Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is Buddhism a religion ? II

The subject matter of Buddhism is this entire phenomenon that we call 'our life', 'existence', 'reality' etc. As such, it includes all particular values or beliefs - one god, many gods or no god; good and evil; religion and non-religion; Materialism and Idealism; Dualism and Monism; spiritual and non-spiritual; existence and non-existence; unity and multiplicity; the all and the individual. Nothing is excluded. How can we say it is any particular thing?

Yet when we practice by sitting we are still sitting and when we practice by walking we are still walking. So, when we practice by practicing Buddhism we are still practicing Buddhism and Buddhism is generally regarded as a religion. So, at a conventional level it seems acceptable to refer to Buddhism as a religion of sorts.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two Poems by Ryokan

Too lazy to be ambitious
I let the world take care of itself;
Ten days' worth of rice in my bag
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace
why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.

My life may appear melancholy,
But traveling through this world
I have entrusted myself to Heaven.
In my sack, three quarts of rice;
By the hearth, a bundle of firewood.
If someone asks what is the mark of
enlightenment or illusion
I cannot say - wealth and honor are nothing but dust.
As the evening rain falls I sit in my hermitage
And stretch out both feet in answer.

( tr. John Stevens)


Rosemary and the other more senior members of our Zen group are going off for a sesshin next week and I've been asked to lead the group next week. I'm a little nervous because I've not done any of it before. However, it's a good opportunity to learn new things and anyway, all the people who would notice if I slipped up will be away.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dogen's Genjo Koan (Pt.3) - My Interpretation

Let me reiterate that I don't by any stretch of the imagination consider myself as an authority on the text. I'm doing this to aid my own ongoing study and hopefully helping some other people at the same time.

Dogen is notoriously difficult to interpret for a number of reasons:
- As with all Zen Masters he is attempting to indicate something which cannot really be defined by words or even thoughts
- He uses ideas which are difficult and subtle
- His statements contradict one another - even from one sentence to the next. I would suggest that the key to understanding these contradictions lies in understanding that Buddhism teaches two truths - conventional truth and what is called 'ultimate' truth and the same situation can be described in contradictory terms from these two viewpoints.
- He writes in extended poetic metaphors, the meaning of which are not only difficult to grasp, but sometimes can only be understood as references to imagery used by his contemporaries and antecedents but which are now obscure

The Genjo Koan is widely regarded as being one of the key passages of the Shobogenzo and is probably the most widely discussed. No doubt my clumsy attempts to grasp the meaning will lose the poetic qualities of the text.

Being able to understand Dogen's writing does not mean one is 'enlightened'. And being unable to understand it does not mean that one lacks understanding of Buddhism. However, I hope that after this little project I will be in a better position to tackle the rest of the Shobogenzo. Hopefull it will be useful to others too.

The following lectures by Rev. Shohaku Okumura have been invaluable resources for me:
Dogen Zenji's Genjo-Koan Lecture
Genjo-Koan: Actualization of Reality, Part 2

And this is a very useful tool for comparing various translations:
8 English Translations of Genjokoan

As all things are buddha-dharma, there are delusion, realization, practice, birth and death, buddhas and sentient beings. As myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death. The buddha way, in essence, is leaping clear of abundance and lack; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

There are two truths of Buddhism. The traditional teaching as originally described by Gautama Buddha is the conventional truth of Buddhism: delusion and enlightenment and the path from one to the other, life and death, ordinary beings and Buddhas. However when Right View is understood it is seen that all things are inter-dependent and have no fixed self - it is seen that is they have no ultimate existence, they are empty and thus never come into or pass out of existence. This is the second truth of Buddhism - it cannot be said that these entities exist, nor can it be said that they lack existence. Yet the actual practice of Buddhism goes beyond or is a middle path between these two conceptual truths of multiplicity and emptiness. This corresponds to the third truth of Buddhism according to the Tien T'ai/Tendai sect. It is because things are empty, because there are no fixed natures that change and being are possible, hence there is birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, Buddhas and ordinary beings as we experience them. However, it is desire and aversion to all such unsubstantial phenomena of all sorts which is the root of our suffering.

To carry the self forward and illuminate myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening.
Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings. Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond realization, who are in delusion throughout delusion. When buddhas are truly buddhas, they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddha.

Buddhist practice which is self-centred, that is it is, seen as an attempt to reach enlightenment through the efforts of the individual self, is based on the delusion of fixed-self. Practice which is seen as the expression of all things through the individual self is the enlightened view. To see delusion as delusion is enlightenment; to be deluded about enlightenment (to see it as separate from the reality of here and now for example) is samsara. Some are awakened about awakening and some are deluded about delusion. Being a Buddha (being a non-conceptual realisation) does not necessarily mean that one knows one is Buddha, but being a Buddha is a process of ongoing, unfolding awakening.

