Nagarjuna and Theravada

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Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby clw_uk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 7:37 pm

I have just come accross the works of Nagarjuna and find him most wise and his work very insightful.

My question is more directed to those familliar with his work, are his teachings on emptiness and paticcasamuppāda in line with Theravada interpretations (i know they differ on the three lives model).

Does he stray to far from the Buddhas teachings in elaboration or does he keep in line with them?

All thoughts are welcome
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:48 pm

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 and Theravada

Postby clw_uk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:06 pm

Thanks Tiltbillings, interesting document
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby clw_uk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:13 pm

I am inclined to agree that Nagarjuna had a serious philosophical
agenda. It seems pretty clear to me that he wrote the M¯ula-madhyamakak
¯arik¯a with the intention of making making a knock-down argument against
anything that might stand as a candidate to be a self (¯atman). So seriously
did he take the Indian Buddhist taboo against selfhood that he was not content
with the standard Buddhist view that a complex being, such as a human
being, has only a derivative self—a self derived from its constituent parts.
He apparently felt an obsessive need to take the doctrine of non-self to its
ultimate conclusion by showing that even the consituent parts of a complex
being have no self.


Strange, this strikes acord of maybe what i was trying to do in some way with my other thread on rebirth, perhaps i was taking Anatta to an extreme
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Aloka » Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:54 pm

Hi Craig,

I've studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism almost exclusively in the past and am only just recently looking into Theravada more, so I can't answer your question.
However, If you are interested in Nagarjuna's Mulamadhhyamakakarika then perhaps you might like to have a look at ''The Sun of Wisdom'' which is a commentary by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso on the main verses in the root text.

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


Kind wishes,

Dazzle
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:35 pm

tiltbillings wrote:http://www.unm.edu/~rhayes/nagarjuna_smith.pdf


My not so scholarly critique of this essay is as follows. Most of the essay consists of commentary by the author on the impressions of other scholars. The only real thing it has to say directly about the work of Nagarjuna is...

The word “sva-bh¯ava” means a nature (bh¯ava) that
belongs to the thing itself (svasya); it refers, in other words, to a thing’s identity.
ButN¯ag¯arjuna takes advantage of the fact that the word “svabh¯ava” could
also be interpreted to mean the fact that a thing comes into being (bhavati)
from itself (svatah. ) or by itself (svena); on this interpretation, the term would
refer to a thing’s independence. Assuming this latter analysis of the word,
rather than the one that most Buddhists actually held, N¯ag¯arjuna then points
out that whatever comes into being from conditions is not coming into being
from itself; and if a thing does not come into being from itself, then it has no
svabh¯ava.


I dont know any Sanskrit and I am not in a position to say what most Buddhists meant when using the word "Svabavha" during the time of Nagarjuna. That being said here are the two meaning which the author states were possible.

1) A nature that belongs to the thing itself
2) That a thing comes into being from itself

I would say from my knowledge of Nagarjuna that he has addressed both of these meanings in such a way as to show that neither one can really be said to be true of phenomena. I am guessing the first definition involves an intrinsic quality that a thing produces. The second definition seems the same if you point directly at the quality alone.

I could go into quoting Nagarjuna but I don't think it is really necessary since this essay isn't actually making any type of claim at all. For example the author doesn't actually say if he knows how Buddhists of that period actually use the term "svabavha".

The author states
While I agree that we might have an interesting paradox if N¯ag¯arjuna was
correct in his critique of essence, I do not think N¯ag¯arjuna succeeded in his
critique.

But he has done nothing to address why he thinks this.

So seriously did he take the Indian Buddhist taboo against selfhood that he was not content
with the standard Buddhist view that a complex being, such as a human
being, has only a derivative self—a self derived from its constituent parts.
He apparently felt an obsessive need to take the doctrine of non-self to its
ultimate conclusion by showing that even the consituent parts of a complex
being have no self.

This statement about Nagarjuna's "obsessive need" makes me feel that this author is projecting. Either he disagrees for a reason or not. Nagarjuna does a very good job at showing the emptiness of "parts" whether they are spacial parts, temporal parts, or relational parts. Nagarjuna by pointing at the limitation of concepts to describe actuality indirectly proves that it is possible to go beyond into a greater more expansive and more lucid way of seeing and knowing.

