This is a completely translation of Nagarjuna's major work, the Mulamadhyamakakarika, accompanied by a detailed annotation of each of the verse. The annotation identifies the metaphysical theories of the scholastics criticized by Nagarjuna, and traces the source material and the arguments utilized in this refutation back to the early discourses of the Buddha.
The Introduction presents a completely new hypothesis about the nature of treatise. The work is a grand commentary on the Buddha's "Discourse to Katyayana" (Kaccayanaqotta-sutta). The concluding part of the Introduction compares the teaching of the Buddha and Nagarjuna in regard to epistemology, ontology, ethics and philosophy of language indicating how the latter was making a determined attempt to reconstruct the Buddha's teachings in a very faithful manner, avoiding the substantialist metaphysics of the scholastics.
The book shows that Nagarjuna's ideas are neither original nor are they an advancement from the early Buddhist period. Nagarjuna is not a Mahayanist.
David Kalupahana is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii.
Most significant is the manner in which the author proceeded to examine the subtle and complex metaphysical issues that blinded the Sarvastivadins and the Sautrantikas in a background in which speculative philosophy had reached a high watermark, both among the Buddhists and the traditional Indian Philosophers.
Probed into almost every aspect of their speculations, whether relating to epistemology, ontology, moral philosophyl, or philosophy of language. He linked disjointed concepts and dissolved the hardened and the solidified.
DAVID J. KALUPAHANA is a Buddhist
scholar from Sri Lanka and Professor of
Philosophy at the University of Hawaii.
He was an assistant lecturer in Pali and
Buddhist Civilization at the University of
Ceylon and studied Chinese and
Tibetan at the School of Oriental and,
African Studies at the University of
London where he completed a Ph.D)
dissertation on the problem of causality
in the Pali Nikayas and the Chinese
Agamas in 1966.
He was a student of the late K.N.
Jayatilleke, who was a student of
Wittgenstein. He wrote mainly about
epistemology, theory of language, and
compared later Buddhist philosophical
texts against the earliest texts and tried
to present interpretations that were
both historically contextualised and also
compatible with the earliest texts, and in
doing so, he encouraged Theravadin
Buddhists and scholars to reevaluate the
legitimacy of later, Mahayana texts and
consider them more sympathetically.
Some of his publications include: A
History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities
and Discontinuities, ,Buddhist Philosophy: A
Historical Analysis, Causality: The Central
Philosophy of Buddhism, Ethics in Early
Almost ten years ago, I undertook a new translation of Candrakirti's encyclopaedic work the Prasannapada, a commentary on Nagarjuna's primary philosophical treatise, the Mulamadhyamakakarika. After I had completed nearly ten chapters, I learned through one of my students about a similar attempt by Professor Marvin Sprung. I was about to give up my project, when my student, who had previously studied under Professor Sprung, shared with me a copy of Professor Sprung's translation of the first chapter. Comparing his and my translations, I discovered that Professor Sprung's translation was to some extent influenced by Stcherbatsky's work (The conception of Buddhist Nirvana, 1927). I felt then that my effort would not be in vain, especially because I had expressed strong disagreement with Stcherbatskey's interpretation of the Buddhist Philosophical tradition (see my causality, The central philosophy of Buddhism, 1975).
To my surprise, Professor Sprung's translation, consisting of only seventeen chapters (including an incomplete rendering of chapter I), appeared in 1979. As I plodded along through my own laborious work, I began to realize how Candrakirti was gradually leading me away from Nagarjuna's philosophical standpoint. My suspicions were strengthened in 1981 when I visited India on a Smithsonian grant. Meeting with some scholars who were brought up in the Vedantic tradition, I found them to be extremely comfortable with Nagarjuna as interpreted by Candrakirti and less impressed by the teachings of early Buddhism as recorded in the Nikayas and the Agamas. My suspicion that Nagarjuna and Candrakirti were upholding two different philosophical standpoints compelled me to take a fresh look at Kumarajiva's Chung-lun, which is at least two centuries prior to Candrakirti. Translating the entire Chung-lun into English and comparing it with Nagarjuna's original Sanskrit text, I was pleasantly surprised by their similaries: I found no justification whatsoever in looking at Nagarjuna through Candrakirti's eyes when there was a more faithful and closer disciple of Nagarjuna in Kumarajiva. This discovery diminished my enthusiasm for cleaning up my English rendering of the Prasannapada for possible publication.
