Thursday, December 01, 2011

Apology to Jay Garfield

A couple days ago I wrote to Jay Garfield and said, “When I submitted Nishijima Roshi’s translation of Mulamadhyamakakarika to Monkfish Books, the title was Mulamadhyamakakarika. Nishijima Roshi had translated this as Song of the Fundamental Way. Monkfish Books said they didn't think that was a marketable title and asked if they could use the Sanskrit as the subtitle and re-title the book Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. I was aware of MMK having been referred to by the English title Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. So I OK'd the title change without checking any further as to its source. I had believed it to be just the standard English language title of the piece the way Bhagavad Gita is often called The Song of God or Maha Prajna Paramita Sutra is usually called The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra.

“I should have checked. The only translations of MMK that I have are the ones by Inada and Kaluphana. I don't have yours (Garfield’s translation of Mulamadhyamakakarika is also titled Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way). By which I mean no insult. I'm sure it's a terrific book. But I am just not a collector of books on Buddhism. I only have the Inada and Kalupahana translations because Nishijima Roshi gave them to me.

“In any case, I am now completely mortified by what has happened with regard to the title of the book. I am truly sorry for having accidentally copped your title. It wasn't meant to confuse the marketplace. It was just due to my own ignorance that this occurred.”

I spoke with Paul Cohen of Monkfish Books about the matter yesterday. We have come to the following decision. The eBook version of the translation, which has not yet been released, will be published under the new title The Balanced State: A Heretical Retranslation of Nagarjuna’s Root Stanzas of the Middle Way. When the current printing of the paperback (which is quite small) is sold out the book will be reprinted with that title. Furthermore the description of the book on Amazon will be rewritten as soon as possible so that the first line is, “This is not a standard translation of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika.” I plan to refer to the book from now on under its new title (though I’ll include the current title in parenthesis until the reprint becomes available).

Neither the folks at Monkfish nor I intended the current title as a way to deceive buyers or to ride on the coattails of the phenomenal success of Garfield’s translation (I think it’s now being made into a film with Robert Pattison from Twilight as Nagarjuna and Scarlett Johansson as his love interest). Paul Cohen’s philosophy was that there were already several translations of MMK on the market but there was no agreed upon standard English rendering of the title. However, Garfield’s title was very close to a straight rendering of the Sanskrit into English and it would do.

Here is how the Sanskrit title breaks down — mula: (noun) a root; basis, foundation, madhyamaka: (noun) middlemost, karika: (noun) concise statement in verse of doctrine. This has been variously translated as Root Stanzas of the Middle Way, Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way and so on. Given the fact that karika refers to verses about doctrine or philosophy, which is often seen as a kind of wisdom, one could argue that Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is an acceptable, though somewhat loose English rendering of the Sanskrit title. Still, Garfield originated that title and I should have avoided using it*.

Even so, Nagarjuna’s poem is reaching the point where it’s about time an agreed upon standard English title emerged. As far as Paul Cohen was concerned, Garfield’s title was already that. So why confuse the matter by re-titling the piece yet again? The idea that this title was chosen to cash in on a book that wasn’t really a runaway success to begin with (no offense to Prof. Garfield intended) is ridiculous. The idea that I was lazy and ignorant about the matter does have some merit however.

The contents of the book will not be changed. They do not need to be changed. In the currently available version of the book my foreword makes it very clear that I do not know Sanskrit and cannot vouch for the reliability of the translation. In part I said, “The other writers who worked on the book before me left the project over disagreements they had with Nishijima’s interpretation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika. They said it was wrong, a mistranslation.” That’s in the first paragraph of the book.

Further along I said, “At the outset of my work on this book, Nishijima did try to get me to study Sanskrit. But I was already having enough trouble mastering everyday Japanese. Learning Sanskrit, a dead language that’s a bear to learn and that I would only use for this one rewriting job, just didn’t make sense. In any case, it didn’t seem to be necessary for the task at hand. I decided my task in this book was simply to help convey what Nishijima has gleaned from his reading.” I’m not sure how I could have been any clearer than that.

Nishijima’s introduction, which follows this foreword, is very unambiguous about how he came to the conclusions he did regarding his translation. He admits being completely self-taught in Sanskrit. He tells you that he ignored all other translations both in English and Japanese. He cites exactly which dictionaries and grammar guides he used for his work. Furthermore, the book provides the original Sanskrit and word-by-word translations making it possible for readers to check the validity of Nishijima’s word choices for themselves. You cannot possibly be more honest than that.

And, as I’ve said before, it’s a very good book. Nishijima spent fifteen years slaving over his translation (here is a paper he presented in San Francisco in 1997 about his work on it**). This is not a lazy piece of hastily thrown together half-informed writing.

I was among the many people who advised Nishijima Roshi that he’d be far better off issuing this book as his reflections on Nagarjuna’s work rather than as a translation. No one could argue against that. But he insisted it should be presented as a translation.

I think he knew exactly what he was doing. It may not have been what others, including me, thought he ought to be doing. But he was under no illusions that his translation would be accepted by scholars as accurate. He told me very clearly that he knew it would not. He expected hostility. He was ready for a fight. That’s precisely what he wanted. He was quite explicit about that during our many conversations on the subject.

