Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Four Discourses in the Round, Being Connected with Emptiness

In his book Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna, The Philosophy of the Middle Way, David Kalupahana sets out to show that MMK is “a superb commentary on the Buddha's own Kaccāyana-gotta-sutta, a commentary in which Nāgārjuna upholds every statement made by the Buddha in that discourse, bringing together more material from the other discourses as well, and then clearing the water muddied by the speculations of some of the metaphysicians of the later Buddhist tradition.”

I agree with that characterization of MMK.

When the dust cover of DK's book asserts that MMK is “a grand commentary on the Buddha's Discourse to Kātyāyana,” however, that is over-stating the case.

True, The Instruction of Kātyāyana is worthy of special attention as the only discourse which Nāgārjuna in MMK cites by name:

kātyāyanāvavāde cāstīti nāstīti cobhayam |
pratiṣiddhaṃ bhagavatā bhāvābhāva-vibhāvinā ||MMK15.7||
In The Instructing of Kātyāyana, both “It exists” and “It does not exist” 
are denied by the Glorious One who clarified the existence of existence and non-existence.

But it might be truer still to revere MMK as the clarification of the Buddha's teaching itself, which is everywhere connected with emptiness, and taught by way of the middle. And so it has been, connected with emptiness and taught by way of the middle, from the very beginning.

The middle practice, or eightfold middle path, as taught in the first discourse, is connected with emptiness, for a start, via seeing straight (or “right view”; samyag-dṛṣṭi), via true mindfulness (samyag-smṛṭi) and via balanced stillness (samyak-samādhi).

Then the second, third and fourth discourses are, by way of the middle, just the teaching of emptiness.

In the upcoming series of posts I will review these connections with emptiness one by one, asking again: 

How is seeing straight (samyag-dṛṣṭi) connected with emptiness?
How is true mindfulness (samyag-smṛṭi) connected with emptiness?
How is balanced stillness (samyak-samādhi) connected with emptiness?

How is the emptiness of the five skandhas, as taught in the 2nd discourse, connected with emptiness?

How are dispassion and liberation, as taught in the 3rd discourse, connected with emptiness?

How is the 12-fold dependent arising of suffering, as taught in the 4th discourse, connected with emptiness?

My conclusion will be that not only in The Instruction of Kātyāyana was the Buddha's teaching connected with emptiness. Rather, the Buddha's teaching was connected with emptiness from the very beginning, as revealed in an evolution of the four discourses which is both gradual and, in the way that the various strands interweave with each other, perfectly elegant.

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