After translating both the Sanskrit and the Chinese versions of Nagarjuna's treatise, I proceeded to annotate both according to my understanding of early Buddhism as well as later Buddhist traditions before Nagarjuna. The annotation of the Sanskrit text alone turned out to be more extensive than anticipated. Furthermore, considering the difficulties that might arise in publishing this work with Sanskrit and Chinese texts side by side, and also with the Chinese characters in the body of the annotation, I decided once again to modify my project. The Chinese text with commentary will appear subsequently as a companion volume.
I am not unaware of the controversy this work may engender. Hoping that it will be a healthy one, I intend to raise one major question regarding Nagarjuna, especially in the light of the more recent research in the history of Buddhism. Professor Hajime Nakamura's monumental work, Indian Buddhism (1980), has provided more information regarding the history of Buddhist literature than any other work published so far. This carefully executed work not only deals with the contents and authorship as well as the chronology of most of the Buddhist texts, but also compares the different versions available in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese. After a careful reading of this work, I cannot help recognizing an earlier stratum of literature that has so far been lumped together with all the literature that came to be called Mahayanistic. This includes two famous pieces, the Kasyapaparivarta and the Vajraccbedika- prajnaparamita (see Nakamura, p. 159). I wonder whether the original versions of these texts can be appropriately called Mahayanistic, even though they were preserved by the Mahayana schools. This objection, indeed, is not very difficult from that raised against considering the Nikayas and Agamas to be Hinayanistic because they were preserved by the Theravadins, the Sarvastivadins, or any other later tradition.
The major question that can be raised is: "Where would a philosopher like Nagarjuna go in order to discover the Buddha's teachings?" This historical question has, to my knowledge, neither been raised nor answered. The Saddharmapundarika-sutra that highlights the Hinayana- Mahayana controversy was not yet written. That does not mean that the controversy was not known before Nagarjuna. Even if the controversy had preceded Nagarjuna, what were the canonical texts, embodying the pure Mahayana philosophical standpoint, that Nagarjuna could have utilized in order to explain the Buddha's message?
A careful reading of Nakamura's work shows it to be futile to attempt to discover a pure Mahayana text that Nagarjuna might have been able to depend upon. Before the compilation of the Saddharmapundrika, one can hardly expect to find a carefully executed treatise that would explicate the Mahayana philosophy as it is presented by modern scholars. Since such sophisticated Mahayana sutras were not available to Nagarjuna, he could not help moving on to the early discourses in the Nikayas and the Agamas in search of the Buddha's teachings, especially at a time when he realized that the problems were created not only by metaphysicians like the Sarastivadins and the Sautrantikas, but also b more popular religious teachers like Asvaghosa, who over-emphasised the function of "faith" in the emerging belief in a transcendent Buddha. A careful reading of Nagarjuna's treatise will reveal that he was critical of both these trends. If Buddhaghosa were to be considered the model of a Theravadin and Candrakirti or Santideva were to be looked upon as ideal Mahayanists, neither the Buddha, nor Moggaliputa-tissa, nor Nagarjuna would fit into their shoes.
The present work may come as a surprise to many who are familiar with my previous publications, especially because it repudiates many things that I have said about Nagarjuna. In those earlier works, my major endeavor was to show how the Buddhism of the Buddha differed from both Sthaviravada and Mahayana, and the latter included philosophers like Nagarjuna. My main contention with scholars like Stcherbatsky and Murti has been in regard to the manner in which the former equated Sarvastivada with early Buddhism and the latter portrayed the Buddha as a half-hearted metaphysician introducing a theory of elements that came to be rejected by Nagarjuna. I was prepared to accept Murti's interpretation of Nagarjuna, while struggling to find ways in which that interpretation could be justified without sacrificing the empiricism of the Buddha. A more detailed study of both Magarjuna and Candrakirti has convinced me that the former still remains faithful to the Buddha, while the latter has moved more towards a Vedantic interpretation, thereby initiating a process that culminated in the disappearance of Buddhism as a distinct ideology from the Indian scene a few centuries later.
Language & Literature (440)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (84)
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