Nagarjuna's Twelve Gate Treatise


Translated, with Introductory Essays,
Comments, and Notes
by
Hsueh-li Cheng
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Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies,
University of Hawaii at Hilo
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Sub-section titles are in the form: L#: […].
These can be used to regenerate the structure using a Word Processor.
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L1: [CONTENTS] :L1
L1: [CONTENTS] :L1
L1: [Introduction] :L1
L3: [Madhyamika] :L3
L3: [Vitanda] :L3
L3: [Prasanga] :L3
L3: [Two Levels of Truth] :L3
L3: [Notes] :L3
L1: [Preface] :L1
L3: [1. Nagarjuna and the spread of his teachings] :L3
L3: [2. San-lun approaches to emptiness] :L3
L3: [3. The nature and value of the text] :L3
L3: [Notes] :L3
L4: [Preface] :L4
L4: [1. Nagarjuna and the spread of his teachings] :L4
L4: [2. San-lun approaches to emptiness] :L4
L4: [3. The nature and value of the text] :L4
L1: [NAGARJUNA’S TWELVE GATE TREATISE] :L1
L2: [Table of contents [Seng-jui]] :L2
L2: [Preface [Seng-jui]] :L2
L2: [I. Causal Conditions] :L2
L2: [II. With or Without Effect] :L2
L2: [III. Conditions] :L2
L2: [IV. Characteristics] :L2
L2: [V. With or Without Characteristics 1] :L2
L2: [VI. Identity or Difference] :L2
L2: [VII. Being or Non-Being] :L2
L2: [VIII. Nature] :L2
L2: [IX. Cause and Effect] :L2
L2: [X. The creator] :L2
L2: [XI. The three times] :L2
L2: [XII. Production] :L2
L1: [Notes] :L1
L3: [Table of contents [Seng-jui]] :L3
L3: [Preface [Sheng-Jui]] :L3
L3: [Chapter 1: Causal conditions] :L3
L3: [Chapter 2: With or without effect] :L3
L3: [Chapter 3: Conditions] :L3
L3: [Chapter 4: Characteristics] :L3
L3: [Chapter 5: With or without characteristics] :L3
L3: [Chapter 6: Identity or difference] :L3
L3: [Chapter 7: Being or non-being] :L3
L3: [Chapter 8: Nature] :L3
L3: [Chapter 9: Cause and effect] :L3
L3: [Chapter 10: The creator] :L3
L3: [Chapter 11: The three times] :L3
L3: [Chapter 12: Production] :L3
L1: [Glossary] :L1
L1: [The 26 Verses – added section] :L1
L4: [I. Causal Conditions] :L4
L4: [II. With or Without Effect] :L4
L4: [III. Conditions] :L4
L4: [IV. Characteristics 4] :L4
L4: [V. With or Without Characteristics] :L4
L4: [VI. Identity or Difference] :L4
L4: [VII. Being or Non-Being] :L4
L4: [VIII. Nature] :L4
L4: [IX. Cause and Effect] :L4
L4: [X. The Creator] :L4
L4: [XI. The Three Times] :L4
L4: [XII. Production] :L4
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[i.e. Note: Chinese characters and words are not reproduced in this file.
I have added some quotes from another translation of the Karikas by Frederik Streng.]
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L1: [Introduction] :L1
L3: [Madhyamika] :L3
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The hallmark of Madhyamika philosophy is 'Emptiness', sunyata. This is not a view of reality. In fact it is emphatically denied that sunyata is a view of reality. If anybody falls into such an error as to construe emptiness as reality (or as a view, even the right view, of reality), he is only grasping the snake at the wrong end (Mk, 24.11)!
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~ [Another translation: Mk 24:11.
~ Emptiness, having been dimly perceived, utterly destroys the slow-witted.
~ It is like a snake wrongly grasped or [magical] knowledge incorrectly applied.]
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Nagarjuna in Mk, 24.18, has referred to at least four ways by which the same truth is conveyed:
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| Whatever is dependent origination,
| we call it emptiness.
| That is (also) dependent conceptualization;
| that is, to be sure, the Middle Way.
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~ [Mk 24:18.
~ The "originating dependently" we call "emptiness";
~ This apprehension, i.e., taking into account [all other things], is the understanding of the middle way.
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~ 24:19.
~ Since there is no dharma whatever originating independently,
~ No dharma whatever exists which is not empty.]
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The two terms, pratitya samutpada and upadaya prajnapti, which I have translated here as 'dependent origination' and 'dependent conceptualization' need to be explained. The interdependence of everything (and under 'everything' we may include, following the Madhyamika, all items, ontological concepts, entities, theories, views, theses and even relative truths), i.e., the essential lack of independence of the origin (cf. utpada) of everything proves or shows that everything is essentially devoid of its assumed essence or its independent 'own nature' or its 'self-existence' (cf. svabhava). Besides, our cognition of anything lacks independence in the same way. Our conception (cf. prajnapti) of something a essentially depends upon something b, and so on for everything ad infinitum. Emptiness is thus shown in both ways, from the ontological point of view and from the epistemic point of view. Sometimes, this is expressed in the form of an argument: The truth of everything is emptiness because of the dependent origination of everything. (Compare the introductory comments of Nagarjuna in Vigrahavyavartani.) The above description, shorn of its awkward technicalities inherited through translation, from the style of the original Sanskrit formulation, can be re-stated for moderners as follows. The Madhyamika argues that what we might call 'the absolute conception of reality' should be regarded as entirely empty. An absolute conception of reality — a reality which all representations represent but is itself independent of them — is what is presupposed by our traditional natural science and also forced upon us by our very conception of Knowledge. Knowledge, understood as distinct from error etc., is presumably knowledge of a reality that may exist independently. It is knowing what is there anyway, and what is there anyway is supposed to be unaffected, unmodified, by our knowing it in any particular way. And know we must always in some particular way or other.
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Assuming that we wish to combat solipsism or some extreme form of idealism, we may put the point in another way. We seem to have a determinate picture of the world, what it is like, independent of any Knowledge, i.e., any representation of it in thought, any conceptualizations, beliefs, experiences and assumptions. But that picture is ever elusive to us, for we have only different, endless representations of it. No matter how deeply we may think, we may only have another representation of it in thought. It seems that each representation, barring gross absurdities and incoherence, could claim to be 'knowledge', and, what is worse, there is no vantage point from which we have an absolute representation of reality. Our conception of knowledge unfolds the implicit paradox: it projects the conception of an independent reality but also turns it into an ever receding picture — a mirage. No representation can provide finally sufficient substance to that picture. An absolute conception of reality is therefore empty — a 'truth' that dawns upon us as it did, so it is claimed, to the final meditative insight of the Madhyamikas.
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Emptiness or vacuity seems to be at times horrifying, and, to be sure, at times attractive and alluring. The modern man, particularly the Western man, finds this boldness to be rather intriguing and it evokes two very different sorts of response or reaction. There are those who find in such forms of Buddhism an escape route from everything that they need to get away from, dogmas, superstitions, irrational beliefs, faith and even rationality! For emptiness seems to change the very meaning of rationality.
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Lao Tzu begins Tao Te Ching with this verse: 1
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| The Way that we can talk about or describe is not the Way.
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I am not sure whether the Taoist and the Madhyamika meant the same thing, but undoubtedly they used very similar language to say what they wanted to say. This contributed to the creation of the Western notion of 'Oriental mysticism' as the take-off point to the realm of irrationality. Those who boast of Western rationality, therefore, find such Buddhism positively repulsive and maddening. It is, they claim, the realm of 'illogic', and therefore, of insanity. Both of these attitudes towards Madhyamika philosophy are wrong and misleading. Both of them grab, to repeat Nagarjuna's own imagery, emptiness at its wrong end.
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I do not need to repeat Nagarjuna's cynical warning:
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| Emptiness grabbed at the wrong end is like a snake grabbed at its tail; it is fatal.
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~ [Mk 24:11.
~ Emptiness, having been dimly perceived, utterly destroys the slow-witted.
~ It is like a snake wrongly grasped or [magical] knowledge incorrectly applied.]
