Category: Buddhist
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The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Sanskrit) or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a foundational text of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana philosophy, composed by Nagarjuna in approximately the second-third century CE. A collection of 27 chapters in Sanskrit verse, it is widely regarded as the most influential text of Buddhist philosophy and had a major impact on the subsequent development of Buddhism.

Sanskrit: Mula madhyamaka karika.

Tibetan: dBu ma rtsa ba’i tshig le’ur byas pa shes rab ces bya ba.

by Nagarjuna

Romanization and Literal English Translation
of the Tibetan Text

Stephen Batchelor


This document contains the romanized Tibetan text of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika together with a literal English translation. Two Tibetan texts were consulted: the versions found in (1) The Asian Classics Input Project, Woodblock to Laser Source CD, Release A, Produced under the direction of Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, Washington DC, 1993, and (2) Dbuma Rigs Tshogs Drug: The Six Yukt Shastra of Madhyamika (pp. 1-37), edited by Prof. L.P. Lhalungpa. Delhi: 1970. The version here relies on both sources as well as the text embedded in the prose of Tsongkhapa’s An Ocean of Reason: A Great Exposition of the Root Text Verses from the Center (rTsa she tik chen rigs pa’i rgya mtsho). Varanasi: mTho slob dge ldan spyi las khang, 1973.

Each Tibetan verse is followed by a literal English translation. This translation served as the first draft for the free poetic version published in Stephen Batchelor.

In making the English translation, the primary authority was Tsongkhapa’s fourteenth century commentary: An Ocean of Reason: A Great Exposition of the Root Text Verses from the Center.

Any mistakes are my own.

Stephen Batchelor

Sharpham College

April, 2000

The title given in brackets below the title at the head of each chapter is the name of the poem found in Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime.

[Translator’s homage]

dBu ma rtsa ba’i tshig le’ur byas pa Shes rab ces bya ba bzhugs so// //
rgya gar skad du//Pra dzny’a n’a ma m’u la ma dhy’a ma ka k’a ri ka
bod skad du//’jam dpal gzhon nur gyur pa la phyag ‘tshal lo

Herein lie the Root Verses of the Center called “Intelligence”. In the language of India: Prajnanamamulamadhyamakakarika. In the language of Tibet: dBu ma rtsa ba’i tshig le’ur byas pa shes rab ces bya ba. I prostrate to the youthful Manjushri.

[Nagarjuna’s homage]

/gang gis rten cing ‘brel par ‘byung//’gag pa med pa skye med pa//chad pa med pa rtag med pa//’ong pa med pa ‘gro med pa//tha dad don min don gcig min//spros pa nyer zhi zhi bstan pa//rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas smra rnams kyi//dam pa de la phyag ‘tsal lo/

I bow down to the most sublime of speakers, the completely awakened one who taught contingency (no cessation, no birth, no annihilation, no permanence, no coming, no going, no difference, no identity) to ease fixations.

1. Investigation of Conditions


1. /bdag las ma yin gzhan las min//gnyis las ma yin rgyu med min//dngos po gang dag gang na yang//skye ba nam yang yod ma yin/

1. No thing anywhere is ever born from itself, from something else, from both or without a cause.

2. /rkyen rnams bzhi ste rgyu dang ni//dmigs pa dang ni de ma thag//bdag po yang ni de bzhin te//rkyen lnga pa ni yod ma yin/

2. There are four conditions: Causes, objects, immediate and dominant. There is no fifth.

3. /dngos po rnams kyi rang bzhin ni//rkyen la sogs pa yod ma yin//bdag gi dngos po yod min na//gzhan dngos yod pa ma yin no/

3. The essence of things does not exist in conditions and so on. If an own thing does not exist, an other thing does not exist.

4. /bya ba rkyen dang ldan pa med//rkyen dang mi ldan bya ba med//bya ba mi ldan rkyen ma yin//bya ba ldan yod ‘on te na/

4. There is no activity which has conditions. There is no activity which does not have conditions. There are no conditions which do not have activity, and none which do have activity.

