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The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā[1] (Sanskrit) or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a foundational text of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana philosophy, composed by Nagarjuna in approximately the second-third century CE. A collection of 27 chapters in Sanskrit verse, it is widely regarded as the most influential text of Buddhist philosophy and had a major impact on the subsequent development of Buddhism, especially northeast of its native India in places such as Tibet and East Asia.[2]



Nāgārjuna lived in India circa the second century CE, perhaps having been born in 150 CE. As with many early Indian personalities, his biography is semi-mythical, and little is known of the historical Nāgārjuna. A philosopher of the Madhyamaka branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism, he held all existents to be empty of their own intrinsic nature, instead depending for their character on other things or otherwise having an incoherent nature.[3]

Although all Buddhist schools hold that the self is empty in this way, schools which adhere to Abhidharma doctrine still conceive of the dharmas as ultimately real entities. Nāgārjuna seeks, in the "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā", to rebut anti-Madhyamaka charges from Abhidharma and various other rival Buddhist traditions, such as Sautrāntika and Pudgalavada, as well as Hindu schools such as Nyaya.[3]

Because of the high degree of similarity between the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Pyrrhonism, particularly the surviving works of the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus[4] Thomas McEvilley suspects that Nagarjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported into India. Moreover, since the founder of Pyrrhonism, the Greek philosopher Pyrrho of Elis is known to have visited India, Christopher I. Beckwith suspects that Pyrrho's formulation of the three marks of existence and the tetralemma into Greek was due to influences from by Buddhist and Jain philosophers (whom the Greeks called gymnosophists) whom he is known to have met during his travels to India.[5]

Exegesis and commentarial literatureEdit

As a kārikā-style text, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā presents only aphoristic, often enigmatic and extremely shortened verses, much like the sūtra works of the various orthodox Hindu philosophical schools. Since they served primarily as pedagogical or mnemonic aids for teachers, commentaries were required to make the meaning of this type of text more explicit to the uninitiated reader.[3]

The Indian Akutobhayā, whose authorship is unknown, though is attributed to Nagarjuna in the tradition, is held by Ames to be the first commentary on the MMK.[6]

The earliest known commentary by another author is now preserved within the first Chinese translation of the Kārikā, known as the "Middle Treatise" (中論 Zhong Lun), translated by Kumarajiva in 409. The author of this commentary is given as either "Blue Eyes" (青目; back translated as *Vimalākṣa) or *Piṅgala (賓伽羅). This is by far the best known commentary in East Asian Mādhyamaka, forming one of the three commentaries that make up the San Lun School.

The best-known commentary in later Indian and Tibetan Buddhism is Candrakirti's Prasannapadā (Clear Words), which survives in Sanskrit and Tibetan translation. Other surviving and influential Indian commentaries on the text include Buddhapālita's "Madhyamakvr̩tti" and Bhāviveka's "Prajñāpradīpa".[3]

Form and content of the textEdit

The early chaptersEdit

  1. Pratyayaparīkṣā: Analysis of conditions
  2. Gatāgataparīkṣā: Analysis of going and not going
  3. Cakṣurādīndriyaparīkṣā: Analysis of the eye and the other sense-organs
  4. Skandhaparīkṣā: Analysis of the skandhas ((mental) "aggregates")
  5. Dhātuparīkṣā: Analysis of the dhatūs ("constituents" or "strata" (in the sense of metaphysical substrata))
  6. Rāgaraktaparīkṣā: Analysis of passion and the impassioned
  7. Saṃskṛtaparīkṣā: Analysis of the conditioned
  8. Karmakārakaparīkṣā: Analysis of action and actor
  9. Pūrvaparīkṣā: Analysis of the past
  10. Agnīndhanaparīkṣā: Analysis of fire and fuel
  11. Pūrvaparakoṭiparīkṣā: Analysis of past and future limits
  12. Duḥkhaparīkṣā: Analysis of suffering

