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Buddhapalita's Commentary on Nagarjuna's Middle Way

Translated by Ian James Coghlan

A masterful translation of classic scholar Buddhapalita’s breakthrough elucidation of Nagarjuna’s famous Middle Way text, which has profoundly influenced generations of Buddhist philosophers.

This “Buddhapalita” commentary on Nagarjuna’s famous first-century text Wisdom: Fundamental Middle Way Verses—itself the foundational set of 27 philosophical critiques of almost every philosophical concept imaginable—has been considered for over a thousand years by Indian and Tibetan philosophers to be the special key that best unlocks the deep philosophical freedom from confusions and perplexities that the Middle Way (or Centrist) school seeks to provide for its students.

The great Centrist Bhavaviveka (sixth century) later took issue with Buddhapalita’s preferred analytical strategy of emphasizing Nagarjuna’s prasanga (reductio ad absurdum) method of reasoning to generate critical doubt to loosen the rigidity of presuppositional conviction in the philosopher seeking truth, but the peerless Chandrakirti (seventh century) conclusively defended Buddhapalita’s elegant approach as most effective in opening the Middle Way for the inquiring mind to find the understanding and liberating experience of reality. The great Bengali master Atisha (eleventh century) brought Buddhapalita’s and Chandrakirti’s transformative viewpoint and critical method to spread widely in Tibet, and eventually, the great Tsongkhapa (fifteenth century) provided a clarification of this remarkable philosophical work that was so rigorous and crystal clear, it opened the minds of Tibetan philosopher scientists of all schools directly or indirectly until today.

Ian Coghlan’s masterful translation makes Buddhapalita’s breakthrough elucidation of the Wisdom Fundamental Verses clearly accessible. The translator’s unique education combines the Indo-Tibetan geshé (doctoral equivalent) curriculum, which involves the kind of formal external and internal analytical debate that can mobilize deep, experiential, transformative outcomes, with the modern doctoral training that adds comparative text-critical analysis and comparative language research in Sanskrit as well as Tibetan. This intellectual and experiential education has enabled him to produce this marvelously reliable translation that enables the philosophical seeker to fully engage in English with Buddhapalita’s richly transformative, mentally liberating work.

Buddhapalita (ca. 470–540) was born in South India. At an early age he received ordination, entered formal study, and became learned in Buddhist scriptures. In due course, he began to read the works of Nagarjuna under the guidance of Samgharakshita, gaining insight into their meaning through intense meditation. Later he taught at Dantapuri Monastery and while there composed many commentaries to the works of Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Shura, and so on. Buddhapalita’s only extant work is his commentary to Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika called Buddhapalitamulamadhyamakavrtti

More books in this series: Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences