Book Excerpts, Texts

Nagarjuna’s Verses from the Center: When Buddhas Don’t Appear and Their Followers Are Gone

Nagarjuna was a 2nd century master often credited with establishing the Mahayana tradition. His landmark collection of 448 Verses from the Center are the first known Buddhist texts to be written in the author’s voice and not as a repetition of Buddha’s teaching. As presented by Stephen Batchelor in his book on Nagarjuna, this verse about the Self reflects on its elusiveness and ultimate emptiness.

 

Were mind and matter me,
I would come and go like them.
If I were something else,
They would say nothing about me.

What is mine
When there is no me?
Were self-centeredness eased,
I would not think of me and mine—
There would be no one there
To think them.

What is inside is me,
What is outside is mine—
When these thoughts end,
Compulsion stops,
Repetition ceases,
Freedom dawns.

Fixations spawn thoughts
That provoke compulsive acts—
Emptiness stops fixations.

Buddhas speak of “self”
And also teach “no self”
And also say “there’s nothing
Which is either self or not.”

When things dissolve,
There’s nothing left to say.
The unborn and unceasing
Are already free.

Buddha said: “it is real,”
And “it is unreal,”
And “it is both real and unreal,”
And “it is neither one nor the other.”

It is all at ease,
Unfixatable by fixations,
Incommunicable,
Inconceivable,
Indivisible.

You are not the same as or different from
Conditions on which you depend;
You are neither severed from
Nor forever fused with them—-
This is the deathless teaching
Of buddhas who care for the world.

When buddhas don’t appear
And their followers are gone,
The wisdom of awakening
Bursts forth by itself.

 

Nagarjuna (150-250)
From: Verses from the Center – A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime