Orienting Reason: A Religious Critique of Philosophizing Nāgārjuna

Orienting Reason: A Religious Critique of Philosophizing Nāgārjuna Abstract Recent scholarly interest in Nāgārjuna has been intense, with especial focus on the vexed question of the rationality, or irrationality, of his thought. In this article, I am concerned to bring to light the theoretical underpinnings of the hermeneutical project predominant among present-day scholars, which is to actively overlook or downright depreciate the religious motivation of Nāgārjuna’s arguments. While this project has typically been pursued in an apologetic effort to justify Nāgārjuna, as truly worthy of the title “philosopher,” to mainstream philosophers, it has also had the effect among some scholars of dismissing him as insufficiently philosophical. Regardless of the glowing or dim light in which he is thereby cast, Nāgārjuna is appraised according to exclusively philosophical criteria. My “religious critique of philosophizing Nāgārjuna,” then, is aimed at elucidating and problematizing this approach as at best tangential to and at worst seriously distortive of Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole. THE UNIMAGINATIVE QUESTION If I return to the unimaginative question “Is Buddhism a philosophy or a religion?” it is not in order to plunge through a door that is already ajar, but to underline the implications of such a question that are usually ignored. –Bernard Faure, Double Exposure, xii NĀGĀRJUNA (c. 150–250) is generally accepted by Buddhists and Buddhologists alike as one of the most important of all Buddhist thinkers. Indeed, his thought has been core to the historical shaping and reshaping of Buddhism throughout south, central, and east Asia. It continues to fascinate, moreover, as evinced by the plethora of recently published inspirational and intellectual works devoted to him by adherents and academics. Recent scholarly interest in Nāgārjuna has been intense, with especial focus on the vexed question of the rationality, or irrationality, of his thought. For understandable reasons, debates in this regard have gravitated toward two points of friction between the arguments Nāgārjuna laid out in India almost two millennia ago and those considered acceptable by his philosophically minded interpreters today, trained as these latter have typically been in twentieth-century Western analytical philosophy. Briefly stated, the issues at question relate, firstly, to Nāgārjuna’s use of the catuṣkoṭi or tetralemma,1 according to which a proposition may be true, false, both true and false, or neither true nor false; and secondly, to Nāgārjuna’s espousal of the “abandonment of all views” (sarvadṛṣṭiprahāṇāya). I am treating these two topics extensively in related publications (see e.g. Stepien forthcoming c and forthcoming a respectively). Here, I am concerned to bring to light the theoretical underpinnings of the hermeneutical project predominant among present-day scholars, which is to actively overlook or downright depreciate the religious motivation of Nāgārjuna’s arguments. While this project has typically been pursued in an apologetic effort to justify Nāgārjuna as truly worthy of the title “philosopher” to mainstream philosophers, it has also had the effect among some scholars of dismissing him as insufficiently philosophical. Regardless of the glowing or dim light in which he is thereby cast, Nāgārjuna is appraised according to exclusively philosophical criteria such as cogency, consistency, and coherency. My “religious critique of philosophizing Nāgārjuna,” then, is aimed at elucidating and problematizing this approach, however philosophically fruitful it may be, as at best tangential to and at worst seriously distortive of Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole.2 UNVEILING THE EAST In the case of numerous exegetes, there is no attempt made to understand Nāgārjuna within the framework of his own religio-philosophical enterprise. This is so on the implied or explicitly stated assumption that any position that questions or contradicts the canons of Western philosophical logic is irredeemable from irrationality and consequently not even worth serious consideration.3 Thus it is that we find authors otherwise widely divergent in their interpretations of Nāgārjuna agreeing to indict Nāgārjuna’s use or understanding of logic – without, of course, questioning their own logical paradigms. Guy Bugault is especially frank in this respect. In his article, “Logic and Dialectics in the Madhyamakakārikās,” Bugault proceeds “to outline the prolegomena to any reading of the MK by a Western trained in the school of Aristotle, or, more generally, common sense” (Bugault 1983, 8, emphasis added here and throughout subsequent citations), and refers repeatedly to “our instinctive logic” (Bugault 1983, 29) in his affirmations of the validity of applying “methods of contemporary [that is, contemporary Western] learning to unveil old Indian texts” (Bugault 1983, 53). That these latter, suggestively feminine and passive, are evidently in need of such active masculine methods to be “unveiled” is, of course, taken for granted. As such, the bulk of the article is in fact devoted to studying “if and how the principles to which we are accustomed function” (Bugault 1983, 19, emphases original) in the MK—note the “we”— with sections on the principles of contradiction, excluded middle, sufficient reason, and identity and haecceity (respectively, 19–26, 26–41, 41–46, and 46–61). These make reference to canonical Western philosophers from Heraclitus, Cratylus, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Democritus, Empedocles, Parmenides, Diogenes, and Plato to Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, and Russell—in addition to the ubiquitous Aristotle—though only Dignāga and Candrakīrti get any mention, albeit scarce, among Indian (or Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese . . .) Buddhist philosophers. Having shown that “Nāgārjuna’s way of thinking is diametrically opposed to our habitual way, our own being one which obliges us to choose at least, and at most, one of two contradictory assertions” (Bugault 1983, 33–34), and furthermore that “for a Buddhist, in particular a Mādhyamika, the principle of reason—or in this case, pratītya-samutpāda—is directly opposed to the principle of identity” (Bugault 1983, 46) (the which principle, being Aristotelian in origin, he is unable to question), Bugault tries to adopt “a fall-back position to save common sense” (Bugault 1983, 53). In so doing, he ends up claiming that Nāgārjuna’s “Buddhism is a type (a rather special one) of positivism” (Bugault 1983, 57) and that Nāgārjuna’s “doctrine, if it can be said to be one, is therefore completely practical” (Bugault 1983, 65). In arguing for this conclusion, Bugault declares that Nāgārjuna’s “fundamental intention” is “not religious”—it cannot be, “for there is no God” (Bugault 1983, 58) in it. In other words, only theism counts as religion. Such unreconstructed orientalist foisting of Western logical categories and intellectual presuppositions onto Eastern thought is shocking in a late twentieth-century scholar.4 Bugault, however, is far from being alone in appraising Nāgārjuna’s thought according to criteria never themselves queried; criteria whose historical origins in a specifically Greek context render them (for Nāgārjuna certainly) as dependently co-originated, as conventional, and therefore as dubitable, as any other worldly phenomena, but which are unhesitatingly identified by the exegetes in question here as simply “the laws of thought” (Gunaratne 1986, 214). It is within the unquestioned limits of these “laws” that the scholars I critique here expound their critiques of Nāgārjuna: they attempt to fit Nāgārjuna into their own imported parameters, and criticize him for his perceived inability to fully embody them. Thus, among all too many examples, I cite one of the founders of the field, Richard Robinson, for whom “it is possible to transcribe the Kārikās entirely, chapter by chapter, into logical notation,” but who nevertheless adjudicates that Nāgārjuna “makes mistakes in logic” (Robinson 1957, 307). K. N. Jayatilleke, meanwhile, writes, “there is little evidence that Nāgārjuna understood the logic of the four alternatives as formulated and utilized in early Buddhism” (Jayatilleke 1967, 82). Claus Oetke goes further, claiming to demonstrate “the fallacious character” of Nāgārjuna’s argument regarding production and destruction at MK:21:1–6, and pondering, “perhaps Nāgārjuna and his contemporaries might because of historical reasons not yet have been able to give a correct diagnosis of the mechanisms involved in such a fallacy” (Oetke 1990, 94). Presumably, the “historical reasons” for the supposed lack of logical acumen among Indian philosophers such as Nāgārjuna and his contemporaries basically amounts to their being unschooled in what Oetke does not hesitate to call “common sense” (Oetke 1990, 91).5 Speaking more generally of Nāgārjuna’s philosophy as a whole, David Burton declares: “It is my contention—to which surely anyone who tries to read Nāgārjuna’s texts will assent—that, far from being ‘perfect’, Nāgārjuna’s thought, as expressed in his texts, is inchoate and obscure” (Burton 1999, 7). Burton soon specifies that what he calls “Nāgārjuna’s blatantly fallacious reasoning” is such on the basis of the “obvious nihilistic consequences” (Burton 1999, 10) of his ideas, and most particularly of the “obscure” (Burton 1999, 53) doctrine of two truths. This doctrine, a key feature of Nāgārjuna’s system, similarly defeats Mervyn Sprung, who ultimately gives up trying to understand it, stating, “in the end, it is not possible, I believe, to make the relation of saṁvṛti and paramārtha intelligible in any theoretical terms available to us” (Sprung 1973, 50).6 Lastly, Frits Staal seems initially to be defending Nāgārjuna when he contends, “if Nāgārjuna got caught in paradoxes and contradictions, he is not worse off than most philosophers. What would make him an irrationalist is the desire to be illogical” (Staal 1975, 45). This, however, is something no right-minded philosopher would do, on the basis that “any violation of the principle of non-contradiction is irrational” (Staal 1976, 125). Bugault and the other scholars I have cited all adhere to a form of epistemological foundationalism founded upon a combination of doxastic and epistemic basicality.7 That is, they believe that their belief in the logical laws they take to be universally criterial to rationality is not itself dependent on other doxastic or epistemic principles. This is not necessarily problematic in itself as a philosophical position, but it is hardly appropriate when applied to the task of understanding a philosopher whose entire oeuvre is devoted to demonstrating the absurdity of any and all forms of foundationalism. This goes as much for those scholars who are critical of Nāgārjuna’s purported misuse or misunderstanding of such laws as it does for those eager to prove his correct use and understanding of them and thereby to habilitate him in the eyes of peers not a priori amenable to considering non-Western systems of thought as philosophy proper. The apologist tradition vis-à-vis Nāgārjuna and the Madhyamaka school he founded goes back at least as far as David Seyfort Ruegg, who is adamant in maintaining “Madhyamaka reasoning (yukti) is based on the twin pillars of the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle” (Ruegg 1977, 54, where he is