On Voidness (A Study on Buddhist Nihilism)

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Item Code: IDC259
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 9788120810617
Pages: 205
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 420 gm
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Book Description

About the Book:

The Buddhist school Madhyamika is one of the most important philosophical schools in India. It was founded by the great thinker Nagarjuna in the second century A.D. His doctrine is centered around the concept of sunyata or Voidness which metaphorically designates the absolute inexistence of an own being i.e. of any substance existing in se et per se.

The present edition contains four fundamental texts of that school, three by Nagarjuna and one by his disciple Aryadeva. Among the selected texts there is the famous Catuhstava. They give a clear idea of the essential ideas of Nagarjuna and his school. The book presents the texts in their original versions (Sanskrit or Tibetan) with their English translations and several doctrinary studies.

About the Author:

FERNANDO TOLA and CARMEN DRAGONETTI have been Professors in the National Universities of San Marcos (Lima, peru) and Buenos Aires (Argentina). They undertook investigation work of the National Council for Scientific Research (CONICET) of Argentina, in the area of Indian Philosophy. They were Vice-President and President respectively of the Institute of Buddhist Studies Foundation (FIEB) (Argentina); Directors of the Revista de Estudios Budistas (Journal of Buddhist Studies) REB, edited in Mexico; and Overseas Research fellows of The International Institute for Buddhist Studies (Tokyo).

Independently or in collaboration, they have published several books in Spanish on Indian Culture, specially on Indian Philosophy, as Yoga and Mysticism of India, Philosophy and Literature of India, Mahayana Buddhism; Buddhist Idealism, Buddhist Nihilism; several translations into Spanish of important Sanskrit and Pali texts, as Hymns of the Rig Veda, Hymns of the Atharva Veda, Upanisads, Bhagavadgita, Upadesasahasri, Gita Govinda, Amarusataka, Damodara Gupta, Dhammapada, Udana, Digha Nikaya, Sutta Nipala. In English they have published The Yogasutras of Patanjali and Nagarjuna's Refutation of Logic (Motilal Banarsidass).



The translation team of F. Tola and C. dragonetti has treated the readers to a veritable feast to the eye of Madhyamika treatises by the celebrated Nagarjuna. While these treatises have previously been translated by other scholars the importance of these works justifies this publications by a team that devotes intelligent and sensitive labor to these issues.

Doubtless tola and Dragonetti are correct in treating Nagarjuna’s absolute as voidness. But this is not a nihilistic position since for Nagarjuna illusions work and Nagarjuna voideness is an abundance.

The Buddhist tradition series proudly presents this pile of Nagarjuna’s gems.



We present in the four chapters of this book four fundamental texts of the Madhyamika school of Mahyana Buddhism one of them in Sanskrit and three in Tibetan together with their English translation. Each chapters also contains a study on each of these texts. In these studies we refer to problem of authenticity of the texts their contents quotations from them in other texts their principal editions and translations etc. in the first part of the introduction we deal with the theory of Voidness (Sunyata) and in the four remaining parts we present a special analysis of the doctrines exposed in each of these texts in relation to the thesis of Voidness. We have accompanied out translations with numerous notes in order to facilitate the comprehension of the ideas that occur in these texts. We have included a bibliography which contains the works quoted in the book.

In relation to the title of Buddhist Nihilism we must explain that even if the Madhyamika philosophy does not affirm nothingness anyhow its conception of reality as void the emphasis it lays on universal contingency the affirmation of the unreality of all and the analytical abolishing method in order to reach truth have led us to the conclusion that the Madhyamika philosophy represents the most radical degree of philosophical nihilism. Already in ancient India the Madhyamika philosophy was considered by its adversaries as the expression of sarvapavada or theory of absolute negation.



The ordinary experience reveals to us a reality composed of beings and things which present themselves as existing in se et per se as compact continuous and unitary as permanent and as real i.e. as being such as we perceive them.

The Madhyamika school of Buddhism founded by Nagarjuna at the Beginning of our era studies the reality we perceive and reaches a conclusion regarding that reality completely different from our ordinary experience. The empirical reality is composed of beings and things absolutely contingent. In this empirical reality in which we live there is nothing existing in se et per se nothing has a being that belongs to it by own right in this reality everything is conditioned relative dependent contingent More over everything without exception is constituted of parts. No entity exists as a whole there are only ensembles conglomerates of parts elements constituting factors besides that nothing is permanent inalterable everything is in a process of change submitted to an evolution which proceeds under the sign of decay and deterioration. And as consequence of what precedes there is nothing which exist truly as it manifests itself before us. The empirical reality as we perceive it is only an appearance to which nothing really corresponds something similar to a dram to a mirage to an illusion created by magic.

The conditionedness the relativity the dependence on another the composedness the impermanency in a word the contingency is the true nature the true form of being of the empirical reality and the from under which this reality appears to us in only an unreality an illusion so the ordinary experience is the opposite of the conclusion to which arrives the philosophical study of the perceptible world done by the Mãdhyamika school.

According to what precedes, for the Madhyamika school there are two realities:5 on one side, an apparent, phenomenic reality, the empirical reality as it appears before us (substantial, compact etc.), and on the other side, the true form of being of the apparent reality (unsubstantial, composed etc.), which is the true reality, in the same way as the serpent, under whose image we perceive the rope in the darkness, is the apparent reality, while the rope is the true reality.

The rope is a concealing reality, the threads that compose it are the true reality in regard to the rope; but at its own turn each thread is a concealing reality in regard to the filaments that compose it, and the filaments that compose it are the true reality in regard to the thread, and so on, without finding a last substantial reality.

Speaking in general modem terms, it could be said that the world as it appears to us is the concealing reality of the Madhyamikas and that the atoms and energy which constitute the world are, in regard to it, the true nature of the world, the true reality. The Madhyamika would add that the atoms and energy are, at their own turn, a concealing reality in regard to the elements which compose the atoms and energy and which are the true nature of the atoms and energy, the true reality, and on, without finding a last substantial entity.

The apparent reality, the empirical reality as it manifests itself to us is called, by the Madhyamika school, ‘envelopment reality’ or ‘concealment reality’ (samvrtisatya). This is an appropriate term, because the appearance under which the empirical reality is perceived by us envelops or conceals its true form of being, which is the true reality (paramarthasatya).

Pratityasamutpada literally means ‘dependent origination’, but in the area of the Madhyamika school it can be translated by ‘Universal Relativity’ as Stcherbatsky rightly does. Both words designate the true nature, the true way of being (conditionality, relativity, etc.) of the empirical reality—true nature that is concealed under the false appearance of the empirical reality and which is the true reality. Both words express the basic and, from all points of view, important conception of the Mädhyamika school about the empirical reality: I tis only a totality of contingent beings and things, in which there is nothing that exists in se et per se.

Many Western thinkers have deduced, from the contingency of the world, the existence of a non-contingent supreme principle, God. Cf. for example Copleston in ‘The Existence of God: A Debate between Bertrand Russell and Father F.C. Copleston, S.J.,’ in Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian, and other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (London: Unwin Books, 1967), P. 139:

Well, for clarity’s sake, I’ll divide the argument (for contingency) in distinct stages. First of all, I should say, we know that there are at least some beings in the world which do not contain in themselves the reason for their existence. For example, I depend on my parents, and now on the air, and on food and so on. Now, secondly, the world is simply the real or imagined totality or aggregate of individual objects, none of which contain in themselves alone the reason fort heir existence. There isn’t any world distinct from the objects which form it, any more than the human race is something apart from the members. Therefore, I should say, since objects or events exist, and since no object of experience contains within itself the reason of its existence, this reason, the totality of objects, must have a reason external to itself. That reason must be an existent being. Well, this being is either itself the reason for its own existence, or is not. If it is, well and good. If it is not, then we must proceed further. But if we proceed to infinity in that sense, then there’s no explanation of existence at all. So, I should say, in order to explain existence, we must come to a being which contains within itself the reason for its own existence, that is to say, which cannot not-exist.

Nagärjuna’s school affirms also the contingency of everything, but from such a fact does not draw the conclusion that a non- contingent supreme principle. God, exists. For him the universal contingency has had no beginning, is anadi, and consequently it is irrelevant to ask when, how and why did it begin. The hypothesis of a beginning less contingency has the same function as the hypothesis of a beginning less god.

The Denial of the Empirical Reality The Madhyamika school does not stop within the limits of the two tenets we have already mentioned, i.e. the opposition between the phenomenic reality and the true reality (which is nothing else than the true nature of the phenomenic reality), and the universal contingency; it carries on its analysis of the reality and reaches a more radical position, a ‘nihilistic’ position. The school denies the true existence, the existence as it appears, of the empirical reality, of all its manifestations, of all the elements that constitute it, of all the categories that manifest themselves in it, of all the characteris- tics which are proper to it. For Nagãrjuna’s school all beings and things, contingent by their own nature, which constitute the empirical reality, are unreal non-existent.

The great majority of the stanzas of the Madhyamakakarikas composed by Nãgarjuna is destined to deny the real existence of the principal manifestations and categories of the empirical reality: birth and destruction, causality, time, the sensorial activity, the elements that constitute man (dharma), passion and its subject, action and its agent, suffering, the consequence of actions (karman), the reincarnations cycle (samsara), the ego (ãtman), Buddha, the saving truths taught by Buddha, the liberation (moksa) from the reincarnation cycle, being and not being, etc. In the same way great part of the intellectual activity of Nagarjuna’s school has an identical aim.

Fundamentation of the Madhyamika Thesis The Madhyamika school has to establish and demonstrate its ‘nihilistic’ thesis against other philosophical and religious, Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools, which adopt realistic positions. This demonstration is carried on in different ways. The school adduces, of course, the texts that contain Buddha’s teaching (agama) which duly interpreted can serve as a basis for its thesis. For Buddhist schools these texts contain the truth but only for them and consequently cannot be adduced against the thesis of non Buddhist people.




  Foreword ix
  Preface xi
  Introduction xiii-xxv
  An Indian Philosophy of universal contingency ; Nagarjuna’s School xiii
  The Hastavalanamaprakarana of Aryadeva and Voidness xxiii
  The Yuktisastika of Nargarjuna and Voidness xxviii
  The Sunyatasaptati of Nagarjuna and Voidness xxxii
  The Catustava of Nagarjuna and Voidness xxxiii
1 The Hast Avalanamaprakaranavriti of Aryadeva 1-17
  Introduction 1
  Tibetan Text 6
  Translation 9
2 The Yuktisastikakarika of Nagarjuna 19-51
  Introduction 19
  Tibetan Text 27
  Translation 34
3 The Sunyatasaptatikariaka of Nagarjuna 53-99
  Introduction 53
  Tibetan Text 63
  Translation 72
4 The Catustava of Nagarjuna 101-133
  Introduction 101
  Sanskrit Text 113
  Translation 121
  Appendix 135
  Notes 137
4 Bibliography 155

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