Joseph89 wrote:Also, a related question is can anyone help me with the suttra's or texts that Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti must have read/heard to formulate their work on the middle way?
The whole Prajñāpāramitā collection of scriptures forms the basis for emptiness as taught in the Mahāyāna.
Nāgārjuna was probably a monk within the Mahāsāṃghika lineage and his main opponent was the Sarvāstivāda tradition.
It would be best to familiarize yourself with Abhidharma and early Buddhist thought as that was the environment in which Nāgārjuna operated. One problem he addressed was the tendency of many thinkers at the time to reify Abhidharmic categories and turn them into absolute metaphysical principles. To understand this you need to know something about both early Buddhism in India as well as Abhidharma.
To get an understanding of Abhidharma, the key text to study is the Abhidharma-kośa by Vasubandhu. There is an English translation available. Pdf versions are to be found online, but a printed edition can also be purchased from http://www.abebooks.com
. It isn't cheap unfortunately, though maybe another source can be located.http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchR ... =t&x=0&y=0
That being said, if you can study this text and familiarize yourself with the material, you'll have a solid foundation in Buddhism on a scale not a lot of practitioners really have. It will also allow you to understand Nāgārjuna on Indian Buddhist terms rather than through some western philosophical lens, which in my opinion is almost always distorted and fails to really understand Buddhist thought. The material contained in the Abhidharma-kośa would have been well understood by Nāgārjuna regardless of his own opinions.
A final question. I read on another Buddhist site that a contributor to that site feels that the essence (probably not the best word here) of Nagarjuna can be found in the original Pali sutta's and that reading Nagarjuna was not necessary for him/her. I suppose that would be true as Buddha did expound the middle way, but did Nagarjuna add anything NEW in addition to what Buddah expounded?
The long-standing idea in Mahāyāna Buddhist thought is that while Hīnayāna schools touch on emptiness, they only realize the emptiness of the person and not the emptiness of phenomena. Some schools asserted that while the person is impermanent and lacking self, the impersonal mental-physical phenomena are existent and have a "self-existence" (svabhava). The simile for this kind of understanding is a termite tunnelling through a piece of wood with columns or walls still intact within the wood. It is not thorough.
In other words, the material contained in Nikāya scriptures, both sūtra and śāstra, is insufficient for realization of emptiness as taught in the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures and then elucidated at length by Nāgārjuna.
The Pāli suttas are appropriate for attainment of arhatship, but not the bodhisattva path, let alone buddhahood.
The simple reason for this is that the Nikāya-based schools of Buddhism do not realize the emptiness thoroughly enough to generate great compassion where compassion and emptiness are non-dual. They thus seek personal liberation from saṃsāra and have no ultimate concern for all sentient beings. If they understood emptiness thoroughly, they would have ultimate concern for all sentient beings and follow the bodhisattva path unto buddhahood. However, they seek arhatship.
To realize emptiness thoroughly one must follow and realize the meaning in Mahāyāna scriptures. It is Nāgārjuna's analysis that is best suited for the task of doing just that. To understand Nāgārjuna an understanding of Abhidharma is essential.