Nāgārjuna and Madhyāmaka Ethics (Ethics-1, M32)

In A. Raghuramaraju (ed.), Philosophy, E-PG Pathshala. Delhi: India, Department of Higher Education (NMEICT) (2016)
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Nāgārjuna’s “middle path” charts a course between two extremes: Nihilism, and Absolutism, not unlike earlier Buddhism. However, as early Buddhists countinanced constituents of reality as characterizable by essences while macroscopic objects lack such essences, Nāgārjuna argues that all things lack what he calls svabhāva – “own being” – the Sanskrit term for essence. Since everything lacks an essence, it is Empty (śūnya). To lack an essence is to lack autonomy. The corollary of this is that all things are interrelated. The Mahāyāna (Great Vehicle) school of Buddhist thought draws heavily on this insight: if all things are related, individualism has to give way to inclusivity. According to Nāgārjuna, the key to understanding his Middle path philosophy is dharma: ethics. It is only by a prior commitment to ethics that we can properly understand the Buddha's philosophy as teaching no doctrine of reality, for it is not a teaching of metaphysics, but of ethics, which is to say, Dharma. At the center of Dharma is a kind of Contractualism of the Buddhist community (saṅga). A failure to approach emptiness via ethics is like trying to hold a snake dangerously. However, approaching the emptiness of reality via ethics is grounds for optimism: nothing is stuck by essence, and we have reason to believe in positive change made possible by prudent ethical choice. In this module I consider some objections to Nāgārjuna's position from Vedic positions, and Yoga, and identify responses available to Nāgārjuna.
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