Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

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Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby dumb bonbu » Thu Jun 18, 2009 10:33 pm

hi folks, in a couple of weeks or thereabouts i'm going to be picking Garfield's translation of 'The Fundamental Wisdom..' up off the shelf....or perhaps not lol! because firstly (aware that many find it a notoriously difficult text) i want to prep myself as much as is possible so i have a few questions -

what important things should i bear in mind before beginning?
are there any pitfalls and misinterpretations that are easy to lose oneself in? if so, what are the most common?
do you know of any good commentaries or studyguides that might aid my reading (online or otherwise)?
are there any other texts i might care to read first as good primers?
what was your experience of reading it? how do you feel it has helped, if at all?

okay, i think that about covers it. thanks in advance :thanks:
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 19, 2009 12:22 am

Greetings Dumb Bonbu,

dumb bonbu wrote:what important things should i bear in mind before beginning?


I have heard that you're best of sticking with MMK itself, and "what Nagarjuna said" rather than seeing it through the lens of the various tenet systems that may have built on or elaborated on it beyond its intended scope, and have in doing so created all manner of logical fallacies and unnecessary complications. This kind of mental proliferation runs directly counter to the pursuit of understanding emptiness.

dumb bonbu wrote:are there any pitfalls and misinterpretations that are easy to lose oneself in? if so, what are the most common?


Find a literal transaltion - not a poetic one, nor one in which the translator blends their own brand of wisdom.

dumb bonbu wrote:do you know of any good commentaries or studyguides that might aid my reading (online or otherwise)? are there any other texts i might care to read first as good primers?


I would read a literal MMK translation first and then decide whether to revisit it through the lens of others.

dumb bonbu wrote:what was your experience of reading it? how do you feel it has helped, if at all?


It is connected with emptiness, therefore useful to contemplate, or even "let it wash over you". I find it helps in a way similar to dipping your toe into Zen literature occasionally, even if it's not your primary practice.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby sraddha » Fri Jun 19, 2009 12:35 am

unfortuneatly, I haven't read too much of Nagarjuna yet (except for reading the Diamond Sutra) and some of his biography.

It would be wonderful if you guys can post some material from the Mulamadhyamakarika for us! :anjali:
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:27 am

Greetings Sraddha,

Try this: http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/nagarju ... entre.html

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Fri Jun 19, 2009 4:39 am

Wow Retro, very cool.

:buddha2: :namaste:
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby dumb bonbu » Fri Jun 19, 2009 11:34 am

thanks retro for your helpful reply. that's an approach that's the complete opposite of what i would have considered doing but i think it's a very sensible one and after obtaining several opinions on the matter, the one i'll take.

or even "let it wash over you"


i think that's quite likely to happen if i'm going to just tackle it head-on. i imagine there's a lot i won't understand on first (or even second, third) reading but that's okay, i can always read it several times and then later, as you say, if i wish visit a commentary. it's not a text i expect to be immediately understood. i appreciate it will probably require a lot of patience.
incidentally, i know you recommend against visiting commentaries and thoughts of school built upon and therefore post-Nagarjuna but someone on another forum mentioned i may wish to begin by studying the schools of thought from which Madhyamika developed and from which Nagarjuna drew influence. i think the Abhidharmasamuccaya by Asanga was mentioned for example. what do you think of this suggestion?

once again, thanks in advance
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


Namu Amida Butsu
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 19, 2009 12:26 pm

Greetings Dumb Bonbu,

dumb bonbu wrote:incidentally, i know you recommend against visiting commentaries and thoughts of school built upon and therefore post-Nagarjuna but someone on another forum mentioned i may wish to begin by studying the schools of thought from which Madhyamika developed and from which Nagarjuna drew influence. i think the Abhidharmasamuccaya by Asanga was mentioned for example. what do you think of this suggestion?


Knowing the background and context certainly wouldn't hurt, especially if they've recommended a good text that provides such background. I'm sure there's lots of combinations of approaches you could use! Best wishes for whichever way you go.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby dumb bonbu » Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:02 pm

thanks Retro, you know...talking it over, i'm even thinking it might not be such a bad idea to re-acquaint myself with Abhidhamma before i consider things such as the Mahayana's take on it and later developments such as Madhyamika. decisions, decisions, with a heap 'o procrastinations lol. oh well, it's not like i'm pushed for time to come to a decision. thanks for the best wishes! :smile:
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby Dazzle » Fri Jun 19, 2009 6:45 pm

.

I recommend the following book for anyone wishing to study the Mulamadhyamakakarika.