summarizing Ruegg 1969), these being requisites for rationality, as we have seen.8 Ruegg states this position even more forcefully when countering the claims of those who would see Nāgārjuna and his subsequent Mādhyamikas as irrational or mystical: “Although it has been alleged that Buddhist philosophers—and, indeed, other Indian thinkers as well—ignore or reject the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle, this contention certainly cannot be sustained as concerns Nāgārjuna and his school, whose entire reasoning is in fact founded on them” (Ruegg 1977, 5). For his part, Tom Tillemans admits that “within Buddhist thought, the structure of argumentation that seems the most resistant to our attempts at formalization is undoubtedly the tetralemma or catuṣkoṭi,” but concludes that “the structures of argumentation most frequently employed by Buddhists—including the Madhyamakas— do not present any violation of our classical logical laws” (Tillemans 1999, 189, 193).9 These and other like-minded scholars are clear that theirs is a self-conscious attempt to prove, in the words of Jay Garfield and Graham Priest, that “Nāgārjuna is not an irrationalist. He is committed to the canons of rational argument and criticism. He is not a mystic” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 96). The latest book-length study of Nāgārjuna’s philosophy, Jan Westerhoff’s Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction (2009), is a further case in point. In similar fashion to Robinson, Katsura, and all the other scholars who try to explain away the “riddle”10 of the tetralemma through various logical stratagems, Westerhoff at first admits that “it seems hard to make sense of it [MK:18:10], at least if we want to stay within the domain of classical logic” (Westerhoff 2009, 71)—which he evidently does.11 Indeed, by “applying the familiar laws of logic” (Westerhoff 2009, 71),12 Westerhoff is ineluctably led to conclude that the verse in question “is a contradiction” (Westerhoff 2006, 371; 2009, 71). Characteristically, he immediately responds by asking, “How can this interpretation be avoided?” (Westerhoff 2006, 371; 2009, 71)—without, of course, explaining why it should be avoided at all. This unquestioning attitude toward “classical logic” is typical of Westerhoff’s work as a whole. In the course of presenting what he is content to describe as a “logically very conservative” (Westerhoff 2009, 90) interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi, Westerhoff expends his greatest efforts in tackling, as expected, the “important problem” (Westerhoff 2009, 80) of the stubbornly contradictory third lemma (“both P and not-P”) to demonstrate that it is in fact logically explicable. The tenor of Westerhoff’s approach may be summed up in his initial question as to this third lemma: “Why, we might well ask, does Nāgārjuna think we have to consider this contradictory option as well, as if this constituted a real possibility?” (Westerhoff 2009, 80–81, emphasis added here and throughout subsequent citations). For just as Raimundo Panikkar, for example, states that “internal contradiction is of its very nature nonsignifying” (Panikkar 1989, 63), so Westerhoff declares that a “contradictory alternative should . . . not constitute a genuine possibility” (Westerhoff 2009, 81 n55).13 This is so despite the fact that Nāgārjuna obviously thought it did. Predictably enough, Westerhoff argues that “the third alternative [in “the case of the tetralemma applied to causation”—apparently a textually unattested positive analogue to MK:1:1] constitutes a compromise between the first and second: it says that things are partly self-caused and partly caused by other objects” (Westerhoff 2009, 83–84). The overtly contradictory nature of the third lemma is thereby obviated and its logical cogency neatly maintained. Further to the particular arguments used with respect to one or other instance of the tetralemma, Westerhoff characterizes his project as a whole in this discussion as having “the specific objective of giving an interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s employment of the tetralemma which makes both logical sense and is in accordance with his general philosophical position” (Westerhoff 2006, 368).14 Given this last phrase about accordance with Nāgārjuna’s philosophy (and let us not forget that Westerhoff’s book is titularly concerned with Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka), I find it remarkable that Westerhoff should then characterize his overall project as explaining “the methodological foundations of Nāgārjuna’s arguments in the catuṣkoṭi . . . entirely within the framework of classical logic” (Westerhoff 2006, 393; 2009, 90). In fact, such attempts to simultaneously do justice to Indian and Western philosophical traditions are commonplace in the literature. Thus, for example, the Cowherds—“an international collective of scholars in Buddhist Studies” (Cowherds 2016, back cover)—“set themselves the task of working out [the ethical consequences of Madhyamaka metaphysics] in a way that does justice to the Madhyamaka tradition in the contemporary philosophical context” (Cowherds 2016, 1). And the editors of The Moon Points Back (Tanaka et al. 2015) identify with its predecessor volume Pointing at the Moon (D’Amato et al. 2009) as being located “at the interface of contemporary logic and analytic philosophy and Buddhist philosophy . . . deploying a common analytic methodology” (Tanaka et al. 2015, xi). Rather than citing further instances (which could easily be undertaken in extenso), I would like to end this section by pointing out that the common thread linking all the scholars I have mentioned is their unquestioning adherence to “our instinctive logic” (Bugault 1983, 29, emphasis added); this “classical logic” imbued with all the onto-theo-logical presuppositions endemic to Western thought. By attempting to provide a “logically very conservative” (Westerhoff 2006, 392; 2009, 90) and cogent account of the catuṣkoṭi, and of Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole, Westerhoff and his peers not only misrepresent Nāgārjuna but unwittingly do a cardinal disservice to the very reason for his repeated use of the catuṣkoṭi, for his espousal of “the abandonment of all views,” and indeed for his entire philosophical edifice; that is, to enable the practitioner to pass beyond the oppositional confines of logical thought as classically defined.15 In short, these scholars have succeeded only in fortifying the fixtures of the mind Nāgārjuna took such pains to undermine. ORIENTALIZING REASONS At the very outset of this section (a little playfully, a little provocatively) titled Orientalizing Reasons, I would like to make it as clear as I can that I am not accusing the scholars I cite, and most especially those working today, of unfamiliarity with or approval of that particular brand of intellectual obtuseness known as orientalism. On the contrary, they are often explicit in railing against what they do not hesitate to call the “postcolonial racism” (Garfield 2002, 253) endemic to the exclusion of non-Western philosophy from the rubric “philosophy.” When they are not actively arguing for its being “intellectually and morally indefensible” (Garfield 2015, ix), this is because “critique of the narrowness, arbitrariness, and ethnocentrism of this characterization is too easy and too boring to undertake” (D’Amato et al. 2009). And of course the entire project of philosophizing with Buddhist as well as Western sources is partially directed toward demonstrating that “it is appropriate to call them both ‘philosophy’” (Siderits 2007, 5). I would also like to express my deep affinity for “rational reconstruction” as opposed or in addition to “textual history,” for “doing Buddhist philosophy” as opposed or in addition to “developing an account of the history of Buddhist philosophy.”16 In terms Garfield proposes, I consider “engaging with” (Garfield 2015, xiii, emphases original) Buddhist philosophy, by which I mean the theoretical project of adopting and adapting it in conversation with non-Buddhist philosophical partners, as much a valid and valuable intellectual enterprise as “engaging in” Buddhist philosophy, by which I mean “the exegetical project of figuring out what Buddhist philosophers said” (Garfield 2015, 320) and a fortiori what they meant. In other words, I consider a philosophically strict approach to Madhyamaka—and more broadly to Buddhist and even more broadly to non-Western religiously situated and philosophically rich texts, by which they are “purged of their religious elements” so as to ascertain whether “they present an overall attractive philosophical picture, or would they only be adopted by one who has a prior commitment to the religious tradition they form a part of” (Westerhoff 2017, 1, 2)—to be methodologically sound. Indeed, such efforts in “comparative philosophy,” “fusion philosophy,” or “cross-cultural philosophy”17 are highly sophisticated philosophical works in their own right and, as such, have been and will doubtless continue to be highly successful at increasing interest in Buddhist philosophy among Western philosophers. What is more, through the theoretical and hermeneutical reflections they occasion, coupled with the higher degree of generalization available to them than to counterparts restricted to a single tradition, these comparative works may lead, and have led, to manifold insights on important questions regarding concept and category formation, terminology, method, motive, etc. in the diverse academic fields with which they are identified (most readily religious studies and philosophy, but also comparative literature, history, and area studies). Whatever its merits or demerits, the present article, based as it is on this body of scholarship, is a case in point of just such reflection. Furthermore, I am not in entire agreement with Andrew Tuck when he discerns an ideological commitment to providing “interpretations and translations of ancient texts that are intended to be as ‘accurate’, ‘objective’, and ‘close to the original’ as possible” (Tuck 1990, 8) on the part of many of today’s South Asianist scholars (and beyond). Such a commitment, rooted in traditional, nineteenth-century, hermeneutic attempts “concerned with the recovery of the original textual meaning” (Tuck 1990, 8)—a meaning which is taken, moreover, to be single and identical with the author’s intention—are what Tuck has in mind when he goes on to state that “it is extraordinary that readers of Indian texts still continue to be naively concerned with discovering the ‘real meaning’ of texts” (Tuck 1990, 14). Although Bugault, concerned as he is with “learning to unveil old Indian texts” (Bugault 1983, 53), may well be guilty of such hermeneutic essentialism, I do not perceive any such hermeneutic naiveté in the bulk of scholars active today. On the contrary, Garfield for one declares his awareness of such pitfalls pellucidly: We are not trying to recover authorial intent, if that is supposed to be something beyond textual meaning; we are not committing the historicist/objectivist fallacy. . . . We are instead trying to construct a reading of those texts that makes sense of them in the dual contexts provided by the textual milieu in which they figure historically—the context of their composition—and our own interpretive horizon, which is the only context in which we can read and understand. (Garfield 2008, 514) Relatedly, the paucity of reliable information as to the socio-cultural context