Nagarjuna

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Nagarjuna

Postby BlackBird » Sun Nov 08, 2009 8:07 pm

Hello all

What does the community think about Nagarjuna? 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 :anjali:

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Nov 08, 2009 8:33 pm

Nagarjuna is a bit overblown, but this essay might be of interest:
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This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby mudra » Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:02 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Nagarjuna is a bit overblown, but this essay might be of interest:


I don't agree about Nagarjuna being overblown (as you might expect :smile: ), but I would like to thank you for posting that essay. Interesting.
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby pink_trike » Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:13 pm

Here's an overview of Nagarjuna for those not familiar with his work:

http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~dsantina/friend.htm

...and this:

Nagarjuna was an early buddhist thinker whose importance is often overlooked. He was the first writer to systematize key concepts of Buddhism. Although he founded a Mahayana school, the Madhyamika ("Middle Way"), his importance comes from his thought. In his Memorial Verses on the Middle Way, Nagarjuna interprets the Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom. His central argument elaborates the concepts of Emptiness and impermanence. He shows that each "thing" exists only relation to other "things." Since each thing changes, its relationship to other things changes. These changes reveal that nothing stays the same, nothing is permanent or fixed. Whereas Theravada believed this as the nature of human beings, Nagarjuna made it clear that this applied to all the cosmos. Thus nothing in the cosmos was fixed or permanent other than the existence of the cosmos itself. The metphorical term he used to describe this notion was "Emptiness" or "Void.

I also don't agree that his work is "overblown"...perhaps Tilt's view is reflective of a long-standing overblown rivalry between Theravada and Mahayana.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby mudra » Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:15 pm

Blackbird, not sure that this is an introductory but the text is explained well and cuts to the core of Arya Nagarjuna's presentation on Emptiness:
http://www.amazon.com/Nagarjunas-Seventy-Stanzas-Psychology-Emptiness/dp/0937938394

If you are interested also try and find a good commentary in English on the Mulamadhyamakakarika (The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way,
there is this but I have to be honest I haven't read this yet:
http://www.amazon.com/Fundamental-Wisdo ... 0195093364

a very short "biography" of Arya Nagarjuna can be found here:
http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/teachers/lineage_masters/biography_nagarjuna.html?query=nagarjuna
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 09, 2009 4:20 am

pink_trike wrote:Nagarjuna was an early buddhist thinker whose importance is often overlooked.
Over looked by whom? Not by the Mahayanists for whom Nagarjuna is a central and foundational figure, and not by the Theravadins for whom Nagarjuna is not a necessary figure at all.

He was the first writer to systematize key concepts of Buddhism.
Not in the least. This was done by the Abhidhamma-ists/Abhidharma-ists and the commentators well before Nagarjuna.

. . . Since each thing changes, its relationship to other things changes. These changes reveal that nothing stays the same, nothing is permanent or fixed. Whereas Theravada believed this as the nature of human beings, Nagarjuna made it clear that this applied to all the cosmos.
And this is the typical Mahayana polemic addressed against the straw man of their construct, the supposed hinayana. For the Theravada, all dhammas are empty of self-existence.

I also don't agree that his work is "overblown"...perhaps Tilt's view is reflective of a long-standing overblown rivalry between Theravada and Mahayana.
The point is that Nagarjuna’s thought is not necessary for the Theravada, and the criticism of the supposed hinayana does not apply to the Theravada.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby pink_trike » Mon Nov 09, 2009 4:24 am

tiltbillings wrote:
pink_trike wrote:Nagarjuna was an early buddhist thinker whose importance is often overlooked.
Over looked by whom? Not by the Mahayanists for whom Nagarjuna is a central and foundational figure, and not by the Theravadins for whom Nagarjuna is not a necessary figure at all.

He was the first writer to systematize key concepts of Buddhism.
Not in the least. This was done by the Abhidhamma-ists/Abhidharma-ists and the commentators well before Nagarjuna.

. . . Since each thing changes, its relationship to other things changes. These changes reveal that nothing stays the same, nothing is permanent or fixed. Whereas Theravada believed this as the nature of human beings, Nagarjuna made it clear that this applied to all the cosmos.
And this is the typical Mahayana polemic addressed against the straw man of their construct, the supposed hinayana. For the Theravada, all dhammas are empty of self-existence.

I also don't agree that his work is "overblown"...perhaps Tilt's view is reflective of a long-standing overblown rivalry between Theravada and Mahayana.
The point is that Nagarjuna’s thought is not necessary for the Theravada, and the criticism of the supposed hinayana does not apply to the Theravada.


I'm not interested in this old war :tongue:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 09, 2009 4:29 am

pink_trike wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
pink_trike wrote:Nagarjuna was an early buddhist thinker whose importance is often overlooked.
Over looked by whom? Not by the Mahayanists for whom Nagarjuna is a central and foundational figure, and not by the Theravadins for whom Nagarjuna is not a necessary figure at all.

He was the first writer to systematize key concepts of Buddhism.
Not in the least. This was done by the Abhidhamma-ists/Abhidharma-ists and the commentators well before Nagarjuna.

