nagarjuna lived. But the
legendary story of his death once again is a tribute to his
status in the Buddhist tradition. Tibetan biographies tell us
that, when Gautamiputra’s successor was about to ascend
to the throne, he was anxious to find a replacement as a spiritual
advisor to better suit his Brahmanical preferences, and unsure
of how to delicately or diplomatically deal with Nagarjuna,
he forthrightly requested the sage to accommodate and show compassion
for his predicament by committing suicide. Nagarjuna assented,
and was decapitated with a blade of holy grass which he himself
had some time previously accidentally uprooted while looking
for materials for his meditation cushion. The indomitable logician
could only be brought down by his own will and his own weapon.
Whether true or not, this master of skeptical method would well
have appreciated the irony.
Seventy Verses on Emptiness - Nagarjuna - Note: This version
of Seventy Verses on Emptiness displayed here is an edited version
by David Quinn, based on a translation by Peter Della
origination, destruction, existence, non-existence, inferiority,
mediocrity and superiority were taught by the Buddha in accord
with conventional usage, not by the power of the real.
is not anything which corresponds to the expressions: not-self,
not not-self, both self and not-self, because all factors which
can be spoken of are -- like Nirvana -- empty in their intrinsic
the intrinsic being of all entities does not exist in their
causes and conditions, either together or separately, or in
any way at all, they are empty.
existent does not originate because it is existent. The non-existent
does not originate because it is non-existent. The existent
and non-existent also does not originate because they are heterogeneous.
Because there is no origination, there is no duration and no
originated is not the object to be originated. The unoriginated
is also not the object to be originated. The object at the time
of origination is also not the object to be originated, because
it would be originated and unoriginated.
the effect is existent, the cause will possess the effect. If
nonexistent, the cause will be equal to a non-cause. If neither
existent nor non-existent, it is contradictory. Nor again is
a cause justified in the three times [past, present and future].
one, many does not occur. Without many, one does not occur.
Therefore, interdependently originated entities are without
form and attributes.
can what is not established in its own intrinsic being produce
another? A condition which is not established cannot cause the
origination of another.
father is not the son, nor is the son the father, nor do they
exist without mutual dependence, nor are they identical. The
same is true for the twelve constituents.
the happiness and suffering which depend upon an object in a
dream, nor that object itself, are existent. Similarly, neither
that which originates dependently, nor that upon which it depends,
entities are not existent in their intrinsic being, then neither
inferiority, mediocrity nor superiority, nor the manifold objects
of experience as such, are existent.
neither origination nor cessation are existent, then Nirvana
is the cessation of what exactly? What neither originates nor
ceases - is this not liberation?
Nirvana were cessation, it would be annihilation. If it were
otherwise, it would be permanence. Therefore, Nirvana is neither
being nor non-being. It neither originates, nor ceases.
characteristic is established by the substratum of the characteristic.
The substratum of the characteristic is established by the characteristic,
but they are not established independently, nor are they established
by one another. What is not established is not that which establishes
another which is not established.
this analysis, cause and effect, experience and the subject
of experience, as well as the subject and object of vision,
hearing, etc, -- indeed, whatever may exist -- are all explained
three times are non-existent and are mere imagination. They
are non-enduring, reciprocally established, disordered, not
established independently and thus, like all entities, non-existent.
the three characteristics of the compounded object -- origination,
duration and destruction -- are non-existent, the compounded
and the uncompounded are also non-existent.
compounded and the uncompounded are neither manifold nor unitary,
neither existent nor non-existent, nor both existent and non-existent.
Within this perimeter, all possibilities are included.
Blessed One proclaimed the enduring nature of actions. He proclaimed
actions and their effects. He proclaimed that the sentient being
is the agent of actions and that actions are not lost.
it has been demonstrated that they are without intrinsic being,
actions do not originate, so they cannot be destroyed. Actions
originate from self-clinging. That clinging which produces actions
also originates from imagination.
actions existed in their intrinsic being, then the body originated
from them would be permanent. They would not be endowed with
the maturing effect of suffering. Therefore, actions would also
originated from conditions are not in the least existent, nor
are actions originated without conditions existent. Compounded
objects and events are like an illusion, a fairy city and a
are the cause of actions. Volition consists of actions and afflictions.
