Monday, January 02, 2006

Nagarjuna's "Mulamadhyamakakarika"

I salute him, the fully-enlightened, the best of speakers,
who preached the non-ceasing and the non-arising,
the non- annihilation and the non-permanence,
the non-identity and the non- difference,
the non-appearance and the non-disappearance,
the dependent arising,
the appeasement of obsessions and the auspicious

I've been reading Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way) as 'holiday reading'. It's a very important Buddhist text and unusually dry and logically rigorous for such texts. The central concept of the text is Sunyata, usually translated as 'emptiness', which is a very frequently misunderstood concept. It does not mean 'nothingness' nor does it refer to some empty space somewhere, nor is it a claim that reality does not exist in any way at all.

Because of these misunderstandings, the concept is sometimes translated more positively as 'openness' or (by Thich Nhat Hanh) as 'Interbeing'. I think these alternatives are probably helpful. One of the reasons that I'm reading the book is that I'm hoping to come to a better understanding of Nagarjuna's description of 'emptiness' itself being 'empty' ie. lacking inherent characteristics - emptiness is not an inherenent characteristic, it is an absence of them.

Emptiness is an absence of an inherent nature - an independent self if you like. Nature is not just interconnected, but interdependent. The nature of every entity is dependent on conditions, on parts, on causes, on context and on conceptualisation to apparently possess the nature we see it as having. According to Nagarjuna things exist and have a nature from a conventional/relative view, but ultimately do not exist from an absolute viewpoint since they don't have an inherent nature. I'm gradually getting my head around this but I'm not quite there yet.

I'll probably report back on this later - when (and indeed if) I finish it.
After a suitable break I'll probably try to tackle the Shobogenzo.

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