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
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
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.