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The Mulamadhyamaka-karika[1] (Sanskrit) or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a key text of the Madhyamaka-school, written by the great Indian teacher Nagarjuna.


The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā is Nagarjuna's best known work. According to Kalupahanna, it is

[N]ot only a grand commentary on the Buddha's discourse to Kaccayana,[2] the only discourse cited by name, but also a detailed and careful analysis of most of the important discourses included in the Nikayas and the agamas, especially those of the Atthakavagga of the Sutta-nipata.[3]

According to Kalupahanna, in this work,

Utilizing the Buddha's theory of "dependent arising"(pratitya-samutpada), Nagarjuna demonstrated the futility of [...] metaphysical speculations. His method of dealing with such metaphysics is referred to as "middle way" (madhyama pratipad). It is the middle way that avoided the substantialism of the Sarvastivadins as well as the nominalism of the Sautrantikas.[4]

According to Kalupahanna, Nagarjuna insisted that...

[A]ll experienced phenomena are empty (sunya). This did not mean that they are not experienced and, therefore, non-existent; only that they are devoid of a permanent and eternal substance (svabhava). Since they are experienced, they are not mere names (prajnapti).[4]

Similarities to Greek philosophy

Because of the high degree of similarity between the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Pyrrhonism, particularly the surviving works of Sextus Empiricus.[5] Contemporary scholar Thomas McEvilley suspects that Nagarjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported into India. However, since Pyrrho of Elis is known to have visited India, it is also suspected that his formulation of the Three Marks of Existence and the tetralemma was influenced by Buddhist and Jain philosophers (the so-called gymnosophists) from whom he is known to have learnt during his travels to India.[6]


The 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.[7]

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.


There are twenty-seven chapters:

  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
  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


Author Title Publisher Date ISBN Notes
Richard Jones Nagarjuna: Buddhism 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 978-1-57322-876-3 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.
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?


To say "it is" is to grasp for permanence. To say "it is not" is to adopt the view of nihilism.
Therefore a wise person does not say "exists" or "does not exist".[9]


Where there is neither an addition of nirvana nor a removal of samsara; There, what samsara is discriminated from what nirvana?


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

24:18, 24:19

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]


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 also


  1. Also known as the Prajñā-nāma-mūlamadhyamakakārikā or as the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā-prajñā-nāma.
  2. See SN 12.15 Kaccayanagotta Sutta: To Kaccayana Gotta (on Right View)
  3. Kalupahana 1994, p. 161.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kalupahana 1992, p. 120.
  5. Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism 2008
  6. Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought 2002 pp499-505
  7. 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
  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.


  • 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 links

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