Why did he want such a thing? I wish he were well enough to answer that. But I can speculate. Nishijima Roshi has a bit of a punk rock attitude. That’s what I like about him. If you tell a punk rocker he can’t make an album unless he spends $20,000 at the Record Plant to work for six days with Steve Lillywhite on getting just the right snare drum sound he’ll tell you to fuck off. Then he’ll buy a $25 used cassette boom box at a Salvation Army store, set it up in front of his band, take the results to a local pressing plant, print up 500 copies and hand one to you while flipping you the bird.

The concrete results of this real action will force you to rethink your approach to recording in a way that no amount of reasoned theoretical argument ever could. It sure as hell worked in the music industry. The people in power said records like that would never sell. Now they’ve all lost their jobs and can’t afford any more cocaine. Aw.

I think that Nishijima Roshi wanted to force people to re-examine Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika. He believed this was so important that he was willing to risk trashing his own reputation to make it happen.

* Interestingly there is a book called The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on the Noble Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way published by Shambhala in 2003 that also uses Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way as the English translation of Mulamadhyamakakarika. The description says, "The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way was written in the second century and is one of the most important works of Nagarjuna, the pioneering commentator on the Buddha's teachings on the Madhyamika or Middle Way view." There's no mention of Jay Garfield as the originator of the translation of the title. There are no one-star reviews condemning the author for using it either. Maybe Paul Cohen was right after all...

** If that link doesn't work for you scroll down to the article titled Japanese Buddhism and the Meiji Restoration.


Anonymous said...

OH SHIT. So that means the "fundamental" copies will be like rare collectors items. I gotta get one now.

Anonymous said...

yea I never understood the idea that the only authentic translation should be an exact copy of everyone elses translation. that's called regurgitation, not interpretation.

I also never understood the anger these things generate, if you dont like this version of the MMK then dont fucking read it!

it strikes me as a lack of confidence, unless you can accrue a bunch of folks who think exactly like you then you feel no security in your own observations and beliefs. Its the exact opposite of what i interpret zen to be be, a thorough examining of our OWN bullshit, not everyone elses.

Anonymous said...


nice post. cool new title. good luck.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he’s a punk rocker buddhist with a clue, or maybe he’s just a self aggrandizing loon.

Anonymous said...

You know, it is not inconsistent for anyone to be both having of clue and a loon. Let's hear it for clue having, self aggrandizing loons!

Zippy Rinpoche said...

Glazed doughnuts are the building blocks of the Universe.

Anonymous said...

Now I really want to read it. Can't wait for the Kindle edition!

john e mumbles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous Bob said...

Twilight: A Heretical Re-translation of Nagarjuna’s Root Stanzas of the Middle Way.


CAPTCHA : mistsk : I kid you not

Fred said...

The real Nagarjuna had a love
interest? The path past the Buddha
has no love or sex, other than the
love for the universe. I'll take
Gudo's interpretation over the
commercialized spin about the

All opinion about these books is
occurring on the plain of ego, so
what does it matter. The balanced
ANS is just as good as any other
explanation for that which can't
be grasped by the discerning mind.

Khru said...

All is forgiven.

I recently wrote a book I entitled, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind".

I hope there won't be any problems.

And on a side note, this is the worst comment thread I've ever seen on Bradley's blog.

Anonymous said...

Is that woman trying to suck that dog's dick?

anon #108 said...

That's nice, Brad - writing to Mr Garfield like that.

"The Balanced State: A Heretical Retranslation of Nagarjuna’s Root Stanzas of the Middle Way."

Now you're talking! That's more like it! Much better! etc etc. Now people will have a clearer idea of what they're getting. And I appreciate hearing a little more about Gudo's attitude to the project.

Now remove comment moderation. What john e and A Bob said end of last post - very good. I agree. Go on! Click the de-moderate button. Nothing bad will happen...(tee hee).

[It's still a daft translation.]

Seagal Rinpoche said...

Many Buddhists have believed that the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (enlightened hero of compassion) is beyond gender. According to the Lotus Sutra, this deity transforms the body and becomes a female, male, soldier, monk, god, or animal to save various beings from suffering. When he/she looked out into the world and saw the immense suffering of all beings, he/she shed tears of compassion.

Anonymous said...


That chick is trying to blow Garfield. Cool.

Anonymous said...

is there a daft in here, or is it me?

turn off comment moderation and witty rejoinders such as these can appear in their proper place :)

anon #108 said...

...And what gniz said - that was also very good. I agreed with that, too.

Captcha = agirwhep. Geddit? ;)

PhilBob-SquareHead said...

I got the book in the mail over the weekend. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Fuck anybody who has a problem with it. Life is too short for such bullshit (kinda like arguing over zazen poses or).

No apologies Brad. I demand you resend your apology!!!

Everything is one, therefore "you" and "I" don't exist. Just "who" apologises? "You've" never chosen to make an apology.

Mysterion said...

There you go!


Where ever you go,
When you get there,
There you are!

- the Weavers

You did the correct thing without doing the RIGHT (e.g. republican) thing.


CAPCHA = taftrapp


Mysterion said...


I say: "Occupy MMK."

CAPCHA = cometryb

Anonymous said...

