Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime

Stephen Batchelor, Author, Nagarjuna, Author Riverhead Books $22.95 (181p) ISBN 978-1-57322-162-7
Batchelor (Buddhism Without Beliefs) here translates and extensively comments upon Nagarjuna's 2nd-century masterpiece, Verses from the Center. Nagarjuna, the Indian philosopher-monk, is often revered for his deeds as a founder of the compassion-driven wing of Buddhism called Mahayana, but his writings have been unsung and largely untranslated (Batchelor's translation is the first nonacademic, idiomatic English version of the text). If Nagarjuna's teachings have been neglected, it may be because they are frustratingly difficult; Batchelor notes that while Nagarjuna was immersed in Indian traditions, elements of the Verses may be best understood as Zen koans. Indeed, Nagarjuna's dialectic poetry does contain the kind of maddeningly paradoxical statements that characterize classic koans. The Verses are preoccupied with the question of emptiness, which Nagarjuna sees not as an absence of meaning but as ""a way to realize liberation of the mind."" Emptiness, according to Nagarjuna, is the famed Middle Way of Buddhism and the closest vehicle to the sublime, though emptiness is slippery to attain. To illustrate the concept, Nagarjuna relies on a barrage of pairs of opposites, all the while expressing awareness that language and metaphors based on personal experience only inadequately reveal the true nature of emptiness. Although this bracing, abstruse text has been lovingly translated for accessibility, it remains a demanding philosophical treatise geared for the serious student of Buddhism, not the dilettante. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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