My last post featured remarks made by the Dalai Lama while giving a teaching on Nagarjuna’s “A Commentary on the Awakening Mind” (Bodhicitta-vivarana), a work that researcher in Sanskrit and Nagarjuna scholar Chr. Lindtner describes as a “regrettably neglected text.”
Although, as the Dalai Lama mentioned, some scholars have questioned the authenticity of the text because Nagarjuna’s disciples, such as Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, or Chandrakirti, never referred to it in their treatises, the Dalai Lama, Lindtner, and others consider Awakening Mind to be an authentic Nagarjuna text.
As the Sanskrit title, Bodhicitta-vivarana indicates, the central theme of the work is bodhicitta, the “thought of awakening” or “awakening mind.” Vivarana means description, exposition, commentary. In this text, Nagarjuna discusses the development of bodhicitta and explains the concept of the two truths, relative and ultimate. He also refutes assertions made by the Vaibhashika (Realist), Sautrantika (Sutra) and Chittamatrin (Mind Only) schools.
In verses 6-9, Nagarjuna analyzes karaka, a Sanskrit word that means acting, causing or “who or what does or produces or creates.” As far as I am aware, there are but three translations, one by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, a French/English version by the Padmakara Translation Group , and Lindtner’s. In the first two karaka is translated as “agent.” Lindtner used “creator” and I have retained that word in this excerpt I’ve adapted from the three translations.
If the so-called self does not exist,
How can the so-called creator be permanent?
It there were ‘things’ then might one begin
Investigating their characteristics in the world.
Since a permanent creator cannot create things,
Whether gradually or instantaneously,
So both without and within,
There are no permanent things.
Why would a potent creator be dependent?
He would produce things all at once.
A creator who depends on something else
Is neither eternal nor efficacious.
If it were an entity, it would not be permanent
For entities are always momentary.
Thus, concerning entities that are impermanent,
A creator is refuted, for there is no such thing.
Actually, Nagarjuna’s objections have more to do with the basic idea of creation, than with the notion of a creator. Buddhism does not offer a creation theory. The world is beginningless (anavaragra). This is one of the problems with using the term dependent origination for pratitya-samutpada in that it conveys a sense of creation or beginning. Lama Govinda suggests another way to look at it: “The world is in a continuous state of creation, of becoming, and therefore, in a continuous state of destruction of all that has been created.”
Nagarjuna neither confirms nor denies the existence of a supreme being; however, according to Hsueh-Li Cheng in Empty Logic: Madhyamika Buddhism from Chinese Sources, he does maintain that
God’s existence as creator of the world is unintelligible. Nagarjuna presented several arguments to show that creation, making, production, or origination are ultimately empty, and that creator, maker, producer and originator, are not genuine names referring to reality. Accordingly, it is unintelligible to assert the existence of God as the creator or maker of the universe.”
For Nagarjuna, “God” meant Isvara, the Divine Lord, but his questioning can apply to any so-called supreme being: how can a being exist out of itself, out of nothingness or “nowhere”? He rejects the idea that things can come into existence from nothingness, or be created from self or from another, or from both, or without a cause. Nagarjuna is also pessimistic about a “first cause,” which is essentially an effect without a cause, because the “becoming” of all things is dependent on mutual causes and conditions.
For us, the matter of creation/creator is not the ultimate question. For us, the critical matters at hand are: The sufferings of life and death. Daily life. How to fare on the way of the bodhisattva. How to find some peace.
A happy mind is tranquil;
A tranquil mind is not confused;
To have no confusion is to know the truth;
By realizing truth one attains freedom.
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Geshe Thupten Jinpa, A Commentary on the Awakening Mind, 2006
Master of Wisdom, Writings of the Buddhist Master Nagarjuna, translations by Christian Lindtner, Dharma Publishing, 1986
Bodhichitta-vivarana translation by the Padmakara Translation Group (according to the commentary written by Dagpo Gomchen Ngawang Drakpa
Lama Govinda, Creative meditation and multi-dimensional consciousness, Theosophical Publishing House, 1976
Hsueh-li Cheng, Empty Logic: M?dhyamika Buddhism from Chinese Sources, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1991