. . . Since each thing changes, its relationship to other things changes. These changes reveal that nothing stays the same, nothing is permanent or fixed. Whereas Theravada believed this as the nature of human beings, Nagarjuna made it clear that this applied to all the cosmos.
And this is the typical Mahayana polemic addressed against the straw man of their construct, the supposed hinayana. For the Theravada, all dhammas are empty of self-existence.

I also don't agree that his work is "overblown"...perhaps Tilt's view is reflective of a long-standing overblown rivalry between Theravada and Mahayana.
The point is that Nagarjuna’s thought is not necessary for the Theravada, and the criticism of the supposed hinayana does not apply to the Theravada.


I'm not interested in this old war

I would hope you would be interested in accurate information concerning Nagarjuna vis a vis Theravada, which is not what is reflected in your above msg.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 09, 2009 5:22 am

BlackBird wrote:[*]Are there some good introductory materials on Nagarjuna?[/list]

If you have a strong interest in looking at Nagarjuna's thought, getting a couple of books rather than just the internet would be worthwhile. A few books to consider concerning Nagarjuna:

Stephan Batchelor’s VERSES FROM THE CENTER is worth every penny and well worth the time spent just for the introductory essay about Nagarjuna. It is luminous.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE MIDDLE WAY by David J. Kalupahana. This can be gotten cheaply now from Motilal. It is not a perfect study, but it is an interesting and useful study of Nagarjuna from the standpoint of the Nikayas/Agamas. http://www.mlbd.com/BookDecription.aspx?id=848

Jay Garfield’s THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE MIDDLE WAY is an excellent exposition from the Gelugpa Tibetan standpoint.

Rupert Gethin’s THE FOUNDATIONS OF BUDDHISM does a nice job of putting Nagarjuna into a broader Indian Buddhist context.

And if you can find a copy, Frederick J. Streng’s EMPTINESS: A STUDY IN RELIGIOUS MEANING, is one of the best studies of Nagarjuna’s key work.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby Dan74 » Mon Nov 09, 2009 5:30 am

To what extent are the writings of Nagarjuna in line with Theravadin thought?
Where, if at all do they differ?


This is :offtopic: sorry, but I am wondering just how useful our usual "same or different" mentality is when it comes to the Dhamma?

If they are in line, then what?

If they are not in line, then what?

What does it mean for your practice? Do you know why there may be a difference? How can we tell which side is right? Are both right? Neither?

It's like when a person hears an accent and ask me where I am from. Very likely they have little idea what kind of place that is, so the answer conveys no information. But they may feel like they know something now.

So what do you think you know? And how much of this knowledge is helpful for practice, how much is actually in the way?

Apologies for the rant... :focus:

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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Nov 09, 2009 5:33 am

Greetings Dan,

It's useful if you want to know whether something is worth the time to study... particularly when I assume Blackbird will also ultimately be interested in reading as much of the Sutta Pitaka as possible. It's about priorities and expected 'return on investment'.

:reading:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby enkidu » Mon Nov 09, 2009 5:41 am

Dan74 wrote:This is :offtopic: sorry, but I am wondering just how useful our usual "same or different" mentality is when it comes to the Dhamma?

If they are in line, then what?

If they are not in line, then what?

What does it mean for your practice? Do you know why there may be a difference? How can we tell which side is right? Are both right? Neither?


As a gelug practitioner regularly reading this forum, I go through this exercise several times a day.
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby Dan74 » Mon Nov 09, 2009 5:48 am

Hi retro!

I think it's very hard to know in advance which bit of dhamma/dharma will touch that string, inspire or even trigger an insight...

Sure, there are sensible progressions, but they can be very dry... It's not like academic study, is it?

_/|\_

PS Hi enkidu! :smile:

Sifting through so many words? Doesn't it get a bit... tiresome? (I guess I am speaking from experience here... :embarassed: )

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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby enkidu » Mon Nov 09, 2009 6:03 am

Dan74 wrote:PS Hi enkidu! :smile:

Sifting through so many words? Doesn't it get a bit... tiresome?

_/|\_


It can be a bit exhausting, but it's been fruitful. I appreciate the verbosity around here. The part that wears me out is evaluating whether or not to respond to a thread and how to do so without saying something non-cannonical to Theravada. The result of this evaluation is usually my silence. Hah.
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Nov 09, 2009 6:15 am

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.

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 :anjali:

metta
Jack


To what extent are the writings of Nagarjuna in line with Theravadin thought?

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. :P
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby zavk » Mon Nov 09, 2009 7:56 am

Wow, it would be great if you could share some of your research here, Venerable--but maybe you'll have to simplify it for me.... :)

Needless to say, I have not studied Nagarjuna systematically but have read bits of Garfield's book and also Batchelor's poetic rendition of the MMK. I agree with Tilt's recommendation.

