Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nagarjuna and Emptiness

"Clinging", says Nagarjuna, "is to insist on being someone…."

"To be empty is no longer to be full of Oneself.The Buddha encourages abiding in emptiness as a way to realize liberation of the mind. Lao Tzu advises a daily process of subtraction in order that one’s life can be filled. Nagarjuna declares that emptiness is the middle way itself. For Hui-neng, emptiness “includes the sun, moon, stars and planets,” while for Dogen “forgetting oneself is to be awakened by all things.” For Shantideva, emptiness entails letting go of preoccupation with “self” to find oneself extended into a network of endless relationships with others. Shabkar understands how the mind’s emptiness is integral to its radiant, unimpeded responsiveness."....from Stephen Batchelor's Verses from the Center, pg. 43

Nagarjuna (ce 150 to 250) “Nagarjuna kick started Mahajana Buddhism and called into question assumptions so easily resorted to in our attempt to understand the world. Among these assumptions were the existence of stable substances, the linear and one-directional movement of causation, the atomic individuality of persons, the belief in a fixed identity or selfhood, and the strict separations between good and bad conduct and the blessed and fettered life.” …

What follows is one of Nagarjuna’s poems.


The dharma taught by buddhas
Hinges on two truths:
Partial truths of the world
And truths which are sublime.
Without knowing how they differ,
You cannot know the deep;
Without relying on conventions,
You cannot disclose the sublime;
Without intuiting the sublime;
You cannot experience freedom.

Misperceiving emptiness
Injures the unintelligent
Like mishandling a snake
Or miscasting a spell.

The Buddha despaired
Of teaching the dharma,
Knowing it hard
To intuit its depths.

Your muddled conclusions
Do not affect emptiness;
Your denial of emptiness
Does not affect me.

When emptiness is possible,
Everything is possible;
Were emptiness impossible,
Nothing would be possible.

In projecting your faults onto me,
You forget the horse you are riding.

To see things existing by nature,
Is to see them without
Causes or conditions,
Thus subverting causality,
Agents, tools and acts,
Starting, stopping and ripening.

Contingency is emptiness
Which, contingently configured,
Is the middle way.
Everything is contingent;
Everything is empty.

Were everything not empty,
There would be no rising and passing.
Ennobling truths would not exist.
Without contingency
How could I suffer pain?

This shifting anguish
Has no nature of its own;
If it did, how could it have a cause?
Deny emptiness and you deny
The origins of suffering.

If anguish existed by nature,
How would it ever cease?
Absolute misery could never stop.
How could you cultivate a path
That exists by nature?
How could it lead to the end of pain?
A path on which you tread
Can have no essence of its own.

If confusion existed by nature,
I would always be confused.
How could I know anything?
Letting go and realizing,
Cultivation and fruition
Could never happen.

Who can attain absolute goals
That by nature are unattainable?
Since no one could reach them,
There would be no community;
With no truths, no dharma either.
With no community or dharma
How could I awaken?
I would not depend on awakening
Nor awakening on me.

A naturally unawakened person
Would never awaken
No matter how hard
He practiced for its sake.
He would never do good or evil;
An unempty person would do nothing.
He’d experience fruits of good and evil
Without having done good or evil deeds.
How can fruits of good and evil not be empty
If they are experienced?

To subvert emptiness and contingency
Is to subvert conventions of the world,
It engenders passivity:
Acts without an author,
Authors who do not act.
Beings would not be born or die;
They would be frozen in time,
Alien to variety

If things were unempty,
You could attain nothing.
Anguish would never end.
You would never let go of compulsive acts.

To see contingency is to see
Anguish, its origins, cessation and the path.

from Stephen Batchelor, Verses from the Center, pg. 126

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