Metta

Gabriel
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:39 pm

Nagarjuna by pointing at the limitation of concepts to describe actuality indirectly proves that it is possible to go beyond into a greater more expansive and more lucid way of seeing and knowing.


More expansive and lucid than what is found in the suttas?
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 and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:41 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Nagarjuna by pointing at the limitation of concepts to describe actuality indirectly proves that it is possible to go beyond into a greater more expansive and more lucid way of seeing and knowing.


More expansive and lucid than what is found in the suttas?


Words do not "see and Know". I cant tell what you are asking.

Metta

Gabriel
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:54 pm

An interesting and probably worthwhile book on Theravada (or probably more correctly, the Pali suttas) and Nagarjuna is David Kalpahana's NAGARJUNA: The Philosophy of the Middle Way. This book is a translation of Nagarjuna's central text, the Mula. Tibetan type hate the book, which probably speaks well of it. The translation, while not perfect is good and the commentary is interesting, often referencing the Pali suttas.

But for me, the Theravada/Pali suttas do not need Nagarjuna.
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 and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:17 pm

tiltbillings wrote: But for me, the Theravada/Pali suttas do not need Nagarjuna.


I respect this Tilt. I suppose what you mean is you do not need anything but the Pali Suttas.

Metta

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"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:23 pm

I suppose what you mean is you do not need anything but the Pali Suttas.


No. The Mahayanist Nagarjuna-wallahs insist, in their typical supersessionist way, that it is only Nagarjuna's analysis that will give us proper, correct view that will lead us to true awakening. Everything, according to them, is colored by some sort of self notion, no matter how subtle, unless one goes Nagarjuna on its hiney. This is not quite true working from the Pali suttas and even the Abhidhamma pitaka.
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 and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:37 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
I suppose what you mean is you do not need anything but the Pali Suttas.


No. The Mahayanist Nagarjuna-wallahs insist, in their typical supersessionist way, that it is only Nagarjuna's analysis that will give us proper, correct view that will lead us to true awakening. Everything, according to them, is colored by some sort of self notion notion no matter how subtle, unless one goes a Nagarjuna on its hinie. This is not quite true working from the Pali suttas and even the Abhidhamma pitaka.


Ok Ok Ok. :hug:

Im not a Hinaweeni or a sectarian. I have been witness to your online struggle with the kind of thing you talk about above and I do not want to be associated with it.

Metta

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"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:52 pm

Im not a Hinaweeni or a sectarian. I have been witness to your online struggle with the kind of thing you talk about above and I do not want to be associated with it.


I would not have accused you such uncouth behaior. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading Nagarjuna, and actually he can be helpful, but as I have read his stuff, I have also seen, not though his lens, that the Pali suttas already have it and in a more approachable manner.
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 and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Feb 16, 2009 9:22 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Im not a Hinaweeni or a sectarian. I have been witness to your online struggle with the kind of thing you talk about above and I do not want to be associated with it.


I would not have accused you such uncouth behaior. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading Nagarjuna, and actually he can be helpful, but as I have read his stuff, I have also seen, not though his lens, that the Pali suttas already have it and in a more approachable manner.



Approachability is subjective but even given that I will agree that Nagarjuna's analysis of emptiness broadly speaking rather lack approachability. The OP asked about whether they are in line with the Pali Suttas and I would say "Yes". Because of this I would also say that the Pali Suttas do not require the work of Nagarjuna to point to the emptiness of dhammas. Nagarjuna is not expressing anything that isn't put in a simpler way within the Nikayas. I personally find Nagarjuna helpful because of my natural tendency to impute existence into the teachings. I dont need to read Nagarjuna allot. It just helps me every now and then when I settle into thinking I understand. I also think Nagarjuna is very good in the modern climate with all of the materialist reductionism. I dont think this kind of thinking was nearly as prevalent in the Buddhas time. I once tended towards a materialist reductionism and Nagarjuna's teaching played a very important role in blowing apart this kind of seeing things. I could speculate about how things would have gone if I had not read Nagarjuna but what is the point in that? I expect practice and study of the Pali Suttas would have subdued my doubts eventually but I can not deny the effecacy of Nagarjuna.

Metta

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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:07 am

I think that agreeing or disagreeing with Nagarjuna fails to miss the point of what Buddha was teaching. Because while we can be uncertain of Nagarjuna's intentions, the Buddha's intentions are without doubt. It is relatively easy to use very good logic to take anatta to a complete extreme, to argue that everything is devoid of intrinsic existence (something I agree with, by the way), but this is not necessarily the same thing as the realization of anatta or sunatta. And being attached to an extreme of Madhyamakan nihilism is not good or helpful. A lot of Mahayanists teach an intellectual Madhyamaka, or unintentionally propagate it, and this does nothing good for anyone.

However, what Nagarjuna says does appear to be logically derivable from the Pali suttas. That doesn't necessarily mean it's correct. See all of the various remarks the Buddha makes about emptiness, about the world being like an illusion, and see the descriptions of the four immaterial jhanas (comparing them with Mahayana descriptions of realization of emptiness). The important thing, I think, is not whether one agrees with Nagarjuna, but in how one reaches their opinion. In the Brahmajala sutta, the positions, "x," "y instead of x", "both x and y", tend to be associated with meditation, but the fourth position, "neither x nor y," is associated with logic and reasoning, with regard to several particular wrong views. If a person comes to conclude this -- that the self neither exists nor doesn't exist, that the world is neither real nor unreal, etc., if this is concluded on an intellectual basis, nothing has been achieved. It is merely foolishness that stands in the way of the attainment of the lowest jhanas (easily refuted by a slap in the face), a ditthi that is a burden to attaining bodhi. On the other hand, with the cultivation of the higher immaterial jhanas, it is reasonable to believe that one might say the types of things that the Buddha and Nagarjuna did. And making a claim that anything is neither this nor that, on the basis of attaining the four immaterial jhanas would not be a view. Instead, it would be Noble Right View, being "discernment" (panna).

The main philosophical distinction being made here is over whether there is a "self" of any kind (self in terms of personal identity or any general sense of identity) and what constitutes the self. What the Buddha taught was to not speculate over the existence of self, the nonexistence of self, etc.. So, even if we realize that, intellectually, Nagarjuna is eloquent and intelligent, we do not delude ourselves into believing that we can ignore the apparent reality.

Also, even assuming Nagarjuna was merely a philosopher and had a philosophical agenda, if his main contender was Pudgalavavada and the Theravadins asserting that the Five Aggregates were paramatha, who could blame him and uphold the virtues of his philosophical opponents?

tiltbillings wrote:http://www.unm.edu/~rhayes/nagarjuna_smith.pdf

I read that and it seems a bit silly. Their accusation that Nagarjuna invoked a fallacy of equivocation doesn't seem to follow. The author distinguishes between svabhava as identity or causal independence and parabhava as difference or dependence. But the two possible definitions aren't opposed. On the contrary, they are mutually implicated. They are descriptions of the same dhamma, either in terms of its existence as a fixed or dynamic entity. "Dynamic" meaning impermanent and "fixed" being founded on the false assumption of permanence.

By mutually implicated, I mean that if something has an identity, it can only have such by being regarded as causally independent, in some sense. If it's not regarded as causally independent, then there's no justification to say that such a thing has an intrinsic "identity". And if something is causally independent, it can be said to have an identity. And with the other term, parabhava, it is only with the assumption of differentiation that one thing can be said to "give rise" to "another". And without the assumption of differentiation, nothing can be said to depend on anything else. So, identity and causal independence, difference and dependence, are both mutually implicated.

Regarding the distinction being made on the arbitrary basis of fixed\dynamic entities. The term doesn't really have these two separate interpretations, but the author imposes a verbose western interpretation, under the influence of dualism, which obscures the meaning and attacks Nagarjuna wildly on the basis of this misunderstanding. As an analogy, this would be like saying jhana can mean both "mental states achieved during meditation" and "meditative concentration", that bhava can mean both "being" and "becoming", that kamma can mean both the "law of moral causality" and "action".