There are several texts about both tantric sex and vampires attributed to Nagarjuna. The historical accuracy of those attributions are dubious, to put it mildly.

Still, I've used it as license to write a vampire novel (The Vetali's Gift) about Nagarjuna's romance with a vetali (Sanskrit for a female vampire).

If we can get Robert Pattison and Scarlett Johansson to star, I'm sure all sentient beings will benefit. Sarva mangalam.

Anonymous said...

awesome new title.

Manny Furious said...

I obviously don't know you personally Mr. Warner, but you seem like a good dude and I hope this whole thing with Gudo's interpretation of the MMK hasn't got you too much in a funk. It seems to me like many people are overreacting and/or using it as an opportunity to ambush you and/or Gudo for their own creepy and imaginary little crusades.

Keep up the good work. I don't always agree with your stances, but you seem like a level-headed, down-to-earth Buddhist and that's a rare creature in my experience. Personally I had no interest in reading the book, but with all the hoopla I'm probably going to go ahead a cop a copy as soon as my wallet recovers from "The Holidays."

Mark Foote said...

all my ancient and twisted karma
from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion
born through body, speech, and mind
I now fully avow

full moon in a week and a day

Brad, why don't you have a library of Buddhist books? I have the Pali Society's 4 principal Nikaya texts (that's about 18 volumes), "Zen Letters" (Cleary's translation of Yuanwu's letters), a Cleary translation of Foyan's lectures. Some Dogen. "Thank You and OK" and "Crooked Cuke" by Chadwick. Oh yes, "Sex, Sin, and Zen" with the interview with the famous Buddhist. I've come to the conclusion that only those who speak to themselves when they write or speak and who say something that's news to them can move me.

It's funny that I'm probably the only commenter on this blog that actually agrees with Nishijima about balancing SNS and PNS, although I don't think that description does a lot to explain what goes on in zazen. Is it possible to make a description of what goes on in zazen in a way that's useful to someone else? I would say, only if it's news to the speaker as it's being said, you know.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm always amazed at how many people get really upset about stuff that doesn't matter.

Some people should really practice letting go a bit more.

I wonder if anything has been written on that subject.....

R said...

- I haven’t been around [much] lately, and I haven’t read what Brad said very thoroughly, - but: - [- !]

I cannot understand the idea of changing the title of such a work [just] because someone at the publishing house thinks it will or will not sell.

The Mulamadhyamakakarika is not dimentia 13.

- I would naturally expect Nishijima would kill you for it.

- I rather like Brad, otherwise I would have been more severe in what I am saying here, - but I can not understand what he is doing.

Michael Dorfman said...

Nicely done, Brad.

I was in the midst of drafting an email to you on the matter (now that I have read the book), but you've preemptively responded to my concerns.

Nishijima's interpretation is fascinating, in part because it is so radically innovative; at the same time, it stretches the boundary of what can legitimately be considered "translation."

By retitling it in a way to make the "heretical" nature of the translation clear, and avoiding the risk of it being confused with Garfield's "orthodox" translation, you've certainly eliminated my objections.

Fred said...

David, the Ineffable can be
mystical, bliss inducing, tears
running down the cheeks, and it
can be pragmatic, concrete right
in front of you mountains are just

A man of no distinction can follow
his bliss and leave no trace.

It has nothing to do with sex or
love for one person.

anon #108 said...

Speaking of new translations from ancient Sanskrit -

Dedicated, dogged, former Gudo-collaborator Mike Cross has just finished his poetic, artistic, occasionally idiosyncratic, sometimes unorthodox, but always excellent and correct translation of Ashvaghosha's epic poem SAUNDARANANDA, "Handsome Nanda".

Nanda, Gautama Buddha's kid brother, is lured away from the high life and his dolly bird into the forest by his over-bearing religious fruitcake of a brother, aka The Thathagata. Will Nanda transcend the pleasures of the flesh and get hisself enlightened?
Whatever, innit.

Another link, to Canto 1 in full:

- To find the the whole thing without commentary, look to the right of the blog page and click on "Saundarananda Canto 01: A Portrayal of Kapilavastu" etc. For Mike's commentary and grammatical analysis see the daily blog postings: hyperlink above.)

Anonymous said...

* Let sulking dogs lie.

captcha = trebled

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I want to buy both translations then read them, so I can compare them. To bad I don't know Sanskrit.

Mysterion said...

There is certainly no absence of "down stream" folklore in Buddhism.

The "elders" was is not THAT upstream from other Buddhist tradition/threads.

What IS unique about Buddhism is our agreement to disagree - yet TOLERATE - all the various and sundry threads.

I say "occupy red" (thread Buddhism).

UNESCO is there!

Despite THIS mistranslation, Ikkyu means 'one breath.'

His "Zen" was that life is no more than one breath (the breath you are taking or - relaxing - releasing)

Hmmm... detached breath.

CAPCHA = mingo

Manny Furious said...


It would be interesting to hear a Soto Zen practitioner's take on Cleary's translation of Foyan. Cleary, in his introduction, takes some not-so-subtle swipes at the Soto practice and that perspective colors the translation, as seated meditation is treated as useful but not integral to practice.

Or, at least, that was my interpretation.

