Nagarjuna - Writings

Writings

There exist a number of influential texts attributed to Nāgārjuna though, as there are many pseudepigrapha attributed to him, lively controversy exists over which are his authentic works. The only work that all scholars agree is Nagarjuna's is the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way), which contains the essentials of his thought in twenty-seven chapters.

According to one view, that of Christian Lindtner, the works definitely written by Nagarjuna are:

  • Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way)
  • Śūnyatāsaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness)
  • Vigrahavyāvartanī (The End of Disputes)
  • Vaidalyaprakaraṇa (Pulverizing the Categories)
  • Vyavahārasiddhi (Proof of Convention)
  • Yuktiṣāṣṭika (Sixty Verses on Reasoning)
  • Catuḥstava (Hymn to the Absolute Reality)
  • Ratnāvalī (Precious Garland)
  • Pratītyasamutpādahṝdayakārika (Constituents of Dependent Arising)
  • Sūtrasamuccaya
  • Bodhicittavivaraṇa (Exposition of the Enlightened Mind)
  • Suhṛllekha (Letter to a Good Friend)
  • Bodhisaṃbhāra (Requisites of Enlightenment)

In addition to the above, there are many other works attributed to Nāgārjuna, and lively controversy over which are authentic. In particular, several important works of esoteric Buddhism (most notably the Pañcakrama or "Five Stages") are attributed to Nāgārjuna and his disciples. Contemporary research suggests that these works are datable to a significantly later period in Buddhist history (late eighth or early ninth century), but the tradition of which they are a part maintains that they are the work of the Madhyamaka Nāgārjuna and his school. Traditional historians (for example, the 17th century Tibetan Tāranātha), aware of the chronological difficulties involved, account for the anachronism via a variety of theories, such as the propagation of later writings via mystical revelation. A useful summary of this tradition, its literature, and historiography may be found in Wedemeyer 2007.

Lindtner considers that the Māhaprajñāparamitopadeśa, a huge commentary on the Large Prajñāparamita, not to be a genuine work of Nāgārjuna. This work is only attested in a Chinese translation by Kumārajīva.There is much discussion as to whether this is a work of Nāgārjuna, or someone else. Étienne Lamotte, who translated one third of the work into French, felt that it was the work of a North Indian bhikṣu of the Sarvāstivāda school, who later became a convert to the Mahayana. The Chinese scholar-monk Yin Shun felt that it was the work of a South Indian, and that Nāgārjuna was quite possibly the author. Actually, these two views are not necessarily in opposition, and a South Indian Nāgārjuna could well have studied in the northern Sarvāstivāda. Neither of the two felt that it was composed by Kumārajīva which others have suggested.

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    Even in my own writings I cannot always recover the meaning of my former ideas; I know not what I meant to say, and often get into a regular heat, correcting and putting a new sense into it, having lost the first and better one. I do nothing but come and go. My judgement does not always forge straight ahead; it strays and wanders.
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