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The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā[1] (Devanagari: मूलमध्यमककारिका), or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a key text by Nagarjuna, one of the most important Buddhist philosophers.


Competing interpretations

The argument is unusually susceptible to interpretation, as it is expressed almost wholly as a series of often cryptic refutations. We may classify the divergent treatments of the Madhyamakakārikā under three headings:

Those presenting the text as an appendix to a previously established philosophical tradition;
Those reading the text as a poem to subsequent philosophical developments;
Those that would present it as philosophical teaching unto itself.

For a brief example of each, we may consider that the modern Theravādins have represented the text as a mere recapitulation of early Buddhist anātman-theory (i.e., the Buddha's rejection of a transcendent self)[citation needed], various Mahāyāna schools have regarded the text as the basis for their metaphysics (as with the Yogacara in India[citation needed], or the Hua-Yen in China)[citation needed], and the Prāsaṅgika school (led by Candrakīrti) regarded the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā as a definitive manual on method, allowing of little in the way of further development and taking little interest in text's sources in the Śrāvaka Sutras.

It may be noted that Nāgārjuna's other works are not nearly so constrained in form and have not been given equal prominence in modern scholarship.[citation needed] This is sometimes attributable to misgivings over the authenticity of other texts (many of which are not extant in Sanskrit), but is sometimes due to sectarian biases[citation needed]. The openness of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā to interpretation and re-interpretation has garnered the interest of diverse religious and secular schools, and has at the same time fostered a reluctance to interpret it in light of the same author's other, less ambiguous writings[citation needed].

The Madhyamakasatram of Nagarjuna The Madhyamaka Philosophy, which was formulated by Acarya Nagarjuna, created a revolution in Buddhism[citation needed]. The Prajnamula, or the Mulamadhyamaka Prajnanama, is his basic text. This system was developed from the time of its formulation by Nagarjuna in A.D.150 and was eventually divided into the Prasangika and the Svatantrika schools, as represented by Acarya Buddhapalita and Acarya Bhavaviveka respectively. In the third period, Candrakīrti (600–c650) supported Nagarjuna and Buddhapalita (470–550) but criticized Bhavaviveka (fl.6th century). Eight commentaries have been written on this Mulamadhyamakakarika, but, excepting Candrakirti's Prasannapada, all disappeared from original Sanskrit (though Tibetan and Chinese versions exist). First-time Dr. Raghunath Pandey restored of all of the three commentaries by Nagarjuna, Buddhapalita, and Bhavaviveka. Prajnapradipa and Prasannapada are included in the volume for consultation and comparison. Unfortunately, commentaries by Sthiramati and Gunamati are lost even from Tibetan.[2]

Exegesis and commentarial literature

The Akutobhayā, whose authorship is unknown, though is attributed to Nagarjuna in the tradition, is held by Ames (1993: p. 209) to be the first commentary on the MMK.[3] Buddhapālita (470–550), is the first known author of an extant commentary on the MMK.[3]

Form and content of the text

The early chapters

The early chapters of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (hereafter, MMK), deal mostly with basic metaphysical categories like causation, time, and agency. In general, they pose questions regarding the basic categories of Indian philosophy, trying to ascertain what are the conditions necessary for these concepts to be coherent and non-contradictory. Nāgārjuna's conclusion is uniformly negative; he finds that none of these ideas are self-sufficient, and as such none can found any of the others; there are no viable foundations. These chapters are:

  1. Pratyayaparīkṣā: Analysis of conditions
  2. Gatāgataparīkṣā: Analysis of going and not going
  3. Cakṣurādīndriyaparīkṣā: Analysis of the eye and the other sense-organs
  4. Skandhaparīkṣā: Analysis of the skandhas ((mental) "aggregates")
  5. Dhātuparīkṣā: Analysis of the dhatūs ("constituents" or "strata" (in the sense of metaphysical substrata))
  6. Rāgaraktaparīkṣā: Analysis of passion and the impassioned
  7. Saṃskṛtaparīkṣā: Analysis of the conditioned
  8. Karmakārakaparīkṣā: Analysis of action and actor
  9. Pūrvaparīkṣā: Analysis of the past
  10. Agnīndhanaparīkṣā: Analysis of fire and fuel
  11. Pūrvaparakoṭiparīkṣā: Analysis of past and future limits
  12. Duḥkhaparīkṣā: Analysis of suffering

The later chapters

In these chapters, Nāgārjuna begins to move away from simply negating others' concepts and begins, slowly, to put forward some assertions of his own. In these chapters, Nāgārjuna puts forth his boldest reasoning, including such assertions as:

These chapters are as follows; note the clustering of 24-26, and also the nature of the last chapter:

  • 13. Saṃskāraparīkṣā: Analysis of disposition
  • 14. Saṃsargaparīkṣā: Analysis of admixture
  • 15. Svabhāvaparīkṣā: Analysis of being or essence
  • 16. Bandhanamokṣaparīkṣā: Analysis of bondage and liberation
  • 17. Karmaphalaparīkṣa: Analysis of action and its fruit
  • 18. Ātmaparīkṣā: Analysis of the soul.
  • 19. Kālaparīkṣā: Analysis of time
  • 20. Sāmagrīparīkṣā: Analysis of holism
  • 21. Saṃbhavavibhavaparīkṣā: Analysis of becoming and un-becoming
  • 22. Tathāgataparīkṣā: Analysis of the Tathāgata
  • 23. Viparyāsaparīkṣā: Analysis of Error
  • 24. Āryasatyaparīkṣā: Analysis of the Noble Truths
  • 25. Nirvānaparīkṣā: Analysis of nirvāṇa
  • 26. Dvādaśāṅgaparīkṣā: Analysis of the twelvefold chain (of dependent origination)
  • 27. Dṛṣṭiparīkṣā: Analysis of views

Nāgārjuna's opponents

To some extent the refutations that make up the bulk of the text may be supposed to have been intended for the benefit of definite, historical schools of opponents. The amount that we may know about Nāgārjuna's contemporaries will remain limited, and it is reasonable to suppose that Nāgārjuna largely made his opponents' doctrines a convenience for unfolding his own, as he took no trouble (in this text) to give a balanced view or summary of what he argued against. Most commonly, we have only a few words of each objection from the interlocutor before Nāgārjuna proceeds to refute the error at length. The extent to which the author may have misrepresented his opponents out of convenience may never be known. Some portions of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā certainly appear to have been polemics against the ontology (and cosmology) of the Māha-Vibhāṣa-Abhidharma-Śāstra, and others seem to target the Pudgalavāda school. The influence of early Lankāvatāra texts may be surmised, but the paucity of early manuscripts of the latter has left its historical significance open as another matter of speculation. It may also be the case that Nagarjuna considered himself part of the longstanding Buddhist tradition of composing manuals of the correct answers to common questions from laypeople, and refutations of false views directed at monks by skeptics, or members of rival religions. "Manuals" of this nature are found in Abhidhamma, as well as in quasi-canonical works such as the Milinda Panha ("The questions of King Menander"), and are prefigured to some extent in the Suttapitaka by tracts such as the "Brahma's Net of False Views Sutra". Thus, we must leave open the possibility that Nagarjuna had no specific opponents or rival schools in mind, but instead composed the verses as a memoriter "manual" to prepare students or monks for debates, questions, or fallacies they might encounter from various camps, within or without the Buddhist community.

Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and epistemology

The Madhyamakakārikā provides us with a theory of knowledge and a "critique of reason". Those who have read the text as a philosophy unto itself (e.g., the Prasaṅgikas) have emphasized the extent to which understanding the limitations of knowledge and reasoning precludes the need for metaphysics or even for "truths", "standpoints", and other certainties. For the Prasangikas, all teachings are merely conventional. Their predominant method of argumentation is by reductio ad absurdum, "prasaṅga" in Sanskrit. For them, the exposition of śūnyatā is merely a way of pointing to the absence of any essence or foundation, whether in terms of metaphysical substance or in terms of epistemological truth.

However, many Mahayana schools have made this very teaching of emptiness the basis of their systems of speculative constructions, cosmologies, ethics, and metaphysics. The Theravada interpretation, on the other hand, (which has come to prominence only recently) suggests that Nāgārjuna neither intended to preclude metaphysics (with a perfect system of reasoning) nor to found a new system of thought. The purpose of the text, so this argument goes, was to counteract certain misinterpretations that had sprung up around the Buddha's original teaching of anatman (literally "not self"). David Kalupahana for example holds that the text is an extended commentary on and explication of the agamas' Kaatyaayanagotra sutra, the only text alluded to by name in the MMK.[4]

The Madhyamakakārikā's ultimate purpose, we should remember, was not to stake out a sectarian position (a "dṛṣṭi", or "view"). Nāgārjuna repeatedly and emphatically states that to make a "fixed view" of his teaching is to miss its point, though he does give "explanation" of doctrines stemming from the Canon. The purpose of the Madhyamakakārikā's short course in reasoning is soteriological: to demonstrate the fallacy of clinging to views (or any standpoint whatever, however valid or true) and, in so doing, to remove an obstacle to enlightenment. For this reason it may be described as an "anti-philosophy" as well as a philosophy in its own right.

As the text concludes,


Sarvadṛṣṭiprahānāya yaḥ saddharmamadeśat Anukampām upādāya taṃ namasyāmi gautamaṃ

I prostrate to Gautama, who through compassion, taught the true doctrine, which leads to the relinquishing of all views.[5]


Author Title Publisher Date ISBN Notes
Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Brad Warner Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika Monkfish Book Publishing 2011 ISBN 9780983358909 A modern interpretation from a Zen perspective.
Mabja Jangchub Tsöndrü Ornament of Reason: The Great Commentary to Nagarjuna's Root of the Middle Way Snow Lion 2011 ISBN 9781559393683 Commentary translated by The Dharmachakra Translation Committee.
Jones, Richard H. Nagarjuna: Buddhism's Most Important Philosopher Booksurge 2010 ISBN 9781451539790 Translation into idiomatic English with commentary and translations of other works by Nagarjuna.
Padmakara Translation Group The Root Stanzas on the Middle Way Éditions Padmakara 2008 ISBN 9782916915449 A translation from the Tibetan, following (but not including) the commentary of the Nyingma and Rimé master Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche. This volume, containing both the Tibetan text and translation, was made to mark the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to France in August 2008, and as a support for the teachings scheduled for that occasion.
Luetchford, Michael J. Between Heaven and Earth - From Nagarjuna to Dogen Windbell Publications 2002 ISBN 9780952300250 A translation and interpretation with references to the philosophy of Zen Master Dogen.
Batchelor, Stephen Verses from the Center Diane Publishing 2000 ISBN 9781573228763 Batchelor's translation is the first nonacademic, idiomatic English version of the text.
McCagney, Nancy Nagarjuna and the Philosophy of Openness Rowman & Littlefield 1997 ISBN 9780847686261 Romanized text, translation and philosophical analysis.
Garfield, Jay L. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way Oxford University Press 1995 ISBN 9780195093360 A translation of the Tibetan version together with commentary.
Kalupahana, David J. Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way State University of New York Press 1986 ISBN 9788120807747 Romanized text, translation, and commentary. Interpretation of the text in the light of the Canon.
Sprung, Mervyn Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way Prajna Press, Boulder 1979 ISBN 9780710001900 Partial translation of the verses together with Chandrakirti's commentary.
Inada, Kenneth K. Nagarjuna: A Translation of his Mulamadhyamakakarika With an Introductory Essay The Hokuseido Press 1970 ISBN 9780893460761 Romanized text and translation.
Streng, Frederick Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning Abdingdon Press 1967 (predates ISBN) Translation and considerable analysis.



Neither from itself nor from another,
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause,
Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.[7]


If intrinsic nature does not exist, of what will there be alteration?
If intrinsic nature does exist, of what will there be alteration?


अस्तीति शाश्वतग्राहो नास्तीत्युच्चेददर्शनं
astīti śāśvatagrāho nāstītyuccedadarśanaṁ
To say "it is" is to grasp for permanence. To say "it is not" is to adopt the view of nihilism.
तस्माद् अस्तित्वनास्तित्वे नाश्रीयेत विचक्षणः।
tasmād astitvanāstitve nāśrīyeta vicakṣaṇaḥ
Therefore a wise person does not say "exists" or "does not exist".[8]


न निर्वाणसमारोपो न संसारापकषणम्
na nirvāṇasamāropo na saṁsārāpakaṣaṇam
यत्र कस्तत्र संसारो निर्वाणं किं विकल्प्यते
yatra kastatra saṁsāro nirvāṇaṁ kiṁ vikalpyate
Where there is neither an addition of nirvana nor a removal of samsara; There, what samsara is discriminated from what nirvana?[citation needed]


ātmetya api prajñapitam anātmetyapi deśitam
Although (the term) "self" is caused to be known (of, about), and although (a doctrine or teaching of) "no self" is taught,
buddhair nātmā na cānātmā kaścid ity api deśitaṁ| 6
No "self" or any "nonself" whatsoever has been taught by the Buddhas.
nivṛtam abhidhātavyaṁ nivṛtte cittagocare
The designable is ceased when/where the range of thought is ceased,
anutpannāniruddhā hi nirvāṇam iva dharmatā| 7
Nirvana is like phenomenality, unarisen and unstopping.
sarvaṁ tathyaṁ na vā tathyaṁ tathyaṁ cātathyam eva ca
Everything is actual, or not actual, or actual and not actual
naivātathyaṁ naiva tathyam etad buddhānuśāsanaṁ| 8
Or neither actual nor not actual; this is the Buddha's teaching.
aparapratyayaṁ śāntaṁ prapañcair aprapañcitaṁ
Independent, peaceful, not delusionally diversified by delusional diversification
nirvikalpam anānārtham etat tattvasya lakśaṇaṁ| 9
Devoid of mental construction, without variation, this is the mark of thatness.
pratītya yad yad bhavati na hi tāvat tad eva tad
Whatsoever becomes dependently, is not insofar, that and only that.
na cānyad api tat tasmān noccinnaṁ nāpi śāśvataṁ| 10
Nor is it the other; therefore, it is neither exterminated nor eternal.
anekārtham anānārtham anuccedam aśāśvatam
Not singular, not plural, not exterminated, not eternal,
etat tal lokanāthānāṁ bhuddhānāṁ śāsanāmṛtaṁ| 11
This is the immortal teaching of the Buddhas, lords of the world.
sambhuddhānām anutpāde śrāvakāṇāṁ punaḥ kśaye
And again, when the disciples are destroyed and full Buddhas do not arrive,
jñānaṁ pratyekabuddhānām asamsargāt pravartate|12
The gnosis (knowledge, etc.) of the independently enlightened Buddhas proceeds without association (with teachings).[citation needed]


"Empty" should not be asserted."Nonempty" should not be asserted.
Neither both nor neither should be asserted. They are only used nominally.[9]


तथागतो यत्स्वभावस्तत्स्वभावमिदं जगत
tathāgato yat svabhāvas tat svabhāvam idam jagat
What is the nature of the thus-gone one (the Buddha), that is the nature of the world.
तथागतो निःस्वभावो निःस्वभावम् इदं जगत्। १६
tathāgato niḥsvabhāvo niḥsvabhāvam idaṁ jagat| 16
The thus-gone one is devoid of nature; the world is devoid of nature.[citation needed]

24:18, 24:19

Whatever is dependently co-arisen / That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation, / Is itself the middle way.
Something that is not dependently arisen / Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a non-empty thing / Does not exist.[10]


न संसारस्य निर्वाणात् किं चिद् अस्ति विशेषणं
na saṁsārasya nirvāṇāt kiṁ cid asti viśeṣaṇaṁ
There is nothing whatsoever of samsara distinguishing (it) from nirvana.
न निर्वाणस्य संसारात् किं चिद् अस्ति विशेषणं। १९
na nirvāṇasya saṁsārāt kiṁ cid asti viśeṣaṇaṁ| 19
There is nothing whatsoever of nirvana distinguishing it from samsara.
निर्वाणस्य च या कोटिः।कोटिः। संसरणस्य च
nirvāṇasya ca yā koṭiḥ koṭiḥ
(That?) is the limit which is the limit of nirvana and the limit of samsara;
न तयोर् अन्तरं किंचित् सुसूक्ष्मम् अपि विद्यते। २०
na tayor antaraṁ kiñcit susūkśmam api vidyate| 20
Even a very subtle interval is not found of (between) them.[citation needed]


śūnyeṣu sarvadharmeṣu kim anantaṁ kimantavat
kim anantam antavac ca nānantaṁ nāntavacca kiṁ| 22
kiṁ tad eva kim anyat kiṁ śāśvataṁ kim aśāśvataṁ
aśāśvataṁ śāśvataṁ ca kiṁ vā nobhayam apyataḥ 'tha| 23
sarvopalambhpaśamaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ
na kva cit kasyacit kaścid dharmo buddhena deśitaḥ|
When all dharmas are empty, what is endless? What has an end?
What is endless and with an end? What is not endless and not with an end?
What is "it"? What is "other"? What is permanent? What is impermanent?
What is impermanent and permanent? What is neither?
Auspicious is the pacification of phenomenal metastasis, the pacification of all apprehending;
There is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever whenever, wherever.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Also known as the Prajñā-nāma-mūlamadhyamakakārikā or as the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā-prajñā-nāma.
  2. ^ The Madhyamakasastram of Nagarjuna Edited by Dr. Raghunath Pandey, Volumes II, Published by MLBD Delhi,1988-1989
  3. ^ a b Ames, William L. (1993). "Bhāvaviveka's Prajñāpradīpa ~ A Translation of Chapter One: 'Examinations of Causal Conditions' (Pratyaya)". Journal of Indian Philosophy, 1993, vol.21. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, p.209
  4. ^ David Kalupahana, Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass, 2006, page 7.
  5. ^ Garfield, J. (1995) The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way; Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, New York, Oxford University Press, p83
  6. ^ Inada (1993) Bibliotheca Indo-Buddhica Series No. 127, Sri Sat Guru Publications, ISBN 8170303850 pp37-172 (Sanskrit Only)
  7. ^ Garfield, J. (1995) The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way; Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, New York, Oxford University Press p3
  8. ^ Garfield, J. (1995) The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way; Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, New York, Oxford University Press p40 (translation only).
  9. ^ Garfield, J. (1995) The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way; Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, New York, Oxford University Press p61
  10. ^ Jay L. Garfield, The fundamental wisdom of the middle way: Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā with a philosophical commentary (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 304


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  • Mūlamadhyamakakārikā — ▪ work by Nagarjuna       (Sanskrit: “Fundamentals of the Middle Way”), Buddhist text by Nāgārjuna (Nagarjuna), the exponent of the Mādhyamika (Middle Way) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It is a work that combines stringent logic and religious… …   Universalium

  • Mūlamadhyamakakārikā — noun Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, a key text in Mahayana Buddhism by Nagarjuna …   Wiktionary

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