'The Sun of Wisdom' by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso

http://www.wisdom-books.com/ProductDetail.asp?PID=11031

Extract:

"The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is composed of twenty-seven chapters. Each is itself a commentary on a different statement made by the Buddha in the sutras comprising the second turning of the wheel of Dharma. Nagarjuna proves the validity of the Buddha’s teachings with logical reasoning. The chapters also answer the successive arguments put to Nagarjuna by those who believed that things truly exist. In each chapter, Nagarjuna would successfully refute one such argument; his opponents would then come up with another argument that they thought proved that things were real, and Nagarjuna would refute that, and so on—that is why there are twenty-seven chapters! They are all very beneficial to us because they help us to overcome our own doubts, the same doubts that Nagarjuna’s opponents had.

Some of the chapters are long and the logical reasonings they present are quite detailed. This book examines the most important verses from each chapter. It is necessary to proceed in this way because very few people today have the time to study the entire text. People in modern times need concise Dharma teachings that are profound, easily understandable, and readily applicable to daily life. By reading, contemplating, and meditating on the teachings in this book, you will get to the heart of Nagarjuna’s text in a direct way that will greatly enhance your precise knowledge of the genuine nature of reality.

There are similarities from one chapter to the next in the methods of logical inference and reasoning used to help you gain certainty in emptiness. This similarity of method makes it easier for you to gain facility with these logical reasonings, and will also help you to see how wonderfully applicable they are to such a great variety of subjects. By reviewing these same basic reasonings as they apply to different subjects, your familiarity with them will grow and you will gain more and more certainty in their conclusions. Emptiness is the deepest and most subtle topic one could ever attempt to understand, so it is never enough to hear or read teachings on emptiness just once. Rather, we must analyze them again and again, apply them again and again, and continually cultivate familiarity with their profound meaning.

Along these lines, this book also includes other selections of texts that will help to deepen your understanding of emptiness and strengthen your certainty. The first is the Heart of Wisdom Sutra, one of the Buddha’s most concise teachings on emptiness, yet incredibly powerful and profound. This sutra was actually spoken by the great bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, but since he did so through the power of the Buddha’s blessing, it is considered to be the very speech of the Transcendent Conqueror himself. By analyzing the nature of reality with your intelligence in the way that Nagarjuna describes, you will gain stable certainty in the teachings of this sutra. Furthermore, seeing the similarity between the teachings of the Buddha and those of Nagarjuna will increase your confidence in Nagarjuna’s words.

Also included here are the verses that describe the twenty emptinesses from the text by the glorious Chandrakirti, called Entering the Middle Way, itself a commentary on the meaning of Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Actually, within emptiness itself there are no distinctions between different types of emptiness because emptiness’ true nature transcends all concepts that differentiate between one thing and another. Therefore, from the perspective of genuine reality, emptiness cannot actually be divided into twenty different categories or classifications. When the Buddha taught the twenty emptinesses, however, he did so from the perspective of the twenty different types of phenomena whose various appearances we cling to as being truly existent. Going through the twenty emptinesses helps us to free ourselves from this clinging step by step. The first sixteen emptinesses are the extensive presentation, and these are then summarized into four. Studying Nagarjuna’s reasonings makes the twenty emptinesses easy to understand, and at that point Chandrakirti’s verses will be a great help to your meditation practice. You can use these verses to practice analytical meditation by reciting the verses describing a particular emptiness and using the logical reasonings Nagarjuna presents to help you come to certainty in the verses’ meaning, and then practice resting meditation by simply resting in that certainty that your analysis has produced. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. Machig Labdrön, the greatest woman practitioner in the history of Tibet, taught her students to meditate on the twenty emptinesses in this way as a method to help them realize prajnaparamita, the transcendent wisdom that realizes emptiness, that is called the Great Mother of all enlightened beings.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, this book includes the vajra song of the lord of yogis Milarepa called An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. This is one of Milarepa’s most important songs because it teaches from the common perspective of the Autonomy and Consequence schools’ views. If studying this great text by Nagarjuna, the basis of the Middle Way, leads you to wonder about the Kagyu tradition’s particular perspective on these matters, you will find the answer by referring to this song of Milarepa, one of the founders of the Kagyu lineage. An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way is a short song, but it contains a meaning that is profound and vast. It teaches that all of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana do not truly exist and yet they stifi appear—there is a mere appearance of things, and that appearance is the union of appearance and emptiness. Therefore, it is very helpful to read or sing this song, to memorize it, and to meditate on its meaning. That will be a very good connection for
you to make with the profound view of the lineage and the one who realized it perfectly, Milarepa.

Milarepa was the one yogi in the history of Tibet who was universally acknowledged to have attained buddhahood in a single life. If you have faith in him, then singing or reciting his Authentic Portrait as you study Nagarjuna’s teachings will be of great benefit, because it will help you to overcome your fear of emptiness. If you already have certainty in emptiness, then singing the songs about emptiness that were sung by the realized masters will cause your certainty to grow greater and greater.

In general, all the verses in this book are excellent supports for developing your precise knowledge of genuine reality through study, reflection, and meditation. You should recite them as much as possible, memorize them, and reflect on them until doubt-free certainty in their meaning arises within. Then you should recall their meaning again and again, to keep your understanding fresh and stable. Whenever you have time, use them as the support for the practices of analytical and resting meditation. If you do all of this, it is certain that the sun of wisdom will dawn "


With kind wishes,

Dazzle _/\_
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby sraddha » Sat Jun 20, 2009 2:22 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Sraddha,

Try this: http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/nagarju ... entre.html

Metta,
Retro. :)


:thanks:
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna

Postby Will » Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:32 pm

Try this first - http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/nagarjuna.pdf

The Heart of Dependent Origination and the 60 Stanzas clarify sunyata better than the Mula.
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby dumb bonbu » Wed Jun 24, 2009 6:37 pm

excellent Will, thankyou for the link and recommendation :thanks:
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


Namu Amida Butsu
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby clw_uk » Wed Jun 24, 2009 10:24 pm

I have the copy the OP is talking about, i find it quite good although i havent checkes the text against anyother sources yet but to me it seems fine, the commentary at the back quite good IMO



It is connected with emptiness, therefore useful to contemplate, or even "let it wash over you". I find it helps in a way similar to dipping your toe into Zen literature occasionally, even if it's not your primary practice.



I agree with that and do the same "toe" dipping into Zen (mostly Dogen, Bodhidharma and some Dajian Huìnéng)

Image

My fav Zen pic above :twothumbsup:



Metta
Those who are lust-infatuated fall back to the swirling current (of samsara) like a spider on its self-spun web. This too the wise cut off. Without any longing, they abandon all dukkha and renounce the world

Dhammapada - Verse 347
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby clw_uk » Wed Jun 24, 2009 10:33 pm

i think the Abhidharmasamuccaya by Asanga was mentioned for example. what do you think of this suggestion?



Just to say i would be careful when readin Asanga, stephen batchelor in a dharma talk i listened to showed how he got some of his ideas directly from the upanishads


Will get link tomorow if you like, time for meditation and sleep now :zzz:


metta
Those who are lust-infatuated fall back to the swirling current (of samsara) like a spider on its self-spun web. This too the wise cut off. Without any longing, they abandon all dukkha and renounce the world

Dhammapada - Verse 347
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna

Postby sraddha » Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:26 pm

Will wrote:Try this first - http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/nagarjuna.pdf

The Heart of Dependent Origination and the 60 Stanzas clarify sunyata better than the Mula.


Thanks for that link! That should fill up my reading time. :smile:
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Re: Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika

Postby Will » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:32 am

A new translation of root text with a seminal Tibetan commentary by Mabja bodhisattva is out. http://www.snowlionpub.com/html/product_10243.html

Another one translated by S. Katsura & Mark Siderits with their commentary will be out soon; not sure when or who will publish it.
Last edited by Will on Wed Mar 30, 2011 3:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby Dexing » Wed Mar 30, 2011 2:55 am

clw_uk wrote:Just to say i would be careful when readin Asanga, stephen batchelor in a dharma talk i listened to showed how he got some of his ideas directly from the upanishads


I would be careful when listening to Stephen Batchelor...

:namaste:
nopalabhyate...
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby plwk » Wed Mar 30, 2011 3:37 am

Just to say i would be careful when readin Asanga, stephen batchelor in a dharma talk i listened to showed how he got some of his ideas directly from the upanishads


I would be careful when listening to Stephen Batchelor...

:namaste:

A note from Bhikkhu Sujato...
http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha346.htm
Just as the great Theravādin commentator Buddhaghosa employed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Nikāyas, many of the greatest ‘Mahāyāna’ scholars, such as Nāgārjuna, Vasubandhu, and Asaṅga, based themselves securely on the Āgamas. By following their example and making the effort to thoroughly learn these Teachings we can understand, practice, and propagate the living Dhamma for the sake of all sentient beings.
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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby Malcolm » Wed Mar 30, 2011 3:42 am

dumb bonbu wrote:hi folks, in a couple of weeks or thereabouts i'm going to be picking Garfield's translation of 'The Fundamental Wisdom..' up off the shelf....or perhaps not lol! because firstly (aware that many find it a notoriously difficult text) i want to prep myself as much as is possible so i have a few questions -



It is not all that hard if you have studied Abhidharma first.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://www.bhaisajya.guru
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

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Re: Approaching Nagarjuna and the Mulamadhyamakakarika...

Postby dharmapravicaya » Wed Apr 06, 2011 3:09 pm

Some notes on reading a Madhyamaka text

Without referring to the specific posts, I would like to answer some points that have been raised, venturing to advance some possible suggestions.