of the presumed producers of the texts under study is such that any attempt to provide what Nāgārjuna or any of his premodern peers “intended” is doomed to failure for historical reasons even before the theoretical project gets off the ground. To stick with Nāgārjuna, despite Joseph Walser’s attempts at “locating Nāgārjuna historically, socially, and institutionally” (Walser 2005, 2), we know nothing at all with certainty about this writer’s life.18 While it is no doubt true that, as per Walser, “many of the peculiarities of Nāgārjuna’s writings can be more adequately understood if read as strategies devised to respond to the specific demands of the social and institutional context in which he wrote” (Walser 2005, 2), this boils down to little more than a truism based on a desideratum: “We would more adequately understand Nāgārjuna’s philosophy if we more adequately understood the circumstances in which Nāgārjuna’s philosophy was composed.” Although Walser does a fine job of mustering historical and institutional evidence in avowed support of his theses, ultimately he admits to being able to suggest only “a plausible (if, at times, diaphanous) picture of [Nāgārjuna’s] career” (Walser 2005, 3). Besides which, even were we to grant Walser’s hypotheses as to Nāgārjuna’s context, surely Dan Arnold is right in pointing out that the relations among Nāgārjuna’s claims “are not exhaustively explicable as a function of socio-historical pressures” (Arnold 2007, 688)—a point pertinent to thinkers well beyond Nāgārjuna, of course. All of this goes to buttress my point here that a reading of Nāgārjuna’s texts that purports to “unveil” him or them in some unreconstructed orientalizing fashion is a nonstarter. Nevertheless, I feel that more than merely an inveterate historical philologist’s urge toward deciphering the ur-truth of a text is at work when today’s interpreters insist upon the logicality of Nāgārjuna’s tetralemma, or more broadly of his philosophy as a whole. It will be expedient to frame my suggestions as to the reasons for this phenomenon in terms of a response to what I suspect are the two readiest potential objections to my foregoing critique. The first objection would accuse me, despite my denunciation of hermeneutic attempts to recover the authorially intended meaning of the MK and the use of the catuṣkoṭi therein, for example, of subscribing to just such an agenda in my insistence upon sticking to Nāgārjuna’s own philosophical mission. In claiming that the exegetes I have criticized do a grave disservice to Nāgārjuna by ignoring, or at best marginalizing, the soteriological intent of the tetralemma, am I not subscribing to exactly those monolithic notions of authorial intent, interpretive objectivity, and textual primacy as I have just now condemned? My response is as follows: I am happy to go so far as to admit that any reading of a text is as valid as any other, and this on the grounds of the ineluctably grounded nature of hermeneutics as per Vico, the disavowal of textual finality as per Schleiermacher, the proclamation of authorial death as per Barthes, the deconstructive disavowal of logocentrism as per Derrida, or the dismissal of interpretive objectivity as per Gadamer, among the multifarious other factors that constitute me as a twenty-first-century heir to the continental philosophical and hermeneutical currents evoked by these few exemplary figures. But the crucial point to make here is that the scholars I criticize, despite their vocal admission of polysemicity, do not in fact hold such open-ended intellectual commitments as I have acceded to myself. Rather, these scholars remain closed to all but a single “right” way of thinking, which they typically refer to as “common sense” or “classical logic,” but which is just as much in force when they apply deviant logics such as paraconsistency to the texts under study. For regardless of the details of their diverging approaches, they are united in accepting the universal sovereignty of “logic,” “reason,” or “rationality” as a neutral, objective criterion by which to gauge the validity of a given claim or the cogency of a given intellectual system regardless of its historical locus. Garfield states this with utmost clarity in declaring: “Logic transcends metaphysics: It is a canon of reason, not a theory of reality, and a canon of reason ought to be equally valid no matter how the world is” (Garfield 2015, 249), or “reason is . . . a transcendental condition of interpretation both in the sense that we can only vindicate an interpretation to the extent that we read the texts as rational, and we can only justify a reading rationally” (Garfield 2015, 332).19 When these scholars exclusively use such a closed interpretive lens to assess the validity and worth of Nāgārjuna’s thought, I am forced to conclude that, far from acquiescing to a potentially infinite plethora of only-ever-relatively or conventionally true readings, they would—and doubtless will— denounce my own approach as “bereft of reason” (Garfield 2008, 526) and therefore misguided.20 This is doubly ironic given that, as I have mentioned above, Nāgārjuna’s entire enterprise is aimed at undermining belief in or reliance on any “transcendental conditions”—explicitly including those that structure our thinking. As T. R. V. Murti states in characteristically forthright terms, for Nāgārjuna “there is no such thing as a neutral logic which every philosopher accepts or has to accept. . . . Logic is metaphysical to the core” (Murti 1955, 152). To adopt the wording of the title to the present article, Nāgārjuna takes reason to be not some objective, neutral feature of “how the world is,” but as oriented, as karmically driven, as causally constructed, as any other phenomenon. Thus, to posit logic/reason/rationality as some Archimedean point categorically removed from the ambit of conditionality is tantamount to affirming not only the existence of a metaphysical absolute but a position exactly antithetical to Nāgārjuna. To generalize, what I am attempting to argue here is that the preponderant bulk of scholarly activity on Buddhist philosophy, as it has been and continues to be undertaken, suffers from an unacknowledged prioritization of identifiably Western philosophical modes and models, which are, moreover, distinctly ill-suited to the material. While I can readily consider these efforts as so many exercises in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Western philosophy and hermeneutics—and of potentially great worth within this ambit—I am unable to consider them as exercises in Buddhist philosophy or hermeneutics. I am thus in stark disagreement with the Cowherds when they ask: “Are we doing real Buddhist studies when we deploy ideas and techniques from contemporary analytic philosophy to address questions arising from seventh-century Indian debates as adumbrated in fifteenth-century Tibet?” and reply: “We think so” (Cowherds 2011, vii). I am also thereby led to consider the claim made by Garfield that “the texts we and others publish are not about, but are moments within [the Buddhist philosophical] tradition” (Garfield 2015, 333, emphases original) to be deeply misguided. In saying so, I realize I may be accused of falling into the danger of treating “the Buddhist tradition as a complete, mummified object of primarily curatorial interest” (Garfield 2015, 332–333)—as if modern or Western interpreters are or should be barred from engaging with or in Buddhist thought simply by dint of being modern or Western. Here again we come across an acute irony, for it is precisely in evaluating Nāgārjuna in strict accordance with “the canons of rational argument and criticism” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 96) that these scholars do “set [them]selves up as privileged subjects writing hermeneutically closed texts that illuminate the Buddhist philosophical tradition with the cool light of scholarly objectivity” (Garfield 2015, 332). Indeed, in words that should pique the “curatorial interest” of Garfield and his peers, Bernard Faure rightly discerns the denaturing effect of such an enterprise: The apology for “philosophical” Buddhism is perfectly justifiable when it is a matter of winning recognition for Buddhism as a movement of thought in its own right. However, it becomes problematic when it insists on limiting itself to a narrowly rationalist, demythologizing and antiritualistic approach, thereby misrepresenting what Buddhism is and always has been… Reconstructed (or rather distorted) in that fashion, Buddhism has become no more than a museum piece. (Faure 2004, 65) Now, “what Buddhism is and always has been” is many things to many people, of course, and the last thing I would want is to be taken as espousing a certain philosophical construction of Nāgārjuna as the one and only valid candidate. This is not to say that I do not have a favored reading, of course. Indeed, it should be clear by now that I consider an interpretation of Nāgārjuna that takes him to be “philosophico-religious” to be preferable to one that takes him to be “philosophical-not-religious” insofar as this latter ignores or negates what I take to be central features of his thought. The very fact that I consider an exclusively rationalist approach antithetical to Nāgārjuna, ill-suited to the textual material, is and should be taken as evidence of that. But that is beside the point. For the point I am making here (and as I go on to argue with reference to Wayne Proudfoot’s distinction between descriptive and explanatory reduction below) is that the philosophical constructions based on a given text allow many perspectives, including, notably, those not rational, or even those not concerned with rationality. Though efforts to present Nāgārjuna’s MK (or any other Buddhist work) as “a philosophical text to philosophers” (Garfield 1995, viii) may well bear multifarious fruit for “contemporary analytic philosophy,” they are not at all “doing real Buddhist studies;” not at all “within that tradition.” For in eschewing interpretive strategies that take seriously (or even consider at all) the Buddhist philosophico-religious premises within which Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole must be situated in order to understand it (that is, on its terms), the readings proposed by these scholars effectively function only within the intellectual confines of Western academic debates. Within this context, they serve to proliferate the publication of views and counter-views; in so doing, however, they do not actually engage with the Buddhist philosophy of Nāgārjuna at all. In contrast, I am proposing that, as self-identifying interpreters (as scholars engaged, that is, in textual hermeneutics), we need to provide an interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s thought that he, not “we,” would recognize. The second potential criticism of my position (and one that stems from my immediately preceding comments as much as from my earlier critiques) is that the same interpretive techniques used by modern Western scholars were in fact used by classical Buddhist commentators, be they writing in Sanskrit or any other canonical Buddhist language. Being deeply versed in the various literatures constituting the history of Buddhist philosophy, the scholars I criticize regularly draw on sources considered unimpeachable authorities by the traditions themselves in support of their interpretations. More generally, the principles of rational argumentation recognizable to Western philosophers developed and were