The later chaptersEdit

These chapters are as follows; note the clustering of 24-26, and also the nature of the last chapter:

  • 13. Saṃskāraparīkṣā: Analysis of disposition
  • 14. Saṃsargaparīkṣā: Analysis of admixture
  • 15. Svabhāvaparīkṣā: Analysis of being or essence
  • 16. Bandhanamokṣaparīkṣā: Analysis of bondage and liberation
  • 17. Karmaphalaparīkṣa: Analysis of action and its fruit
  • 18. Ātmaparīkṣā: Analysis of the soul.
  • 19. Kālaparīkṣā: Analysis of time
  • 20. Sāmagrīparīkṣā: Analysis of holism
  • 21. Saṃbhavavibhavaparīkṣā: Analysis of becoming and un-becoming
  • 22. Tathāgataparīkṣā: Analysis of the Tathāgata
  • 23. Viparyāsaparīkṣā: Analysis of Error
  • 24. Āryasatyaparīkṣā: Analysis of the Noble Truths
  • 25. Nirvānaparīkṣā: Analysis of nirvāṇa
  • 26. Dvādaśāṅgaparīkṣā: Analysis of the twelvefold chain (of dependent origination)
  • 27. Dṛṣṭiparīkṣā: Analysis of views

The veracity of the last two chapters is disputed, and they may have been later additions, not composed by Nāgārjuna. However, most ancient commentaries take them to be canonical.[7]


Author Title Publisher Date ISBN Notes
Richard Jones Nagarjuna: Buddhism's Most Important Philosopher Jackson Square Books 2014 ISBN 978-1502768070 Translation from the Sanskrit of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Nagarjuna's other available Sanskrit texts.
Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura Nāgārjuna's Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā Wisdom Publications 2013 ISBN 978-1-61429-050-6 A new translation from the Sanskrit. Sanskrit verses are presented in Roman characters prior to their translations. The authors have created a brief running commentary that conveys interpretations given in extant Indian commentaries in order to capture the early Indian perspectives on the work.
Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Brad Warner Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika Monkfish Book Publishing 2011 ISBN 978-0-9833589-0-9 A modern interpretation from a Zen perspective.
Mabja Jangchub Tsöndrü Ornament of Reason: The Great Commentary to Nagarjuna's Root of the Middle Way Snow Lion 2011 ISBN 978-1-55939-368-3 Commentary translated by The Dharmachakra Translation Committee.
Padmakara Translation Group The Root Stanzas on the Middle Way Éditions Padmakara 2008 ISBN 978-2-916915-44-9 A translation from the Tibetan, following (but not including) the commentary of the Nyingma and Rimé master Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche. This volume, containing both the Tibetan text and translation, was made to mark the visit of the Dalai Lama to France in August 2008, and as a support for the teachings scheduled for that occasion.
Luetchford, Michael J. Between Heaven and Earth - From Nagarjuna to Dogen Windbell Publications 2002 ISBN 978-0-9523002-5-0 A translation and interpretation with references to the philosophy of Zen Master Dogen.
Batchelor, Stephen Verses from the Center Diane Publishing 2000 ISBN 978-1-57322-876-3f Parameter error in {{ISBN}}: Invalid ISBN. Batchelor's translation is the first nonacademic, idiomatic English version of the text.
McCagney, Nancy Nagarjuna and the Philosophy of Openness Rowman & Littlefield 1997 ISBN 978-0-8476-8626-1 Romanized text, translation and philosophical analysis.
Garfield, Jay L. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way Oxford University Press 1995 ISBN 978-0-19-509336-0 A translation of the Tibetan version together with commentary.
Bocking, Brian Nagarjuna in China: A Translation of the Middle Treatise Edwin Mellen Press 1995 ISBN 978-0-7734-8981-3 Kumarajiva's Chinese version with commentary by Blue Eyes.
Kalupahana, David J. Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way State University of New York Press 1986 ISBN 978-81-208-0774-7 Romanized text, translation, and commentary. Interpretation of the text in the light of the Canon.
Sprung, Mervyn Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way Prajna Press, Boulder 1979 ISBN 978-0-7100-0190-0 Partial translation of the verses together with Chandrakirti's commentary.
Inada, Kenneth K. Nagarjuna: A Translation of his Mulamadhyamakakarika With an Introductory Essay The Hokuseido Press 1970 ISBN 978-0-89346-076-1 Romanized text and translation.
Streng, Frederick Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning Abdingdon Press 1967 (predates ISBN) Translation and considerable analysis.