1. Background readings for the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

In effect, studying Theravāda Abhidhamma is unlikely to be very useful. The reason is that Nāgārjuna starts from a framework which is closer to some form of Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma. For this reason, it may be useful to familiarize oneself with some of the basic ideas of the Sarvāstivāda. (In general, Sanskrit rather than Pāli sources are the likely background for Nāgārjuna’s thought, whether we refer to Mahāyāna or to non-Mahāyāna texts).

Fortunately, there are some good sources translated into English. I would recommend *anyone* to read Saṁtāni’s translation of the Arthaviniścayasūtra’s commentary. The text was probably used as a basic manual in Nālanda University:

Samtani, N.H. (tr) (2002). Gathering the Meanings: The Compendium of Categories: The Arthaviniścayasūtra and its Commentary Nobandhana. Berkeley: Dharma Publishing

There is some debate as to whether the text is 100% Sarvāstivāda, however, it does not affect its usefulness in terms of a basic framework of reference.

Another very useful, concise and well translated introduction to Sarvāstivāda categories is the following:

Dhammajoti, Bhikku K.L. (tr.) (2008, second rev. ed.). Entrance into the Supreme Doctrine: Skandhila’s Abhidharmāvatāra. Hong Kong: Centre of Buddhist Studies

For more general introductions to Sarvāstivāda:

Dhammajoti, K.L. (2002). Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma. Sri Lanka: Center for Buddhist Studies

Willemen, C., Dessein, B. and Cox., C. (1998). Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Scholasticism. Leiden: Brill

Furthermore, it may be desirable to read at least the first chapter of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya. The text is surely much later than Nāgārjuna, nonetheless it continues and represents more ancient layers of Abhidharma discussions:

Pruden, Leo M. (tr.) (1988). Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam by Louis de La Vallée Poussin. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press

Stcherbatsky, Th., Central Conception of Buddhism, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970


A very general first step is to read two useful texts by Williams:

Williams, Paul (with Anthony Tribe) (2000). Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, London: Routledge

Williams,Paul (2005). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. New York: Routledge


I think this will allow anyone to acquire a basic framework within which to place the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

2. Books on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

Garfield’s translation and commentary (the initial topic of this post) is in my opinion a commendable and useful text, offering a coherent and well argued interpretation. However, there are some points about his treatment where I think it would be worth being cautious.

The first point is his treatment and description of the 4 conditions and 6 causes. According the Sarvāstivāda framework, the 6 causes can in fact be subsumed within the 4 conditions. The situation is not dissimilar from that of the 5 aggregates and 12 entrances; they are alternative classifications. Garfield’s contention that Nāgārjuna would accept conditions but not causes is therefore highly problematic.

Furthermore, his actual description of the 4 conditions is not (in my understanding) very faithful to their actual definitions of the texts. Candrakīrti clarifies that Nāgārjuna’s own verses are worded in such a way to respect those definitions; since I believe Candrakīrti to be correct, it seems to me that Garfield’s treatment of the 1st Chapter contains some inaccuracies.

Other difficulties arise in Garfield’s treatment of the last two Chapters, where – I would argue – he has occasionally missed the actual focus of Nāgārjuna’s argument. The twelve limbs of dependent arising and their relation to rebirth are a crucial part of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, which Garfield tends to downplay (more in general, his exegesis of Madhyamaka tries to de-emphasize the importance of rebirth in Madhyamaka thought, which may be interesting to some, but I think is not very faithful to the original sources).

In brief, the strong point of Garfield’s treatment is the cogency of his arguments and the clarity with which he expresses them. The weak point (if I may dare to point this out) is that perhaps he could have been more careful in representing the Abhidharmic background of the text.

Before reading the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā itself, it may be useful to read some more general introductions to Madhyamaka. I would personally recommend the following two texts:

Westerhoff, Jan (2009). Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hopkins, J. (1987). Emptiness Yoga. Ithaca: Snow Lion

As for the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā itself, a partial translation together with a (somewhat free, but still useful) translation of Candrakīrti’s commentary is to be found here:

Sprung, M. (tr.) (1979). Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way. Boulder: Prajñā Press

Furthermore, Thomas Doctor has recently translated the oldest Tibetan commentary to te Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. I don’t recall the reference – however, it should be easy to find.

Lastly, I would recommend the following texts, available for free:

http://peterdellasantina.org/books_on_buddhism.htm

Especially, the first one offers a selection of shorter and more accessible works by Nāgārjuna, translated by Dr. Della Santina in a highly readable style. Reading these texts first will make the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā more comprehensible: it may be reasonable to say that the latter is Nāgārjuna’s most difficult work – since it relies so heavily on a Sarvastivāda-like Abhidharmic background and hence is highly technical.

I hope this may be useful.
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