effectively deployed in Indian sources too.21 Thus, Nāgārjuna and his Indian philosophical peers were well aware of and took as axiomatic the laws of non-contradiction, excluded middle, and double negation on whose bases classical Western logic is founded.22 Indeed, Nāgārjuna’s own texts, not to mention the vast commentarial literature surrounding them in premodern Indian as well as Tibetan and Chinese contexts, abound in arguments to the effect of proving or disproving theses on eminently logical grounds. Further, Nāgārjuna’s primary argumentative strategy, prasaṅga, is explicitly designed to reduce his opponent’s position to absurdity, an end oft achieved by means of demonstrating its violation of just such logical laws. To this I would respond with the following observations. Although logical principles such as those mentioned do hold argumentative force in Madhyamaka texts, including the MK, the texts themselves make clear that the function of these principles differs markedly from that found in their modern Western utilization. Buddhist writers such as Nāgārjuna were engaged in a very different activity from that of the Western scholars I have considered. This activity was informed not by the purportedly detached description of metaphysical truth espoused by academic philosophers but by, firstly, the avowedly Buddhist acknowledgement of the impossibility of such detachment within the realm of saṃsāric attachment and, concomitantly, the desire to rid oneself and others of the suffering necessarily entailed in such attachment. For the Buddhist philosophical project is irreducibly soteriological in its orientation; to marginalize or ignore the teleological end of texts such as the MK (that is, ultimately, the attainment of nirvāṇa) is to engage in (presumably willful) eisegetic catachresis (or, more briefly put, in critical abuse). The Buddhist hermeneutical project, furthermore, is informed by the same end. Therefore, in formulating a reading of Nāgārjuna’s thought, be it in catuṣkoṭi form or not, the first and foremost aim of Buddhist exegetes was, and is, to aid in the liberation of sentient beings, the which goal is approached in the śāstra literature under study here through the apprehension of reality as it is; shorn, that is, of inevitably false conceptual reification. That this, the attainment of nirvāṇic liberation by means of the cessation of desire-driven ignorance, is the aim of the entire endeavor is either explicitly stated or simply taken for granted in every Buddhist text, including treatises such as the MK and its paratexts. (As a corollary point, I thus see no reason to propose a qualitative distinction among scriptures, treatises, and commentaries—that is, sūtra, śāstra, and vṛtti literatures—as has often been taken for granted in the scholarship.)23 Let us not forget that the MK itself begins with dedicatory verses announcing that the purpose of Nāgārjuna’s text is consonant with the teachings of “the Fully Enlightened Buddha, best of speakers, who taught dependent co-origination for the purpose of the cessation of conceptualization.”24 Although a study of this topos in Madhyamaka texts, to say nothing of Buddhist ones as a whole, is well beyond the scope of the present article, I would hope that the merely conventional nature of supposedly apodeictic logical laws as per Nāgārjuna, and thus that his soteriologically motivated utilization of them as not implicative of any avowal of their ultimate (that is, conceptually unconstructed, metaphysically independent) validity, should be sufficiently clear from his texts as to be beyond disputation. As such (and to reiterate a point made earlier), if we are interested in discerning what interpretations of Nāgārjuna’s texts proffered by classical exegetes such as Candrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, or Piṅgala (青目), say, are up to, then we must understand them within the context of the avowedly Buddhist intentions of these authors (their abhiprāya). This is not to fall into some “historicist/objectivist fallacy” or deny our inextricability from our own “interpretive horizon” (see Garfield 2008, 514 quoted above). Rather, it is to maintain that if we are engaged in textual hermeneutics then we must take our texts’ own formulations of their purpose and purport seriously; otherwise we become engaged in the methodologically valid but different activity of philosophical construction. All this will hopefully also put paid to the idea that I simply “see the application of logic and rationality as inimical to spiritual pursuits” (Siderits 2003, 14–15). As Siderits alleges, this would indeed be “guilty of a bit of ethnocentrism,” since it would be to apply a dichotomy between “philosophical rationality” and “soteriological value” foreign to the Indian Buddhist case (Siderits 2003, 15). On the contrary, as will become more apparent below, following Nāgārjuna I maintain that reasoned argumentation is an efficacious means toward the soteriological end of liberation. Importantly, however, I do not thereby aver (and definitely do not see Nāgārjuna averring) that reason stands removed from the net of conditionality as some kind of “substantive ultimate truth” (Siderits 2003, 17) or structuring principle. Indeed, while Siderits on the one hand defends a “semantic interpretation of emptiness, [according to which] the truth that liberates is the insight that there can be no truth apart from the contingent institutions and practices of social existence” (Siderits 2003, 18), or in other words, that “there is no such thing as how the world is independently of the concepts we happen to employ” (Siderits 2003, 21), on the other hand he never questions the “grand narrative” (Siderits 2003, 20) of “discursive reason” (Siderits 2003, 10) itself. As such, although Siderits is more circumspect than Garfield when it comes to proclaiming the universal and transcendental authority of reason, he too could well be accused of turning out to be metaphysically realist about rationality itself. For a Buddhist philosopher such as Nāgārjuna, by contrast, even if the soteriological mission may (in part) be satisfied through the deployment of rational means designed to facilitate insight into reality as it really is (yathābhūtadarśana), this in no way implies that these or any other such efficacious means should be taken as transcendentally valid. Indeed, for Nāgārjuna, any such adherence to foundationalist bases would be taken as evidence of, precisely, ad-herence; that is, of one’s still being affixed to, stuck with, afflicted by—not freed from—the infrastructure of suffering. REIMAGINING RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY My catalogue of the attempts to “rescue” Nāgārjuna, and in particular his catuṣkoṭi, from illogicality in the section on Unveiling the East is, I trust, adequate testimony to an ongoing and often avowedly apologetic effort on the part of the exegetes involved to do Nāgārjuna a favor by ridding his philosophy of irrational oriental leftovers. In the section on Orientalizing Reasons, I argued that this has typically involved an imposition of logical models that fail to do justice both to the texts they purport to study and, more broadly, to the religio-philosophical paradigms within which authors such as Nāgārjuna lived, wrote, and practiced. The reasons for this inveterate demand for “reason” in Nāgārjuna’s work are not hard to divine, and are certainly worth delving into. We approach here one of the many places at which differing conceptual schemas at work in the Buddhist and Western philosophico-religious worldviews render meaningful critical analysis particularly fraught with the pitfalls of misunderstanding. Since Plato’s instauration of the opposition between doxa and epistêmê,25 Western philosophy has perceived itself as the preeminent realm of knowledge, as distinct from mere belief. Garfield puts this position into the mouths of philosophers in the following succinct terms: “There is a world of difference between philosophy and religion, and what passes for ‘Eastern philosophy’ is in fact religion misnamed. Western philosophy is independent of religion, and is a rational, religiously disinterested inquiry into fundamental questions about the nature of reality, human life, and so on” (Garfield 2002, 252). The origins of such a partitioning of philosophical and religious endeavors has, of course, as much to do with the overtly paradoxical (and in this strict sense irrational) beliefs central to the Christian religion as it does with the rationalistic approach of the ancient Greeks. Such a net distinction is simply not operative in the Buddhist sphere, whose origins avowedly lie not in a call to belief, but in a call to insight.26 Indeed, despite the ostensible division between (Greek) philosophy and (Christian) religion in the West, each has in practice been saturated with the other over the many centuries intervening since their historical confrontation (a fact one surely need not read Augustine to observe). Thus, Garfield deflates the philosophers’ claim to “religiously disinterested inquiry” with the objection that this would be to do away with the bulk of Western philosophy, on the basis that: this distinction is supposed to deliver the result that St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Descartes’s Meditations, including the proofs of the existence of God, and Leibniz’s discussion of theodicy are philosophical, while Dharmakīrti’s investigations of the structure of induction and of the ontological status of universals, Tsong khapa’s account of reference and meaning, and Nāgārjuna’s critique of essence and analysis of the causal relation are religious. Anyone who has a passing familiarity with all of the relevant texts will agree that something has gone seriously wrong if this distinction is taken seriously. (Garfield 2002, 252)27 The adoption of etic methodological principles is to some extent a necessary feature of comparative work (including my own), and I am certainly not arguing that such a procedure is inherently erroneous and consequently that comparative work is indelibly flawed. In the scholarship on the catuṣkoṭi I have criticized above, however, the tendency to apply anachronistic and/or anachoristic28 categories has been carried too far; to such an extent that these interpreters have, I have argued, effectively reneged on the emic project of understanding Nāgārjuna in his own terms (or at least in terms recognizable to him) altogether. In so doing, they have engaged in what Wayne Proudfoot has called “descriptive reduction:” “the failure to identify an emotion, practice, or experience under the description by which the subject identifies it” (Proudfoot 1985, 196). As a methodological approach in the study of religion (or analogous fields), Proudfoot states forthrightly, “this is indeed unacceptable” (Proudfoot 1985, 196). His reasoning, with which I am entirely in accord, is that: An experience must be specified under a description that can be ascribed to the subject, and it is the task of the historian of religions to identify the particular concepts and descriptions available to people in particular contexts and to disentangle them from our anachronistic [and anachoristic] tendency to ascribe our concepts to those people. This is what much of the study of religion is about. (Proudfoot 1985, 185) Proudfoot goes on to contrast “descriptive reduction” with what he proposes to call “explanatory reduction,” which “consists in offering an explanation of an experience [or other religious