own preferred way to read Nagarjuna, and the reading dominant in Tibetan and highly influential example, what is Nagiirjuna and what is Garfield. After all, al-. Jay L. Garfield (Translator). · Rating details · 1, ratings · 33 reviews. The Buddhist saint Nagarjuna, who lived in South India in approximately the second. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika. Translation and Commentary by Jay L. Garfield. Groundbreaking translation.

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Garfield’s translation of and commentary on Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika MMK should be welcome to all who are interested in Buddhist philosophy, but perhaps especially so to those who wish to introduce Madhyamaka thought to students not well-versed in the Buddhist gzrfield, and to those wanting a Buddhist philosophical text to recommend to colleagues trained only in the Western philosophical tradition.

Jay L. Garfield – Wikipedia

It is arranged in a way that will prove useful in undergraduate teaching: This makes it possible for students to confront the text directly and grapple with Nagarjuna’s arguments on their own before taking in Garfield’s reconstruction of them.

But it is the audience of Western philosophers that Garfield says vii, 95 he had in mind in preparing his translation and commentary, so my comments shall principally address the adequacy of the work in this respect. This may be particularly important given Richard Hayes’s recent claim Journal of Indian Philosophy 22 []: While Garfield would not have seen Hayes’s claims in print before his own work went to press the two were published roughly gaefieldit is still an interesting question to what extent Garfield’s “deliberately sympathetic” 99 account of Nagarjuna’s arguments succeeds in deflecting such criticisms.

Garfield interprets Nagarjuna as steering a middle path between the extremes of absolutism and nihilism. Throughout MMK, Nagarjuna subjects to reductio analysis the various categories that must be used in constructing any theory of the ultimate nature of reality, thereby seeking to show that all things are “empty” sunyai. A key question in Nagarjuna interpretation has always been what to make of this.

Supposing that these arguments are sound, what conclusion does Nagarjuna wish us to draw from our supposed inability to theorize reality? According to absolutists, the garfifld to magarjuna learned is that the ultimate nature of reality utterly transcends rationality and all dichotomizing discourse.

According to nihilists, the moral is instead that nothing really exists. Garfield rejects both interpretations. And examination of these categories reveals the further assumption that reality ultimately consists in things that “exist from their own side” Garfield makes good use of the Tibetan phrase: To show that reality cannot be characterized employing these categories without lapsing into incoherence, is to assert neither that reality transcends all attempts at categorization, nor that the very idea of real things is incoherent.

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

Rather it means, Garfield claims, that things can only exist conventionally: The emptiness of all phenomena is not their utter ineffability, nor their utter non-existence.

The emptiness of all phenomena is just their conventional reality, which is itself likewise thoroughly empty. Garfield does an admirable job of explaining and motivating this interpretive framework. Particularly in his explication of MMK XXIV, he gives an astute and sensitive account of the relations among the Madhyamaka categories of conventional truth, ultimate truth, dependent arising, and emptiness that his framework requires.

He is also careful to point out alternative readings of the text that might support those other interpretive frameworks that he rejects. There is, though, one rather curious lapse from his otherwise consistent adherence to his interpretive framework. In commenting on XXI. This appears to be positing just the sort of ineffable absolute that Garfield is committed to rejecting. This is particularly surprising given that the verse in question makes no mention of how things appear to buddhas; it merely claims that reification of buddhas is just as misguided as reification of any other category that might be thought to represent the ultimately real.

Thus it seems somewhat gratuitous to introduce the notion that there is some distinctive way presumably some ultimately true way? There is one respect in which Garfield’s interpretive framework does lead to readings that are in my view questionable. Anyone who sees Nagarjuna as steering a middle path between absolutism and nihilism must consequently take him to recuperate the conventional at the same time as he rejects the realist notion of an ultimate truth about the ultimate nature of reality.