Such distinctions are made through regarding the distinctions between fixed relationships and dynamic relationships as meaningful. So, an "Identity," is a fixed relationship which is the result of the dynamic relationship of causal independence. "Difference" is a fixed relationship, whereas "causal dependence" is dynamic. "Mental states achieved" is fixed, "meditative concentration" (something you're doing) is dynamic. "Being" is fixed, whereas "becoming" is dynamic. "Law of moral causality" is fixed (more properly called kamma-vipaka, not simply kamma) and "action" is dynamic. By making a similar such distinction, by implying there's a meaningful difference between fixed and dynamic entities, the author seems to be rejecting anicca and thus doesn't get Nagarjuna at all.

tiltbillings wrote:But for me, the Theravada/Pali suttas do not need Nagarjuna.

This is true, but they also do not need Buddhaghosa, Ajahn Chah, Buddhadhasa, or Dhammawheel, but it is still wonderful to have both good and bad commentators.
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:21 am

if his main contender was Pudgalavavada and the Theravadins asserting that the Five Aggregates were paramatha,


Depends upon what is meant by paramatha. I am not sure the Theravada tradition speak uniformally on that matter, even as late as Buddhaghosa. Nanamoli in a footnote in his PATH OF PURIFICATION, pages 317-8, states: "In the Pitakas the word sabhaava seems to appear only once...," it appears several times in Milindapanha, and it is used quite a bit in the PoP and it commentaries. He states it often roughly corresponds to dhaatu, element and to lakkhana, characteristic. An interesting passage from the PoP reads:

"On the contrary, before their rise [the bases, aayatana] they had no individual essence [sabhaava], and after their fall their individual essence are completely dissolved. And they occur without mastery [being exercisable over them] since they exist in dependence on conditions and in between the past and the future." Page 551 XV 15.

And another, XV 21:

"These are elements (dhaatu) since they cause [a state's] own individual essence [sabhaava] to be borne (dhaarenti)."

It is a problem with language, it seems, and no matter how hard we try not to, we tend to end up making whatever it is we are talking about solid. I think the Pali Abhidhamma seems have tried to resist this, even into the later commentaries, and it probably did better than some other systems, but there is an obvious reification going on some of the more modern abhidhamma discussions that really does not seems warranted from the earlier Abhidhamma, particularly the Abhidhamma Pitaka, nor from the suttas.

What kind of "ultimate things" are dhammas? Piatigorsky, in his studies of the Theravadin Abhidhamma Pitaka texts (THE BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY OF THOUGHT 1984, 181) points out dharmas are not substances; they are not 'things' in and of themselves:

We simpy cannot say that 'a dharma is... (a predicate follows)', because a dharma, in fact, 'is' no thing, yet [it is] a term denoting (not being) a certain relation or type of relation to thought, consciousness or mind. That is, dharma is not a concept in the accepted terminological sense of the latter, but a purely relational notion.

Nyanaponika ABHIDHAMMA STUDIES, page 41 BPS; page 42 Wisdom. wrote:By arranging the mental factors in relational groups a subordinate synthetical element has been introduced into the mainly analytical Dhammasangani. By so doing, the danger inherent in purely analytical methods is avoided. This danger consists in erroneously taking for genuine separate entities the “parts” resulting from analysis, instead of restricting their use to sound practical method with the purpose of classifying and dissolving composite events wrongly conceived as unities. Up to the present time it has been a regular occurrence in the history of physics, metaphysics, and psychology that when the “whole” has been successfully dissolved by analysis, the resultant “parts” themselves come in turn to be regarded as little “wholes.”


http://www.zeh-verlag.de/download/dhammatheory.pdf wrote:In the Pali tradition it is only for the sake of definition and description that each dhamma is postulated as if it were a separate entity; but in reality it is by no means a solitary phenomenon having an existence of its own. . . . If this Abhidhammic view of existence, as seen from its doctrine of dhammas, cannot be interpreted as a radical pluralism, neither can it be interpreted as an out-and-out monism. For what are called dhammas -- the component factors of the universe, both within us and outside us -- are not fractions of an absolute unity but a multiplicity of co-ordinate factors. They are not reducible to, nor do they emerge from, a single reality, the fundamental postulate of monistic metaphysics. If they are to be interpreted as phenomena, this should be done with the proviso that they are phenomena with no corresponding noumena, no hidden underlying ground. For they are not manifestations of some mysterious metaphysical substratum, but processes taking place due to the interplay of a multitude of conditions. Prof. Dr. Y. Karunadasa, THE DHAMMA THEORY, page 9.