Actions are the cause of the body, therefore all three are empty
in their intrinsic being.
actions, there is no agent. Without those two, there is no effect.
Without an effect, there is consequently no subject of experience.
Hence, they are all empty.
one knows very well actions to be empty, actions will not originate,
simply because of this perception of reality. Without actions,
that which originates from actions will not originate.
the Blessed One, the Tathagata creates an illusory creation
by means of illusory emanation, that illusory creation creates
another illusory creation.
them, the illusory creation that is the Tathagata is also empty.
What need is there to say anything about the illusory creation
of an illusory creation? They are both existent insofar as anything
which is mere imagination.
the agent is like the illusory creation, and actions are like
the illusory creation of an illusory creation. They are empty
in their intrinsic being and exist insofar as anything which
is mere imagination.
actions existed in their intrinsic being, there would be no
Nirvana and no agent of actions. If they were non-existent,
there would be no attractive and unattractive effects originated
exists the statement of existence and also the statement of
non-existence and again the statement of both existence and
non-existence. The intentional proclamations of the Buddhas
are not easily penetrated.
awareness apprehended form, it would be apprehended as the very
intrinsic being of awareness. How could non-existent awareness
originated from conditions apprehend non-existent form?
the originated momentary awareness does not apprehend the originated
momentary form, how could it comprehend past and future form?
colour and shape never exist separately, the separate are not
apprehended as one, because the two are known as form.
awareness is not existent in the eye. It is not existent in
form, nor in the space in between. What is constructed dependent
upon the eye and form is erroneous.
the eye does not see itself, how can it see form? Therefore,
the eye and form are insubstantial. The remaining sense spheres
are also similar.
eye is empty of its own substantiality. It is empty of another's
substantiality. Similarly, form is also empty, and also the
remaining sense spheres.
originates dependent upon an object of consciousness, therefore
it is non-existent. Without cognition and an object of consciousness,
there is consequently no consciousness at all.
is impermanent, but impermanence or permanence never existed.
If an entity existed, it would be impermanent or permanent,
but how can it exist in the first place?
from the conditions of attraction, repulsion and error, attachment,
aversion and delusion originate. Therefore, attachment, aversion
and delusion are non-existent in their intrinsic being.
object of imagination is not existent. Without the object of
imagination, how is imagination existent? Therefore, since they
are originated from conditions, the object of imagination, and
imagination itself, are empty.
there is perception of the real, no ignorance originates from
the four erroneous views. Since that ignorance is non-existent,
volitions do not originate.
originates dependent upon that, originates from that. Without
that, it does not originate. Entities and non-entities as well
as compounded factors and uncompounded factors are peace and
originated from causes and conditions are imputed by ordinary
people to be real. That is proclaimed to be ignorance by the
there is perception of the real, of entities as empty, ignorance
does not originate. Just that is the cessation of ignorance.
When that happens, the twelve constituents cease.
objects and events are like a fairy city, an illusion, a mirage,
a bubble of water, foam and like a dream and the circle of the
entity whatsoever is existent in its intrinsic being. Entities
and non-entities originated from causes and conditions are empty.
all entities are empty in their intrinsic being, the Interdependent
Origination of entities is demonstrated by the incomparable
ultimate is none other than this Emptiness. The Blessed Buddha,
relying upon conventional usage, imagined all possibilities.
doctrine of the world is not destroyed. In reality, no factor
at all is demonstrated. Not comprehending the proclamation of
the Tathagata, ordinary people are consequently afraid of the
unsupported and unimaginable truth.
way of the world, "dependent upon this, that originates",
is not negated. What is interdependently originated is without
intrinsic being, so how does it exist? This is perfect certitude.
who has faith, who diligently seeks the ultimate, not relying
upon any demonstrated factor, inclined to subject the way of
the world to reason, abandoning being and non-being attains
comprehended apparent conditionality, the net of false views
is swept aside. Consequently, abandoning attachment, delusion
and anger, without stain, one surely reaches Nirvana.