When you see forms or hear sounds, fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit dharma intimately. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined, the other side is dark.

Through absorption of our whole being into phenomena, we know phenomena intimately, but to see this as a duality - the mind reflecting phenomena like a mirror is an error. We cannot see the objective and our subjective perception of it side by side, because there is only one reality.

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly. When you first seek dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs. At the moment when dharma is correctly transmitted, you are immediately your original self.

Buddhist practice is the study of the self. Studying the self, we realise that there is no fixed self, that the self is empty. To realise this is to realise ourselves as an expression of all reality. When this occurs, all sense of our own self and that of others as actual separate identities disappears. All attachment to concepts drops away - even the thought of our own realisation - we become free from such conceptual attachments. When you first seek Awakening you imagine that you are far from it, but when you attain it, you realise it is what you already are.

When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.

Our perspective on the universe is distorted by the fact of our subjectivity - that part of that which is being observed is that which is doing the observing. Because our mind cannot really see itself we imagine that it remains constant while the reality around it changes. But through Buddhist practice we can realise that nothing has a fixed self, nothing remains unchanged.

Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not suppose that the ash is after and the firewood before. You should understand that firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood, which fully includes before and after and is independent of before and after. Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash, which fully includes before and after. Just as firewood does not become firewood again after it is ash, you do not return to birth after death.
This being so, it is an established way in buddha-dharma to deny that birth turns into death. Accordingly, birth is understood as no-birth. It is an unshakable teaching in the Buddha's discourse that death does not turn into birth. Accordingly, death is understood as no-death.
Birth is an expression complete this moment. Death is an expression complete this moment. They are like winter and spring. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring.

Because entities lack a fixed self, change is possible and irreversible. In the process of change it is a mistake to see an earlier state and a later state as earlier and later states of one continuous entity. Each state or moment both includes its past and future and is free from it at the same time. The past and future of each state exists, but they exist in that moment. Each state is just itself. Just as a phenomenon does not return from a later stage to an earlier stage, death does not become life. There is no continuous identity (ie. atman) that survives from one life into another.

That birth does not become death, that there is no fixed self that continues from birth to death is accepted Buddhist doctrine. Because of this birth is not the real beginning of a real continuous entity - birth is unborn... It is also taught that there is no fixed self that continues from death to birth. Because there is no continuous self to come to an end, the true understanding of death is 'no death'...

Birth and death are not the birth and death of an imagined additional continous entity - the fixed self. Birth and death are just fully the reality of themselves at the time when they exist and no more. There is no fixed entity that comes into being or stops being, there is just endless unfolding change.

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.
Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.

When we Awaken we realise that reality is expressed through us, like the moon reflected in water. The whole of reality expresses itself in each and every part of reality. Yet the vastness of reality does not affect our being and our enlightenment does not interfere with the universe. Reality is exactly itself whether we realise its true nature or not.

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing. For example, when you sail out in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view the four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as far as you can see at that time. All things are like this.
Though there are many features in the dusty world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.

People who have a partial realisation of Buddhism think that they have the whole teaching. When you are fully awakened you can see the limitation of your own perspectives. To realise the 'oneness' of all things is not complete awakening, because our point of view is always limited, even our sense of oneness. In actuality, reality has infinite appearances and 'oneness' is just one of them.

A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air. However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements. When their activity is large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small. Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm. If the bird leaves the air it will die at once. If the fish leaves the water it will die at once.
Know that water is life and air is life. The bird is life and the fish is life. Life must be the bird and life must be the fish. You can go further. There is practice-enlightenment which encompasses limited and unlimited life.

The fish in the water and the bird in the air are metaphors for sentient beings in emptiness, in the dharma, in reality, fully at one with the dharma, inseparable from it, unable to leave it, yet unconscious of it.

Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others'. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now.

This is Dogen's conclusion as to how we should live according to the Buddha Dharma. We should not conceptually try to investigate all of reality before we allow ourselves to live in it. To practice Buddhism is to find your place in reality - it makes reality real, rather than conceptual. This place is not far away - it can be found right where you are. Finding your place is something that occurs only at the present moment and awakening is something that occurs only at the present moment. This place does not belong to self or non-self; it is neither true to say that it has existed eternally nor is it just coming into existence. (All of these ways of thinking about it would be to ascribe to it a separate essence or self and thus lose it.)

Accordingly, in the practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, to attain one thing is to penetrate one thing; to meet one practice is to sustain one practice.
Here is the place; here the way unfolds. The boundary of realization is not distinct, for the realization comes forth simultaneously with the mastery of buddha-dharma. Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your intellect. Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge.

'To penetrate' here means 'to be be absorbed into', 'to lose all sense of separation from'. Correct Buddhist practice is to do whatever it is that we are doing with all of our being - not necessarily with all of our 'effort' (if such a thing has meaning here) but with all of our being, so that there is no distinction between us and the phenomenal reality of our actions, whether that be kinhin, zazen, eating, working or whatever. Because realisation occurs at the same time as our self 'becomes one with all things' there is no clear moment of self-awareness of enlightenment. Realisation is not conceptual knowledge and when it appears we cannot really know it intellectually.

Mayu, Zen master Baoche, was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, “Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. Why, then, do you fan yourself?”
“Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent,” Mayu replied, “you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.”
“What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?” asked the monk again. Mayu just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.
The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the vital path of its correct transmission, is like this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither permanence nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent. Because of that, the wind of the buddha's house brings forth the gold of the earth and makes fragrant the cream of the long river.

This koan is a metaphor for Dogen's 'Great Doubt' - if we are already enlightened then why do we need to practice? The wind is the wind of dharma, reality, suchness. Fanning the wind represents Buddhist practice ie. Zazen. If the dharma is permanent and reaches everywhere why do we need to make any effort? The dharma does reach everywhere but delusion obscures it. The dharma fully penetrates even delusion, hatred and attachment. Yet those things are still confuse our mind. Practice eliminates these things allowing us to realise our own oneness with the dharma - our own original enlightenment allowing us to be free to be happy.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I think that Zen practice has helped me to accept that I am ordinary and that not only is it OK to be ordinary, it can be pretty wonderful, pretty extraordinary even. What makes life satisfying and extraordinary doesn't have much to do with how 'special' society regards me or I regard myself - although I do like my loved ones to think me special...but that's a little different.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A reply to: 'Buddhist Retreat, Why I gave up on finding my religion', By John Horgan

Original article

This article was first published in 2003. Seemingly it is John Horgan's previous dabbling with Buddhism which qualifies him to criticise what he claims it represents, but Buddhism is very difficult to understand and many spend their lives following or reacting against misunderstandings of it. While I don't claim to fully understand it myself I certainly understand it better than John Horgan, so I'm going to respond to his criticisms.

Actually, Buddhism is functionally theistic, even if it avoids the "G" word.

Something appearing (naively) to be 'functionally theistic' is not the same as it being theistic. Buddhists rely on their own effort for salvation not the mercy of imaginary beings. Anyway, there do appear to be some functional benefits to theism. Why else would it have evolved and become so dominant as a biological tendency and a cultural phenomenon? Those who are engaged in organised religion are happier and healthier than those who are not. Perhaps organised religion is also good for the moral welfare of nations. Buddhism, it would seem, gives the same benefits as theism without having to rely on faith to believe in the literal existence of beings which are really (at best) unknowable.

Like its parent religion Hinduism, Buddhism espouses reincarnation, which holds that after death our souls are re-instantiated in new bodies, and karma, the law of moral cause and effect. Together, these tenets imply the existence of some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with rebirth as a cockroach or as a saintly lama.

Buddhism teaches rebirth rather than reincarnation and the difference is not just in name. In Hinduist reincarnation, a permanent self ('Atman') is incarnated in body after body like someone changing their clothes. Buddha denied that such a permanent self exists. With Buddhist rebirth there is no entity to be reborn, just effects following on from causes just as in ordinary existence. Some actions lead to bad consequences and some lead to good consequences. There is no need for judgement. Admittedly traditional Buddhism does not necessarily have the same notions of what actions lead to bad conseqences as modern westerners, but that is really just a difference of detail. If someone kills an insect I don't believe that that will lead to bad consequences - except in so far as cruelty may be cause of unhappiness or unless the insect is a killer bee. Nevertheless it is true that some actions are in the interests of my future happiness and some are against the interests of my future happiness.

The trouble is, decades of research have shown meditation's effects to be highly unreliable, as James Austin, a neurologist and Zen Buddhist, points out in Zen and Brain. Yes, it can reduce stress, but, as it turns out, no more so than simply sitting still does. Meditation can even exacerbate depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions in certain people.

If the aim of meditation in Buddhism was relaxation, then Horgan might have a point. However, the aim of meditation is the elimination of suffering and there is good evidence that meditators are happier. And what worthwhile activity is free from challenges and difficulties?

The insights imputed to meditation are questionable, too. Meditation, the brain researcher Francisco Varela told me before he died in 2001, confirms the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, which holds that the self is an illusion. Varela contended that anatta has also been corroborated by cognitive science, which has discovered that our perception of our minds as discrete, unified entities is an illusion foisted upon us by our clever brains. In fact, all that cognitive science has revealed is that the mind is an emergent phenomenon, which is difficult to explain or predict in terms of its parts; few scientists would equate the property of emergence with nonexistence, as anatta does.

Anatta is not the principle that there is no self at all. Anatta is the principle that there is no unchanging, permanent self. And this is indeed borne out by neuroscience which reveals a mind that is a series of massively parallel and constantly changing processes. There is not even a single central 'place' where all our perceptions and experiences meet.

Even if you achieve a blissful acceptance of the illusory nature of your self, this perspective may not transform you into a saintly bodhisattva, brimming with love and compassion for all other creatures. Far from it—and this is where the distance between certain humanistic values and Buddhism becomes most apparent. To someone who sees himself and others as unreal, human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. This may explain why some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints. Chogyam Trungpa, who helped introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in the 1970s, was a promiscuous drunk and bully, and he died of alcohol-related illness in 1987. Zen lore celebrates the sadistic or masochistic behavior of sages such as Bodhidharma, who is said to have sat in meditation for so long that his legs became gangrenous.

It seems presumptious to suggest that not absolutely accepting the relatively new (by the standards of Buddhism) ethical philosophy of Humanism is unacceptable. Nevertheless, I agree with Horgan in so much as that being a senior member of the Buddhist clergy is no guarantee of compassionate behaviour. As for whether Buddhism leads to compassion on the whole, I simply don't know. But again, the final aim of Buddhism is not compassion but elimination of suffering.

What's worse, Buddhism holds that enlightenment makes you morally infallible—like the pope, but more so. Even the otherwise sensible James Austin perpetuates this insidious notion. " 'Wrong' actions won't arise," he writes, "when a brain continues truly to express the self-nature intrinsic to its [transcendent] experiences." Buddhists infected with this belief can easily excuse their teachers' abusive acts as hallmarks of a "crazy wisdom" that the unenlightened cannot fathom.

I agree that some such abuses have happened. People who act like this I would suggest have an incomplete understanding of Buddhism as amoral. It is foolish to excuse such behaviour on the grounds that being 'beyond good and evil' makes you immune to moral culpability. Many sociopaths could be described as internally 'beyond good and evil' in a similar way.

Some Western Buddhists have argued that principles such as reincarnation, anatta, and enlightenment are not essential to Buddhism. In Buddhism Without Beliefs and The Faith To Doubt, the British teacher Stephen Batchelor eloquently describes his practice as a method for confronting—rather than transcending—the often painful mystery of life. But Batchelor seems to have arrived at what he calls an "agnostic" perspective in spite of his Buddhist training—not because of it. When I asked him why he didn't just call himself an agnostic, Batchelor shrugged and said he sometimes wondered himself.

Lots of Zen Buddhists are agnostic. It doesn't matter what you believe in Zen with regards to metaphysical notions. I would say that when you are agnostic about your agnosticism - when you don't even believe your own thoughts, whether they be beliefs or doubts - then you are enlightened.

All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental. Far from being the raison d'ĂȘtre of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science's disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can.

Science has never shown that we are accidental in the way described. The chance of this universe having properties suitable for the formation of complex matter, let alone life, let alone intelligent life by chance alone is so small that it is barely worth considering. The only known explanations for this are the various sorts of Anthropic Principle or various sorts of creation myths. All of these explanations require that in some sense conscious beings are a necessary part of the universe.

The Buddhist view in my mind is quite close to the Anthropic Principle not in the sense that the universe was created for the benefit of mankind or with the purpose of creating mankind, but that what we think of a 'the universe' cannot really be separated from what we think of as 'ourselves'. Any belief in a fundamental separation would be very difficult to defend scientifically and would be correctly understood to be a metaphysical belief.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I was doing zazen last night. I've been busy with work and sorting out the new house so Zen is taking a lower priority for a while. I haven't done much serious sitting for a couple of weeks so for the first 20 minutes or so I was pretty distracted.

After that I entered a state which was almost effortless. It was as if the core part of the discursive mind just turned off. Wordlessness is a better word than silence. Reality was a sort of surging 'roar'. Thoughts and words seemed utterly irrelevant to describe it, like an unknown language. It was a roar because the dominant sensation was the sounds of traffic and passersby from outside the window. Yet that roar excluded no part of the phenomenal world.

There were still thoughts going on and I was still able to detach myself from the state at times. I 'interrogated' this state with a few questions.

Q: what is this?

Q: self or no-self?

Q: 'neither this nor that'?
A: Close but no cigar. ROAAAAR!

Q: 'oneness'?

Q: 'neither one nor two'?

Q: nonduality?
A: neither yes nor no. ROAAAR!

Q: enlightenment?
A: Just this - ROOOAAAR

I felt there was nothing I could say (or even think) about it. My tongue had been cut out.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Just finished reading... Nagarjuna

I've just finished reading Jay L Garfield's
The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way : Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, which seems to be the best rated commentary on Nagarjuna's most important work. It's quite dense reading but very rewarding - Garfield's insight is penetrating and Nagarjuna's philosphy is powerful, rigorous and sublime.

Nagarjuna is probably the most influential Buddhist philosopher after Gautama Buddha himself and the chief proponent of the early Mahayana Madhyamaka philosophy, which emphasises the 'Middle Way' between philosophical extremes particularly Eternalism and Nihilism. Nagarjuna is also the developer of Gautama Buddha's concept of sunya ('void') into the concept of Sunyata ('emptiness of self-nature'). This logical approach to Buddhist philosphy, although very powerful was often misunderstood as a form of Nihilism and probably for this reason was generally supplanted with more poetic, metaphorical approaches.

Much like Wittgenstein, Nagarjuna is logically rigorous yet manages to indicate a 'sublime' reality which transcends logic and language. He even refutes the views of philosophers without proposing or holding any view whatsoever - successfully as far as I can tell.

He covers pretty much every aspect of philosphy and metaphysics - reducing beliefs and problems (again like Wittgenstein) to errors of thought and language - and reading him clarifies a great many confusing aspects of Buddhist philosophy such as the nature of the self, which are glossed over by so many others.

One of the concepts I really wanted to get to grips with when I started this was the idea that not only are entities 'empty' but that 'emptiness itself is empty' (and so on). And this book certainly helped me to understand this. Emptiness is not to be mistaken as an essential characteristic of entities or reality - it is not itself the self-existent nature of things - it is only a reference to the lack of self-existence in things. That lack is not a property just as nothing is not a thing.

Here are a few choice extracts.

He opens with this little corker:

Neither from itself nor from another,
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause,
Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.

Although this sounds Nihilistic, it is not, but this can only be properly understood in the context of the rest of the work. And refuting the view of emptiness as a an inherent property or a view to be clung to is perhaps the core and final message of the text.

On emptiness he says:

Whatever is the essence of the Tathagata [Buddha],
That is the essence of the world.
The Tathagata has no essence.
The world is without essence.

Everything is real and is not real,
Both real and not real,
Neither real nor notreal.
This is Lord Buddha's teaching.

Many problems in Western philosphy as well as Buddhism can be seen in terms of a confusion between conventional and 'ultimate' categories of truth.

The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma
Is based on two truths:
A truth of worldly convention
And an ultimate truth.

Those who do not understand
The distinction drawn between these two truths
Do not understand
The Buddha's profound truth.

Without a foundation in the conventional truth,
The significance of the ultimate cannot be taught.
Without understanding the significance of the ultimate,
Liberation is not achieved.

The human tendency to reify - to treat abstract concepts as inherent entities or properties - is difficult to escape. Even emptiness becomes something that Buddhist's cling to and regard as some sort of inherent or transcendent reality or a nihilistic view of the universe as non-existent.

By a misperception of emptiness
A person of little intelligence is destroyed.
Like a snake incorrectly seized
Or like a spell incorrectly cast.

For that reason - that the Dharma is
Deep and difficult to understand and to learn -
The Buddha's mind dispaired of being able to teach it.

You have presented fallacious refutations
That are not relevant to emptiness.
Your confusion about emptiness
Does not belong to me.

"Empty" should not be asserted.
"Nonempty" should not be asserted.
Neither both nor neither should be asserted.
They are only used nominally.

What is dependently co-arisen
That is to be explained to be emtiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

The victorious ones [ie. Buddhas] have said
That emptiness is the relinquishing of all views.
For whomever emptiness is a view,
That one has accomplished nothing.

For those, like myself who desire logical thoroughness, Nagarjuna is ideal, yet he leaves us with a vision of the world in which logic and language are peripheral and provisional and in which 'absolute truth' is absent - a view of reality in which everything is just as it is. I'll finish with this excerpt from Wittgenstein which resonates extremely well with Nagarjuna.

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognises them as nonsensical, when he has used them - as steps - to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

What can be said can be said clearly
What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.

Given that Nagarjuna has only become visible to western philosophers in the last two or three decades, it seems, I imagine that Wittgenstein was entirely unaware of Nagarjuna.