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The philosophy of emptiness is not a regress into the primordial chaos of irrationality. It is true historically that Madhyamika supplied the broad philosophical basis for various forms of Buddhist practices ranging from pure meditation to exotic Buddhist Tantra rituals for ecstasy. But this will be a subject for historians, not philosophers. What should interest the philosophers today is the fact that Madhyamika philosophical texts (and the present text is a good specimen) constitute undoubtedly an important component of our global heritage in philosophy. Madhyamika is a valuable expression of human rationality. This point needs to be stressed in order to counteract the widespread Western misconception to the effect that Madhyamika is of a piece with the so-called irrational Oriental mysticism. Madhyamika, for me, is philosophy, i.e., an integral part of what we call today philosophic activity. It is akin to the position of radical skepticism only if a radical sceptic can be said to have a position at all. I do not see how a radical sceptic can consistently hold to a position that can be formulated and defended. And the Madhyamika will say 'OM' (= Ditto).
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Nagarjuna says in Vigrahavyavartani (v. 29):
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| I have no pratijna (= proposition, position) to defend.
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~ [Vg. 29.
~ If I would make any proposition whatever, then by that I would have a logical error;
~ But I do not make a proposition; therefore I am not in error.]
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Madhyamika is sceptical of all philosophical doctrines, tenets, categories. It could be argued that Madhyamika is therefore not philosophy, it is anti-philosophical. I consider this argument to be fallacious. If 'philosophy' is understood to mean broadly rational discourse on demonstrable answers to some meaningful questions, Madhyamika certainly falls into this category. Philosophy is one of the few disciplines which turns to itself. A comparison comes to my mind. It is a comparison with the discipline called 'natural theology'.
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Anthony Kenny has recently written (The G0d of the Philosophers): 2
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| ... If we take natural theology to be philosophical analysis of the concepts used in thinking and talking about G0d, then a disproof of G0d's existence, or a demonstration that the very notion of G0d was incoherent, would itself be a successful piece of natural theologizing, (p. 4, Oxford, 1979).
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The Madhyamika attempt to show that all philosophical (or even common-sensical) views of reality are basically incoherent would, I assert, be also a successful piece of philosophizing in the same manner.
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L3: [Vitanda] :L3
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A few words about the nature of the philosophical arguments used by the Madhyamikas may be in order here. Their method of argument belonged undoubtedly to the tradition of philosophic debate (vada or vivada tradition) that evolved out of the earlier tradition of sophistry and eristic. In a philosophic debate, the general strategy is to refute (cf. dusana) the rival positions, and establish and defend (sthapana) the philosopher's own position. A sceptic or a Madhyamika excelled in the first (dusana). In fact, the second was thought by some either unnecessary (e.g., one might formulate one's own position but not think it necessary to establish or defend it, cf. the Advaita Vedanta of Sriharsa) or impossible or both (e.g., a true sceptic, or even a Madhyamika, in order to be consistent, had to say that he was unable to formulate his position for there was no position he held to). This type of debate where refutation was the only game that could be played was called vitanda (cf. Nydyasutra, 1.2.3). 3
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Vitanda was obviously used in a pejorative sense as is evident from the comments of the Naiyayikas like Vatsyayana. A debater who indulged in vitanda was pictured generally as an iconoclast, who had nothing at stake, or was a motiveless, maligning sort of person. But this was both incorrect and unfair when we think of such philosophers as Nagarjuna, Sahjaya (an agnostic), Jayarasi (a sceptic) and Sriharsa (a Vedantin), who restricted their philosophic activity to the 'refutation only' kind of debate (vitanda). Elsewhere I have shown that the later Nyaya tradition acknowledged this fact and said that the 'refutation only' kind of debate can also claim philosophical respectability. 4
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L3: [Prasanga] :L3
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The argument-pattern used by the Madhyamikas as well as other debaters was called prasanga. It literally means an implication or a consequence, but it is used in the technical sense of an argument that has undesirable and unacceptable implications, or leads to absurd consequences. In fact, a position (or, a philosophic concept) is here examined in the light of one or several alternative (and mutually exclusive) interpretations or formulations and it is shown that in each case we end up with some absurdity or other. Hence the position is refuted, for otherwise the argument will lead to an absurd situation. In this general sense, therefore, we can call it a reductio.