TedStriker5150 said...

Well, that got me to get off my lazy butt and finally place the order like I've been meaning to do.
I weird like that about rare editions.

Anonymous said...

I'd buy Seagal Rinpoche's translation well before any other.

Brad Warner said...

I just tried to remove comment moderation. But the setting, which used to be under settings>comments appears to have been moved or perhaps removed.

Anyone who wants to walk me thru how it's now done can send a comment.

anon #108 said...

I want to buy both translations then read them, so I can compare them. To bad I don't know Sanskrit

Hi anon @6.50am -

There are about 12 translations out there - Garfield's isn't the only one, or even 'the best'.

If you've missed it when I've linked it before, here's a version by another dharma-heir of Gudo Nishijima, which gives you a word-by-word literal translation and grammatical analysis of the Sanskrit (with only one or two small errors), a complete and separate interpretive translation, a general introduction and an introduction to each chapter:

- available direct from Dogen Sangha UK (£10+3.20p postage) see link above, or from (£12 new; £6 used), or (buy it used for $15).

And, just like Gudo and Brad's version, shunyata is (often, not always) translated therein as "the balanced state," reflecting Gudo's/Mike's understanding that shunyata/emptiness is not merely an abstract idea (the absence of essence, or self-nature in things/phenomena), but also describes an experiential fact; a state. (Whether or not that's what Nagarjuna meant...) An interesting, insightful book. Recommended. (Other translations are also good and interesting, but only M. Luetchford's gives you a faithful rendition of the original text, interpreted from Dogen/Gudo's perspective.)

- As long as we're discussing the MMK and no one else is plugging it or appears to have read it (apart from Michel Proulx), I will continue to plug "Between Heaven and Earth: From Nagarjuna to Dogen - A Translation and Interpretation of the MMK" by Michael Eido Luetchford.

And buy Brad's/Gudo's...and Garfield's (translated from the Tibetan). Kalupahana's is interesting - interprets from a pali canon/Abhidarma perspective. I've not read Inada's but I'm told it's very good indeed. Stephen Batchelor's "Verses from the Centre" is a smashing poetic interpretation of (much of) the MMK. You can also find a literal translation from the Tibetan (no commentary) by SB online:

...If you fancy.

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john e mumbles said...

"The Balanced State: A Heretical Retranslation of Nagarjuna’s Root Stanzas of the Middle Way"

I get the rest of it but, why "Heretical?"

Take that out and the title works for me...granted, it isn't as "punk rock..."

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


I've only read a few books that Cleary translated and I didn't like any of them. Something about his writing style and word choice always seemed very pretentious and new age-y to me when compared to the same texts translated by other people. Cleary seems to enjoy painting legs on every snake until they look like centipedes. I prefer a snake that looks like a snake.

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...

Apologies for all the deletions: links for Brad on "How to get rid of the very sensible moderation you've recently introduced and re-open your blog to any Tom, Dick or Harry with a big mouth and too much time on their hands."

Any use, were they, Brad - or did you find the button yourself?

Mysterion said...

You are correct.

Comment moderation has been REMOVED.

I never allowed comments on Mysterion's Postulates and now I can only limit comments with:

"This blog does not allow anonymous comments."

Apparently there was insufficient "data mining" using the older format.

All good things must come to an end - but then all bad things must come to an end also.

Anonymous said...

Errr... Some posters don't seem to understand the new title is a joke..?

Manny Furious said...

@A name...

There is some truth to what you said. I don't look upon Cleary as some sort of teacher or expert, though. His translation of Foyen is the only book of his I have read and I only read it because it was the only translation of Foyen that I could find.

However, I did agree with his assessment that Chinese Zen wasn't as stuck to the cushion as Japanese Zen seems to be.

Brad Warner said...

Anon #108, I found the button myself but only after using the link you sent & finding it wasn't really the problem. So thanks.

Turns out the problem was the button was way, way lower on the list than I'd remembered it being.

Anonymous said...

"Nishijima Roshi Commits Heresy: Nagarjuna’s Root Stanzas of the Middle Way Re-Imagined"

Feel free to use it. Please credit Anonymous for the re-title.

53 year old hot COUGAR said...


I haven't seen your blog, but do you get comments there?

Cidercat said...

Does anyone have any plans to translate it into Latin? I would so go for that. Worked really well for Winnie the Pooh anyway.

Don't think I'll buy it though, Zen books are too boring.

Anyone fancy a game of chess?

Captcah - trunb. Seriously!

Cidercat said...

Mysterion is a Capricorn?!?!? No way!!! I simply don't believe it.

Captcha - 'dordiat'! Believe it!

Anonymous said...


captcha = dingsalt

Anonymous said...

Friday night with no moderation.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Balanced ANS said...

FACT: Salt intake does NOT impact blood pressure.

Bad science and bad reportage are bad things.

The hungry monk without a sausage said...

Hey there sports fans!!!

First one to post the correct spelling of onomatopeia wins a toy giraffe. No cheating!

Captcha - ocette!?! The universe is so in tune tonight.

BOWSER said...


Nagajooner said...

Anonymous at 2:31 PM:

Your Mom is a joke!

Bob said...

Brad @ 2.57pm.

