The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (मूलमध्यमककारिका, Root Verses on the Middle Way), abbreviated as MMK, is the foundational text of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy. It was composed by the Indian philosopher Nāgārjuna (approximately around 150 CE).
The MMK makes use of reductio arguments to show how all phenomena (dharmas) are empty of svabhava (which has been variously translated as essence, own-being, or inherent existence). The MMK is widely regarded as one of the most influential and widely studied texts in the history of Buddhist philosophy. +more The MMK had a major impact on the subsequent development of Buddhist thought, especially in Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism.
The MMK is the work of Nāgārjuna, an Indian Buddhist monk and philosopher writing in Sanskrit. Very little is known about this figure, including exactly where he lived (somewhere in the Indian subcontinent), exactly what time (some time around the 2nd or 3rd century CE), and how many texts he composed. +more As with many early Indian historical figures, the biographical information which does exist is mainly hagiographical and from later periods. Most scholars agree that Nāgārjuna was a Mahāyāna Buddhist who believed all things (dharmas) to be empty, or without an intrinsic existence and nature (svabhāva). Beyond that, little can be said about him with certainty.
During the second and third centuries, Mahāyāna ideas were held by a minority of Buddhists in India who lived within the communities of Nikāya Buddhism (i. e. +more non-Mahāyāna Buddhism). Although all the major Buddhist schools at the time held that the person was empty of any eternal self or soul, some of the Abhidharma schools conceived of dharmas (transient phenomena, impermanent events) as ultimately real entities (dravyata) that had essences or "intrinsic natures" (svabhāva). These intrinsic natures were seen as an independent part of a phenomenon, an inherent self-sufficiency that was not caused by something else. Abhidharma schools like the Vaibhasikas accepted this doctrine and did not see it as conflicting with the idea of dependent origination.
In the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Nāgārjuna sought to refute these essentialist ideas found in Buddhist traditions such as Vaibhasika and Pudgalavada, as well as in Brahmanical schools of thought like Nyaya who also defended an essence based metaphysics. As such, his philosophy is also often termed Niḥsvabhāvavāda (the no svabhāva doctrine).
Nāgārjuna's main contention with svabhāva theories was that they contradicted the fundamental Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda). Furthermore, essence theories are not in agreement with the Mahāyāna sutras Nāgārjuna would have been familiar with. +more These sutras, particularly the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, teach a kind of comprehensive illusionist ontology that sees all dharmas, even nirvana and Buddhahood, as being empty and like an illusion. This illusionism was not totally new, since similar ideas about emptiness can be found in the early Buddhist texts (see: Samyutta Nikaya 22:95, as well as Samyukta Āgama 335 and 297). However, the Prajñāpāramitā texts are unique in seeing all dharmas, including nirvana, as empty illusions. The MMK cites the Kaccānagotta Sutta, an early Buddhist text, from which it draws one of its major ideas regarding the middle way: the explanation of "right-view" as being a middle way between saying that "everything exists" (referring to the view of permanent existence: Pali: atthitā, Skt. astitva) and saying that "everything does not exist" (non-existence; Pali: n'atthitā, Skt nāstitva). This middle way is then defined as the 12 principles (dvādaśāṅga) of dependent origination.
Thus, Nāgārjuna's main project was to develop the philosophical position of the Buddha's teaching of dependent origination and not-self/emptiness as well as the ideas of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras in a logical and systematic manner by refuting svabhāva theories and self theories.
The text is a series of 450 verses (karikas) organized into 27 chapters. The verses are aphoristic, often enigmatic, and extremely short. +more The text's arguments are presented in a highly compressed and concise form. This is because the text is a karika-style work. Such texts were meant to be memorized as an aid to learning by students. The text's arguments would be filled out through the oral commentary of a master. As such, the karikas are like a verse outline of the major philosophical arguments of an oral tradition.