phenomenon] in terms that are not those of the subject and that might not meet with his approval” (Proudfoot 1985, 197, emphasis added). Proudfoot immediately adds, “this is perfectly justifiable and is, in fact, normal procedure,” but whether or not such an approach is normal, we must surely be wary of ascribing positions to a given subject with which s/he would disagree. Indeed, I admit to finding the stated distinction between descriptive and explanatory reduction ill-defined on the basis that, in both cases, the analyst reduces the subject’s position to one intelligible to the analyst but not to the subject. I fail to see how such an explanatory approach avoids the inveterate tendency toward the ascription of “our concepts to those people.” Such an approach, moreover, appears to lie at odds with Proudfoot’s claim much later in the same book that “the distinguishing mark of a religious experience is not the subject matter but the kind of explanation the subject believes is appropriate” (Proudfoot 1985, 231, emphasis added). How, after all, can an analyst’s explanation be taken as appropriate by the subject when it does not meet with his or her approval or even understanding? It is important to note, however, that my suspicion as to Proudfoot’s dichotomy and his defense of explanatory reduction in spite of a given subject’s disapproval only stands if we, as analysts, are in fact avowedly engaged in the endeavor of understanding a given subject’s experience, text, or position as understood by that subject. If this is not the case, if, that is, we are engaged in what I earlier referred to as “philosophical construction” and are thus unconcerned as to whether the given subject would or would not recognize our interpretation-cum-elaboration, then the reductionism espoused by Proudfoot is an effective practice. It is, moreover, one that may lead to great insights as to the subject at hand, as evinced by, for example, Freudian, Marxist, Feminist, or Existentialist explanatory approaches to subjects obviously unfamiliar with, indeed even pre-dating, these intellectual currents. But a psychoanalytical reading of Oedipus Rex, say, takes as given the fact that Sophocles was unaware of Freudian theory and would not recognize its application to his text. An analogous case, however, cannot be made in the context of logically oriented Western scholarly interpretations of Nāgārjuna for, as I have shown above, these analyses are avowedly exercises in textual hermeneutics; they are ones, moreover, that effectively posit a reading that is presupposed to be univocally valid. In other words, the scholars criticized above do not accept as given that Nāgārjuna would not recognize his words in their readings; rather, to cite once again the revealing mission propounded by Westerhoff, they aim to remain completely “in accordance with his general philosophical position” (Westerhoff 2006, 368). Despite the common claims to be “doing philosophy” by extrapolating from Nāgārjuna’s stated positions to what these would be in the context of debates in Western philosophy, it is evident that these scholars are in fact “doing hermeneutics” by constantly making claims as to what Nāgārjuna’s stated positions are. That is, they are not concerned solely with extracting philosophical metal from the ore of Buddhist texts and using this to construct philosophical edifices on foreign territory, as it were, but in determining how this material fit, or fits, within the surrounding strata of autochthonous ground. Or, to dispense with the metaphor, they are not (or not only) elaborating philosophical ideas drawn from Nāgārjuna, but (also) elaborating what they claim are Nāgārjuna’s philosophical ideas. All of this I state by way of an extended methodological caution against uncritically answering “the unimaginative question” of the relationship between “religion” and “philosophy” in terms derived from the Greco-Christian complex and therefore definitionally unsuited to the task of describing Indo-Buddhist thought. For, to cite the characteristically insightful analysis of Ruegg: In the Western tradition, philosophy has indeed very often defined itself in opposition to religion, and the fact that scholars of Buddhism may regard the subject of their studies as both a religion and a philosophy has then led to the most extraordinary misunderstanding and confusion. (Ruegg 2010, 219)29 Such confusion is the result, not of willful obfuscation, but of the fact that the object under study—Buddhist thought—does not readily conform to the classificatory schemas imposed by the typical subject—the Western thinker—in unquestioning acquiescence to their purported universality. In saying this, my point is not to join what Tillemans calls “a long debate on the question of whether the tetralemma . . . stands as an example of a radical divergence between Asian logics and the classical logic of the West” (Tillemans 1999, 191). For the debate among commentators such as those I cite has not been conducted with regard to the greater or lesser degree of convergence or divergence between two logical systems taken on their respective terms. Rather, it has been concerned to demonstrate the greater or lesser degree of adherence of one (the Asian) to the other (the Western), where this latter has been taken as the principial yardstick to which the material other is to conform. In other words, the debate (if one may still call it that) has been rigged in advance in such a way that the only question remaining—surely as “unimaginative” as any—concerns the extent to which a certain phenomenological analysandum (viz., the religion-philosophy of Buddhism) can be reduced to one of its analytically predetermined categories (viz., philosophy). In elaborating this point, I can do no better than to cite Ruegg again, who states unequivocally that in Buddhism: the philosophical side cannot usually be divorced and treated entirely separately from the religious without a certain more or less arbitrary compartmentalization, for no hard and fast dividing line can normally be drawn between the philosophical and the religious. . . . [Buddhism is] a comprehensive soteriological teaching necessarily involving a philosophical foundation. . . . In short, Buddhism is what is commonly referred to [in Western terms] as a philosophy and a religion. (Ruegg 1967, 5)30 Despite this, one need not look hard to still see in effective application the very pernicious distinction Ruegg identified decades ago.31 Having already detailed at some length the efforts among modern and contemporary scholars of Nāgārjuna to demonstrate that, contrary to appearances, he is after all “logical,” I want to shift in this section to a more explicit discussion of the binary opposition at work in such a characterization. As noted above, for Garfield and Priest, “Nāgārjuna is not an irrationalist. He is committed to the canons of rational argument and criticism. He is not a mystic” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 96). This and similar statements,32 although doubtless intended to do some service to Nāgārjuna (on which more presently), evince that even readers such as Garfield and Priest who propose a dialetheic interpretation of the tetralemma (and thus one at odds with more classically oriented logical approaches) have been led astray by what Panikkar refers to in his essay “Aporias in the Comparative Philosophy of Religion” as “presuppositions.”33 There, Panikkar proposes “a fundamental distinction between ‘assumption’ and ‘presupposition’” according to which an assumption is defined as “the conscious axioms that I set in order to study further,” while a presupposition “is unconscious . . . underneath my constructions at their basis (supposition—subponere); they are also sent ‘before’ my examination, as it were, and before my eyes, so that they allow me to examine and see where I am standing (prae-suppositio).” Though this final phrase appears to confer a positive role upon presuppositions, it is important to note that, on Panikkar’s own formulation, “I am not aware of my presuppositions and take them so much for granted that I neither see them nor detect their possible problemacity.” Indeed, it is only through interaction with an “other who, although unaware of his own presuppositions, causes me to see mine by questioning a presupposition he cannot accept, and vice-versa,” that presuppositions are accepted (and thus turned into assumptions) or rejected (thereby modifying one’s standpoint) (Panikkar 1980, 374). Now, in applying Panikkar’s distinction here, I would like to nuance it by problematizing his characterization of assumptions as conscious and presuppositions as unconscious. Presuppositions in Panikkar’s sense can, I propose, be as much conscious as unconscious, for I take the important point about them to be that they are unquestioned, or rather, from the perspective of those who hold them, unquestionable. (Besides which, it would be rather foolhardy for me to be claiming insight as to what is or is not conscious in a given scholar’s mind!) One way in which presuppositions, in this sense, are evidently at work in the scholarly literature on Nāgārjuna is in the maintenance of the logical/rational/philosophical vs illogical/irrational/mystical dichotomy. Surely, whether Nāgārjuna is or is not a “mystic,” like the related question of whether or not (or the extent to which) he is or is not a “Buddhist” philosopher as opposed to a philosopher tout court, is not only alien to the Indian and Buddhist traditions in which he lived and wrote but also utterly uninformative as to the worth of his work.34 Thus, Garfield and Priest’s comment that “none of the important commentarial traditions in Asia, however much they disagree in other respects, regard him in this light;” that is, “as simply a mystic or an irrationalist of some kind” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 87), says very little, if anything at all, for of course no one of the classical thought-traditions of Asia regarded Nāgārjuna as a mystic: they did not even know the term. Nor do the extant debates among those thought-traditions regarding the in/adequacy of conceptual thought, of language, or of meditative absorption, for example, to arrive at truth/reality (satya) map unproblematically onto such a “philosopher vs mystic” paradigm. What renders this paradigm not just another assumption but a presupposition in this case is not its unconscious avowal—the fact that Garfield et al. discuss the binary explicitly puts paid to that idea. Rather, it is that they pre-suppose it to be a binary opposition not as a “conscious axiom” but as the very function according to which to judge Nāgārjuna’s thought. It is as if they were constructing a two-dimensional graph on a standard Cartesian coordinate system, taking “philosopher” and “mystic” unquestionedly and unquestionably as real variables, and trying to bring Nāgārjuna as close as possible to the “philosopher” axis. The acknowledgement of one’s own historicity (including one’s own prejudices) is, of course, a necessary feature of critically aware scholarship. Yet, as the multifarious examples of Occidento-centric perspectives I cite should show, too often “we” position “ourselves” at such a remove from the author at hand that we effectively lose all or most of his/her perspective altogether. It may seem obvious, but I believe it to be of the utmost importance in this context to point out that Nāgārjuna was not speaking to us at all. Nāgārjuna was not addressing us twenty-first-century “interpreters, philosophers, readers,”35 but rather primarily the fellow Buddhists, and secondarily the fellow Indian religious thinkers, of his time. Though we may know nothing with any certainty as to their biographies, we are safe at least in asserting (based on the textual data we do have) that these contemporaries were no academic scholars interested merely in articulating the most cogent interpretation of a given text, but first and foremost religionists devoted to the one task incumbent upon them regardless of their sectarian affiliation: liberation. It is to these interlocutors—doubtless intellectually astute ones given the subtlety with which Nāgārjuna wrote, but primarily intellectually astute Buddhists nevertheless—that Nāgārjuna’s text is addressed. I stated that this is of the utmost importance to recall because I believe it drastically alters our understanding of what Nāgārjuna’s text is doing, or at least is trying to do. From this perspective, the fact that Nāgārjuna does not make sense to “us,” as logically minded analysts, in no way detracts from the coherence of his position within the context of his overall philosophico-religious (read: Buddhist) project.36 If we take the alternative, and predominant, approach, according to which Nāgārjuna must “be meaningful to us . . . be persuasive to us” (Garfield 2008, 515, emphases added), we may as well go the whole hog and denounce Nāgārjuna as making no sense to us as English readers on the basis that he wrote in Sanskrit. Of course, the inclination to demonstrate the logicality of Nāgārjuna to us, “as interpreters,” on the part of a Garfield is motivated less by any racist security in the superiority of Western systems of thought37 than by the felt need to have Nāgārjuna taken seriously by us—as Western philosophers—as a philosopher. Similar sentiments are felt by other scholars in the field, as when Christian Coseru, for example, states, “I am always happy to see mainstream philosophers take an interest in what is being said in the name of Buddhist philosophy” (Coseru 2014).38 He goes on, however, to take Priest’s dialetheic characterization of Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi to task, and this not for any perceived invalidity of Priest’s account but simply because it leads to “the notion that Buddhist philosophy is full of contradictions.” Given this characterization, Coseru laments: “And so here we go again: Eastern thought is intuitive and mystical and Western philosophy is rational and argumentative, and the twain shall never meet.” In the stead of Priest’s contradictory and ineffably minded Nāgārjuna, Coseru urges us to turn to Westerhoff’s account of Nāgārjuna’s critique of Nyāya epistemology. “This,” he announces, “is not a Madhyamaka wrapped up in paradox, but one we can make sense of” (emphasis added). There is no need, of course, for Coseru to explain just who his “we” is referring to. In such apologetic attempts to render Nāgārjuna comprehensible to fellow Western scholars and philosophers, what I find most noteworthy is the failure to appreciate and acknowledge the obvious fact that Nāgārjuna’s intended audience was not comprised of “us” but of his fellow ancient Buddhist and non-Buddhist Indians. Surely it would be absurd for us to write treatises attempting to conform to the literary canons and philosophical criteria operative in some far distant future land we had not ever heard of. Yet that seems to be the prevailing demand made upon Nāgārjuna: that he, a Buddhist philosopher living and writing in India some two thousand years ago, make sense according to the intellectual frameworks we twenty-first-century Westerners take to be normative. Besides which, if practically no Western philosopher satisfies the “secularity condition,” according to which philosophy must be “religiously disinterested,” then why should Nāgārjuna? This last point leads me to observe that, despite their evident acute awareness of the fallacy of the position that religiosity does not characterize Western philosophy,39 scholars such as Garfield, Coseru, and many others concerned with Buddhist philosophy nevertheless apply this fallacy to Nāgārjuna insofar as they insist upon reading Nāgārjuna in exclusivist fashion as “philosophical-not-religious.” But while a demonstration of Nāgārjuna’s philosophicality may serve to undermine some orientalist stereotypes among some Western philosophers convinced of the areligiosity of their own tradition, this strategy must surely count as a rather disingenuous expedient means given that it is being deployed by scholars who also forcefully argue against the conviction that “Western philosophy is independent of religion” (Garfield 2002, 252). This strategy is mistaken substantively in that it does not serve to understand Nāgārjuna, whose philosophical arguments are inextricably interwoven with his religious aims. It is also mistaken methodologically in that it applies a norm (of religious disinterestedness) developed in twentieth-century Western analytical philosophy to a second-century Indian Buddhist thinker. Moreover, given that this norm in fact is fallacious insofar as it paints a picture of ancient, premodern, modern, and contemporary European and Euro-derived philosophers and philosophies whitewashed of their religious elements, surely the better, if admittedly more difficult, long-term approach for scholars (such as myself) committed to studying Buddhist philosophy as philosophy (and to having it recognized as such) would be to demonstrate, first, the historically determinative place of religion in the Western philosophical canon; acknowledge, second, the historically determinative place of religion in the Buddhist philosophical canon; and on this twin basis attempt, third, to understand the Buddhist philosophical canon’s contributions to philosophy, be it Buddhist, Western, or of whatsoever provenance.40 Only thus, I propose, can a full understanding and honest appraisal of the philosophical contribution of Buddhist philosophy be achieved; and only thus can its fruits be meaningfully then applied (if that is the project) to problems in Western philosophy. Closely related to the failure to accept Nāgārjuna on his own terms is the twin failure to acknowledge that our terms, even our logical terms, are historically and culturally specific, and thereupon to adapt our use of these terms to his so as to enable meaningful dialogue and learning. After all, Nāgārjuna is unable to make the step across, as it were, the intellectual divide separating us from him. One, he never knew us; and two, he is now dead and so can never come to know us. But we, endowed with both our own intellectual apparatus (including the meta-hermeneutical facility to locate ourselves within our given milieu) as well as the linguistic and other scholarly tools required for entry into the Nāgārjunian Weltanshauung, are not so disabled. It is thus incumbent upon us, as interpreters, as philosophers, as scholars of religion, to read Nāgārjuna (in all his polyvalence), not what our ideologically predetermined disciplinary divisions would make of him. To make sense of texts such as the MK in the dual contexts of their writerly and our readerly compositions, a shift needs to take place in our understanding of Philosophy vis-à-vis Religion. I capitalize these terms to draw attention to their accepted status as discrete fields of human life, susceptible to discrete modi operandi and, as such, studied in discrete departments of academic institutions. So long as philosophers perceive their endeavor as constitutively distinct from that of religionists, and of religious studies scholars, we will remain ill equipped to shoulder our share, the reader’s share, of the compositional burden. And, to elaborate on a point I touched upon in the preceding paragraph, we will remain unable to actually learn from the texts we study and write about, even if—or rather especially when—they necessitate a rethinking of our intellectual structures. Given the richness of the material with which we are concerned, that would be “bereft of reason” indeed. I gratefully acknowledge comments received on previous iterations of the ideas presented here, particularly from Jay Garfield, C. W. Huntington, and the three anonymous peer reviewers, without whose input the present article would be immeasurably poorer. I likewise gratefully acknowledge the Berggruen Philosophy & Culture Center for funding that enabled completion of this work. REFERENCES Arnold , Dan . 2007 . Review of Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture, by Joseph Walser . Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75 ( 3 ): 684 – 688 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bagger , Matthew . 2007 . The Uses of Paradox: Religion, Self-Transformation, and the Absurd . New York : Columbia University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Betty , L. Stafford . 1983 . “ Nāgārjuna’s Masterpiece: Logical, Mystical, Both, or Neither ?” Philosophy East and West 33 ( 2 ): 123 – 138 . 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Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: New Editions of the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese Versions, with Commentary and a Modern Chinese Translation (中论颂: 梵藏汉合校 · 导读 · 译注) . 上海 : 中西书局 . Footnotes 1 Here as throughout, I use the Sanskrit term “catuṣkoṭi” as equivalent to the Greek-derived “tetralemma.” Note also that I refer to Nāgārjuna’s major work, the Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā), as MK, or as MK:X:Y where the X:Y stands for the particular chapter and verse cited. The Sanskrit text is sourced from Siderits and Katsura 2013, which itself follows the edition by de La Vallée Poussin (1913) 1970 as modified by Ye 2011. 2 It should thus be clear that I am not primarily concerned here to present a particular interpretation of Nāgārjuna, but rather, as the subtitle to the article denotes, to present a critique of the currently predominant mode of interpreting him. This is not because I have somehow managed to attain a Buddha’s unperturbed reflective awareness (ādarśajñāna) and thereby passed beyond all hermeneutic horizons. On the contrary, as I go on to acknowledge, I do consider some interpretations of Nāgārjuna better (in the sense of textually justified) than others, but I neither mount sustained arguments nor (have the necessary space to) present adequate Nāgārjunian textual evidence in support of any such interpretive stance here. There is only so much, after all, that a single article can seek to accomplish, and the “primary” objects of my critique here are not the works of Nāgārjuna per se but the modern Western “secondary” literature surrounding them. 3 Although racist stereotypes are undoubtedly still at work in unquestioningly assuming the sole validity of Western logic as opposed to Indian/Buddhist varieties (such as those countenancing four as opposed to two truth values), Western analytical philosophers who refuse to tow the line are similarly ignored or disparaged. Graham Priest provides a textbook example of this. His groundbreaking book on dialetheism—a notion he rightly declares “is outrageous, at least to the spirit of contemporary philosophy” (Priest 2006, xv, emphasis original)—was initially rejected by ten major publishers before making it to print. In its second edition, Priest details how critical reviewers initially discouraged publication of the book on the grounds that his position was “totally wrong-headed in the most radical way possible” (Priest 2006, xvii), not “serious” (Priest 2006, 284), or just plain “silly” (Priest 2006, xviii). Priest is left to conclude that “arguments against an entrenched orthodoxy have a hard time making any impact” since “people will disregard the arguments because they have already rejected the conclusion. What this says about rationality in operation, I leave the reader to ponder” (Priest 2006, xviii). The present article, I suspect, will have similar trouble swimming against the current of “orthodoxy.” 