Same goes for my belly button.

jon e deep said...

Hoist the Jolly Roger!

Virgilin said...


Mysterion said...

Anonymous 53 year old hot COUGAR said...
I haven't seen your blog, but do you get comments there?"

Of course. They are cheerfully deleted! Real Zennies* have nothing to comment about. They just experience

*p.s. I am a Jodo Shu member of SFZC that happens to meditate.

walia said...

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Mike Cross said...

Gudo Nishijima's fundamental teaching was to look at reality squarely.

When it came to his own ability as a translator into English, however, Gudo Nishijima lacked this ability to face up to reality. His own inability to translate ancient texts into English was too bitter a pill for him to swallow, so he remained in denial about it.

According to Aśvaghoṣa, the tree of afflictions is shaken by seeing that the world is empty (śūnya). By "empty" (śūnya)I understand Aśvaghoṣa to mean that the world is an open system in which nobody is the creator of anything (Saundara-nanda 17.20). I am caused to reflect thus not because my autonomic nervous system is balanced, but because of anger that has not subsided yet, in response to the actions of Gudo Nishijima and various of his dharma-heirs, including you.

In order to shake the tree of afflictions, like anger, we reflect that the world is empty. That is the fundamental meaning of śūnyatā in the teachings of Āśvaghoṣa as I read them. The point is that the world is originally empty, whatever the state of our autonomic nervous system. So to translate śūnyatā as "balanced state" is not only a terrible translation; it is taking a strongly held reductionist view and trying to shove it where it does not belong.

Gudo Nishijima had no right to regard the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo as
"my personal job," any more than I did. But that is how he regarded it, and that is how he encouraged people like you to regard it, didn't he?

This was not part of some master plan to jog the world in the direction of the truth. It was simply because the fact of his own inability as a translator was a pill that was too bitter for him to swallow.

Wakey, wakey, Brad.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a little funny to use the concept of emptiness in logical conceptual structures that describe emotions?


How does emptiness do any of this?

How is it done?

Anonymous said...

1. Lying or passing crosswise; intersecting: a cross street.
2. Contrary or counter; opposing.
3. Showing ill humor; annoyed.
4. Involving interchange; reciprocal.
5. Crossbred; hybrid.

Just some dude said...

Mike Cross said:
In order to shake the tree of afflictions, like anger, we reflect that the world is empty. That is the fundamental meaning of śūnyatā in the teachings of Āśvaghoṣa as I read them. The point is that the world is originally empty, whatever the state of our autonomic nervous system. So to translate śūnyatā as "balanced state" is not only a terrible translation; it is taking a strongly held reductionist view and trying to shove it where it does not belong.

I also wondered about this. because if Gudo Nishijima is translating "shunyata" as "balanced state", that that would seem contrary to what scholars already know about Nagarjuna.

His opponents (especially the Hindu proponents of the Nyaya school of logic/epistemology) called Nagarjuna a vaitandika, which is somebody who destroys others positions and views without putting forth something positive themselves.

To say that shunyata = balanced state is putting forth a "positive view". This runs contrary to what scholars already know about Nagarjuna - and contrary to Nagarjuna's own arguments.

Anonymous Bob said...

"Gudo Nishijima had no right to regard the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo as
"my personal job," any more than I did. But that is how he regarded it, and that is how he encouraged people like you to regard it, didn't he?"

Mike: Concerning Gudo and Brad's book, you have the right to your opinion and I mostly agree with it, at least as much as I can without having read the book.

But regarding Gudo or Brad's motivation in any matter I can't help but think you keep walking through the same old steaming pile and never just step over it. I have the same problem.. So tell me, what good is an intellectual understanding of sunyata if we keep getting our shoes dirty?

CAPTCHA : mistoe : I kid you not

just another random dude said...

Is emptiness a "state"?

Just another dude said...


Anonymous said...

Isn't 'emptiness' connected with impermanence? All things are particles of energy coming into and out of existence extremely rapidly like frames of movie film. so there's no solid lasting 'thing'. something like that?

Just a dude said...

Isn't 'emptiness' connected with impermanence? All things are particles of energy coming into and out of existence extremely rapidly like frames of movie film. so there's no solid lasting 'thing'. something like that?

is that a state?

Anonymous said...

who fixed first?

Just some dude said...

who fixed first?


Fred said...

Thought of betrayal by mentor =
continuous anger in the fiction
known as ego = constant secretion
of stress hormones =
overstimulation of sympathetic
nervous system = unbalanced ANS.

How an illusion which is nothing
alters physical matter.

Anonymous said...

... which is nothing.

Fred said...

Who fixed first?

Fixity is standing in a big pile
of steaming shit while the path
past the Buddha lies waiting.

Anonymous said...

fixing is is. this is fixing.

grasping is another matter entirely.

rope burn sux.

Just some guy said...

No clue what you guys are even talking about now...

anon #108 said...

Is "emptiness" a 'state'? Or is emptiness an abstract idea; absence of self-nature/essence?

This is from Majjhima Nikaya, Part 3: 293 (and quoted in Mike Luetchford's introduction to his version of MMK):

"Then the Lord said to the venerable Shariputra (...) 'Sharipura, your state is clear, and your complexion appears pure and bright. What state are you now in, Shariputra?' 'Lord, I am fully in the state of emptiness.' 'That is good Shariputra. Truly, you are fully in the state of great man. For this emptiness, Shariputra, is the state of a great man.'"

