44. It All Depends: Nagarjuna on Emptiness

Posted on 11 June 2017

Nāgārjuna founds the Mādhyamaka (“middle way”) Buddhist tradition by “relinquishing all views” and arguing that everything is “empty.”

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Further Reading

• K. Bhattacharya, E.H. Johnston and A. Kunst, The Dialectical Method of Nāgārjuna: Vigrahavyāvartanī (Delhi: 1986).

• S. Katsura and M. Siderits, Nāgārjuna’s Middle Way: Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā (Boston: 2013).

 

• J. Ganeri, “Rationality, Emptiness, and the Objective View,” in Philosophy in Classical India (London: 2001), ch. 2.

• C.W. Huntington, The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamaka (Honolulu: 1989).

• R. Robinson, “Did Nāgārjuna Really Refute All Philosophical Views?” Philosophy East and West 22 (1972), 325-31.

• D. Ruegg, “Does the Mādhyamika have a Thesis and Philosophical Position?” in B.K. Matilal and R.D.G. Evans (eds), Buddhist Logic and Epistemology: Studies in the Buddhist Analysis of Inference and Language (Dordrecht: 1982), 229-38.

• P. Sagal, “Nāgārjuna’s Paradox,” American Philosophical Quarterly 29 (1992), 79-85.

• J. Walser, Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture (New York: 2005).

• J. Westerhoff, Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka. A Philosophical Introduction (Oxford: 2009).

• J. Westerhoff, “On the Nihilist Interpretation of Madhyamaka,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 44 (2016), 337-76.

Comments

Tadija 20 June 2017

Must say you've lost me @3 minute mark when you said that the Buddha concedes to there being  a self when he speaks about rebirth, but only as a concession to conventional modes of thinking.

Not only can not-self be squared in with rebirth, but rebirth is a central doctrine of Buddhism. If you deny Buddhism rebirth, the whole philosophy falls apart, and Buddha was cut and dry on the idea that a materialistic death is a wrong view.

Most Buddhists do not believe that the talk about karma and rebirth is something handwaved in to please the masses, that is just a popular trend among some western "Secular" Buddhists. See the millions of Pure Land practitioners whose practice rests upon the idea that at death, they will be reborn in the Western Paradise of Amitabha so that they can reach enlightenment promptly. 

Oh yes, I agree with you about that - perhaps I put it in a misleading way but I was trying to say that in the ancient texts, it sometimes sounds as if rebirth is being described in a way that presupposes an enduring self. So the point is that if the Buddha doesn't always hasten to add "and don't forget there is no enduring self" every time rebirth is mentioned, that is just a matter of audience. It is, I think, widely taken for granted (as you say) that rebirth is a core part of Buddhism, the only question is how to account for rebirth on the various theories of (no-)self that the various Buddhists adopt.

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