4 Be it noted that Bugault, although relatively unknown among Anglo-American scholars (presumably on account of writing predominantly in French), was no academic lightweight. Until his death in 2002, he was Professor of Indian Philosophy and Comparative Philosophy at Paris-Sorbonne and member of both the Société Asiatique and the Association Française pour les Études Sanskrites. Bugault maintained his positions and methods to the end. In the ‘Methodological Precautions’ to his article of 2000, for example, he announces his intention to again “seek and find quite unexpected help from Aristotle” interpreting the MK (Bugault 2000, 386). In the introduction to his 2002 translation of the MK into French, furthermore, he reiterates in summary form his previously stated positions (see for example the statement that, though Aristotle “knows perfectly well the tetralemma” (connaît parfaitement le tétralemme), “he simply abhors it” (simplement il l’abhorre) (20)). 5 The relevant passage is worth citing in full, as it provides a perfect minor case study of the tendency I describe. Oetke states: Oetke initially admits at least the seeming soundness of Nāgārjuna’s argument, but, as is typical, he does not question the validity of applying the classical predicate calculus to Nāgārjuna; nor does he query the objectivity he ascribes to his own intuitions in assessing Nāgārjuna’s argument as “intuitively sound.” Even more problematically, Oetke does not explain why “implausibility” based on “common sense” should act as an argument against Nāgārjuna’s positions, particularly as “the non-existence of . . . entities the existence of which is not questioned by [the substantialist presuppositions Oetke calls] common sense” is precisely the conclusion Nāgārjuna’s well-known notion of emptiness entails. By adjudicating a priori as to what does and what does not count as “intuitively sound,” “plausible,” or “common sensical,” and this on distinctly non-Madhyamaka svabhāvic/foundationalist grounds, Oetke shows himself to have missed the entire thrust of Nāgārjuna’s niḥsvabhāvic/antifoundationalist philosophy. On this, David Seyfort Ruegg’s formulation of the matter is characteristically adroit: “Nāgārjuna was evidently convinced of the paradoxicality of many so-called common-sense views of the world and the real based on the assumption of entities or essences possessing own-being (svabhāva)” (Ruegg 1977, 5). 6 Note the “us.” Sprung has already (Sprung 1973, 48) lamented that “śūnyatā is ambivalent in a frustrating way” in that it both expresses that things are “devoid” and is a synonym for reality (“tattva, tathatā, paramārtha, dharmatā, and nirvāṇa”). He appears to remain very much still caught up in the species of reifying thought according to which one or other—or both—of the two truths must be in some sense real/svabhāvic, without realizing the emptiness/dependent co-origination of both. In 1979, Sprung continues to bemoan “the mystifying Mādhyamika theory of two truths” (Sprung 1979, vii). 7 I follow Steup (2005, 3.1) in my usage of these terms. 8 For a historically informative and philosophically astute complication of what Indian Buddhists meant by the term yukti, see Nance (2007). 9 Note the “our” in both cases. Tillemans goes on to specify, “when we translate the Madhyamaka’s statements into a logic with two types of interpretations [viz., existential and referential quantification], we will not encounter any violation of the laws of contradiction, excluded middle or double negation, or of any other theorems of classical logic” (Tillemans 1999, 200). Here and throughout the present article, I adopt Tilleman’s statement earlier in the same paper that “by the term ‘classical logic,’ we understand the first order propositional and predicate calculus that one generally finds in a work on elementary logic” (Tillemans 1999, 192). 10 Robinson (1957, 305) and Katsura (2000, 203) both consider the tetralemma a “riddle” for which they are concerned to provide a “solution.” 11 Note that chapter four of Westerhoff’s 2009 book is an almost verbatim reproduction of his 2006 article. In what follows, I cite one or the other (sometimes both). For reference, MK18:10 states: Whatever comes into being dependent on something Is not the same as that thing Nor is it different from that thing Therefore it is neither annihilated nor eternal (pratītya yad yad bhavati na hi tāvat tad eva tat / na cānyad api tat tasmān nocchinnaṃ nāpi śāśvatam). Westerhoff translates the relevant portion of the verse (up to na cānyad api) as “whatever comes into being dependent on some object is not identical with that object, nor is it different from that object.” 12 “Familiar,” that is, to “us.” 13 After all, as Thomas Wood states in a similar vein, “from the logical point of view, truth is a univocal concept, for the claim of univocality is logically equivalent to the assertion that it cannot be the case that P and also the case that not-P at one and the same time. This assertion is fundamental to all logic. Any statement that violates this logical law of non-contradiction is meaningless or at least analytically false” (Wood 1994, 224). 14 Westerhoff’s language is slightly toned down in the 2009 version, wherein he claims to provide an interpretation “that both makes logical sense and sheds most light on Nāgārjuna’s philosophical position” (Westerhoff 2009, 68). 15 I undertake detailed discussion of the soteriological aim underpinning Nāgārjuna’s enterprise as a whole and provide copious quotations from his oeuvre to this effect in related forthcoming publications (see especially Stepien forthcoming a). Of course, the logical confines Nāgārjuna was attempting to overcome were quaternary rather than binary in structure. 16 For this terminology, see Garfield and Priest (2002, 88) and Garfield (2015, 320) respectively. I take Garfield and Priest’s “rational reconstruction” to be more or less equivalent to the “strong textualist” approach of Richard Rorty espoused by C. W. Huntington (1989, 8). Before going on, however, I believe it may be useful to remove some of the slippage between the two approaches characterized by Garfield and Priest as “rational reconstruction” and “textual history.” This can be accomplished, first, by reducing the term “reconstruction” (with its implications of textual fidelity, and hence of hermeneutics) to “construction,” since the point of this approach, as opposed to the historico-hermeneutical one, is precisely to build new ideas with the old textual material. Given the controversial nature of the role of rationality in Nāgārjuna’s, and more broadly Buddhist, philosophy, moreover, I think it also prudent to expunge the “rational,” since this unnecessarily and unfairly forecloses the constructions open to us. As for the alternative approach, I will prefer “textual hermeneutics” to “textual history,” and this for two reasons. One, I see the prime impetus for this methodology to lie in the properly hermeneutical endeavor of textual interpretation, which may be based on and/or be the basis of historical information, but which nonetheless stands (however slightly) removed from the aims and means of the historian. And two, because, the potential confusion between the study of a text in its historical context and the study of a text’s history (or, to put it another way, between what a text said and says vis-à-vis its historical interlocutors and what a text historically underwent and undergoes) is thereby obviated. On this basis, then, I propose, and in the pages that follow will use, a distinction between “textual hermeneutics” on the one hand, engaged in the exegesis of a given text, and “philosophical construction” on the other, engaged in the elaboration of ideas and arguments based on but not necessarily found in a given text. 17 For “an alternative approach” to “fusion philosophy,” which, “rather than asking what Asian philosophy can do for us, . . . set[s] out to investigate which theories, approaches and models from contemporary Western philosophy can [be] used to support, analyze, refine and advance insights into the ‘big questions’ developed during the last three millennia of Asian thought,” see Westerhoff (2015)—and note the “us.” For a stated preference for “cross-cultural philosophy” rather than “comparative philosophy,” see Garfield (2002, viii). 18 Luis Gómez already made this point when he stated that among “problems arising from the data itself, one must count the absence of sociographic and biographic data. Specifically in the study of Nāgārjuna, reliable data on his life, to say nothing of valid data, is virtually non-existent” (Gómez 2000, 97). 19 See also Garfield (2008, 515), where he states “cogency is hard to make sense of without a background assumption of rationality. In sum, a commitment to reason is a transcendental condition of interpretability.” For a discussion of Garfield’s characterization highly relevant to my argument here, see also Huntington (forthcoming), from which I echo the following passage: To assert, as [Garfield] does, that “we can only justify a reading rationally” is to make a methodological claim about how one ought to go about doing the history of Buddhist philosophy; a claim with which I happen to agree. . . . However, it in no way follows that in order to vindicate our interpretation of the original Buddhist texts as legitimately philosophical we must necessarily read them as instantiations of reasoned argumentation. 20 “Bereft of reason” is Garfield’s characterization of Huntington in response to Huntington (2007). These two articles sparked a debate initially culminating in Madhyamaka & Methodology: A Symposium on Buddhist Theory and Method (Smith College 2010). The present article is situated within and seeks to further this debate. For the most recent contributions by its originator, see Huntington (2017 and forthcoming). 21 For recent book-length studies of Indian logic, see for example Vidyabhusana (1971), which includes an extended discussion (part II, section II) on The Buddhist Logic; Shen (1985), which refers to Buddhist logic throughout; Gokhale (1992), which discusses Buddhist as well as Nyāya logic; Matilal (1998), which deals with Buddhist logic most at length in chapters four and five; and Ganeri (2001), which is A Reader not of classical sources but of classic twentieth-century essays on the topic. For studies of specifically Buddhist Indian logic, see for example Matilal and Evans (1986), which includes an initial foray into the question of Does the Mādhyamika Have a Thesis and Philosophical Position? by Ruegg, which is fleshed out in much greater detail in Ruegg (2000); Wayman (1999), which treats of and translates Buddhist logical works from the millennium spanning from Asaṇga (c. 300–370) to Tsongkhapa (1357–1419); and Wang and Zheng (2012), which focuses on scholastic history. The classic work is Stcherbatsky [1930] 1962. Li (1986) is rare in crossing the Indo-Chinese divide in that it is a systematic and detailed comparative study of Indian and Chinese Buddhist thought. 