I started a new thread, based on others.

A thread to discuss this apparently [to me] startling passage by Nagarajuna :

If birth, abiding and perishing had an other characteristic of being compounded, this would be endless...

Translation by Bachelor from the Tibetan . What does Nagarjuna mean by "this [would be endless]"?

I think he means:

  1. Grant me that internal time is not real but constituted by the transcendental ego at that time [this is the gist of everything he said - that every facet he tries to investigate is a "conceptual construction" [tho as far as I know he himself never uses that term, only followers].

  2. And that there is nothing an internal instant is "like" [as in the quote: that every experienced composite is likewise a composite, which itself is likewise a composite... which I think precludes an experience of the infinitely small].

The end of a persistence of a moment must start before the event has finished abiding and begun perishing, so is a moment included in phenomenological time, and not an instant.

But the interval from persistence to abiding must include both, unless a moment can change without changing its phase [discontinuity].

So the momentary end or my life can only perish [or "demise"] if that perishing is internally constituted after I have finished abiding: "this" does not end.

  • 3 is incoherent, i give up
    – user6917
    Aug 24, 2014 at 6:35
  • I don't see how either your (1) or (2) are related to the quoted text. It might help others here if you identify the text the quote comes from.
    – user5172
    Aug 24, 2014 at 11:34
  • ok, i will do so shortly, thanks for the patience.
    – user6917
    Aug 24, 2014 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


I think the passage in question, MMK 7:3 is a bit more straight-forward than you're interpretation of it seems to imply (an odd sentence to write!). Essentially, all that is at stake here is an infinite regress.

Birth (utpāda / skye), abiding (sthiti / gnas), and perishing (vyaya / 'jig) are the characteristics typically ascribed by Mahayana Buddhism to compounded or conditioned things (saṃskṛta / 'dus byas).

The guiding question of the first part of this parīkṣā seems to be: are the characteristics of conditioned things themselves conditioned? And if not, how are they to be explained.

Thus, at MMK 7:1, Nagarjuna states: "If birth were compounded, it would possess the three characteristics [of a compound]." Assuming birth (and, we might add, the other characteristics) is a compound seems patently absurd, for then this characteristics would be characterised by themselves (i.e., to explain birth, one would have to refer to birth). But then, this raises precisely the problem that Nagarjuna goes on to pose "If birth were uncompounded, how would it be a characteristic of a compound?"

One obvious way out, is to argue that the three characteristics might not need to act as one, so, for example, we might be able to explain birth in terms of abiding or perishing. Hence, at 7:2, Nagarjuna cuts off this possibility by stating: "The three such as birth cannot individually be that which characterises compounds."

If the characteristics of compounded cannot themselves be compounds and if the characteristics cannot be used to determine one another, then a third possibility opens up: that these characteristics (birth, abiding , and perishing) are themselves the product of other, yet more basic characteristics. This is the thought that 7:3 gives an answer to: if we are to posit that the characteristics of compounds are themselves compounds of yet more basic characteristics, where does this cycle end?

Your interpretation of 7:3 seems to import a range of concepts I find troubling. First, you seem to reify the "this," a term that does not exist in the Tibetan. Thus, for example, Garfield, also working from the Tibetan texts, translates MMK 7:3 as:

If arising, abiding, and ceasing

Have characteristics other than those of the produced,

There would be an infinite regress.

"This" in Batchelor's translation is merely a shorthand for "this argument" or "this way of thinking."

Second, you seem to create a distinction between internal time and some sort of external time that does not sound like anything I'm familiar with in Nagarjuna---although I can see where it makes sense in the Western philosophical tradition (so Bergson and Husserl make similar divisions of time).

Third, the phrase "constituted by the transcendental ego" is far too Kantian to properly belong to this context, and I have no idea how one could reconcile the idea of a transcendental ego with anātman.

Fourth, note that it would seem more accurate to say that time simpliciter---that is, in both its "internal" and "external" aspects---is a conceptual construction (see, e.g. MMK 19). Note, however, that it is important to realise that they fact that things are "conceptual constructions" does not make them false. They are, rather, empty.

  • "empty" can mean mind dependent - what i glossed as constituted by mind. i don't explicitly say there is a "real time". would it make sense to say that impermanence is buddha nature [mujo-bussho] captures what [i hope you see] i was also arguing?
    – user6917
    Aug 24, 2014 at 16:45
  • hi i'm not going to "accept" your answer cos it doesn’t IMVHO read Nagarjuna thru a lens of subsequent buddhist philosophy. but THANKS
    – user6917
    Aug 24, 2014 at 18:32
  • Great answer - is this following a commentary from a traditional commentator - like tsongkpa? Aug 24, 2014 at 18:58
  • Yes, it makes sense to say that impermanence is buddha-nature and I can see what you're getting at, I'm just a bit wary of importing the categories of Western philosophy into buddhist thought. In particular, there are, I think some differences in how some language gets used in, e.g. Husserl, Heidegger, etc. and Nishida, Nishitani, Tanabe, etc.
    – ig0774
    Aug 24, 2014 at 19:01
  • @MoziburUllah: Only in a very indirect way. I've read much of Chandrakīrti's commentary, but I mostly know the Mulamadhyamakakarika through contemporary commentators.
    – ig0774
    Aug 24, 2014 at 19:26

There is a good translation and commentary - by verse - by Jay L. Garfield, first published in 1995. The title is 'The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika" Oxford University Press.

  • thanks, i may have a copy already somewhere already... i was pretty much aware that my OP isn't how western and tibetan writers think of it... doesn't mean it must be wrong tho. thanks !
    – user6917
    Aug 27, 2014 at 11:36

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