And this, from an article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu called "The Integrity of Emptiness" on the Access to Insight site:

"...The irony here is that the idea of emptiness as lack of inherent existence has very little to do with what the Buddha himself said about emptiness. His teachings on emptiness — as reported in the earliest Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon — deal directly with actions and their results, with issues of pleasure and pain.

...The Buddha's teachings on emptiness — contained in two major discourses and several smaller ones — define it in three distinct ways: as an approach to meditation, as an attribute of the senses and their objects, and as a state of concentration. Although these forms of emptiness differ in their definitions, they ultimately converge on the same route to release from suffering..."

So it seems that emptiness has meant different things to different Buddhists at different times and in different contexts. ...And perhaps the abstract, philosophical idea of emptiness is not completely unrelated to the state that has been called "empty"!

Anonymous said...

Fixes and shit

Just some guy said...

anon #108 said:
So it seems that emptiness has meant different things to different Buddhists at different times and in different contexts

Yes... but isn't the question what Nagarjuna meant by it?

Nagarjuna's critisism was not just for the Nyaya school of logic, but for the early Buddhists as well.

Just some dude said...

anon #108 said:
Is "emptiness" a 'state'? Or is emptiness an abstract idea; absence of self-nature/essence?

IMO... any sentence about Nagarjuna's views on emptiness that begins with the notion "Emptiness is..." has missed Nagarjuna's point.

anon #108 said...

...but isn't the question what Nagarjuna meant by it?

Certainly it is the question as relates to translating shunya/shunyata the MMK - but I wanted to counter the view which is often voiced: that the terms mean/have meant only one thing in Buddhism.

Also, as I know that ML is well aware (and, I guess Gudo too) of the orthodox understanding of Nagarjuna's emptiness, I'm curious to investigate why they choose to emphasise the earlier use of the word - I'm interested in the possibility of a synthesis of the two views; to see if the 'state' can be seen as an expression in real experience of the abstract notion.

Seagal Rinpoche said...

The atoms that make up our bodies were once forged inside stars... we are connected in infinite and incomprehensible ways.

john e mumbles said...

"Emptiness" may be an expression of an experience of an abstract notion, but is it expressible in language?

Not everything that has experiential meaning is something you can adequately describe to yourself or relate to others.

Unless you're a hell of a poet.

Anonymous said...

There once was a monk from Siberia
Whose manners were rather inferior.
He did to a nun
What he shouldn't have done
And now she's a Mother Superior.

Anonymous said...

There was a young brother monastic
Whose penis was somewhat elastic.
So when it uncoiled,
With a snap it recoiled,
Interrupting his studies scholastic.

Nagarchewna said...

Brad, by the looks of the cartoon are you implying you plan to blow Jay Garfield as a kind of apology?

Two guys stop to watch a dog licking his balls. "Gee, I wish I could do that" says one of them. The other replies, "don't you think you better ask him first?"

Anonymous said...

Hey, Brad.

On the front page of this blog, you have not changed the name of the book in the Amazon link. Don't trip, homie. Change the name.

Thanks, bro.

Cidercat said...

Chaps look, get on the cider & rethink. Emptiness is just a bottle you haven't refilled.

The earth is a god, the sun is a god, and we are all little silly gods. Step lightly and breathe like champions, for expanded we consume the galaxy.

Captcha - exploo. A monster.

john e mumbles said...

Sitting tonight as everything settled, a cacophony of natural- seeming high-pitched sounds, like crickets,and frogs near a pond, but layered, more complex, set up a drone that got very loud, -some of it persists even now as I write.

It is different than tinnitus, and happens fairly often when I meditate and get very relaxed and blank but aware. &I have noticed it off and on for years...

Anyone out there had similar experiences? I suspect it has something to do with the nervous system, but am clueless as to what it might be.

Cidercat said...

John, have you read Reality by Peter Kingsley? It contains the answer to your question. That sound is the precious echo at the core of the western tradition.

Anonymous said...

There once was an ancient Zen master
Who tried to run faster & faster
He pulled on his beard
And kept his head cleared
Then covered his mouth with a plaster.

Anonymous said...

A chap once wrote Nagarjuna
Said, 'I heard on the street you're a gooner?'
'If you're up for a fight,
I'll match you for might
And the winner gets a salad with tuna.'

john e mumbles said...

Yeah, Cidercat, I HAVE read Kingsley's REALITY, in fact, I reviewed it for SUFI Journal when it came out and had conversations with Peter about it.

A STORY WAITING TO PIERCE YOU, his last one, is interesting, too, but I prefer the early stuff, especially IN THE DARK PLACES OF WISDOM.

Don't recall any high pitched drones in meditation, though, what are you referring to? I'm not connecting the dots here. Thanks.

Cidercat said...

I like all his books, but Reality was the one that really hit home with me. Interestingly he picks out 'koine aesthesis' - which is exactly the term Hubert Benoit uses (coenasthesis) - as the essential raw experience of meditation. There is a reference in there somewhere to the hissing snake-like sound that comes in meditation - I remember it even when I was a child in bed, but that was the first & only time I have heard anyone speak of it. I pause now & it is there, like crystals chiming. I find it a precious thing.

john e mumbles said...

