from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gilded statue of Nāgārjuna

Nagarjuna ( Sanskrit m., नागार्जुन , Nāgārjuna , [ naːˈgaːrdʒunɐ ]; approx. 2nd century) is considered the first historically significant personality in the context of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

The central motive behind Nāgārjuna's teaching activity, which laid the foundation stone for the "School of the Middle Way" ( Mādhyamaka ) and left numerous works on Buddhist philosophy, was the restoration of the teachings of Buddha , the core idea of ​​which, according to Nāgārjuna, was through the overflowing teaching in some schools of the Hīnayāna There was a risk of losing sight of it. To support his approach, Nāgārjuna systematically made use of a special argumentation tool , the "judgment square " (Sanskrit catuṣkoṭi ), with the help of which he tried to point out and deconstruct logical contradictions in the postulates of his philosophical environment. The aim of this methodology, which was characterized by a rigorous rejection of extreme standpoints, was to make Buddhist teaching comprehensible again as a consistent way of the center, which encompasses all unwholesome views that counteract the cognitive process - especially the " belief in eternity" (Sanskrit śāśvatavāda ) and the " doctrine of annihilation" (Sanskrit ucchedavāda ) - fundamentally excludes and defends this view against the school opinions widespread at that time. The detailed elaboration of the concept of voidness (Sanskrit śūnyatā ) in direct connection with the " arising in dependence " (Sanskrit pratītyasamutpāda ) as well as the further development of the teaching of the "two truths" (Sanskrit satyadvaya ) are among the contributions made by Nagarjuna, which he above all in the traditions of Vajrayāna and Zen according to Buddha to make one of the influential Buddhist thinkers of Indian origin.

Nāgārjuna's life and work - myths and legends

As good as no reliable knowledge is available about the person of Nāgārjuna. The hagiographies written long after his death within the Buddhist tradition , including testimonies in Chinese and Tibetan language, etc. a. by Paramārtha (499 - 569) and Xuanzang (603 - 664), are heavily embellished with myths and legends , and therefore highly unreliable in terms of elaborating historically verifiable facts. These legends, mostly intended to be pedagogical and marked by great veneration, include stories whose contents have been passed down from tradition to tradition with slight modifications. One of them - from the pen of the translator Kumārajīva (344 - 413) - depicts Nāgārjuna as a magician who uses his ability to make himself invisible to seduce the mistresses of an influential ruler together with his companions. Nāgārjuna and his two companions sneak into the palace unnoticed and put their common plan into action. On the way back Nāgārjuna escapes the fact that the spell is waning on his two friends. The two unsuspecting companions are discovered by the palace guards and executed. This painful event, which Nāgārjuna directly confronts with suffering , finally prompts him to devote himself only to the teachings of the Buddha.

Nagarjuna statue at Samye Ling monastery in County Dumfriesshire of Scotland

In another tale of unknown origin, Nāgārjuna attracts the attention of a mythical people of dragon-like serpentine beings , the Nāgas, through his discourses . Out of appreciation, they invite Nāgārjuna to their homeworld lying at the bottom of the sea and there hand him the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures that the Buddha himself is said to have given them for safekeeping, with the request that they be made available to the world public only when the People would have become ripe for their message. This legend alludes to the meaning of the name "Nāgārjuna", which translated means something like "white snake". Indian mythology associates the color white ( arjuna ) with purity and the symbol of the snake ( nāga ) with wisdom. A distinguishing feature of Nāgārjuna are therefore the snakes, which in traditional representations tower up behind his head (see illustration above). Many other legends surround the figure of Nāgārjuna, including reports of an incurable childhood disease, which he conquered by joining a monastic order and persistent study of the early Buddhist scriptures, of alchemy and elixirs of immortality that allowed him to reach a biblical age, as well of his death by beheading with Kuśagras ( Poa cynosuroides ), a tall sedge with sharp stalks, which is used in India for sacred ceremonies. The wish for execution, which, according to that narrative, express the philosophical opponents of Nāgārjuna, whom he defeated in all debates, and which Nāgārjuna himself agrees to out of compassion for his opponents, can only be realized with this special weed, since Nāgārjuna inadvertently entered into one of his previous lives Insect is said to have killed, as which one of these opponents was embodied at that time.

Verifiable data on Nāgārjuna's actual life outside of these legends is largely in the dark. It is almost certain that Nāgārjuna was born in the 2nd century AD as the son of a brahmin family in the central Indian region of Vidarbha in today's state of Maharashtra . Presumably he spent his later life until his death around Amaravati , located in southern India, which is part of today's Andhra Pradesh . On the Sri Parvata mountain near Nāgārjunakoṇḍa located in this area, Nāgārjuna is said to have founded a monastery on the lower rivers of Krishna and taught there. The connection between Nāgārjuna and the Nālandā Monastery University is most likely one of the many legends, as this building was only built around the 5th century AD and therefore no longer falls into the widely recognized life span of Nāgārjuna. From various sources, u. a. The literary works "Precious Garland" ( ratnāvalī ) and "Letter to a Friend" ( suhṛllekha ) ascribed to Nāgārjuna , in which the ethical aspect of Buddhist teaching is particularly emphasized, shows that Nāgārjuna probably had a long-standing friendship with a ruler of the Śātavāhana - Dynasty to whom these letters were addressed. It cannot, however, be fully reconstructed which of the 230 BC The ruling rulers who ruled in AD 199 and AD maintained this lively contact with Nāgārjuna.

The works of Nāgārjunas are all written in Sanskrit and not in "hybrid Sanskrit", the more common language combination of Sanskrit and elements of local Prakrit dialects in Māhayāna literature , which had replaced Pali as the lingua franca in India at the time . This could be due to the fact that Nāgārjuna, as a native Brahmin, was the most common written language in Sanskrit. In their style, his works show a clear influence of the Prajñāpāramitā literature, but at the same time are deeply rooted in the teachings of the Buddha, to which they are often referred to.

Nāgārjuna's most important treatises are the " Mūlamādhyamakakārikā " ( "Teaching Stanzas on the Fundamental Teachings of the Middle Way" ) , which are divided into 27 chapters . In addition, other treatises, some of a philosophical and some ethical nature, come into question as authentic works by Nāgārjuna. These include:

  • Śūnyatāsaptati (Seventy Stanzas on Voidness)
  • Vigrahavyāvartaṇī (rejection of allegations)
  • Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayakārikā (teaching stanzas about arising in dependence)
  • Yuktiṣaṣtikā (Sixty Stanzas of Evidence)
  • Vaidalyaprakaraṇa (refutation of the statements [of the Nyāya])
  • Vyavahārasiddhi (enlightenment in the world of everyday life)
  • Bodhicittavivaraṇa (explanation of the mind of enlightenment)
  • Catuḥstava (Four Hymns)
  • Ratnāvalī (Precious Garland)
  • Sūtrasamuccaya (Sūtra Collection)
  • Bodhisaṃbharaka (requirements for enlightenment)
  • Suhṛllekha (letter to a friend)

Starting points for Nāgārjuna's methodology - the philosophical environment and its theories

In the philosophical environment of his epoch, which represented a heyday of Indian philosophy , Nāgārjuna was confronted with a variety of different Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools and their points of view. Those around the 1st century BC The era beginning in the 3rd century BC, which heralded a systematic period in Indian philosophy, was characterized by a lively culture of debate, in which the verbal battles were held according to the categories ( padārtha ) of a fixed set of rules. It was also the time of the written fixation of teaching content in Sūtraform and other supplementary comments. In this philosophical contest, Buddhism was subjected, for the first time in its history, to a rigorous examination by competing non-Buddhist systems and had to answer questions on various topics. In addition to epistemological questions, such as which means of cognition ( pramāgla ) enabled a reliable finding of truth, also the need for explanation that occurs again and again after the rebirth and the nature of reality . In relation to the important question, which is directly related to the law of karma , of the way in which causality takes place , two basic models had developed in the orthodox systems that recognize the Veda as authority:

  • The theory of satkāryavāda favored by the philosophical system of Sāṃkhya (literally: "doctrine of the being of effect"), which states that the effect is already potentially contained in the cause (identity of cause and effect)
  • The theory of asatkāryavāda ("doctrine of the non-existence of the effect [before and after its manifestation]"), championed by the system of Vaiśeṣika , which takes the diametrically opposite standpoint to Sāṃkhya. According to this doctrine, the effect is not potentially contained in the cause, but both are completely different and separate from one another (difference between cause and effect).