Neither from itself nor from another,
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause,
Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.[8]


If intrinsic nature does not exist, of what will there be alteration?
If intrinsic nature does exist, of what will there be alteration?


अस्तीति शाश्वतग्राहो नास्तीत्युच्चेददर्शनं
astīti śāśvatagrāho nāstītyuccedadarśanaṁ
To say "it is" is to grasp for permanence. To say "it is not" is to adopt the view of nihilism.
तस्माद् अस्तित्वनास्तित्वे नाश्रीयेत विचक्षणः।
tasmād astitvanāstitve nāśrīyeta vicakṣaṇaḥ
Therefore a wise person does not say "exists" or "does not exist".[9]


न निर्वाणसमारोपो न संसारापकषणम्
na nirvāṇasamāropo na saṁsārāpakaṣaṇam
यत्र कस्तत्र संसारो निर्वाणं किं विकल्प्यते
yatra kastatra saṁsāro nirvāṇaṁ kiṁ vikalpyate
Where there is neither an addition of nirvana nor a removal of samsara; There, what samsara is discriminated from what nirvana?[citation needed]


ātmetya api prajñapitam anātmetyapi deśitam
Although (the term) "self" is caused to be known (of, about), and although (a doctrine or teaching of) "no self" is taught,
buddhair nātmā na cānātmā kaścid ity api deśitaṁ| 6
No "self" or any "nonself" whatsoever has been taught by the Buddhas.
nivṛtam abhidhātavyaṁ nivṛtte cittagocare
The designable is ceased when/where the range of thought is ceased,
anutpannāniruddhā hi nirvāṇam iva dharmatā| 7
Nirvana is like phenomenality, unarisen and unstopping.
sarvaṁ tathyaṁ na vā tathyaṁ tathyaṁ cātathyam eva ca
Everything is actual, or not actual, or actual and not actual
naivātathyaṁ naiva tathyam etad buddhānuśāsanaṁ| 8
Or neither actual nor not actual; this is the Buddha's teaching.
aparapratyayaṁ śāntaṁ prapañcair aprapañcitaṁ
Independent, peaceful, not delusionally diversified by delusional diversification
nirvikalpam anānārtham etat tattvasya lakśaṇaṁ| 9
Devoid of mental construction, without variation, this is the mark of thatness.
pratītya yad yad bhavati na hi tāvat tad eva tad
Whatsoever becomes dependently, is not insofar, that and only that.
na cānyad api tat tasmān noccinnaṁ nāpi śāśvataṁ| 10
Nor is it the other; therefore, it is neither exterminated nor eternal.
anekārtham anānārtham anuccedam aśāśvatam
Not singular, not plural, not exterminated, not eternal,
etat tal lokanāthānāṁ bhuddhānāṁ śāsanāmṛtaṁ| 11
This is the immortal teaching of the Buddhas, lords of the world.
sambhuddhānām anutpāde śrāvakāṇāṁ punaḥ kśaye
And again, when the disciples are destroyed and full Buddhas do not arrive,
jñānaṁ pratyekabuddhānām asamsargāt pravartate|12
The gnosis (knowledge, etc.) of the independently enlightened Buddhas proceeds without association (with teachings).[citation needed]


"Empty" should not be asserted."Nonempty" should not be asserted.
Neither both nor neither should be asserted. They are only used nominally.[10]


