The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
Jay L. Garfield
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The Buddhist saint N=ag=arjuna, who lived in South India in approximately the second century CE, is undoubtedly the most important, influential, and widely studied Mah=ay=ana Buddhist philosopher. His many works include texts addressed to lay audiences, letters of advice to kings, and a set of penetrating metaphysical and epistemological treatises. His greatest philosophical work, the M?lamadhyamikak=arik=a--read and studied by philosophers in all major Buddhist schools of Tibet, China, Japan, and Korea--is one of the most influential works in the history of Indian philosophy. Now, in The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Jay L. Garfield provides a clear and eminently readable translation of N=ag=arjuna's seminal work, offering those with little or no prior knowledge of Buddhist philosophy a view into the profound logic of the M?lamadhyamikak=arik=a.
Garfield presents a superb translation of the Tibetan text of M?lamadhyamikak=arik=a in its entirety, and a commentary reflecting the Tibetan tradition through which N=ag=arjuna's philosophical influence has largely been transmitted. Illuminating the systematic character of N=ag=arjuna's reasoning, Garfield shows how N=ag=arjuna develops his doctrine that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence, that is, than nothing exists substantially or independently. Despite lacking any essence, he argues, phenomena nonetheless exist conventionally, and that indeed conventional existence and ultimate emptiness are in fact the same thing. This represents the radical understanding of the Buddhist doctrine of the two truths, or two levels of reality. He offers a verse-by-verse commentary that explains N=ag=arjuna's positions and arguments in the language of Western metaphysics and epistemology, and connects N=ag=arjuna's concerns to those of Western philosophers such as Sextus, Hume, and Wittgenstein.
An accessible translation of the foundational text for all Mah=ay=ana Buddhism, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way offers insight to all those interested in the nature of reality.
dependent origination. But since they are essentially dependent, they are essentially empty and, hence, are impermanent and subject to change. The twelve links provide an anatomy and an etiology of suffering. But by understanding their impermanence and dependency, we also see the cure for that condition. For by cultivating a clear and accurate philosophical view of the nature of things—the view so explicitly articulated in Chapter XXIV, by internalizing that view, and by taking up with the world
instance, to have otherness-essence, according to a proponent of this analysis of the nature of things, might be for it to have as an essential characteristic the property of depending for its existence on some pieces of wood, a carpenter, and so forth. This way of thinking of the nature of things has great appeal—was used by those who defended the analysis of causation as production from other and the analysis of causes and their effects according to which they are linked by causal powers
given the indeterminateness, interdependence, and interpenetration of things. Ngrjuna hence advises the rejection of this ontology: 7. Not only is cyclic existence itself without beginning, No existent has a beginning: Neither cause and effect; Nor character and characterized … The alternative, both with respect to cyclic existence as a whole and with respect to individual entities, is to reject the ontology of entities and characteristics altogether, along with the boundaries and
conventional truth is sometimes referred to as a truth and sometimes as wholly false. Conventional phenomena are sometimes referred to as empirically real and not imaginary and sometimes as wholly imaginary.70 So it is important to see that the sense of “falsehood” in play when the conventional is characterized as false is “deceptive.” That is, insofar as conventional phenomena present themselves as more than conventional—as inherently existent—they deceive us. We take them to be what they are
leads Ngrjuna to assert that one holding such a view is completely hopeless—incapable of accomplishing anything, philosophically or soteriologically.76, 77 This argument against the coherence of any understanding of emptiness as itself an essence is tied very tightly to the analysis in Chapter XXIV: 18-40 of the emptiness of emptiness and of the connection between emptiness, dependent arising, and convention and tied most directly to the concluding verse of the text, XXVII: 30. (The commentaries