Read: Thinking in Buddhism

Bachelor's Thesis
Advisor Kees Bolle
Reed College, Portland OR, 1994


    1. Preface
    2. Introduction
    3. Notes on the Methodology of this Thesis

The Buddha and His Teachings

    1. The Life of the Buddha
    2. The Thought of the Buddha

Early Buddhism and The Historical Context of Nagarjuna

    1. The Person of Nagarjuna
    2. Some Early Controversies
    3. Abhidharma and the Perfection of Wisdom Writings
    4. The Main Figures of Madhyamika

Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika

  1. Structure of the Karika
  2. A Presentation of the Treatise
  3. Section one--Causation, and some Initial Problems
  4. Section two--The Relationship between Nominal and Verbal Subjects
  5. Sections three through six--Factors of Personal Existence: Elements and Passions
  6. Section seven--Cohesion of Disparate Elements (Samskrta)
  7. Sections eight through eleven--The Ontological Status of the Individual
  8. Sections twelve and thirteen--Suffering and its Cause
  9. Sections fourteen and fifteen--Identity/Difference: Self-nature vs.
  10. Sections sixteen and seventeen--Bondage and its Cause
  11. Section eighteen--Self-hood and its Consequences
  12. Sections nineteen through twenty-one--Associative Composition of and Occurrence of Phenomena in Time
  13. Section twenty-two--The Meaning and Ontological Status of the Enlightened One
  14. Sections twenty-three and twenty-four--Error and Truth: the Perversions and the Four Noble Truths
  15. Section twenty-five--The Ultimate Goal: Enlightenment
  16. Section twenty-six--Dependent arising, the Buddha's Positive Ontology
  17. Section twenty-seven--Conclusion: Right and Wrong Views

The Philosophy of Madhyamika

  1. Nagarjuna's Motivation and Mission
  2. The Dedicatory Verses
  3. Self-Nature Theories
  4. Non-Buddhist Notions of Self-nature and the Soul
  5. The Buddha's Theory of Soullessness
  6. Nagarjuna's Response
  7. Dependent Arising, the Foundation of Madhyamika
  8. Dependent Arising as a Central Notion in Buddhism
  9. The Meaning of Dependent arising
  10. Madhyamika Interpretations and Re-interpretations
  11. Emptiness, the Ultimate Cosmology
  12. Pre-Madhyamika Use of the Concept
  13. Emptiness as a Via Negativa, a Way of Negation
  14. Emptiness is Perceived, not Invented
  15. Dependent Arising + No Self-nature = Emptiness
  16. Emptiness is a Theory of No-Theory
  17. Emptiness Is Freedom Itself


    1. Epilogue
    2. bibliography
Note to the original online version: The original was written in the TEX publishing code, which did not allow for easy conversion to html. Some characters are missing. While I stripped 99% of the internal TEX formatting codes, some still remain, and the footnotes are in the body of the text. This thesis is, in print, 175 pages. It is stored here as seven separate files.

Note to 2002 online revised version: Gilles Therrien has added formatting that was not included in the original. Emphases such as boldface and underlining are Therrien's own emphases, not those of the author.


Any research into a school of thought whose texts are in a foreign language encounters certain difficulties in deciding which words to translate and which ones to leave in the original. It is all the more of an issue when the texts in question are from a language ancient and quite unlike our own. Most of the texts on which this thesis are based were written in two languages: the earliest texts of Buddhism were written in a simplified form of Sanskrit called Pali, and most Indian texts of Madhyamika were written in either classical or "hybrid" Sanskrit. Terms in these two languages are often different but recognizable, e.g. "dhamma" in Pali and "dharma" in Sanskrit. For the sake of coherency, all such terms are given in their Sanskrit form, even when that may entail changing a term when presenting a quote from Pali. Since this thesis is not intended to be a specialized research document for a select audience, terms have been translated whenever possible, even when the subtleties of the Sanskrit term are lost in translation. In a research paper as limited as this, those subtleties are often almost irrelevant. For example, it is sufficient to translate "dharma" as either "Law" or "elements" without delving into its multiplicity of meanings in Sanskrit. Only four terms have been left consistently untranslated. "Karma" and "nirvana" are now to be found in any English dictionary, and so their translation or italicization is unnecessary. Similarly, "Buddha," while literally a Sanskrit term meaning "awakened," is left untranslated and unitalicized due to its titular nature and its familiarity. Another appellation of Siddhartha Gautama, Tathagata, is the only unfamiliar term consistently used in the original. This has been done because translations of the term do not do justice to its mystic import and esotericism.

Finally, two processing errors must be explained. The occasional appearance of an extra space in hyphenated words, such as "self- nature," is due to an unavoidable conflict between two processing programs used in formatting this document. The extra spaces are not due to poor typing or incomplete proofreading. Second, the reversed opening quotation marks were not fixable.

"Misery only doth exist, none miserable,
No doer is there; naught save the deed is found.
Nirvana is, but not the man who seeks it.
The Path exists, but not the traveler on it."
- -The Visuddhimagga

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