All other causality models of the non-Buddhist schools merely represented modifications of these two positions:

  • The Jains view expressed itself epistemologically in the "syādvāda" (doctrine of the validity of a statement depending on the individual point of view) and ontologically in the "anekāntavāda" (doctrine of the variety of forms of expression) and took the position of a synthesis . According to this attitude, each statement is true from the perspective of the person meeting it. And reality does not have just one expressible aspect, but can only be verbalized by naming several aspects. With regard to the question of the mode of action of causality, the Jainist philosophy relied on the possibility of “both as well as”, a view that also represented the later theistic expression of Sāṃkhya .
  • The fatalists ( Ājīvikas ), on the other hand, taught a strict determinism that ruled out a moral-ethical causality. They rejected the law of karma in favor of a thesis according to which world events were controlled completely arbitrarily by the course of fate ( niyati ). Accordingly, there was no possibility for people to free themselves from the cycle of rebirths ( saṃsāra ) through their own efforts , since for them salvation did not depend on the quality of the deeds ( akriyavāda ).
  • The materialists ( Lokāyatikas ) rejected all generally accepted principles of philosophical-religious Indian thought. There was no rebirth or karma for them, and life ended in physical death for them. In their opinion, the world came into being purely by chance, with no particular law or order, from the four elements earth, fire, water and air. Because of this attitude, they propagated hedonism and the dissolution of the rigid caste structure .

Two of the 18 schools of Hīnayāna joined in this polyphonic concert of perspectives : the schools of Sarvāstivāda and Sautrāntika , which dealt intensively with the doctrine of the fundamental components of reality, the factors of existence ( dharmas ), systematized in Abhidharma . The vehement discussion about the status of these constitutive elements, which, among other reasons, had led the Sautrantikas to split off from the Sarvastivada as an independent school, also included a dispute about the causal relationship between the factors of existence, and in the course of this they turned the two schools applied the models of satkāryavāda and asatkāryavāda to their representations.

The Sarvāstivādin represented the model of a coexistence of all future, present and past factors of existence in an eternal state of latency , which they leave due to their karmic activation in order to constitute world and things in changing combinations. After the respective bond, which the existence factors have entered into, falls apart again, they do not disappear completely, but always remain in their potentiality until they are activated again (hence the name "Sarvāstivāda", from Sanskrit "sarvam asti" = everything exists) ). The Sarvastivadin gave the elements of reality a “self-existence” ( svabhāva ) and thereby upgraded their status to a “highest reality” ( paramārtha ). For the Sautrāntikas, this view was tantamount to a violation of the central Buddhist doctrine of “ not-self ”, since increasing the factors of existence to a level of reality superordinate to things and subjects brought the factors of existence back into the position of an “unchangeable self” - comparable with the Ātman of the Upaniṣads . In contrast, they advocated a doctrine of instantaneousness ( kṣaṇikavāda ), according to which the factors of existence flash only momentarily, only to vanish completely at the same moment. The factors therefore do not extend over time and do not have a linear cause-effect relationship. Before they came into being, the factors of existence were completely non-existent and they are transferred to this non-existence again after they have passed away.

Already at the beginning of the first chapter of his "Teaching Stanzas on the Root of the Middle Doctrine", Nāgārjuna rejects all these predominant models of causality as contradicting:

Nowhere and never do you find things that have arisen from oneself, from other things,
from oneself and other things together, for no reason (that is, neither from nor from something else).
na svato nāpi parato na dvābhyāṃ nāpy ahetutaḥ |
utpannā jātu vidyante bhāvāḥ kva cana ke cana ||
(MMK 1.1)

The attitude of the Sarvāstivādins with their version of satkāryavāda , according to Nāgārjuna, went hand in hand with the extreme view of " belief in eternity" ( śāśvatavāda ), since they elevated the factors of existence to something eternal and permanent. The Sautrāntikas, however, with their elaboration of the asatkāryavāda in the eyes of Nāgārjuna, fell to the other extreme of the " doctrine of annihilation" ( ucchedavāda ), in that they declared the factors of existence to be completely non-existent before their emergence and after their perishing. For Nāgārjuna, both views were incompatible with the “middle way” ( madhyamā pratipad ), which he defined with reference to Buddha as the complete equivalence of “ dependent arising ” and “ emptiness ”. The factors of existence are not eternal, since they in turn exist in dependence on conditional factors, but they are not destroyed either, since they are completely devoid of self-existence due to their dependence. Nāgārjuna summarizes this understanding in the following sentence:

Interdependent arising (pratītyasamutpāda), this is what we call 'emptiness'. This is [but only] a dependent term (prajñapti); it is precisely this (emptiness) that forms the middle way.
yaḥ pratītyasamutpādaḥ śūnyatāṃ tāṃ pracakṣmahe |
sā prajñaptir upādāya pratipat saiva madhyamā ||
(MMK 24.18)

The introduction to these facts, which can only be fully understood in the highest insight ( prajñā ), is the central motive behind Nāgārjuna's entire philosophy. Nāgārjuna analyzed the most important Buddhist topics against this background.