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How can one refute all positions? Is it not itself a position: refutation of all positions? If we say that there is no fact of the matter, is it not another fact of the matter? How can we avoid this obvious paradox? I have discussed elsewhere how a Madhyamika can avoid the paradox or how a radical form of scepticism can be made consistent. 5 Briefly speaking, a debater can go on refuting all possible, and formulable, positions each at a time and then, when no position is forthcoming, can stop without making the obvious claim that all positions have been refuted, for the mere statement of that claim would engender a new position that needs to be refuted again. Obviously we cannot make noise crying out 'Silence!' when all noise-makings have already stopped, for if we did, another shout of 'Silence!' would indeed be needed to silence the first shouting. And then another and another. Nagarjuna himself uses this analogy of silence and noise-making in his Vigrahavyavartani (verses 3, 4, 25) to make the same point.
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~ [Vg 3.
~ Should your opinion be that [your statement] is like "Do not make a sound," this is not possible;
~ For in this case by a [present] sound there will be a [future] prevention of that [sound].
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~ 4.
~ If [your statement] were that: "This is a denial of a denial," that is not true;
~ Thus your thesis, as to a defining mark (laksanata) - not mine - is in error.
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~ 25.
~ [Regarding] "Do not make a sound"—this example introduced by you is not pertinent,
~ Since there is a negation of sound by sound.
~ That is not like [my denial of self -existence].]
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The second point that needs to be made in this connection is that refutation here need not, and should not, be construed as the standard logical negation of a position or proposition. It seems better to view such a refutation as an illocutionary act in the manner suggested by Searle where some illocutionary force is negated rather than a proposition. 6 If this is done, then also the air of paradoxically involved in the Madhyamika arguments seems to disappear.
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To explain briefly: when a Madhyamika refutes some position in a debate, it should be construed as what the Sanskrit philosophers call prasajya pratisedha, or simply pratisedha. I am now inclined to describe it as an act of illocutionary negation, where the speaker or the person who negates, assumes provisionally (cf. prasajya) something to be the case and then 'negates' it or rejects it. This negating act need not commit him to anything else except the rejection of what was assumed to be the case. A distinction between rejection and denial may be understood as follows: denial of something to be the case amounts to assertion of something not being the case, i.e., assertion of the falsity of that case. But rejection is non-assertive in withholding assent to something being the case, and this will then leave it open for us to withhold assent to the same thing not being the case. We may consider Searle's example in this light. "I do not promise to come" does not obviously constitute another 'negative' promise, and hence it is possible to say that I do not promise to come nor do I promise not to come. (In fact, I should say that I do not promise anything just as the Madhyamika says, "I do not assert anything.")
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L3: [Two Levels of Truth] :L3
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A Madhyamika, strictly speaking, is not a radical sceptic, but a Buddhist. Being a Buddhist, he must make a skilful use of the doctrine of the two levels of truth: the conventional or 'concealing' truth and the ultimate truth. For Nagarjuna himself has warned:
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| Those who do not understand the distinction between these two truths, do not understand the deep significance of the Buddha's teaching. (Mk. 24.9)
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~ [Mk 24:8.
~ The teaching by the Buddhas of the dharma has recourse to two truths:
~ The world-ensconced truth (T1) and the truth which is the highest sense (T2).
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~ 9.
~ Those who do not know the distribution (vibhagam) of the two kinds of truth
~ Do not know the profound "point" (tattva) (T3) in the teaching of the Buddha.
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~ 10.
~ The highest sense [of the truth] (T2) is not taught apart from practical behavior (T1),
~ And without having understood the highest sense (T2) one cannot understand nirvana (T3).]