For it is the recuperation of the conventional that allows one to reject absolutism and yet avoid nihilism. Once the notion of an ultimately true characterization of reality has been dismissed as incoherent, if we are to say that things exist in some manner other than as ineffable noumena, we shall have to say that things exist in thoroughgoing interdependence with the conventions that constitute common sense.


The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way

Things have determinate identity conditions only by virtue of linguistic conventions, which are in turn shaped by a set of contingent human institutions and practices.

We might think of this as the “rivers are rivers” moment in Madhyamaka thought. What strikes me as problematic is Garfield’s injection of this “positive” aspect of Madhyamaka thought into contexts where it would appear to be dialectically inappropriate. For instance, Garfield claims to find evidence that in MMK I, Nagarjuna is both rejecting a realist account of causation in terms of necessary connection, and also endorsing a regularity theory of dependent arising that is to be understood as purely conventional.

This claim is based in part on the allegedly different treatment of the two terms “cause” and “condition” in this chapter. One place where he sees this difference coming to the fore is in I.

There are no conditions without power to act. Nor do any have the power to act. By “power to act” Garfield understands Nagarjuna to mean a causal connection, in the form of a power or force, that ties together cause and distinct effect. He then explains 4c as claiming that conventionally one may say that conditions e. But 4d he explains as denying that ultimately there is such a thing as a power to act; the “power to act” of I.

Thus any account of the relation between conditions and effect must end with the observed regularity or constant concomitance, and cannot aspire to the status of a metaphysical theory of causation, which would necessarily lead to the positing of occult entities such as the power to act. If things did not exist without essence, The phrase “When this exists so this will be,” would not be acceptable.

As he acknowledges in a note, this verse is usually translated quite differently: Yet it is Garfield who is forcing the translation, in reading the yatas of the Sanskrit original as a conditional. He does this, it seems, in order to have the text at this point explicitly preserve a place in the conventional realm for dependent origination: Nagarjuna is saying to the realist opponent that only by conceding that things do not exist in the ultimate sense with intrinsically determinate essencesbut rather just in the conventional sense with conventionally determined essencescan one hope to maintain the central Buddhist insight of dependent origination.

My own view is that yatas in I. As long as you insist on supposing that there are things with intrinsically determinate essences, you will find yourself unable to maintain this key Buddhist tenet. Bhavaviveka would insert an “ultimately” before the conclusion. Similarly, I would follow Candrakirti in taking I. This is an unwelcome consequence because in 4ab, Nagarjuna has argued that there is no coherent account of how conditions might give rise to such a causal power.

I do not see textual support for Garfield’s claim that in MMK I, Nagarjuna is articulating a conventional regularity theory of dependent arising. I would nonetheless agree with Garfield that the Madhyamika must preserve a place in conventional truth for causal claims. Whether the Madhyamika should develop a full-blown theory of causation such as a regularity theory is perhaps best left to Prasangikas and Svatantrikas to sort out.

There is always the worry that theory-building will engender aspirations to the status of ultimate truth. But the important issue here is whether we should see Nagarjuna as expressly affirming in MMK I that there is a place for causality in the conventional realm. One reason for thinking not is that this would seem to undermine the dialectical force of his arguments.

If Nagarjuna’s intention is to help his realist opponents overcome their clinging to an ultimate reality populated by things with intrinsic essences, his best strategy would seem to be to pile on absurd consequence after absurd consequence that follows from such a conception of the real. This may not prove fully effective, however, if he indicates at the outset that the conventional realm offers a means of escaping the dilemmas posed by the dialectic.

The suggestion is that one must first come to see that rivers are not ultimately rivers before one can fully appreciate the fact that rivers are just rivers.

What is not clear is that he would have wanted to explicitly affirm this as early as MMK Nagarjuns. Our focus so far has been on Garfield’s interpretive framework and not on his interpretation of individual arguments. One final point concerning the framework will bring us to the arguments themselves. This point has to do with the question, what the target of Nagarjuna’s arguments is.