Nāgārjuna's Philosophy - The Doctrine of Voidness ( śūnyatāvāda )

Nāgārjunas concern was a return to the "middle" of the Buddha's teaching, which in the face of the conflict between Sarvāstivādin and Sautrāntikas threatened to fall victim to mere academic speculation about metaphysical facts. He was therefore neither the founder of a new school, nor was he the founder of the Mahayana itself. Nāgārjuna analyzed the most important core Buddhist themes from the point of view of the equivalence of dependent arising and emptiness (see Shunyata ), which he wrote at the beginning of his "teaching stanzas on the fundamental teachings of the Middle Way "with the" eight negations "underlines:

Non-perishing, non-arising, non-breaking off, non-lasting, non-unity, non-multiplicity, non-appearing, non-disappearing from it .
anirodham anutpādam anucchedam aśāśvataṃ |
anekārtham anānārtham anāgamam anirgamaṃ ||

In his opinion, the Sarvāstivādin and the Sautrāntikas had not internalized this “middle” enough, which led to their falling into extremes: the Sarvāstivādin in the “It is always” position of eternal duration and the Sautrāntikas in the “It is and will no longer be "position of annihilation. Both schools had deviated from the Buddhist path in this respect, the quintessence of which Buddha explains in one of his discourses with the following short sentence: "Only one thing I teach: Suffering and the abolition of suffering" ( Majjhima-Nikaya , MN 22).

For Nāgārjuna, as has already become a trend in the Prajñāpāramitā literature, ignorance ( avidyā ) in particular is one of the main sources of suffering, and it is important to reduce it above all else in order to return it through knowledge ( prajñā ) and knowledge ( jñāna ) to replace. According to him, this is also possible in the logical-argumentative way via theory, which he ascribes a practical benefit. He proceeds deconstructively in his argumentation in order to dissolve all tendencies of the practitioner to grasp step by step , and thereby to reveal the "mean" that shows itself in the knowledge gained in this way.

In order to justify the emptiness on the basis of conclusive arguments, Nāgārjuna subjects the impermanence of the phenomena to a rigorous analysis. It is only because the phenomena, in their dependence on conditioning factors, are entirely empty, argues Nāgārjuna, that they can arise and perish. And only because they are empty is it possible to overcome suffering through the Four Noble Truths and walk the Noble Eightfold Path to salvation in the first place. If the phenomena were non-empty, i.e. H. if they existed out of themselves, there would be no development whatsoever in the world, everything would be completely static, unchangeable, to a certain extent "frozen in infinity". Things would not have been caused and, since they did not need any support for their existence, would be frozen in eternity. But this cannot be reconciled with observing the constant change in the world. Immortal things are nowhere to be found. And therefore, Nāgārjuna concludes, there are nowhere things that are not empty.

[All] things are without being because one sees changes in their nature in them. Because of the emptiness of all things, there is no thing without its own.
bhāvānāṃ niḥsvabhāvatvamanyathābhāvadarśanāt |
asvabhāvo bhāvo nāsti bhāvānāṃ śūnyatā yataḥ ||
(MMK 13.3)

For example, a tree is dependent on a wide variety of conditional factors: roots, trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, nutrients in the soil, wind, rain, solar radiation, etc. From this perspective, the tree is not "there" in itself, but only through the interlocking of the various factors that "elevate it into existence" - B. also perception and linguistic assignment. The entire universe contributes to this one tree, since all conditions are in turn determined by other factors. If one factor disappears, all others also disappear; they are inextricably linked. If the tree were a consistently isolated and independent phenomenon that existed independently of conditions, it would not be able to grow and flourish, since it would not need anything other than itself for its existence. It would not be subject to emergence and decay, always the same, unbound, deathless. But this contradicts the fact that it is constantly changing, from the seed to the gnarled vegetation with dense foliage, which at some point falls into decay and dies.

