Buddhism - conceptual doubts

Ulrich T. Kragh 103322.630 at COMPUSERVE.COM
Wed Oct 13 14:02:39 UTC 1999

The questions posed about Buddhist concepts of nirvA.na recently by Nanda
Chandran were so numerous that to answer them all would require an
unreasonably long posting. I will therefore here limit myself to responding
to one of the more striking statements made towards the end of the mail,
which discusses the "sameness" of sa.msAra and nirvA.na according to

>Contrary to the claims that the mAdhyamika has no positions -
>NAgArjuna in his MUlamAdhyamaka KArikA - asserts that
>there's no difference between samsAra and nirvAna
>and that the limit of samsAra is the limit of nirvAna
>- in short he seems to be equating nirvAna
>with samsAra itself!

The verses in question are verse 19-20 of chapter XXV, nirvA.na pariik.sA,
in the "mUlamadhyamaka kArikA" by NAgArjuna.

The verses read: "na sa.msArasya nirvA.nAtki.m cidasti viSe.sa.nam / na
nirvA.nasya sa.msArAtki.m cidasti viSe.sa.nam/ /nirvA.nasya ca yA ko.ti.h
sa.msArasya ca / na tayorantara.m ki.m citsusUk.smamapi vidyate /

In translation: "There is no distinction of sa.msAra from nirvA..a / There
is no distinction of nirvA.na from sa.msAra / What [is the extent] of
nirvA.na [is] also the extent of sa.msAra / A slightest difference of the
two is also not known /"

What should be pointed out here is that these verses do actually not
directly state that nirvA.na equates sa.msAra. Rather, the verses use

Tibetan commentators have discussed the complexity of these verses, because
if they are interpreted in such the way which was proposed by you, it would
entail logical fallacies: if nirvA.na equals sa.msAra there is no
enlightenment (bodhi), because sa.msAra is ignorance; if sa.msAra equals
nirvA.na all sentient beings are already liberated, because nirvA.na is the
cessation of suffering. Therefore, such a reading does not seem to grasp
the gist of the verses.

The 16.th century Tibetan commentator karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje in his
text "dwags brgyud grub pa'i shing rta" suggests the following
interpretation: NAgArjuna has in the preceding section just clearly shown
nirvA.na to be empty (SUnya) and has in preceding chapters likewise shown
sa.msAra to be empty. Thus, he here shows these two terms, nirvA.na and
sa.msAra, to be conceptually relative, i.e. that the one can only be
formulated in relation to the other, and that both are empty of an essence
(svabhAva). What is empty cannot entail any difference to another.

I would therefore suggest you to reconsider your interpretation of this
point in the light of this Tibetan debate.

I would enjoy to engage in discussion of the other points mentioned in your
mail, but you would have to formulate your enquiries into several smaller
issues in separate postings.

With best regards,

Ulrich T. Kragh
Department of Asian Studies
University of Copenhagen

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