Thanks for the explanation, I'll go back and have a look.

I remember hearing it as a child going to sleep, too; one winter I thought I was going crazy, hearing crickets in the snow!

Metis was the aspect of REALITY that I remember being taken with.

Mysterion said...

emptiness is a concept that is open to interpretation.

an empty ceramic bowl is useful for fetching water.

a ceramic bowl fulled with water is useless for fetching water but useful for obtaining a drink of water. this bowl is empty of the need of fetching water.

a bowl filled with (ceramic) itself is neither useful for fetching water nor obtaining a drink from.


Anonymous said...

"Emptiness is a warm gun."

- John Lennon

Mike Cross said...

I have just changed the title of my blog to:


It occurs to me that one virtue of being angry, if there is such a thing as righteous anger, is that it can prompt a person not to be a lazy little bastard.

For all that I have criticized Gudo Nishijima for being blind and ignorant, I have absolutely never accused him of being lazy, because lazy he absolutely never was.

The Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo was an interaction, the outcome of a process. A lazy little bastard might be able to garner fame as a writer by writing commentaries about it, but he might not even have glimpsed, even in a dream, how fucking difficult the interaction and how heart-breaking the process was.

In that case the fame of the lazy little bastard might truly be empty (śūnya). And this emptiness might have absolutely fuck all to do with balance of the autonomic nervous system.

R said...

I haven’t read most of the comments but I have read MC’s @ 3:14 am.

The idea that Nishijima Roshi’s “inability to translate ancient texts into English” “was too bitter a pill for him to swallow” seems unreasonable to me.

Or rather impossible.

- + - Btw, - Nishijima Roshi has expressed to me his own unskillfulness of expression, (in English at least, - I don’t know if he meant that about Japanese as well) which doubtlessly existed, contrasted - it might be said, - perhaps - to his understanding in itself.

- So one can not claim he was unaware of it. (- it was in ’96, - that’s when I was in the Dojo)

It would make a whole lot more sense, - that he was eager to express or publish his own ideas about the MMK, - which all do agree are different from the commonly existing, - appareantly, - and whether these ideas were right or wrong in themselves, - and in the absence of present aid in the English language, - he tried to do what he could by himself.

Which Brad was then later to normalize into acceptable English.

R said...

- Else than the fact I misspelled “apparently”, - I would like to note I do not know the MMK, or Particularly Nishijima’s translation of it.

Same goes of course to the Saundarananda.

Anonymous said...


"It occurs to me that one virtue of being angry, if there is such a thing as righteous anger, is that it can prompt a person not to be a lazy little bastard." Mike Cross

It saddens me to see that after so many years Mr. Cross is still singing the same song. I guess that for some people neither zazen nor the Alexander Technique can alleviate their suffering. Maybe he should try mantras (singing a new song) or yoga (dancing a new dance) or just try everything until he finds something that brings him at least a little peace and contentment if not happiness.

anon #108 said...

Hi john e and Cidercat,

All this rang a bell...I googled:

- scroll about 6/7ths down the page to your post @6.50am, john.

As you may know, tinnitus doesn't only describe high frequency 'ringing' or 'whistling' sounds, but the perception of any sound in the absence of an external cause/stimulus; 'crickets' is one of the more frequently reported tinnitus sounds.

Ajahn Sumedo's book "The Sound of Silence" discusses how he deals with his tinnitus perception (he says it isn't tinnitus, but that's what I'm content to call it; it perfectly fits the definition). As I hear tinnitus all the time - and so am a "tinnitus sufferer" - my attitude to it is a bit different...Meh, maybe not so different.

Anonymous said...

John E, Cidercat, et al.,

Certain sounds heard during meditation are referred to as "anahata sounds" in yogic terminology. Most of the descriptions that I have read identify them as being high pitched. Most authorities advise meditators not to attach too much significance to them, just like any other phenomena.

anon #108 said...

Hi a name,

Thanks for the info and link.

Yep. Tinnitus. It seems what the yogins say is very similar to what Ajahn S. says about tinnitus during meditation (but without the clearly defined stages - them old Indians were crazy for classified stages, no?). Not what most folks think of as tinnitus, though. Most folks think of tinnitus as a disease or malfunction of some kind, and when heard all the time it is often the result of acoustic trauma (mine is) or is hearing loss/age related.

When I first realised I'd 'got' permanent full-time tinnitus I googled and found the Tinnitus Retraining Therapy website. Very useful it was. One of the things that was pointed out to me in an email from the boss, Dr Jonathan Hazell, is that many spiritual traditions value and seek out such experiences; nothing to be scared of; all a matter of attitude.

(Not trying to tell anyone who hears sounds during silent meditation that they've 'got tinnitus'. Hearing sounds without external stimulus is experienced by just about everyone when in a completely silent environment - see Heller-Bergman experiment 1953.)

Fred said...

Sitting in a sound proof room there
is still sound. The brain can
feel phantom pain in a non-existent
limb. It makes sense of pre-
existing signals from neural
pathways created by experience.
Hearing is the firing of neurons
in pathways laid down by past
experiences. Your eardrum doesn't
need to vibrate.

The world of flux and impermanence
is on the inside too. The sound is
the sound of "emptiness".

DJ #4 said...

This one's going out to Mike Cross...

Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield.

john e mumbles said...

Thanks 108 for the jog in memory (so much for living in the moment, now I can't remember shit!) That was a good thread.

Maybe it IS tinnitus, I confess I don't know so much about it, and should, considering all the drum kits and amps I've been in front of for so many years.

Maybe there are degrees of awareness of it in silent, relaxed environments. It can become a roar, or a sound like a running stream, etc., besides the cricket/frog thing.

But...if tinnitus IS a developed occurrence over time, how come I heard it often at quiet moments in early childhood?

I'll post the quote from REALITY you posted in the link next, I think its worth a 2nd look, for Cidercat...

john e mumbles said...

"Instead of seeing without really seeing, we can stop to look. Instead of half-hearing sounds that irritate or please us, that either make some sense or just seem to be noise, we can listen to them all but at the same time be aware of listening to them.

This is simply a matter of letting nothing go unperceived, because every single thought and sensation and perception is waiting to be returned by us consciously to its source. Their aggressiveness and gentleness, their violence and impatience and their sweetness, are their way of urging us to do what we have to do.

Of course to our usual, wandering minds — that can only focus at the very best on one thing at a time — to do this is not just difficult. It’s unimaginable. But there is another state of awareness we all have access to; and, for that, nothing could be more natural." -Peter Kingsley

john e mumbles said...

This is pure Satipathanna Sutta stuff, BTW:

And See:

Noting practice has deepened my sitting by great leaps and bounds...

anon #108 said...

john e: "But...if tinnitus IS a developed occurrence over time, how come I heard it often at quiet moments in early childhood?"

The constant or recurrent perception of phantom sounds in all sound environments, noisy or quiet, is what people usually mean when they say they 'have' tinnitus or 'suffer' from tinnitus.

But tinnitus is simply the name given to the perception of sound(s) that aren't caused by external stimulus/vibration/movement of the eardrum (as Fred noted), This is experienced by most people who spend a little time in a silent environment - there doesn't have to be anything 'wrong' with you or your hearing; "The music of the brain" the TRT site calls it. Some folks are more sensitive to it/aware of it than others, it seems.

Anonymous said...

"Great leaps and bounds" in your sitting? That sounds like "yogic flying".

Be careful that you don't get injured.

anon #108 said...

...So yes, john e - what you're hearing during those quiet times is what a scientist would call "Tinnitus".

Have you *got* Tinnitus? Not if you don't hear those sounds all the time, in all environments.

john e mumbles said...

Broke almost every bone in my body before age 8, a name of sorts. Been more careful, since, thanks.

The author and apprentice to many shamans and medicine people (see his ROLLING THUNDER and MAD BEAR books)Doug Boyd (R.I.P.) told me once that at that time I was still experiencing the disembodied state from the bardos or something.

Seemed reasonable at the time.

Flying is fun, though, just don't do it in airplanes :)

Seagal Rinpoche said...

When it comes--just so! When it goes--just so! Both coming and going occur each day. The words I am speaking now--just so.

Mysterion said...

Now Sea Gull Rimshot is Musho Josho, circa 1306.

We ARE impressed.


Fred said...

A man of no distinction leaves the
world before he dies.

Musho Macho

Fred said...

An ego trapped in time by angry
words and the past, sits in vain.

Macho Musho

Anonymous said...

... or comments on blogs as it were :)

(Im speaking for myself, fully immersed.)

Anonymous said...

search for brad @ treeleaf

Anonymous said...

You write books on Buddhism but don't buy books on Buddhism? You,re setting a BAD example.


Not The Real Excalibur said...

Words and letters will get you nowhere.

Mysterion said...

we wish Treeleaf well.

Cidercat said...

I'm happy to call it tinnitus, as long as it's an admission of ignorance, rather than an assertion of understanding. I have to pause & get rapt for a second to bring it on, in the same way that I will hold & bring attention to my spine to feel it tingling before it eventually releases in a 'quiver' or wave. I've no idea how I learnt these things.

I find Peter Kingsley's writings always refresh my practice, which is the best sign I have to go on. I did attempt to seek him out in person once, but failed to do so.

anon #108 said...

I'm happy to call it tinnitus, as long as it's an admission of ignorance, rather than an assertion of understanding.

What a strange thing to say. But as long as you're happy :)

Hitotsu Hoshi said...

Looks like Mr Cross has added his review (1star) of the book on Amazon.

Brad Warner said...

Looks like Mr Cross has added his review (1star) of the book on Amazon.

Wow. The book has 11 reviews, only three of which appear to be written by people who have actually read it! I wonder if that percentage makes it any kind of record. I don't know how to calculate it. But I know that means fewer than 30% of the reviewers actually read the thing.

In some perverse way it's kind of gratifying. It's kind of neat knowing you can stir up controversy by your mere presence.

Anonymous said...

Oh Brad, they must love you really!

Captcha: foremene. I kid you not.

walia said...

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Anonymous said...

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