The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nāgārjuna (2nd century CE) is the foundational text of the Madhyamaka School of Buddhism.
For the root verses, the Sanskrit references are for page and line in La Vallée Poussin (1913). The references to the Chinese translation are to page, paragraph and line in T 1564 (translation by Kumārajīva in 409 CE) . The Tibetan references are to page and line in Tg vol. tsa (translation by Jñānagarbha and Klu’i rgyal mtshan, 8. century CE). The English translations presented here are by Streng (1967) and Batchelor (2000), the latter reproduced here with kind permission from the translator.
The commentaries have been arranged in chronological order according to the dates of their authors: Nāgārjuna's (ca. 2. century CE) (or Āryadeva's, 2.-3. century CE) autocommentary Akutobhaya, Piṅgalanetra's (3rd century CE) 中論 (Madhyamakaśāstra), Buddhapālita's (5th-6th century CE) Mūlamadhyamakavṛtti, Bhāvaviveka's (ca. 500-570 CE) Prajñāpradīpa, and Candrakīrti's (ca 600-650 CE) Prasannapadā. Only the last one has been preserved in Sanskrit. Bocking (1995) suggests that the 中論 may have been authored by a Vimalāksa, who was Kumārajīva's old Vinaya-master.
Translation of MŪLAMADHYAMAKAKĀRIKĀS: Fundamentals of the MIDDLE WAY
The Fundamentals of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikās) is a series of about 450 mnemonic verses. In the famous commentary Prasannapadā of Candrakīrti, it is divided into twenty-seven chapters of unequal length. There is a development of thought from the first through the twenty-fifth chapter (which may originally have been the final chapter). It is the movement from a rather formal and stylized analysis to an almost impassioned expression of the highest truth. Chapter i inaugurates the critical method which Nāgārjuna will use: prāsaṅga, a logical method of necessary consequence. With this method Nāgārjuna demolishes the theories of elements (dharmas) and of cause until in chaps, xxii (on the tathāgata), xxiv (on the Four Holy Truths), and xxv (on nirvāṇa) there appears a reinterpretation of the most important notions in Buddhism. The logical critique of "cause" in Chapter i is a direct expression of the insight into the emptiness of reality which is emphasized again in Chapter xxv with the declaration that there is no difference between nirvāṇa and samsāra. However, one can note a difference in the handling of this perspective. What is dealt with in logical terms in Chapter i is handled in a way that is practical for attaining release in Chapter xxv.
The different chapters represent the analyses of different elements or "categories" by which much of past Buddhism had understood reality. For instance, Chapters iii-v analyze the traditional classifications of dbarmas: skandhas, āyatanas, and dhātus. In subsequent chapters there is a similar analysis of such notions as "passion," the "past" (pūrva) , "turmoil" (duḥkha) , "impulses of transient existence" (samskāra) , "action" (karma), and the "self" (ātman). Certain topics of special significance, such as "action" and "evil" (kleśa) , are treated in two considerations. The first is a short formal consideration in which the notion is shown to be logically false when considered as a self-existent reality; secondly, there is a more fully developed discussion showing the practical implications for spiritual insight. Special note should also be taken of Chapter ii which is a logical critique of "motion." The method of analysis appears to be rather arid and often simply a play on words, while expressing a minute and systematic rigor. Nevertheless, this method is used as a model of demonstration in other chapters of the Kārikās, so it cannot be disregarded. The facetious appearance of the argument is instructive since it seeks to point out the vulnerability of the effort in the Abhidharma which took so seriously the task of classifying and defining the elements of existence.
(Streng 1967, 181-182)
La Vallée Poussin, Louis de (1913), Mūlamadhyamakakārikās (Mādhyamikasūtras) de Nāgārjuna avec la Prasannapadā Commentaire de Candrakīrti, Imprimerie de l'Académie Impériale des Sciences, St. Petersburg.
Streng, Frederick J. (1967), A Study in Religious Meaning, Abingdon Press, Nashville.
Vaidya, P.L. (1960), Madhyamakaśāstra of Nāgārjuna, with the Commentary: Prasannapadā by Candrakīrti, Darbhaga (Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, 10).
Input by Fredrik Liland, Oslo 2010-2022.