Thus, according to this conception, things are without self ( nairātmya ), insubstantial ( asvabhāva ) and empty ( śūnya ), since they have no “self-existence” as a result of their dependence on conditioning factors.

"Self-existence" (Sanskrit svabhāva , also called "own nature" or "own being") describes as a technical term in Indian philosophy the property of something that exists on its own, something without support that does not need any conditions for its existence. The Atman dealt with in the Upaniṣads is given the predicate “self-existent” there, for example. In this function it has the status of an “ultimate reality” superordinate to the relative , in contrast to the constantly changing, conditioned world, it is founded in itself, eternal, unchangeable, pure and unrealized. These are the attributes that are assigned to "self-existence" in this context. And it is this self-existence that Nāgārjuna excludes in principle with regard to phenomena.

For Nāgārjuna, precisely because of this lack of self-existence, the world is not a world of being, but of constant becoming. Things are not but happen, like a melody that not is , but takes place in the succession of sounds. The existence factors also fall into this category, because as such they do not exist independently, they are directly integrated into the network of relationships of the “ pratītyasamutpāda ”. But since dependency and emptiness mean the same thing, things do not really arise or perish, according to Nāgārjuna.

For you it may be true that arising and passing away are seen. One only sees arising and passing away from delusion.
dṛśyate saṃbhavaś caiva vibhavaś caiva te bhavet |
dṛśyate saṃbhavaś caiva mohād vibhava eva ca ||
(MMK 21.11)

The two unwholesome views of "belief in eternity" and the "doctrine of annihilation" provide things with a substance or an essence, which in the former case is regarded as something indestructible and in the latter case comes into being together with the phenomenon and then is lost again when the phenomenon falls apart. But since everything in the process of becoming has no permanent core in Buddhism, it neither lasts (eternity) nor ceases to be (annihilation), is neither one ( monism ) nor much ( pluralism ). Nāgārjuna compares the substantial - and thus as absolute - perceived arising and passing away with mirages and chimeras , with magic tricks and dream structures. What depends on conditions is empty. What is empty does not have a separate, independent reality. Just as waves appear on the surface of the sea without water being gained in the process, and just as waves return to the ocean without losing water, the phenomena arise and disappear:

Like magic, like a dream, like a mirage, emergence, existence and decay are conceived.
yathā māyā yathā svapno gandharvanagaraṃ yathā |
tathotpādas tathā sthānaṃ tathā bhaṅga udāhṛtam ||
(MMK 7.34)

Things do not come into being absolutely, since their emergence also depends on conditions - and this dependence makes it impossible to find a first cause, a tangible root; it gets lost in the conditional nexus, the huge web of conditionality. The phenomena do not exist forever ( ananta ), nor do they come out of nowhere ( vibhāva ), only to disappear again into the same nothing after their existence. They are neither existent nor non-existent because of their emptiness, which excludes these two extremes.

Based on this statement, Nāgārjuna takes his argument one step further and describes in a verse that is one of the most cited sentences of the Mūlamadkyamakakārikā, the indistinguishability of samsara and nirvana at the peak of knowledge ( prajñā ):

There is nothing that distinguishes samsara from nirvana, and nirvana from samsara. The limit of nirvana is also the limit of samsara. Not the slightest difference is found between these two either.
na saṃsārasya nirvāṇāt kiṃcid asti viśeṣaṇam |
na nirvāṇasya saṃsārāt kiṃcid asti viśeṣaṇam ||
nirvāṇasya ca yā koṭiḥ koṭiḥ saṃsaraṇasya ca |
na tayor antaraṃ kiṃcit susūkṣmam api vidyate ||
(MMK 25.19-20)

From the point of view of salvation there is no longer any differentiation between the conditioned appearances of the world of existence and unconditional nirvana. “Conditional” and “unconditional” are dualistic and related terms. Only he who has not come to the wisdom experience of universal voidness clings to them, and this blocks his way to insight - he establishes a boundary between samsara and nirvana that does not exist. Since emptiness equals salvation, all beings are already in the state of essential salvation. All that is needed is to become aware of this redemption, which is free from all limitations, distinctions and extremes, and to recognize it. But this recognition, Nāgārjuna warns, is not to be understood as a personal process as a result of the Anatta teaching. He draws attention to the contradiction that comes to light in the idea of ​​wanting to "have", "achieve", "attain" or "realize" nirvana:

I will go out without grasping; I will be nirvana! ' - Those who are caught up in such madness are especially caught up in seizing.
nirvāsyāmy anupādāno nirvāṇaṃ me bhaviṣyati |
iti yeṣāṃ grahas teṣām upādānamahāgrahaḥ ||
(MMK 16.9)

The concept of “ emptiness ” as a central element in Nāgārjuna's teaching thus has a primarily soteriological function. It serves to relativize the everyday perception of reality, which is shaped by conventions such as language and thinking, from the perspective of liberation in order to dispel certain basic assumptions that stand in the way of a deeper insight and thus the experience of emptiness. Stuck thought patterns and ideas that lead to mutually exclusive extremes - u. a. those of "peculiarity" ( svabhāva ) and "being alien" ( parabhāva ), of "identity" and "difference" - are to be broken open to reveal the moving and clinging tendency of thinking, the nāgārjuna with the expression of "conceptual development" ( prapañca ) reproduces to calm down and to dissolve the fixations that go with it:

Salvation comes through the destruction of karma and attachments. Karma and attachment come from discriminating ideas (vikalpa), they come from conceptual development (prapañca). The development, however, is destroyed in emptiness.
karmakleśakṣayān mokṣaḥ karmakleśā vikalpataḥ |
te prapañcāt prapañcas tu śūnyatāyāṃ nirudhyate ||
(MMK 18.5)

Nāgārjuna, however, warns several times not to confuse emptiness with a “reality” behind the world or a view that represents that reality. One should be careful not to make them the carrier of a substance or even the “true essence” of the phenomena, an absolute . For Nāgārjuna, emptiness is primarily to be understood in the sense of an aid that must not be objectified as such:

Voidness was taught by the "victorious" Buddhas as a rejection of all view. But those for whom voidness is a view have been declared incurable.
śūnyatā sarvadṛṣṭīnāṃ proktā niḥsaraṇaṃ jinaiḥ |
yeṣāṃ tu śūnyatādṛṣṭis tān asādhyān babhāṣire ||
(MMK 13.8)

Therefore, according to Nāgārjuna, it is extremely important to be careful with the concept of voidness. It is intended as a wholesome concept to free you from extreme views, but if it is misunderstood as a view, it can also have the opposite effect and cause damage.

The wrongly conceived voidness destroys those of weak insight - like a badly caught snake or wrongly used magic.
vināśayati durdṛṣtā śūnyatā mandamedhasam |
sarpo yathā durgṛhīto vidyā vā duṣprasādhitā ||
(MMK 11/24)

For this reason it is also important to recognize that emptiness as a dependent designation is itself empty - a statement which Nāgārjuna brought in from within its own ranks of reproaches of nihilism ( nastitva ) and “self-refutation”, since it was misunderstood as a theory. Voidness was never intended by Nāgārjuna as a theory to replace another theory. Rather, it was more about leaving behind all theories, including those of emptiness. When emptiness has served its purpose as an aid and has been able to open one's gaze to deeper insight, it should be abandoned, just as one leaves behind a raft that brought one to the safe shore and from then on is no longer needed. Even speaking of her can be unwholesome when what is spoken is reified , which is why Nāgārjuna emphasizes:

One should neither say 'empty' nor 'non-empty', neither 'both at the same time' nor 'neither'. For the purpose of understanding, however, one may speak like this.
śūnyam iti na vaktavyam aśūnyam iti vā bhavet |
ubhayaṃ nobhayaṃ ceti prajñaptyarthaṃ tu kathyate ||
(MMK 22.11)

This example shows Nāgārjuna's argumentation technique using the “judgment square ” ( catuṣkoṭi ), which is explained in more detail below.

The square of judgment ( catuṣkoṭi )

The logical stylistic device of the " judgment square " ( catuṣkoṭi ), also called Buddhist tetralemma , which Nāgārjuna uses as a didactic instrument in his argumentation, is a figure of thought probably going back to the skeptic Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta mentioned in the Dīghanikāya , which is four possible, which is composed of four members correspond to logical alternatives. According to tradition, it is already applied by the Buddha to questions which, according to his understanding, start from the wrong premises and are therefore not correctly posed in the context from the outset. This approach of the Buddha is handed down in several places in the Pali Canon . A text example can be found in a chapter from the " Saṃyuttanikāya " ( " Grouped Collection"), where Kassapa , a wandering basket and later disciple of the Buddha, is informed by the Buddha about the origins of suffering:

Kassapa: Is the suffering, Mr. Gotama, self-caused?
Buddha: You shouldn't speak like that, Kassapa.
Kassapa: Or is the suffering caused by someone else?
Buddha: You shouldn't speak like that, Kassapa.
Kassapa: Is the suffering both self-caused and caused by someone else?
Buddha: You shouldn't speak like that, Kassapa.
Kassapa: Or is the suffering not caused by itself and not caused by someone else, but rather it came about by chance?
Buddha: You shouldn't speak like that, Kassapa.
Kassapa: So, Mr. Gotama, is there no suffering at all?
Buddha: There must be suffering, Kassapa.
Kassapa: So Mr. Gotama doesn't know the suffering and doesn't see it?
Buddha: I know the suffering well, I see the suffering well, Kassapa.
Kassapa: So may the Blessed One explain the suffering to me, may it proclaim it to me.
Thereupon the Buddha replied in summary: “If one asserts that it is the person who carries out the action and who feels the consequences, then there is one who has been there from the beginning - if one says that the suffering is self-caused, then one comes to something that will last forever. If one asserts that it is someone else who carries out the action and who feels the consequences, there is someone who is affected by sensation. If one says from that one that the suffering is caused by another, one comes to a total annihilation. Avoiding these two ends, Kassapa, proclaims the true teaching in the middle of the Tathāgata: The formations are conditioned by ignorance, the consciousness is conditioned by the formations ... ” (Saṃyutta Nikāya SN 12.17)

In this example, the Buddha argues with the negation of all four members of the catuṣkoṭi . In doing so, he tries to point out the extreme views of belief in eternity and the doctrine of annihilation that tend to be hidden in the questions, which Buddhist thought should avoid.

The “square of judgment” as a theoretical model includes in its basic structure both the principle of contradiction and the principle of excluded third party :

  1. Something is (so)
  2. Something is not (like this)
  3. Something is both (so) and not (so)
  4. Something is neither (like this) nor not (like this)

According to the central doctrine of not-self, Buddhist logic assumes that A is not identical with itself, that is: A is not A (the self, believed to be isolated, is in reality a flawed impression that comes about because the Process of constantly reassembling and disintegrating groupings of factors of existence confused with a permanent ego, and this confusion is reinforced and maintained by clinging). This means that the basic premise of formal logic - self-identity (A = A) - is denied from the outset. But in the next step the difference is also negated: A is just as little not-A (there is also no self to be found inside or outside the factors of existence). Finally, the two following steps, since they merely represent combinations of the first two steps, should be discarded as just as incorrect.

According to this approach, with the help of catuṣkoṭi, it is not important to prove something as irrefutable truth, i.e. to falsify an assertion or to replace a false one with the correct truth, but rather to point out the weaknesses in certain forms of argumentation and trains of thought that lead to a knowledge counteract. The only valid criterion according to which a statement can ultimately be evaluated is whether or not what is said is beneficial and conducive to deeper insight. Means of assertion, even if they belong to the relative level, are necessary in order to convey and convey the teaching content, but must prove to be "salutary tried and tested" and therefore draw their truthfulness from practical applicability.

The actual, complete understanding then takes place in non-verbal insight, what is also known in Zen as "non-thinking thinking" (Japanese hishiryo ). Thus, the application of the “judgment square” has two aspects: a deconstructive one, i. H. the function of showing the "dead ends" of limiting, restrictive and unwholesome thinking, and at the same time a constructive one, namely the function of converting ignorance ( avidyā ) into wisdom ( prajñā ), i.e. to point beyond limiting thinking and to lead away from it. Elements from the catuṣkoṭi can still be found in some Mondos and Koan of the Zen tradition.

The teaching of the "two truths" ( satyadvaya )

In preaching the Dharma, the Buddhas relied on two truths: one is the worldly, 'veiled truth' ( saṃvṛtisatya ), the other is the 'truth in the highest sense' ( paramārthasatya ). Those who do not see the difference between the two truths do not see the deep truth ( tattva ) in the Buddha's teaching either.
dve satye samupāśritya buddhānāṃ dharmadeśanā |
lokasaṃvṛtisatyaṃ ca satyaṃ ca paramārthataḥ ||
ye 'nayor na vijānanti vibhāgaṃ satyayor dvayoḥ |
te tattvaṃ na vijānanti gambhīraṃ buddhaśāsane ||
(MMK 8/24 - 9/24)
Without relying on the application [of the words] (vyavahara), truth in the highest sense cannot be shown; and without having advanced to truth in the highest sense, nirvana is not attained.
vyavahāram anāśritya paramārtho na deśyate |
paramārtham anāgamya nirvāṇaṃ nādhigamyate ||
(MMK 10/24)

