[INDOLOGY] Nagararjuna finger pointing to moon reference?

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 20 12:36:27 UTC 2013

Dear Dean,

Yes, that is one of the passages from the Dazhidu lun I indicated (the title has been back-translated as mahaprajnaparamita-sastra), so this is from the Chinese. This is the one that contains the expression 指指月 zhi zhi yue "finger pointing at the moon" twice.

Here, in case you are interested, is the Chinese text:

《大智度論》卷9〈1 序品〉:「依義」者,義中無諍好惡、罪福、虛實故,語以得義,義非語也。如人以指指月以示惑者,惑者視指而不視月,人語之言:「我以指指月令汝知之,汝何看指而不視月?」此亦如是,語為義指,語非義也。是以故不應依語」(T25.1509.125a29-b5)

So this is from the Dazhidu lun 大智度論, fascicle 9, "Introduction", found at Taisho volume 25, text # 1509, p. 125, line 29 of the top register, continuing to line 5 of the middle register. A Taisho page has three registers per page.

I don't think there is a consensus on Nagarjuna's authorship -- some argue it is authentic because translated by Kumarajiva, but I am in the camp that questions the attribution. The more likely scenario is that because Nagarjuna becomes associated with the Prajnaparamita corpus (legend holds he retrieved it from the Naga king at the sea bottom, a "hidden" scripture containing the Buddha's words awaiting the right time and person to be "revealed" since its Mahayanic message was ahead of its time), that association led someone to pseudepigraphically attributing the Dazhidu lun to him. Some have speculated that it may have been authored by Kumarajiva himself.

As with much of the Nagarjuna literature, it remains an open question. In recent times some scholars have even begun to question whether the Vigraha-vyavartani -- hitherto considered along with the Madhyamaka-karikas as the touchstone bone fides of authentic Nagarjuna writing -- may have not been written by him.

Two points: 

The madhyamika tradition in China, based on Kumarajiva's translations, was called Sanlun, "three treatises," those three being MMK, The 12 Gate Treatise, and the Dazhidulun. Anyone who has read the 12 Gate Treatise will immediately recognize its derivative nature and lack of intellectual spark -- so hardly anyone considers that an authentic Nagarjuna text. Hence Kumarajiva attributions are not bona fides.

9 out of 10 times when an East Asian traditional source cites or mentions Nagarjuna, what they mean is the Dazhidu lun. That text had wide popularity -- the other two lun-s are rarely if ever cited. So the East Asian sense of who and what Nagarjuna was, is quite different from what we in the West (or Tibet) have cultivated.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Dean Michael Anderson 
  To: Dan Lusthaus ; Indology 
  Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 4:31 AM
  Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Nagararjuna finger pointing to moon reference?

  Thanks Dan! 

  Michael Dorfman also sent me this information below -- also from the Chinese, I guess.

  Is there scholarly consensus about whether Nagarjuna might actually have said it?



  "Relying on the meaning (arthapratisaraṇa), since goodwill or malice, defect or merit, falsity or truth, cannot be attributed to meaning. It is the letter (vyañjana) that indicates the meaning (artha), but the meaning is not the letter. Suppose a man points his finger at the moon to people who doubt the moon's presence; if these doubters fixate on the finger but do not look at the moon, this man tells them: "I am pointing to the moon with my finger so that you may notice the moon. Why do you fixate on my finger instead of looking at the moon?"  It is the same here: the letter (vyañjana) is the finger pointing to the meaning (artha), but the letter is not the meaning. This is why one should not rely on the letter."

  Page 425 of the attached translation of the Māhāprajñāpāramitāśāstra. 

   Translated from the French By Gelongma Karma Migme Chodron 2001 

  From: Dan Lusthaus <vasubandhu at earthlink.net>
  To: Indology <indology at list.indology.info> 
  Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 3:37 PM
  Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Nagararjuna finger pointing to moon reference?

  Dear Dean,

  I don't know of any Sanskrit texts offhand that make that claim in Nagarjuna's name, but the Dazhidu lun (WG: Ta chih-tu lun), translated by Kumārajīva into Chinese in the first decade of the fifth century which he attributes to Nagarjuna (it is considered a commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā sūtra), contains that line three times: Twice at T 25.1509.125a29-b5, and then once again at T.25.1509.726a2-3.

  Aside from Nagarjuna attributions, one also finds that line in all three Chinese trs. of the Laṅkāvatāra sūtra:

  by Guṇabhadra (tr between 435-443 CE): T.16.670.510c17
  by Bodhiruci (513 CE): T.16.671.557a20
  by Śikṣānanda (ca. 700 CE): T.16.672.620a15

  It is also found in Guṇabhadra's tr. of the Aṅgulimālīya sūtra (tr between 435-443), T.2.20.537a11-12 (Yangjuemolo jing) 

  Dan Lusthaus

    Does anyone have the exact text reference for the statement attributed to Nagarjuna that one should look to the moon, not the finger pointing to the moon? In other words, the words of the teaching are not the same as their realization.



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