to the Buddha's Grove. Inspired by the Jeta's Grove where Sakyamuni
Buddha (the original Buddha) held many of his most important
talks 2500 years ago, this site offers a handful of leaves that
is the Buddha's teachings, the Buddhadharma, plucked from the
spirit of the ancient Grove, as written by old famous masters
and students as well as contemporary ones. The teachings of
the Buddhadharma are vaster than any website can publish, but
this humble presentation of leaves will hopefully be able to
aid the new and experienced practitioners alike on their way.
creating this website, I've strived for simplicity and clarity,
in layout as well as visually, to ease the eyes and mind of
the reader. The aim of this site is of course to help Buddhist
practitioners as much as possible with a selection of the best
Buddhist writings available on the internet, and if you feel
that something is missing or you might have something to contribute,
any submissions would be appreciated.
Poetry & Stories section should set you in the right spirit
of the Grove and this is the place to enjoy a selection of famous
and not-so-famous Dharma paintings with words, or relax with
a good short story. A poem or story can capture the essence
of the Dharma in ways that are not possible otherwise, so don't
let this opportunity pass by.
the Theravada Writings section you'll find the teachings of
the Buddha in its most ancient and preserved incarnation, Theravada
traditionally being the school that upholds the original teachings
of the Buddha, although much of the material is written by contemporary
authors of that tradition, especially of the Forest Tradition.
the Zen / Ch'an Writings section you'll find the teachings of
the Zen (Chinese: Ch'an) school, but only the teachings of the
old masters which have been acknowledged as canon, in order
to ensure authenticity, in a time where the wisdom of many contemporary
masters have been brought into question. As Zen is often said
to be a symbiosis of Buddhism and Taoism, and also draws from
Taoist scriptures for wisdom, a selection of classics from the
Taoist Canon has also been included.
Other Mahayana Writings contains all generic Mahayana teachings,
such as sutras, shastras and so forth, as well as the teachings
of the Non-Zen Mahayana schools on this website. I have put
a special emphasis on the Dzogchen and Mahamudra traditions
of Vajrayana to meet the popularity of just these schools, and
surely these will prove of special interest to Zen students
as well, who will note the striking similarity with the Zen
Path, especially that of the Cao Dong (Silent Illumination)
and Soto sects. As with the Zen section, I have tried to stick
with the 'canon' teachers of the past, to ensure the authenticity
of the Dharma presented on this website.
take all these divisions so seriously though. Some Theravada
leaves are just as much Zen as they are Theravada and vice versa.
Basically, they are all Dharma leaves, so please visit all sections
no matter what tradition you uphold. As it is written in the
famous Zen poem the Song of Enlightenment:
someone asks, what is your sect,
how do you understand it?
reply, the power of tremendous prajna."
that is something that cannot be defined or confined by any
you leave the Grove, stop by the Buddhist Links & Webrings
pages, which will take you further into the Buddhist internet
community. Be sure to check the Updates & News section when
you return to see what's been added since your last visit.
come on, listen to the chatter of birds, feel the sun shining
through the cluster of trees warming your travel-worn body,
sit down and relax in the Buddha's Grove. Hopefully, you'll
leave a little bit wiser than when you came. - Anders Honoré.
The Wisdom of Nagarjuna - 190 Pages - (1.6 MB) - A Free
ebook from Urban Dharma
Wisdom of Nagarjuna — Dr Peter Della Santina
holds an almost unequaled place among the ranks of those Buddhist
saints who expounded the teaching of the Buddha Sakyamuni for
the benefit of the world. Nagarjuna revolutionized the interpretation
of the doctrine of the Enlightened One which was current at
his time and lent it a vitality and dynamism which has continued
to sustain it even to our day among the votaries of the Mahayana.
The revolution which Nagarjuna accomplished within the fold
of Buddhism was not a radical departure from the original doctrine
of the Buddha Sakyamuni. On the contrary, the adherents of the
Madhyamaka school are undoubtedly justified in asserting that
their interpretation represents the true import of the doctrine
of the Buddha and the essence of Buddhism.
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