तथागतो यत्स्वभावस्तत्स्वभावमिदं जगत
tathāgato yat svabhāvas tat svabhāvam idam jagat
What is the nature of the thus-gone one (the Buddha), that is the nature of the world.
तथागतो निःस्वभावो निःस्वभावम् इदं जगत्। १६
tathāgato niḥsvabhāvo niḥsvabhāvam idaṁ jagat| 16
The thus-gone one is devoid of nature; the world is devoid of nature.[citation needed]

24:18, 24:19Edit

Whatever is dependently co-arisen / That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation, / Is itself the middle way.
Something that is not dependently arisen / Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a non-empty thing / Does not exist.[11]


न संसारस्य निर्वाणात् किं चिद् अस्ति विशेषणं
na saṁsārasya nirvāṇāt kiṁ cid asti viśeṣaṇaṁ
There is nothing whatsoever of samsara distinguishing (it) from nirvana.
न निर्वाणस्य संसारात् किं चिद् अस्ति विशेषणं। १९
na nirvāṇasya saṁsārāt kiṁ cid asti viśeṣaṇaṁ| 19
There is nothing whatsoever of nirvana distinguishing it from samsara.
निर्वाणस्य च या कोटिः।कोटिः। संसरणस्य च
nirvāṇasya ca yā koṭiḥ koṭiḥ
(That?) is the limit which is the limit of nirvana and the limit of samsara;
न तयोर् अन्तरं किंचित् सुसूक्ष्मम् अपि विद्यते। २०
na tayor antaraṁ kiñcit susūkśmam api vidyate| 20
Even a very subtle interval is not found of (between) them.[citation needed]


śūnyeṣu sarvadharmeṣu kim anantaṁ kimantavat
kim anantam antavac ca nānantaṁ nāntavacca kiṁ| 22
kiṁ tad eva kim anyat kiṁ śāśvataṁ kim aśāśvataṁ
aśāśvataṁ śāśvataṁ ca kiṁ vā nobhayam apyataḥ 'tha| 23
sarvopalambhpaśamaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ
na kva cit kasyacit kaścid dharmo buddhena deśitaḥ|
When all dharmas are empty, what is endless? What has an end?
What is endless and with an end? What is not endless and not with an end?
What is "it"? What is "other"? What is permanent? What is impermanent?
What is impermanent and permanent? What is neither?
Auspicious is the pacification of phenomenal metastasis, the pacification of all apprehending;
There is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever whenever, wherever.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Also known as the Prajñā-nāma-mūlamadhyamakakārikā or as the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā-prajñā-nāma.
  2. ^ "The Most Important Indian Philosophy Books". The Reading Lists.
  3. ^ a b c d Mark Siderits; Shoryu Katsura. "Introduction". Nāgārjuna's Middle Way. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 978-1-61429-050-6.
  4. ^ Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism 2008
  5. ^ Christopher Beckwith, "Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia" 2015
  6. ^ Ames, William L. (1993). "Bhāvaviveka's Prajñāpradīpa ~ A Translation of Chapter One: 'Examinations of Causal Conditions' (Pratyaya)". Journal of Indian Philosophy, 1993, vol.21. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, p.209
  7. ^ Mark Siderits; Shoryu Katsura. "25. Analysis of nirvana". Nagarjuna's Middle Way. Wisdom Publications. p. 305. ISBN 978-1-61429-050-6.
  8. ^ Garfield 1995, p. 3.
  9. ^ Garfield 1995, p. 40.
  10. ^ Garfield 1995, p. 61.
  11. ^ Garfield 1995, p. 304.
  12. ^ Malik, A., Survey of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries (New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 2007), p. 56.


  • Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015), Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia, Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Garfield, Jay L. (1995), The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Kalupahana, David J. (1992), The Principles of Buddhist Psychology, Delhi: ri Satguru Publications
  • Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited

External linksEdit