5. /’di dag la brtan skye bas na//de phyir ‘di dag rkyen ces grag//ci srid mi skye de srid du//’di dag rkyen min ci ltar min/

5. Since something is born in dependence upon them, then they are known as “conditions”. As long as it is not born, why are they not non-conditions?

6. /med dam yod pa’i don la yang//rkyen ni rung ba ma yin te//med na gang gi rkyen du ‘gyur//yod na rkyen gyis ci zhig bya/

6. It is impossible for something that either exists or not to have conditions. If it were non-existent, of what would they be the conditions? If it were existent, why would it need conditions?

7. /gang tshe chos ni yod pa dang//med dang yod med mi ‘grub pas//ci ltar sgrub byed rgyu zhes bya//de ltar yin na mi rigs so/

7. When things cannot be established as either existent, non-existent or both, how can one speak of an “establishing cause.” Such would be impossible.

8. /yod pa’i chos ‘di dmigs pa ni//med pa kho na nye bar bstan//ci ste chos ni dmigs med na//dmigs pa yod par ga la ‘gyur/

8. An existent phenomenon is clearly said to have no object at all. If the phenomenon has no object, where can the object exist?

9. /chos rnams skyes pa ma yin na//’gag pa ‘thad par mi ‘gyur ro//de phyir de ma thag mi rigs//’gags na rkyen yang gang zhig yin/

9. If phenomena are not born, it is invalid for there to be cessation. Therefore, an immediate [condition] is unreasonable. What, having ceased, can also be a condition?

10. /dngos po rang bzhin med rnams kyi//yod pa gang phyir yod min na//’di yod pas na ‘di ‘byung zhes//bya ba ‘di ni ‘thad ma yin/

10. Because the existence of essence-less things does not exist, it is incorrect to say: “When this exists, that arises.”

11. /rkyen rnams so so ‘dus pa la//’bras bu de ni med pa nyid//rkyen rnams la ni gang med pa//de ni rkyen las ci ltar skye/

11. There is no effect at all in the conditions individually or together. How can that which is not in the conditions itself be born from conditions?

12. /ci ste ‘bras bu de med kyang//rkyen de dag las skye ‘gyur na//rkyen min las kyang ‘bras bu ni//ci yi phyir na skye mi ‘gyur/

12. If, although the effect is not there, it is born from those conditions, why is an effect not born from what are not its conditions?

13. /’bras bu rkyen gyi rang bzhin ni//rkyen rnams bdag gi rang bzhin min//bdag dngos min las ‘bras bu gang//de ni ci ltar rkyen rang bzhin/

13. Effects [are of] the nature of conditions. Conditions do not have own nature. How can those effects of what does not have own nature [be of] the nature of conditions?

14. /de phyir rkyen gyi rang bzhin min//rkyen min rang bzhin ‘bras bu ni//yod min ‘bras bu med bas na//rkyen min rkyen du ga la ‘gyur/

14. Therefore, [it does] not have the nature of conditions, nor is there an effect with the nature of non-conditions. Since there is no effect, what could [be its] non-conditions or conditions?

2. Investigation of Coming and Going


1. /re zhig song la mi ‘gro ste/ /ma song ba la’ang ‘gro ba min/ /song dang ma song ma gtogs par/ /bgom pa shes par mi ‘gyur ro/

1. Then there is no going in what has gone; there is no going also in what has not [yet] gone. Motion is unknowable apart from what has gone and not [yet] gone.

2. /gang na g.yo ba de na ‘gro/ /de yang gang phyir bgom pa la/ /g.yo ba song min ma song min/ /de phyir bgom la ‘gro ba yod/

2. Where there is moving, there there is going. Furthermore, because moving is within motion — and is neither gone nor not [yet] gone, therefore, there is going within motion.

3. /bgom la ‘gro ba yin par ni/ /ji lta bur na ‘thad par ‘gyur/ /gang tshe ‘gro ba med pa yi/ /bgom pa ‘thad pa med phyir ro/

3. How can going be possible within motion? Because motion that is not going is impossible.

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