The text seems to be mainly addressed to a Buddhist audience, particularly those who followed Abhidharma doctrines which held that dharmas are ultimately real and have svabhava (an intrinsic nature). The MMK takes up numerous Buddhist Abhidharma categories and ideas and examines them to show that they are empty and cannot have intrinsic nature. +more The MMK presents various arguments, mostly reductio in style, such as showing that an idea leads to an infinite regress.
The text begins with the following dedication verse:I salute the Fully Enlightened One, the best of orators, who taught the doctrine of dependent origination, according to which there is neither cessation nor origination, neither annihilation nor the eternal, neither singularity nor plurality, neither the coming nor the going [of any dharma, for the purpose of nirvāṇa characterized by] the auspicious cessation of hypostatization.The dedication sets out the main goal of the MMK, to eliminate conceptual proliferation, reification and hypostatization (prapañca), which expresses itself in different philosophical concepts such as essentialism, eternalism and annihilationism.
The first chapter discusses causation. The main thesis to be defended is given in the first verse:Not from itself, not from another, not from both, nor without cause: Never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen. +moreTo put it another way, the main thesis which Nāgārjuna will defend here is that phenomena (dharmas) do not come into being in any of the following four ways:.
* By being self-caused, or due to the fact that the effect was already present in the cause (hetu). This view was called satkāryavāda. +more * By being caused by something else (asatkāryavāda), the cause and the effect being distinct entities * A combination of both of the above, i. e. the cause and the effect and both identical and different * Acausality, phenomena originate without causes (ahetu).
The main view that MMK focuses on debating with is the second one, which is held by Buddhist Abhidharma theorists which put forth four main forms of conditionality: the primary cause (hetu-pratyaya), the objective support (ārambaṇa-pratyaya), the proximate condition (samanantara-pratyaya), and the dominant condition (adhipati-pratyaya). The MMK takes up each one in order to refute them, arguing that, for those who hold that cause and effect are distinct, the producing relation can only be a conceptual construction.
The 27 chapters of the MMK are as follows:
# : Analysis of conditions # : Analysis of going and not going # : Analysis of the eye and the other sense-organs # : Analysis of the skandhas ("aggregates") # : Analysis of the +more81tus'>dhatūs ("constituents") # : Analysis of desire and the desirous # : Analysis of the constructed # : Analysis of action and actor # : Analysis of the past # : Analysis of fire and fuel # : Analysis of initial and final limits # : Analysis of suffering # : Analysis of mental constructions # : Analysis of admixture # : Analysis of own-nature # : Analysis of bondage and liberation # : Analysis of action (karma) and its fruit # : Analysis of the self (atman). # : Analysis of time # : Analysis of combination # : Analysis of becoming and un-becoming # : Analysis of the Tathāgata. # : Analysis of Error # : Analysis of the Noble Truths # : Analysis of # : Analysis of the twelve links (of dependent origination) # : Analysis of views.
The authenticity of the last two chapters is disputed, and they may have been later additions, not composed by Nāgārjuna. However, most ancient commentaries take them to be canonical.
Different scholars divide up the work into different main parts. According to Jay Garfield, the MMK can be divided into four main sections:
# Chapters 1 through 7, which focus on the fundamental theoretical constructs in Buddhist ontology, such as dependent origination, change and impermanence, perception, the five aggregates, the elements or properties of things, and the relation between substance and attribute. All of these are shown to be empty of own-nature or essence. +more # Chapters 8 through 13 focus on the nature of the self and of subjective experience. # Chapters 14 through 21 are mainly concerned with the external world and the relation of the self to objects. # Chapters 22 through 27 discuss phenomena associated with the ultimate truth, such as buddhahood, emptiness, and nirvana (it is argued that all of these are also empty), as well as the relation of the conventional truth to the ultimate phenomena.
As a kārikā-style text, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā presents only aphoristic, often enigmatic and extremely short verses, much like the sūtra works of the various Hindu philosophical schools. Since they served primarily as pedagogical or mnemonic aids for teachers, commentaries were required to make the meaning of this type of text more explicit to the uninitiated reader.
