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Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime Paperback – July 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Buddhist Vision of the Sublime
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade (July 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573228761
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573228763
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ex-monk Stephen Batchelor has stirred up controversy in the past by marrying Buddhism to secular agnosticism. Now he goes right to the greatest Buddhist sage after Sakyamuni, Nagarjuna, for corroboration. In this translation of Nagarjuna's seminal work, Verses from the Center, we see Nagarjuna turning a skeptical eye to all dogmatic beliefs. But Batchelor, through his emphasis on the poetics of the work, moves away from polemics to experience--experience of the emptiness that pervades existence and teaches deeper truths. Verses from the Center is an extended meditation on the implications of emptiness, and thanks to Batchelor's limpid rendering, it prompts a meditative reading. Batchelor's opening essay, half of the book, is one of the best introductions you'll find on Nagarjuna's notion of emptiness, emphasizing that emptiness ultimately brings us back to face the world. In a chapter called "Acts," Nagarjuna says:
My acts are irrevocable

Because they have no essence...

Where are the doers of deeds

Absent among their conditions?

Imagine a magician

Who creates a creature

Who creates other creatures.

Acts I perform are creatures

Who create others.

--Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

A book worth having for seekers.
Frances Haas
The book has allowed me to begin to experience emptiness, rather than try to understand emptiness.
Mark Nearing
His prose is clear and accessible and his translation of Nargarjuna's poetry inspired.
Patrick Deason

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Barnaby A Thieme on June 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There is much about Stephen Batchelor's new translation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika which is extremely useful, although the work is also highly problematic. Batchelor has chosen to render Nagarjuna's verses in a very free fashion, communicating what he discerns to be the real message at the heart of the Karikas. He has felt free to omit material, paraphrase, summarize, and reword entire sections with enormous liberty. On the one hand this has freed the text from much of its cryptic quality which has resulted from the metrical constraints of the Sanskrit root text. On the other hand we must rely heavily on Batchelor's interpretation of what Nagarjuna actually meant. What did Nagarjuna actually mean? Batchelor sets forth his interpretive model in the lengthy and challenging introduction. Nagarjuna, Batchelor argues, should be interpreted as belonging to a common philosophical heritage. In comparing Nagarjuna's text with the writings of Taoism and Zen and even the English Romantic poets, Batchelor suggests that the Verses espouse a common insight which is far broader than many modern interpreters have suggested. It seems probable that the unspoken opponent of his exegesis is the Gelukpa and Gelukpa-inspired scholarship which has had much to say about Madhyamaka in recent years, and of which Batchelor himself was once a part when he translated Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara with Geshe Rabten in Echoes of Voidenss. Here, he briefly presents Dzong-ka-ba's view on Nagarjuna, which Batchelor clearly thinks is overly scholastic and removes the heart of the message by viewing emptiness as primarily a kind of anti-metaphysics. The real message, we learn, is that we are to approach the world with a particular stance of openess and sense of interconnectedness.Read more ›
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Tom Dylan on May 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Nagarjuna's philisophy of the "middle way" can be difficult. It has usually been left to discussion by academics. Stephen Batchelor, as in his other writings, makes this subject flow like the poetry it is. It permeates your whole being. The author's helpful commentary and analysis makes this book a "keeper." It is for anyone interested in the Buddhist path and its profound reflections on life and living. "In seeing things To be or not to be Fools fail to see A world at ease."
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Mr. B. J. Griffin on December 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
There is little doubt that Nagarjuna gave humanity a masterpiece with the MMK which is evident in the attention that this text has received over the centuries.
Moreover as a vertebra in the backbone of the student-centric disclosure of emptiness, MMK is indeed an essential read for those of us who tread the fascinating and beautiful road to insight.
The MMK is not about Philosophy or Sanskrit but of sharing a direct, living experience of emptiness through the medium of writing; using language and concept to reveal a non-conceptual experience of emptiness. In my mind this would be the only way of 'translating' a text such as the MMK. A good re-presentation of the MMK must be memorable and life-changing. Self-grasping must be left with nothing to hold onto and be clearly revealed as the unskilful, foolish enemy that it is.
I feel that with this book, Batchelor is attempting to offer an alternative experience of MMK to those that are currently presented by the linguists and philosophers who have chosen MMK as belonging to their respective domains. His arguments are at their strongest when he resists ownership of the text by intellectualising academics. For this alone he gets a star. For his provocative alternative rewriting of the MMK, (helping us remember that there are alternative approaches to translation) he gets one more star.
Batchelor wishes to share with us the spontaneity of the verse form without getting lost in a rarified explication of his own understandings of the intellectual import of the verses, which is indeed a lofty and noble goal, but the question arises over whether or not Batchelor is up to the challenge; I believe that he is not.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mark Nearing on May 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I must admit that I realized only after a complete first read that this book had made its amazing impression on me. I thought as I was reading it that it was, well, interesting. It was only after reading it that I realized I was seeing life through an entirely different lens. It was an indescribable, incredible experience. I've read it twice since, and each time the feeling grows stronger. The book has allowed me to begin to experience emptiness, rather than try to understand emptiness.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Hakuyu on June 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
A relaxed distillation of Nagarjuna's teaching, fleshed out with various reflections from the author's experience and intuitions gleaned from personal reading habits, this book has proven satisfying to people who might otherwise baulk at taking Nagarjuna 'straight.' Whether it constitutes a 'translation' of Nagarjuna's karikas - is open to question. For the Buddhist background, I recommend Murti's 'The Central Philosophy of Buddhism.'

True, not everyone wants to read Nagarjuna with a close eye on all the interpretive questions that might be raised about the place this text occupies in Buddhism. Nevertheless, the wish to present the Madhyamaka - shorn of its traditional trappings, Buddhist-scholastic exegeses etc. - means that we are left wholly dependant upon the 'Batcheloresque' exegesis.

Other reviewers have pointed out some of the textual issues involved here - viz. Stephen's reading of the karikas. We might add that - contrary to what some of Stephen's observations suggest, Nagarjuna saw the Madhyamika as 'marga' centered - i.e. that it presupposed the Buddhist path. Even though it forsakes all dualism (advayavada) and allied thought constructs (drsti), Nagarjuna made it clear that this was in the interest of a religious ideal - viz. realization of the unconditioned (absolute), as against nihilism, scepticism or agnosticism etc. The Buddha said: 'two things only do I teach, suffering and its cessation.' The first - suffering (duhkha) is a corollary of impermanence (antiya) and 'dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada). Hence, Stephen's reference to the fact that we are (relatively) 'contingent beings.' But this is only half the picture. Buddhism is not just a philosophy of 'shifting sand' and the Madhyamika does not stop there.
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