The methodology of differentiating between a truth in the highest sense and a veiled, convention-based truth , which was consistently continued in the later Madhyamaka , has been preserved in this form to this day through all Buddhist schools to this day, mentioned in Nagarjuna . The view that no statement has absolute validity, but has to be checked for its wholesomeness as a relative and conditional statement, has been firmly established in all Buddhist schools since Nagarjuna's formulation of the “two truths”.

A first early Buddhist approach to the model of the “two truths” can already be found in the “ basket of treatises ” by differentiating between the levels of reality “samutti sacca” and “paramattha sacca”. In this early form, the "two truths" refer to the reality status of the factors of existence ( dharmas ) in contrast to the worldly realities that depend on their conditioned interplay. The factors of existence, as constituents of empirical reality that cannot be further reduced, have the highest reality here ; they are therefore also called “paramattha dhammas”. What constitutes the factors of existence - the everyday conception of "I", "my", of concrete, substantial, mutually independent things and people - is assigned to the level of veiled reality .

Nagarjuna took up this model, but changed the classification of the degrees of reality fundamentally, now using the Sanskrit terms "samvritti satya" and "paramartha satya". He shifted the factors of existence previously described as “highest reality” in the Abhidharmic sense - like everything that can be verbally expressed - to the level of “samvritti satya”, the veiled truth. The highest truth cannot be said, one can only point to it by means of conventional truth - in order to then experience it directly in a deeper, intuitive insight. This basic attitude is z. B. illustrated in the Zen saying "The finger that points to the moon is not the moon".


  • Nagarjuna: Bodhicittavivarana. Explanation of the spirit of enlightenment. Tibetan, English (by Dr. Christian Lindtner) and German. Angkor Verlag 2015, ISBN 978-3-943839-26-5 (Kindle e-book with essay by Dr. Lindtner on gematria).
  • Stephen Batchelor : Nāgārjuna. Verses from the middle. A Buddhist vision of life. Theseus, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-89620-181-6 .
  • Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso: The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on the Noble Nāgārjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Shambala Publ., Boston 2003, ISBN 1-57062-999-4 .
  • Jeffrey Hopkins : Nāgārjuna's jewel necklace. Buddhist lifestyle and the path to liberation. Hugendubel, Kreuzlingen 2006, ISBN 3-7205-2754-9 .
  • Christian Th. Kohl: Buddhism and quantum physics. Nagarjuna's concepts of reality and quantum physics. Windpferd, Aitrang 2005, ISBN 3-89385-463-0 .
  • K. Venkata Ramanan: Nāgārjuna's Philosophy. 1966. Charles E. Tuttle, Vermont and Tokyo. Reprint: Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi. 1978
  • Li Rongxi, Albert A. Dalia: The Lives of Great Monks and Nuns. ( Memento from August 20, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Numata Center for Translation and Research, Berkeley CA 2002.
  • Hans P. Sturm: Neither to be nor not to be. The square of judgment (catuskoti) and its corollaries in Eastern and Western thought. ERGON-Verlag, Würzburg 1996, ISBN 3-928034-72-3 .
  • Bernhard Weber-Brosamer, Dieter M. Back: The philosophy of the void. Nāgārjunas Mulamadhyamaka-Karikas. 2nd, revised edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05250-3 (translation of the Buddhist basic text with commentary introductions).
  • Max Walleser : The Buddhist philosophy in its historical development. Part II: The Middle Teaching (Mādhyamika-śāstra) of Nāgārjuna. transferred according to the Tibetan version. Heidelberg 1911 Internet Archive (PDF 14.5 MB)
  • David Kalupahana: Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass, 1991, ISBN 81-208-0774-X .

Web links

Commons : Nagarjuna  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 2.
  2. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 92.
  3. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 1.
  4. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 47.
  5. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 78.
  6. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 30.
  7. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 100.
  8. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 57.
  9. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 69.
  10. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 48.
  11. a b Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 91.
  12. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, p. 83.
  13. Weber-Brosamer / Back - The philosophy of emptiness . Wiesbaden 2005, ibid.