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In a way, it can be said that the doctrine of the two levels of truth is implicit in almost every metaphysical inquiry. A philosopher looks for the reality behind appearance, a doctrine of phenomena is circumscribed by a postulate of noumena, a reductionist tries to reach the basic elements out of which the gross world has been constructed, an analysis of physics makes room for the entrance of metaphysics. But the Madhyamika use of this doctrine of the two levels of truth is very different. The Madhyamika does not ask us to penetrate through the seeming reality, the appearance, to reach the rock-bottom reality in the usual sense. For there is no rock-bottom reality to begin with (or to arrive at, as the case may be) except what our inherent tendency to misconceive and to misconstrue (cf., avidya) creates for us for the time being. Reality is emptiness, void, vacuity; or, to put the matter differently, the seeming reality or the appearance is all that there is and it is exactly as it is supposed to be, i.e., devoid of any 'own nature', of any essence, any value — it is empty. The 'concealing' reality does not, in fact, conceal anything, or what amounts to the same thing, it conceals EMPTINESS. Therefore, according to the Madhyamika, the philosophers' search for the ultimate reality must end up in a quagmire of confusion, unless it leads him to Emptiness. To say that emptiness is the ultimate reality is again like the attempt to shout 'Silence' when all noises have already died down and hence it will only destroy silence. If the philosophers are looking for an ultimate reality, besides what is called the Appearance, a reality which is better and more secure than the Appearance, then the truth is that there isn't any such thing. The Appearance is the reality when it is properly understood.
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The samsara is the nirvana, says Nagarjuna (Mk. 25.19). 7
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~ [Mk 25:19.
~ There is nothing whatever which differentiates the existence-in-flux (samsara) from nirvana;
~ And there is nothing whatever which differentiates nirvana from existence-in-flux.]
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This realization of the vacuity, if the Buddha was right, is not, and should not be, horrifying, for it is the very essence of peace, it is bliss, it is santa and siva. It is the cessation of all our discursive thoughts, all misguided drives and misconceived propensities and their attendant frustrations. It is prapancopasama, 8 'a complete recovery from the malady of manifoldness'.
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~ [Mk 18.9.
~ "Not caused by something else," "peaceful," "not elaborated by discursive thought,"
~ "Indeterminate," "undifferentiated": such are the characteristics of true reality (tattva).]
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Professor Hsueh-li Cheng has prepared this annotated translation of the Chinese version of the Dvadasa-dvara which will unearth further materials of the Madhyamika philosophy for modern scholars. This will certainly stimulate further research in the history of Indian philosophy. More importantly, this, we hope, will also show the relevance of the study of the Madhyamika texts in the present-day context. One of the express aims of our series has been to provide annotated translations of important philosophical texts of classical India. We have already presented two such volumes — one on Sriharsa and the other on Udayana (see Volumes 1 and 4). The present text is attributed to Nagarjuna. I am sure the scholarly world in general, and Buddhologists in particular, will welcome this volume.
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BIMAL KRISHNA MATILAL
All Souls College, Oxford
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L3: [Notes] :L3
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1 Wing-tsit Chan, The Way of Lao Tzu, New York, 1963.
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2 Anthony Kenny, The G0d of the Philosophers, Oxford, 1979, p. 4.
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3 Nyayasutra 1.2.3. sa pratipaksa-sthapana-hino vitanda. Here "sa" can refer to, according to Sanatani, either to "jalpah" in 1.2.2 or "vadah" in 1.2.1.
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4 B. K. Matilal, Nyaya-Vaisesika, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1977, p. 92.
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5 B. K. Matilal, The Logical Illumination of Indian Mysticism, Oxford, 1977, PP- 10-14, and Notes 12 and 13.
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6 J. Searle, Speech-Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge, 1969, pp. 32-33. My point is further discussed in B. K. Matilal: Logical and Ethical Issues in Religious Belief, Calcutta University, 1978, Stephanos Lectures (forthcoming).
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7 Mr. Cheng, however, does not agree with this comment of mine.
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8 Nagarjuna, Madhyamaka-karika (Mk.), Ch. 18, verse 9.
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L1: [Preface] :L1
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Since the beginning of the twentieth century there has been a growing interest in Buddhism in the West. Many Occidental scholars, philosophers and psychologists are engaging in the study of Buddhist thought, and young people are reading Buddhist literature and practicing meditation. The major purpose of this book is to facilitate understanding of Buddhism, especially of Nagarjuna's thought, by presenting his Twelve Gate Treatise in English translation.
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Nagarjuna lived in the second century A.D. and founded Madhyamika Buddhism. He is considered one of the greatest thinkers of India and his philosophy is thought of as "the central philosophy of Buddhism" 1. Scholars have done extensive studies and systematic presentations of Nagarjuna's writings since