The Indian Akutobhayā, whose authorship is unknown, though is attributed to Nagarjuna in the tradition, is held by Ames to be the earliest commentary on the MMK. C. +moreW. Huntington has suggested that this commentary may not have been considered a separate text, but instead may have been a set of notes which may go back to oral explanations of the root text by Nāgārjuna himself.
The earliest known commentary on the MMK by another author is preserved within the first Chinese translation of the Kārikā, known as the "Middle Treatise" ( Zhong Lun), translated by Kumarajiva in 409. The author of this commentary is given as either "Blue Eyes" (back translated as *Vimalākṣa) or *Piṅgala . +more This is by far the best known commentary in the East Asian Mādhyamaka tradition, forming one of the three commentaries that make up the Sanlun ("Three Treatise") school. An influential figure of the Sanlun school is Jízàng (549-623), who wrote a commentary on the Middle Treatise in Chinese, the Zhongguanlun shu .
Other surviving and influential Indian commentaries on the MMK include Buddhapālita's (c. 470-550) "Madhyamakvr̩tti" and Bhāviveka's (c. +more 500-578) "Prajñāpradīpa" (Lamp of Wisdom). The most influential commentary in later Indian and Tibetan Buddhism is Candrakirti's (c. 7th century) Prasannapadā (Clear Words), which survives in Sanskrit and Tibetan translation. An MMK commentary by the Indian Yogacara philosopher Sthiramati also survives in Chinese.
In Tibet, various influential Tibetan language commentaries were written on the MMK. An early and important commentary is Ornament of Reason by Mabja Jangchub Tsöndrü (12th century). +more In the Gelug school, the key and definitive commentary is Je Tsongkhapa's (1357-1419) Ocean of Reasoning. Meanwhile, in the Nyingma school, the most important commentaries are by more recent figures, mainly Ju Mipham and Khenpo Shenga.
During the modern and contemporary periods, new commentaries have been written from different perspectives. David Kalupahana, a Sri Lankan scholar, wrote a commentary (Kalupahana 1986) which interprets the text from an early Buddhist perspective. +more Meanwhile, Jay Garfield has published an English translation and commentary (Garfield 1995) which, though influenced by Tibetan interpretations, also attempts to explain the text to Western philosophers. Gudo Nishijima wrote a commentary from a Soto Zen perspective, while Siderits and Katsura have published a translation and commentary (2013) which mainly follow the classical Sanskrit tradition.
Modern scholarly interpretations
As noted by Ruegg, Western scholarship has given a broad variety of interpretations of Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka thought in the MMK, including: "nihilism, monism, irrationalism, misology, agnosticism, scepticism, criticism, dialectic, mysticism, acosmism, absolutism, relativism, nominalism, and linguistic analysis with therapeutic value".
