The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (‘Root Verses on the Middle Way’), also known as the Madhyamakaśātram (‘Treatise on the Middle Way’), is the magnum opus of the Indian master Nāgārjuna (c. 150 – 250 CE). Generally regarded as one of the most influential works in the history of Mahayana Buddhism, this text delves into a thorough investigation of ultimate reality that revolutionized Indian Buddhist philosophy, laying the foundations for a new school of thought, i.e., the Madhyamaka tradition.
Nāgārjuna, believed to be of South-Indian Brahmin origin, famously authored a wide variety of texts, including eulogies, letters of advice and philosophical treatises. Among the latter group of texts figures most prominently the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, which discusses the doctrine of śūnyatā or emptiness in 27 chapters. Analyzing the components of existence, including the various categories established in the Buddhist schools, such as the skandhas etc., and even the concepts of ‘tathāgata’ and ‘nirvāṇa’, Nāgārjuna skillfully proves with undeniable logic that everything is devoid of true existence. It is the pacification of conceptual proliferation–apprehending things as either ‘existent’, ‘nonexistent’, ‘both’ or ‘neither’– that brings about true peace.
anirodham anutpādam anucchedam aśāśvatam |
anekārtham anānārtham anāgamam anirgamam ||
yaḥ pratītyasamutpādaṃ prapañcopaśamaṃ śivam |
deśayām āsa saṃbuddhas taṃ vande vadatāṃ varam ||
Homage to the perfectly awakened one, the best of speakers,
Who taught dependent arising, which is
Without cessation, without arising,
Without annihilation, not eternal,
Without one thing, without separate things,
Without coming, without going.
It is the pacification of proliferation, [ultimate] peace.
This project was recorded in January 2017 at Jazzmean Recording Studio Pvt. Ltd in Phulbari, Boudha, Kathmandu. We thank studio owner and sound engineer Junil Lama for his kind assistance throughout the project.
The reciter: Prof. Kashinath Nyaupane
Kashinath Nyaupane is professor and head of the Department of Buddhist Studies (Bauddha darshana) at the Nepal Sanskrit University, Balmiki Campus, in Kathmandu, Nepal. Born into a traditional Brahmin family, he started his Sanskrit training at an early age with his father and grandfather, and later studied the various branches of classical Indian philosophy, including Buddhism, in Varanasi. He has been teaching Sanskrit and Indian philosophy in Nepal and abroad for many years, and has published books in Sanskrit, as well as translations into Hindi, English and Nepali of Sanskrit classics from the Buddhist, Jain, Vedanta, and Mimansa schools, and translations of Pali and Prakrit scriptures.
Editions and translations of the text:
As with the previous project, Prof. Kashinath created his own edition for the recording of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. For reference, we have included the Sanskrit text for each chapter according to the Vaidya edition, kindly made available by Miroj Shakya from the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project.
Sanskrit editions of this text include:
– Ye Shaoyong (2011): Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: New Editions of the Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese Versions, with Commentary and a Modern Chinese Translation. Shanghai: Zhongxi Book Company.
– Vaidya, P.L. (1960): Madhyamakaśāstra of Nāgārjuna with the Commentary: Prasannapadā by Candrakīrti (vol. 10 of Buddhist Sanskrit Texts), Darbhanga: Mithila Institute.
An online edition of the text in transliteration and Devanagari script, based on Vaidya, is found at the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project here.
– La Vallée Poussin, Louis de (1903-13): Madhyamakavṛttiḥ: Mūlamadhyamakakārikās (Mādhyamikasūtras) de Nāgārjuna avec la Prasannapadā Commentaire de Candrakīrti . St. Pétersbourg (online here and here).
The text has been translated several times into English and other European languages. We recommend the following English translations:
– Siderits, Mark and Katsura, Shōryū (2013): Nāgārjuna’s Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
– Padmakara Translation Group (2008): The Root Stanzas on the Middle Way. Editions Padmakara (from the Tibetan).
– Garfield, Jay (1995): The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Oxford University Press (from the Tibetan).
– Multilingual edition (Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan and English) in the Bibliotheca Polyglotta (link)
– Batchelor, Stephen (2000): Verses from the Center, Diane Publ. (from Tib.) (Tib and Eng: link).