It has been common to object to Streng-style interpretations of Madhyamaka that they take the arguments to be directed exclusively against philosophical theories, and not against the conventional views of common sense. While Wittgenstein might have thought that common sense is perfectly all right as it stands, no Buddhist will share this view. For the Buddhist, the ignorance that is the root cause of suffering must be deeply entrenched within common sense, since suffering is not confined to philosophers but is garfielc common gaefield of humankind.


Those who oppose Streng-influenced interpretations see them as losing sight of this through their assimilation of Nagarjuna to Wittgenstein. Now this is clearly not a significant objection, since one might use selected elements of Wittgenstein’s semantics to throw light on Madhyamaka without attributing all of Wittgenstein’s views to Nagarjuna. Still it is important to be sensitive to this difference. And Garfield does show concern regarding this garfkeld.

garfiled In the introduction to his commentary he states that the root delusion of substantialism from which Nagarjuna sees suffering as emanating is not “the product of sophisticated philosophical theory” but is held naively and pretheoretically, so that Nagarjuna’s arguments, aimed as they are principally against essentialist metaphysics, will not alone suffice for liberation from suffering, but will nonetheless be of some service 88, n.

Yet later he says, “The standpoint of emptiness is hence not at odds with the conventional standpoint, only with a particular jagarjuna understanding of it” Of course he immediately adds that this philosophical perspective is natural and seductive.

And in a footnote he then distinguishes between a metaphysical and a non-metaphysical component of common sense. So the picture we end up with is this: Nagarjuna’s arguments are directed against philosophical views that naturally grow out of and express systematically what is already inchoately present in universal common sense, though it is present there only as a dispensable part.

This picture may well be right. Still its rather scattered presentation leads to some awkwardness. What might have served Garfield better on this score would have been to explain precisely why the essentialist metaphysics he sees as Nagarjuna’s target is so natural and seductive, given our pretheoretical intuitions. For this would better position him to answer the objections of those like Hayes who see Nagarjuna as routinely saddling his opponent with highly questionable assumptions an objection that the Western philosopher is likely to share.

For instance, in his exposition of MMK I.

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nāgārjuna

Garfield explains the argument as claiming that since the essence of the effect e. To the natural question of why the essence cannot be said to have been itself produced from the conditions, Garfield answers that essences are “by definition eternal and fixed.

They are independent” But we are not told why. And surely it would seem sensible to suppose that just as the flame is produced by conditions which do not themselves somehow already covertly contain fire, so the heat of the flame is produced in similar fashion. Now in the case of this verse, Garfield is overlooking the possibility that the argument is directed against a satkaryavadinsomeone who holds that prior to its production, the effect exists in unmanifest form in its material cause.

Read this way, the argument does not require us to agree that essences must be eternal and fixed, for this is a view to which the opponent is already committed. But Nagarjuna does require such an assumption elsewhere, e.

And in commenting on that passage, Garfield merely tells us that Nagarjuna holds three views concerning essences: Once again we are not told why.

This brings us to the heart of the disagreement between Garfield and Hayes. In order to answer the criticism that Nagarjuna is systematically equivocating on svabhavaGarfield needs to explain the source of the svabhava criterion of dharmahood in Abhidharma something Hayes does on pagesand then show how this represents a reasonable articulation of common sense realism.

This would then allow Garfield to explain why Nagarjuna is justified in attributing to the opponent the view that any account of the ultimate nature of reality must involve things that bear intrinsically determinate essences that consequently cannot undergo alteration. Garfield could thus dispel the appearance that the opponent is a straw person expressly concocted to suit Nagarjuna’s dialectical purposes.

Some of the elements of such an explanation are to be found here, as when he says “Since the recognition of compounds as unitary phenomena demands conventions of aggregation, to be compounded is, ipso facto, to have a merely conventional existence” But we are not told why anyone would think this to show that compounds are not ultimately real.