Some of the main scholarly interpretations of Nagarjuna's MMK include the following:
* The Kantian interpretation, exemplified by Theodore Stcherbatsky’s "The Conception of Buddhist Nirvāna" (1927). This Kantian interpretation saw Nagarjuna as dividing the world into a realm of appearance or phenomenon (saṃsāra) and a realm of absolute reality or noumenon (nirvāṇa). +more This is also seen in T. R. V. Murti's 1955 "The Central Philosophy of Buddhism". * The Pyrrhonian skeptic interpretation. Some scholars, such as Thomas McEvilley, have either argued that Nagarjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonism or see Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka as similar to that of Pyrrhonist philosophers such as Sextus Empiricus. * The analytic interpretation, exemplified by Richard Robinson's 1957 article “Some Logical Aspects of Nāgārjuna’s System”, sought to explain Madhyamaka using analytic philosophy's logical apparatus. , Richard P. Hayes meanwhile, using analytical logic, critiques Nagarjuna as irrational and as relying on "fallacies and tricks". * The Pragmatist interpretation, exemplified by David Kalupahana's translation and commentary of the MMK. * The Wittgensteinian interpretation, exemplified by Frederick Streng's "Emptiness" and Chris Gudmunsen's "Wittgenstein and Buddhism", which stressed the similarities between Nāgārjuna and the later Wittgenstein's linguistic philosophy. * American philosopher Mark Siderits has defended a svātantrika position. * Garfield, Napper, Hopkins, have adopted Gelug prāsaṅgika influenced interpretation. Jay Garfield has defended the use of modern logic to interpret Nagarjuna's MMK. * C. W. Huntington criticizes the reading of Nagarjuna through the use of modern analytical logic, since he sees Nagarjuna as "distrustful of logic". He puts forth a more literary interpretation that focuses on the effect Nagarjuna was attempting to "conjure" on his readers (i. e. an experience of having no views). * Jan Westerhoff, argues that Nagarjuna's thought is a kind of anti-foundationalism, "which does not just deny the objective, intrinsic, and mind-independent existence of some class of objects, but rejects such existence for any kinds of objects that we could regard as the most fundamental building-blocks of the world. ".
|Richard Jones||Nagarjuna: Buddhism's Most Important Philosopher||Jackson Square Books||2014||Translation from the Sanskrit of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Nagarjuna's other available Sanskrit texts.|
|Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura||Nāgārjuna's Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā||Wisdom Publications||2013||A new translation from the Sanskrit. +more Sanskrit verses are presented in Roman characters prior to their translations. The authors have created a brief running commentary that conveys interpretations given in extant Indian commentaries in order to capture the early Indian perspectives on the work.|
|Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Brad Warner||Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika||Monkfish Book Publishing||2011||A modern interpretation from a Zen perspective.|
|Mabja Jangchub Tsöndrü||Ornament of Reason: The Great Commentary to Nagarjuna's Root of the Middle Way||Snow Lion||2011||Commentary translated by The Dharmachakra Translation Committee.|
|Padmakara Translation Group||The Root Stanzas on the Middle Way||Éditions Padmakara||2008||A translation from the Tibetan, following (but not including) the commentary of the Nyingma and Rimé master Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche. This volume, containing both the Tibetan text and translation, was made to mark the visit of the Dalai Lama to France in August 2008, and as a support for the teachings scheduled for that occasion.|
|Luetchford, Michael J.||Between Heaven and Earth - From Nagarjuna to Dogen||Windbell Publications||2002||A translation and interpretation with references to the philosophy of Zen Master Dogen.|
|Batchelor, Stephen||Verses from the Center||Diane Publishing||2000||Batchelor's translation is the first nonacademic, idiomatic English version of the text.|
|McCagney, Nancy||Nagarjuna and the Philosophy of Openness||Rowman & Littlefield||1997||Romanized text, translation and philosophical analysis.|
|Garfield, Jay L.||The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way||Oxford University Press||1995||A translation of the Tibetan version together with commentary.|
|Bocking, Brian||Nagarjuna in China: A Translation of the Middle Treatise||Edwin Mellen Press||1995||Kumarajiva's Chinese version with commentary by Blue Eyes.|
|Kalupahana, David J.||Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way||State University of New York Press||1986||Romanized text, translation, and commentary. Interpretation of the text in the light of the Canon.|
|Sprung, Mervyn||Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way||Prajna Press, Boulder||1979||Partial translation of the verses together with Chandrakirti's commentary.|
|Inada, Kenneth K.||Nagarjuna: A Translation of his Mulamadhyamakakarika With an Introductory Essay||The Hokuseido Press||1970||Romanized text and translation.|
|Streng, Frederick||Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning||Abdingdon Press||1967||(predates ISBN)||Translation and considerable analysis.|
: Neither from itself nor from another, : Nor from both, : Nor without a cause, : Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.
: If intrinsic nature does not exist, of what will there be alteration? : If intrinsic nature does exist, of what will there be alteration?
