_Note: This is probably pretty crusty._

नागार्जुन; Nāgārjuna

* [Description]:
Indian Buddhist philosopher, born c. 150 CE. Nāgārjuna is highly regarded in many later Buddhist sects, and several draw on him as an authoritative figure. His work is challenging in the original and exceedingly difficult to grasp through the screen of translation, as a result of which there are many competing interpretations of him in current scholarship. This is so despite his writing itself, which is lucid, precise, and composed in perfect [Sanskrit], unlike most Indian Buddhist scriptures, which are generally in either Pāli (the [Theravāda] canon) or [Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit] (Mahāyāna writings), which is a “bastard” ([Franklin Edgerton]) tongue not to be confused with Sanskrit itself. Nāgārjuna is supposed to have been a Hindu (see [Hinduism]) of the priestly [Brahmin] class; this would explain his extreme fluency in the language of Hindu ritual and philosophy, which was eschewed by most of Buddhism.
It is difficult to place him within the Buddhist tradition precisely; he is traditionally seen as a Mahāyāna teacher, and despite the protestations (which are not wholly baseless) of David Kalupahana, this seems more reasonable than not, as the ways in which Nāgārjuna uses the two-truths doctrine (see [Upaya] and the concept of śūnyatā ([Sunyata]) (“Emptiness”), and the radicality of his attack on the scholastic [Abhidhamma] metaphyiscs suggest a movement away from the early Buddhist framework. However, even in his breaks from Theravāda, Nāgārjuna is highly traditional, drawing not on the poetically brilliant but philosophically unrigorous Mahāyāna sutras but on the Pāli canon and the word of the Buddha. (Well, obviously scholarship doesn’t regard the Pāli canon as reporting directly the “word” of the Buddha, but Nāgārjuna was doing his damnedest.) When he does present concepts which later become keynotes of the Mahāyāna tradition, he does not generally use specifically Mahāyānist terminology, but rather the older forms on which the Mahāyāna drew in establishing itself. And it should be recognized that there are certain characteristic Mahāyānist excesses, especially in the realm of metaphysics, of which Nāgārjuna does not partake; in fact, his analysis of śūnyatā is markedly incompatible with many Mahāyāna metaphysical systems, and in keeping not merely with the Pāli cannon, but with the oldest Buddhist scriptures (the Atthakavagga and Parāyaṇavagga) (See [Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga], which are characterized by a highly skeptical methodology, and especially a “rejection of all views.” (See [Radical Parcimony]
Nāgārjuna’s most important work (though also over-represented in scholarship, owing perhaps to the extreme scarcity of published editions (let alone translations) of his other works) are the Mūlamadhyamakakārikās [MMK], a collection of verses in the anuṣtubh meter on the “middle way.” The MMK designed as a logical attack on logic, and particularly on logical presentations of all the historically presented Indian metaphysical schemes, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. Encompassing a broad range of metaphysical and epsistemological concepts (motion, causation, being, nihility, preception, salvation, and sundry others), Nāgārjuna sought to refute any ontological assertion along with its denial.
(One of the most essential lines, and most connected with the Atthakavagga-Parāyaṇavagga tradition, reads:

* अस्तीति शाश्वतग्राहो नास्तीत्युच्चेददर्शनं।

* astīti śāśvatagrāho nāstītyuccedadarśanaṁ|
* तस्मादस्तित्वनास्तित्वे नाश्रीयेत विचक्शनः॥
* tasmādastitvanāstitve nāśrīyeta vicakśanaḥ||
“[To say] ‘is’ is eternity-grasping; [to say] ‘is not’ is a nihilistic view. Therefore, those of discerning vision would not have recourse to isance and isnotance.” (MMK 15:10) )
This has sometimes led to the misleading characterization of Nāgārjuna as an anti-dualist. While it is true that Nāgārjuna’s philosophy was fundamentally opposed to all dualisms, it was equally opposed to all monisms and nihilisms, and more or less has to be taken as traditionally pluralist, since he identifies the ultimate emptiness with pratītyasamutpāda, “dependent origination”, which is a traditional Buddhist metaphysical concept. Monists are apt to over-interpret Nāgārjuna’s assertions that the world is like a “dream”, or a “city of angels”; certainly this denies a substantial reality to concrete existence, but it does not lend credence to a Vedantic ascription of substance to something undrlying concrete existence either. On the contrary, Nāgārjuna’s whole point is to show us that substantial existence characterizes neither temporal nor ultimate reality:
* तथागतो यत् स्वभावस् तत् स्वभावम् इदम् जगत्
* tathāgato yat svabhāvas tat svabhāvam idam jagat
* What essence is the thus-gone one (the Buddha), that is the essence which is the world.
* तथागतो निःस्वभावो निःस्वभावम् इदं जगत्। १६
* tathāgato niḥsvabhāvo niḥsvabhāvam idaṁ jagat| 16
* The thus-gone one is devoid of essence; the world is devoid of essence.
At heart, Nāgārjuna avoids both the scholastic pitalls of the Abhidhamma and the metaphysical excesses of the established Mahāyāna; his analysis, vulnerable precisely becuase of its subtlety, is not reducible to any sect, and indeed even makes appeal to the pratyekabuddhas rather than the Buddha himself. (Though of course he also lavishes praise on the Buddha.)
{More commentary pending}

* [Value]: ValueDivine
* [Category]: CategoryPhilosophy, CategoryPhilosophyMetaphysics, CategoryPhilosophyMethodsAndSchools, CategoryReligion, CategoryWriters
* [Quotes]:
* cf. http://www.geocities.com/kukkurovaca/MMKpancataya.pdf
* cf. http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=kukkurovaca
* [Works]:
* Mūlamadhyamakakārikās
* Sundry at http://www.gileht.com/
* [Bibliography]:
* Nancy McCagney
* Nagarjuna and the Philosophy of Openness (Solid translation (with a few typos), interesting but not dynamic analysis, balanced historical overview of scholarship)
* David Kalupahana
* Mulamadhyamakakarika: The Philosophy Of The Middle Way (Okay translation (good to read in conjunction with McCagney’s—they balance each other out), Well-argued but ultimately hopeless attempt to align Nagarjuna with the Theravada, nice reading of Nagarjuna as an empiricst)
* Frederick Streng
* Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning. (Brilliant (though not necessarily always correct) analysis, fascinating translation which, though drastically imperfect, goes a long way towards giving the text the right philosophical feel)
* Me
* Nagarjuna and Chuang-tzu. Unpolished comparison of the two great rebelious Oriental metaphysicians. I wouldn’t suggest it, but for that there’s little work been done in this area, and poor.
* [Connectives]: [Buddhism], CategoryPhilosophyMetaphysics, [Being], [Logic], [Radical Parcimony], [Sanskrit], [Upaya], [Atthakavagga-Parayanavagga]
* [Links]:
* http://www.gileht.com/

From unknown Wed Jun 16 19:50:52 +0200 2004
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 19:50:52 +0200
Subject: Thanks, and a suggestion.
Message-ID: <20040616195052+0200@kukkurovaca.objectis.net>
This is a very helpful site and thank you very much. However, you need to close a few of your tags before applying a period, as in http://www.gileht.com/Streng/preface.htm rather than http://www.gileht.com/Streng/preface.htm. – sometimes we must leave the trifles to the trifling, and I am happy to oblige. :)
Robert Larkin
From kukkurovaca Wed Jun 16 21:10:56 +0200 2004
From: kukkurovaca
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 21:10:56 +0200
Subject: Thanks, and a suggestion.
Message-ID: <20040616211056+0200@kukkurovaca.objectis.net>
In-reply-to: <20040616195052+0200@kukkurovaca.objectis.net>
Well, glad to be help, though I know this page in particular is somewhat of a mess. (I don’t update it as often as I could because I work from multiple computers, many of which don’t deal well with Unicode. Not to mention that Zwiki itself sucks at same). The problem isn’t actually with closing tags, because this site is a wiki, and source text is written in wiki formatting rather than html. (Well, we use some html too). But your point is taken; Zwiki’s link formation often breaks around punctuation. Thanks!