Without a rigorous study of the MMK (or the Sutta Pitaka for the matter), I cannot say with accuracy if Nagarjuna's ideas are 'in line' with Theravadin thought. But from what little I know, I have found his method of reasoning/analysis a useful 'supplement' to my overall understanding of the Dhamma.
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 09, 2009 8:32 am

Hi Dan,
Dan74 wrote:What does it mean for your practice? Do you know why there may be a difference? How can we tell which side is right? Are both right? Neither?

I don't think it's a matter of "right" or "wrong", I think that it's a matter of not getting confused when there is divergence.

For example, within Theravada sources, the Vinaya and Suttas are generally quite internally consistent, but the Abhidhamma and Commentaries have various well-documented differences (such as how the jhanas are enumerated) and extensions (such as details of mind-moments, etc). It's useful to know that if you're reading them.

So, if one is trying to read Mahayana sources and one's usual frame of reference is Theravada sources, then it makes sense to ask: "What is the same/different?". Otherwise one might waste a lot of time trying to figure them out or trying to implement ideas or instructions that are inherently contradictory (unless you are claiming that all Mahayana ideas are consistent with the Theravada Canon, which I believe would contradict Paññāsikhara's post above). Which could be rather disastrous for practise.

Therefore I value the guidance of those who have already enumerated such things...

Metta
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby Dan74 » Mon Nov 09, 2009 9:18 am

What you say makes perfect sense, mike.

And yet making sense is perhaps not enough for proceeding on this journey. Sometimes being confronted with seeming paradoxes, we open up to what we had been previously closed, confronted with something incomprehensible, we become humble. The mental chatter stops and we hear dhamma as if for the first time.

A methodical study can be very beneficial no argument there. Just throwing some ideas around.

Sorry for hijacking the thread...

:meditate:

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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Nov 09, 2009 9:53 am

Dan74 wrote:What you say makes perfect sense, mike.

And yet making sense is perhaps not enough for proceeding on this journey. Sometimes being confronted with seeming paradoxes, we open up to what we had been previously closed, confronted with something incomprehensible, we become humble. The mental chatter stops and we hear dhamma as if for the first time.

A methodical study can be very beneficial no argument there. Just throwing some ideas around.

Sorry for hijacking the thread...

:meditate:

_/|\_


Well, if applied correctly, Nagarjuna's "consequent" method (prasanga) can lead on to such a state, whereby one no longer follows the usual mental conceptualization which flows from views of existence / non-existence, and so forth.

This is why his opening verses in the MMK state:

I make obeisance to him, the fully awakened one, the best of teachers,
who teaches dependent origination, which is the auspicious appeasement of conceptual proliferation,
neither cessation nor arising, neither annihilism nor eternalism,
neither singularity nor plurality, neither coming nor going.


Anirodham anutpādam anucchedam aśāśvataṃ,
Anekārtham anānārtham anāgamam anirgamam
Yaḥ pratītyasamutpādam prapañcopaśamam śivaṃ,
Deśayāmāsa sambuddhas taṃ vande vadatāṃ varaṃ.

《中論》卷1〈1 觀因緣品〉:
 不生亦不滅  不常亦不斷
 不一亦不異  不來亦不出
 能說是因緣  善滅諸戲論
 我稽首禮佛  諸說中第一」
(CBETA, T30, no. 1564, p. 1, b14-17)

This shows the importance of dependent origination, and that it is the middle way between the various polar dualities.
Oh, Dan, this reminds me of some other conversations we have had about non-duality, too, huh?
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Re: Nagarjuna

Postby BlackBird » Mon Nov 09, 2009 10:02 am

Dan74 wrote:What does it mean for your practice? Do you know why there may be a difference? How can we tell which side is right? Are both right? Neither?

So what do you think you know? And how much of this knowledge is helpful for practice, how much is actually in the way?

Apologies for the rant... :focus:

_/|\_


I'm probably a little late to the party here.

Knowing others intentions is 'not for sure'

I have, over time raised similar questions that you raise now. Then I've gone back to the drawing board, had a sit, and got back up again. The intention has changed, but the questions remain the same. We're always seeing things through our own mind's judgements.

Recalling now, the way my mind inclined perhaps 5 or 6 months ago:

1.Well, I don't see how this applies to my practice
2. All this getting caught up in concepts and theories
3. It's not time on the mat
4. This isn't helpful
5. I don't see how this applies to their practice.
6. What a waste of time.
7. How annoying
8. This annoys me
9. Why does it have to be this way
10. Can't it be different
11. I'm going to say something
12. I'm going to tell them what's what.
13. Perhaps they'll wake up from this silly attachment...

Hyperbole for dramatic effect of course, but that was probably the mental undercurrent.
Who was really attached in those mind moments? Was it those people "rabbiting on" about inconsequential things, or was it me?

I'm not trying to say that's how you think Dan, I imagine there is an extreme divergence in detail. I mean simply that I have had similar thoughts myself.

When I ask questions such as the one put forth in the OP; It's not just for conversation, it's because I have a desire to learn, to learn the framework of the Dhamma. To learn the nuances of Buddhist thought, and to see how I can apply it to my own practice. Naturally because I follow the Theravadin framework, I want to know how Nagarjuna's writings could apply to it.

Metta

Jack

P.S.
:focus:
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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