: अस्तीति शाश्वतग्राहो नास्तीत्युच्चेददर्शनं : :: To say "it is" is to grasp for permanence. To say "it is not" is to adopt the view of nihilism. +more : तस्माद् अस्तित्वनास्तित्वे नाश्रीयेत विचक्षणः। : :: Therefore a wise person does not say "exists" or "does not exist".
: न निर्वाणसमारोपो न संसारापकषणम् : : यत्र कस्तत्र संसारो निर्वाणं किं विकल्प्यते : :: Where there is neither an addition of nirvana nor a removal of samsara; There, what samsara is discriminated from what nirvana?
: ātmetya api prajñapitam anātmetyapi deśitam :: Although (the term) "self" is caused to be known (of, about), and although (a doctrine or teaching of) "no self" is taught, : | 6 :: No "self" or any "nonself" whatsoever has been taught by the Buddhas. : :: The designable is ceased when/where the range of thought is ceased, : | 7 :: Nirvana is like phenomenality, unarisen and unstopping. +more : :: Everything is actual, or not actual, or actual and not actual : | 8 :: Or neither actual nor not actual; this is the Buddha's teaching. : :: Independent, peaceful, not delusionally diversified by delusional diversification : | 9 :: Devoid of mental construction, without variation, this is the mark of thatness. : pratītya yad yad bhavati na hi tāvat tad eva tad :: Whatsoever becomes dependently, is not insofar, that and only that. : | 10 :: Nor is it the other; therefore, it is neither exterminated nor eternal. : anekārtham anānārtham anuccedam aśāśvatam :: Not singular, not plural, not exterminated, not eternal, : | 11 :: This is the immortal teaching of the Buddhas, lords of the world. : :: And again, when the disciples are destroyed and full Buddhas do not arrive, : |12 :: The gnosis (knowledge, etc. ) of the independently enlightened Buddhas proceeds without association (with teachings).
: "Empty" should not be asserted."Nonempty" should not be asserted. : Neither both nor neither should be asserted. They are only used nominally.
: तथागतो यत्स्वभावस्तत्स्वभावमिदं जगत् : tathāgato yat svabhāvas tat svabhāvam idam jagat :: What is the nature of the thus-gone one (the Buddha), that is the nature of the world.
: तथागतो निःस्वभावो निःस्वभावम् इदं जगत्। १६ : | 16 :: The thus-gone one is devoid of nature; the world is devoid of nature.
:Something that is not dependently arisen / Such a thing does not exist. :Therefore a non-empty thing / Does not exist.
: न संसारस्य निर्वाणात् किं चिद् अस्ति विशेषणं : :: There is nothing whatsoever of samsara distinguishing (it) from nirvana. : न निर्वाणस्य संसारात् किं चिद् अस्ति विशेषणं। १९ : | 19 :: There is nothing whatsoever of nirvana distinguishing it from samsara. +more : निर्वाणस्य च या कोटिः।कोटिः। संसरणस्य च : :: (That?) is the limit which is the limit of nirvana and the limit of samsara; : न तयोर् अन्तरं किंचित् सुसूक्ष्मम् अपि विद्यते। २० : | 20 :: Even a very subtle interval is not found of (between) them.
: : | 22 : : | 23 : : |
:: When all dharmas are empty, what is endless? What has an end? :: What is endless and with an end? What is not endless and not with an end? :: What is "it"? What is "other"? What is permanent? What is impermanent? :: What is impermanent and permanent? What is neither? :: Auspicious is the pacification of phenomenal metastasis, the pacification of all apprehending; :: There is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever whenever, wherever.
Kalupahana, David J (1991). Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way, Motilal Barnasidass. +more * Siderits, Mark; Katsura, Shoryu (2013). Nagarjuna's Middle Way: Mulamadhyamakakarika. Simon and Schuster * Westerhoff, Jan (2018). The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy. Oxford University Press * Westerhoff, Jan (2009). Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction. Oxford University Press.