Harvey, in his excellent INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM, characterizes the Theravadin position, page 87: wrote: "'They are dhammas because they uphold their own nature [sabhaava]. They are dhammas because they are upheld by conditions or they are upheld according to their own nature' (Asl.39). Here 'own-nature' would mean characteristic nature, which is not something inherent in a dhamma as a separate ultimate reality, but arise due to the supporting conditions both of other dhammas and previous occurrences of that dhamma."


A.K. Warder, in INDIAN BUDDHISM, page 323, discussing the Pali Abhidhamma commentarial literature, states: wrote: "The most significant new idea in the commentaries is the definition of a 'principle' or element (dharma): dharmas are what have (or 'hold', 'maintain', dhr. is the nearest equivalent in the language to the English 'have') their own own-nature (svabhaava). It is added that they naturally have this through conditions."


Dhammas are "ultimate things" only as a way of talking aspects of the relational flow of experience, not in terms of describing static realities. In other words, dhammas are empty of self.

Now, I am sure there will be those who will disagree, which is fine. This is about as much as I am going to defend the Abhdhamma.
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.

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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Feb 18, 2009 6:19 am

tiltbillings wrote:"On the contrary, before their rise [the bases, aayatana] they had no individual essence [sabhaava], and after their fall their individual essence are completely dissolved. And they occur without mastery [being exercisable over them] since they exist in dependence on conditions and in between the past and the future." Page 551 XV 15.

Doesn't this perspective pre-suppose the standpoint of the present (seeing dhammas as the arising and cessation of sabhaava), whereas outside this standpoint, "sabhaava" has no meaning?

tiltbillings wrote:It is a problem with language, it seems, and no matter how hard we try not to, we tend to end up making whatever it is we are talking about solid. I think the Pali Abhidhamma seems have tried to resist this, even into the later commentaries, and it probably did better than some other systems, but there is an obvious reification going on some of the more modern abhidhamma discussions that really does not seems warranted from the earlier Abhidhamma, particularly the Abhidhamma Pitaka, nor from the suttas.

I think the problem would be craving with regard to language, not language itself. By that, I mean we should not place the burden of right speech solely on the speaker (except with ourselves, of course -- I mean in a broad sense), because right mindfulness ("right listening" maybe?) is necessary for right speech to be heard. If a person writes down something that can be regarded as right speech, it might help one person, confuse another, frighten another, anger another, and another might ignore it -- many people react to various statements by the Buddha like this -- but it doesn't change the clarity of the speech. I don't think it's possible to ever create a perfectly pure or right word or set of words, because they are impermanent and subject to distortion, misinterpretation, and annihilation. But if Buddhists develop a pure mind, then any words which follow should be just fine. The obsession with any kind of post-canonical commentary seems to miss these facts.

tiltbillings wrote:Now, I am sure there will be those who will disagree, which is fine. This is about as much as I am going to defend the Abhdhamma.

It doesn't come across as dogmatic at all, in my opinion and it's very nice, very informative. :) The idea of a dhamma as a "relational notion" is a very interesting and insightful idea. It reiterates the idea that the dhamma is not a set of metaphysics, phenomenology, or any kind of philosophy at all, but a pragmatic path for the elimination of craving and suffering.
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:00 am

not sure if this helps but a couple years ago thanisarro wrote something about the theravada version of emptiness and how it was superior to the mahayana understanding.. it was in one of the big buddhist mags, maybe someone knows what im talking about?
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:02 am

tiltbillings wrote:An interesting and probably worthwhile book on Theravada (or probably more correctly, the Pali suttas) and Nagarjuna is David Kalpahana's NAGARJUNA: The Philosophy of the Middle Way. This book is a translation of Nagarjuna's central text, the Mula. Tibetan type hate the book, which probably speaks well of it. The translation, while not perfect is good and the commentary is interesting, often referencing the Pali suttas.

But for me, the Theravada/Pali suttas do not need Nagarjuna.


is that the one that asserts that he's a nihlist?
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:36 am

is that the one that asserts that he's a nihlist?


No.Not all.
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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