BlackBird wrote:Hello all
What does the community think about Nagarjuna?
A very very interesting figure in the development of Buddhism, particularly in mainland India, and in the (Madhyamaka) Mahayana.
To what extent are the writings of Nagarjuna in line with Theravadin thought?
I have read that some Theravadin thinkers see Nargarjuna's writings as quite in line with Theravadin thought. Others feel it goes beyond the Nikayan interpretation. So I have 3 questions really:
- To what extent are the writings of Nagarjuna in line with Theravadin thought?
- Where, if at all do they differ?
- Are there some good introductory materials on Nagarjuna?
Thank you in advance
What do you mean by "Theravadin"? If it is the commentaries of the Theras, their Abhidhamma, and so forth, then there is quite a distance between them. If you mean sutra based Sthaviras, then there is a lot of overlap. However, I agree with Walser, and think that a look into the south-eastern Mahasamghikas may be the best place to start looking. There are strong connections, though over divergent, between the Mahavihara and the Andhakas. Where, if at all do they differ?
Long story, really. Again, this partly depends on how you define "Theravada", here.
Nagarjuna is refuting svabhava metaphysics, only where the term "svabhava" is read as "own being", taking the "bhu" as being / arising. This basically wasn't how the Abhidhammikas used the term, though, so there is some amount of confusion.
He is giving strong emphasis to the general principles of dependent origination, as the way to refute such svabhava and also parabhava, sva-parabhava theories. This is clear in the opening verses of the Mulamadhyamaka Karika (MMK).
Though the MMK doesn't mention it, other works of Nagarjuna are strongly Mahayana, and advocate the Bodhisattva path. This is well before the Theravadin Dhammapala wrote anything about it, by maybe 500 years. Are there some good introductory materials on Nagarjuna?
Much material on Nagarjuna is heavily influenced by later Indian and Tibetan understandings and renderings, particularly the use of Candrakirti. eg. Garfield's book, Murti, etc. Due to source bias in western scholars, they almost always overlook the earliest sources we have on this, namely the Zhong Lun, translation of the Madhyamakakarika by Kumarajiva, in ~400, with it's commentary (centuries before Candrakirti, etc.) Kalupahana avoids these biases, but introduces his own - trying to read Nagarjuna as if he were a Theravadin refuting the Sarvastivadins and Sauntrantikas (and confuses these last two in a rather drastic way).
One of the best books at present may just be Joseph Walser, Nagarjuna in Context
. Somewhere on the web, you can download the whole book in PDF (though watch out, the endnotes are a mess - the numbers don't match up!) It's a new book, and covers all the older material. Tilt is pretty familiar with (parts of?) this book, too.
* I'll take this time to add, I really do not think that Nagarjuna's MMK bases its philosophy of sunyata on the Prajnaparamita sutra. There are some overlaps, but most of the reason for such ideas is quite problematic. This is part of my PhD, but I won't bore you all with the details, here.