Nagarjuna not an absolutist

Anand Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 24 12:57:55 CDT 2000

There has been another debate recently where it was claimed that
Nagarjuna proposes an absolutism, that which brings mAdhyamika and
advaita closer because, as we all know, advaita is absolutist in its
views. The absolute of advaita, namely Brahman or Self, has been
compared with the shUnya of mAdhyamika.

Although, on first glance it may appear that mAdhyamika is absolutist,
it is exactly the opposite of absolutist, ie. non-committal. That is
precisely why it is called the Middle (madhyamaka) path. It very
deliberately avoids the two extremes of 1) substantialism, and 2)
nihilism. Substantialism, as I understand it, is not necessarily
realism, but a view which holds that everything is substantial,
or has an essence. Nihilism is the exact opposite of substantialism
and says everything lacks any substance whatsoever. So we end up
with a void.

Nagarjuna steers the middle path between the two extremes of
substantialism and nihilism. It is a tight-rope act, but he manages to
pull it off. To counter substantialism, he repeatedly invokes a negative
dialectic to show that everything is dependent on
others and is hence without any susbtance. No thing can be said to be
inherently existent. Having ruled out substantialism, he immediately
rushes to the other extreme and rules out nihilism too. So he contends
no thing can be non-existent either. This is precisely the Middle way.

To further illustrate his avoidance of any concrete position, I will
quote from some works of his and his followers. Unfortunately, I do
not have access to the original Sanskrit works. The best I can do is
offer translations mentioned in from Robert Thurman's book
"The Central Philosophy of Tibet", Princeton University Press, 1984.

Nagarjuna says in his VigrahavyAvartanI:

 "If I were to have any thesis whatsoever, I would be liable to that
 fault; but I am completely faultless, because I have no thesis"

Aryadeva, said to be Nagarjuna's foremost disciple, says in his

 " Whoever takes no position at all, either existence, non-existence,
  or both existence and non-existence, cannot be refuted even if [one
  tries] for a long, long, time."

ChandrakIrti, another famous follower of Nagarjuna, says in his
Madhayamaka-avatAra, apparently in reply to an objection by an

 "The fault you just advanced ... applies to whoever has a definite
 position; but this consequence is not applicable to me, since this
 position does not exist for me."

 Now let us come back to the issue of whether GauDapAda's kArikA was
 influenced by Nagarjuna's , as claimed. If there was an influence,
 we should have seen some kind of a non-committal, avoidance of
 absolutism, lack of a definite position in GauDapAda's kArikA.
 But where is it?


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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