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Nāgārjuna: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
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Click to Expand/Collapse OptionTitle
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionPreface
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionChapters I-V
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionChapters VI-X
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionChapters XI-XV
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionChapters XVI-XX
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionChapters XXI-XXV
Click to Expand/Collapse OptionChapters XXVI-XXVII
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Nāgārjuna: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
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1. Introduction
2. Background
3. Abbreviations
4. Bibliography
5. Secondary source(s)
6. Credits


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)


Introduction by Sengrui 釋僧 (352-463?; student of Kumārajīva) to the Chinese commentary, in T.1564



Abbreviations for the whole library.


Batchellor, Stephen (2000), Verses from the Centre, Sharpham College, (18. April, 2010).

Jñānagarbha and Klu’i rgyal mtshan, dBu ma rtsa ba'i 'grel pa ga las 'jigs med (Mūlamadhyamakavṛttyakutobhaya), Nāgārjuna's (or Āryadeva?) auto-commentary to the Mmk, Tg 3829, vol tsa, 29b1-99a7.

Jñānagarbha and Klu’i rgyal mtshan, dBu ma rtsa ba'i 'grel pa buddha pā li ta (Buddhapālitamūlamadhyamakavṛtti), Buddhapālita's commentary on the Mmk, Tg 3842, dBu ma, vol tsa, 158b1-281a4.

Jñānagarbha and Klu’i rgyal mtshan, dBu ma'i rtsa ba'i 'grel pa śes rab sgron ma (Prajñāpradīpamūlamadhyamakavṛtti), Bhāvaviveka's commentary to the Mmk, Tg 3853, dBu ma, tsha, 45b4-259b2.

Jñānagarbha and Klu’i rgyal mtshan (revised by Sumati, Pa tshab ñi ma grags, Kanaka, and De ñid), "dbu ma rtsa ba’i tshig le’ur byas pa" (Tibetan translation of Mmk), in Tg, vol. tsa, 1a1-19a6.

Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什, "Zhōnglùn" 中論 , in T, 1564 1a3-36c24; verses extracted from commentary on Mmk.

Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什, "Zhōnglùn" 中論 (Commentary on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Piṅgalanetra), in T, 1564 1a4-39c1.

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).

Secondary source(s):
Ames, William L. (1993), "BHĀVAVIVEKA'S 'PRAJÑĀPRADĪPA': A Translation of Chapter One: 'EXAMINATION OF CAUSAL CONDITIONS' ('PRATYAYA')", in Journal of Indian Philosophy , SEPTEMBER 1993, Vol. 21, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER 1993), pp. 209-259.

Bocking, Brian (1995), Nagarjuna in China: A Translation of the Middle Treatise, Lewiston & Lampeter. University of Bristol Centre for Buddhist Studies Series: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Garfield, Jay L. (1995), Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Oxford University Press, New York.

Inada, Kenneth K. (1993), Nāgārjuna: A Translation of his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā with and Introductory Essay, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi. First published 1970 by Hokuseido Press, Tokyo.

Kalupahana, David J. (1986, 1991), Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way, Motilala Banarsidass, Delhi.

Sprung, Mervyn (1979), Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapadā of Candrakīrti, Prajñā Press, Boulder.

Westerhoff, Jan (2009), Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Ye, Shaoyong (2007), A Re-examination of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā on the Basis of the Newly Identified Sanskrit Manuscripts from Tibet, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, Tokyo.


Input by Fredrik Liland, Oslo 2010-2022.

We would like to thank ACIP, CBETA and GRETIL for providing electronic texts.

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