22 See for example Ruegg (1977, 5 and 54) quoted above. 23 In oral comments made during the Q&A to his talk on September 29, 2014 at the Buddhist Studies Forum at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, Jay Garfield stated that sūtra and śāstra texts are completely different genres. Sheldon Pollock, however, sees the sūtra as a “major sub-genre” of the śāstra (Pollock 1985, 500). R. C. Dwivedi’s account of “the concept of the śāstra” appears to vacillate in calling the genre śāstra or sutra; see for example, Dwivedi (1985–1986, 43). 24 I have paraphrased Nāgārjuna here. A more literal translation of the relevant verses (MK:0:2) is: Dependent co-origination As the felicitous cessation of conceptualization This is what the Fully Enlightened Buddha taught I salute him, the best of speakers (yaḥ pratītyasamutpādaṃ prapañcopaśamaṃ śivam / deśayāmāsa saṃbuddhas taṃ vande vadatāṃ varam). It is noteworthy that Siderits and Katsura (2013, 13) include an explanatory gloss in their translation of MK:0:2b, which is thus rendered: “[. . . for the purpose of nirvāṇa characterized by] the auspicious cessation of hypostasization.” They further note that: This verse serves not only as a dedication of the work to the Buddha but also as an announcement of purpose… Nāgārjuna does not explicitly claim here that this work will help one achieve liberation from saṃsāra (it is Candrakīrti who says this is the purpose of the text), but what he does say suggests that this is the intention behind his work. 25 See for example Republic V 476D-477B on knowledge and opinion, 477B-478D on these two as faculties operating on distinct objects, and 478D-480A on the objects of opinion (Plato 2006, 183–189), which Plato states to lie “somewhere between pure being and not being” (Plato 2006, 188). In relation to this passage, Szaif (2007, 257) states Plato’s argument as one that: characterizes the doxastic state of mind as a state of deception and the objects a person in this state is acquainted with as being deceptive or ‘untrue’ insofar as they (like dream images) conceal their nature as mere copies. The only way to overcome this deception is philosophy . . . [which] make[s] us aware of the reality of the Forms. For a far ampler account of Plato’s theory of knowledge by the same author, see Szaif (1996). As for Plato’s ontological characterization of conventional reality as “between pure being and not being,” and more generally his notion of the “metaxy” (the “in-between” or “middle ground”) in the Symposium, this has seemingly colored Bugault’s reading of Nāgārjuna, for he declares that “Nāgārjuna . . . is the philosopher of the ‘in-between’” (Bugault 1983, 27). Ruegg, however, cites the Laṅkāvatārasūtra in this regard, which “states that the wise person will not take his stand even in a middle position—a metaxú—located between the two extreme positions of existence and non-existence (i.e., Positions I and II of the catuṣkoṭi)—an important point that has sometimes been overlooked in discussions of the Madhyamaka as a Philosophy of the Middle” (Ruegg 2000, 114 n8). Nāgārjuna’s “middle way” should thus not be taken as located between being and nonbeing, but rather as the rejection of both; indeed, of all four possible positions as per the catuṣkoṭi. 26 See, for example, Regington Rajapakse, who argues that the Buddha “is a religious teacher but also a philosopher” (Rajapakse 1986, 51). See also Mahinda Deegalle (2010), which includes a long section of papers delivered at the 2009 conference of the European Network of Buddhist Christian Studies on the topic of Authority in Buddhism and Christianity. These papers cover matters such as scriptural, spiritual, institutional, and political authority as well as “the crisis of authority” in the two religions. What I suggest here should not be misconstrued as a reductionist claim to the effect that Christianity and Buddhism can be characterized adequately, distinctively, and respectively as belief centered and insight centered. Rather, I am calling attention, first, to the understanding, of immense historical importance to the development of both “religion” and “philosophy” in Western (that is, Christianate) culture, that these are distinct, if not mutually opposed, spheres of action, and second, to the fact that such an understanding is not operative within the classical Buddhist worldview of Nāgārjuna. 27 Roy Perrett (2016, 4) makes the same claim in the context of his critique of what he calls the “secularity condition” on philosophy. 28 The OED dubs “anachorism” a nonce word, which is unfortunate, since the need for a spatial equivalent for the temporal incongruity encapsulated in “anachronism” is evident. 29 The following passage is also worth citing in full in this context: In deciding whether Buddhist doctrine—either as preceptive scriptural teaching (deśanādharma) or as a way of life to be practised (adhigamadharma)—is genuinely philosophical, much will of course depend on what we think philosophy is about. Were it to be considered to be unbridled speculative thought, or about the construction of a metaphysical system, Buddhist thought would no doubt not be pure philosophy. And a doctrine like Buddhism, which has represented itself as therapeutic and soteriological, would not be counted as essentially philosophical so long as philosophy is understood to be nothing but analysis of concepts, language, and meaning (though these matters do play an important part in the history of Buddhist thought, too). But the fact remains that, in Buddhism, soteriology, gnoseology, and epistemology have been closely bound up with each other. (Ruegg 2010, 223) The soteriological import of Buddhist philosophy as expressed by Nāgārjuna has already been emphasized and will occupy our attention again below. To separate what for Nāgārjuna are two sides of the same coin (a coin only in circulation for the purpose of paying the ferrier to get one to the farther shore), I am proposing that Nāgārjuna is exemplary as a Buddhist philosopher in that he conceives the rational search for abstract truth typically taken (in Western currency) to characterize the philosophical enterprise to be intelligible, let alone valuable, only insofar as it serves the soteriological end of the religious. 30 Huntington (1989, 14) cites the full passage I select from here. 31 Jin Park has recently formulated her critique of such “arbitrary compartmentalization” in much the same terms as my own. She writes: Mark Siderits, a scholar of Buddhist philosophy, began his book Buddhism as Philosophy (2007, 7) by analyzing the discipline of philosophy. Siderits distinguished Buddhist philosophy from religion, stating that Buddhist philosophy is not concerned about ‘soteriology,’ ‘faith,’ or ‘theistic reality,’ and instead focusing on attaining the ultimate goal of liberation through ‘rational investigation of the nature of the world.’… Siderits’ effort to present Buddhism as philosophy, ironically, indicates that Buddhism has yet to be fully accepted as a philosophy in the Western scene. In order to claim that Buddhism is a philosophy, Siderits had to impose on Buddhism the characteristics of the traditional Western philosophical categories. (Park 2017, 186) 32 See for example Garfield and Priest 2002, 87: “Nāgārjuna is simply too committed to rigorous analytical argument to be dismissed as a mystic.” In an article co-written by Garfield and Priest together with Deguchi, they elaborate, furthermore, that “Buddhism can be rational although inconsistent—indeed, ultra-rational, since the contradictions are the result of following a certain view of the world through to its logical conclusions” (Deguchi et al. 2008, 401). Note that Matthew Bagger is an exception in that he characterizes Nāgārjuna straightforwardly as a “mystic” (see Bagger 2007, 13), but it is telling that he is a specialist not of Nāgārjuna but of philosophy of religion. Steven Katz, another philosopher of religion, also classifies Nāgārjuna among the mystics based on his broadening of the traditional understanding of the term “mysticism” to include nontheistic religious traditions, as per his definition: “Mysticism is the quest for direct experience of God, Being, or Ultimate Reality, however these are understood, that is, theistically or non-theistically” (Katz 2013, 3). The numerous problems with this formulation (e.g., the prioritization of “experience”; the onto-theological presuppositions at work in emphasizing “God,” “Being,” and “Reality”; and the dichotomization of these into “theistic” or “nontheistic”) are beyond the scope of the present article. Besides which, I can only approve Denys Turner’s declaration that “I do not know of any discussions which shed less light on the subject of ‘mysticism’ than those many which attempt definitional answers to the question ‘what is mysticism?’” (Turner 1995, 2, emphasis original). Finally, L. Stafford Betty’s article (whose title, “Nāgārjuna’s Masterpiece: Logical, Mystical, Both, or Neither?”, is sufficient testimony to the unquestioned prevalence of the “logical vs mystical” paradigm), concludes that he is both (Betty 1983, 136). 33 See also Panikkar 1988, where he proposes “diatopical hermeneutics [as] the required method of interpretation when the distance to overcome, needed for any understanding, is not just a distance within one single culture (morphological hermeneutics), or a temporal one (diachronic hermeneutics), but rather the distance between two (or more) cultures, which have independently developed in different spaces (topoi) their own methods of philosophizing and ways of reaching intelligibility along with their proper categories” (Panikkar 1988, 130). Perhaps “anatopical” could be used to supplement the term “anachoristic” suggested above. 34 That “mysticism,” no less than “religion,” is a Western—and recent—invention has been convincingly shown in a plethora of scholarly monographs and articles (see for example Proudfoot 1985, 184 and Masuzawa 2005). 35 These designations are taken from Garfield (2008, 515–516), where he uncritically positions himself and us “as interpreters . . . as philosophers . . . as readers . . . as good mādhyamika readers.” 36 See also in this respect Gómez’s effort to take “Madhyamaka as a form of religious thought” (Gómez 2000, 96, emphasis original). 37 Garfield’s statements (2002, 252–253, quoted above) suffice to put paid to that idea. 38 The following citations in this paragraph are likewise from this paper. 39 Again, see in particular Garfield’s comments above (2002, 252) as to the arbitrariness of classifying the arguments of Aquinas, Descartes, and Leibniz, say, as “philosophical,” but demarcating (and denigrating) those of Dharmakīrti, Tsongkhapa, and Nāgārjuna as “religious.” 40 On this model, the present article would be conceived primarily as working toward the second desideratum. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the American Academy of Religion Oxford University Press

Orienting Reason: A Religious Critique of Philosophizing Nāgārjuna

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Abstract

Abstract Recent scholarly interest in Nāgārjuna has been intense, with especial focus on the vexed question of the rationality, or irrationality, of his thought. In this article, I am concerned to bring to light the theoretical underpinnings of the hermeneutical project predominant among present-day scholars, which is to actively overlook or downright depreciate the religious motivation of Nāgārjuna’s arguments. While this project has typically been pursued in an apologetic effort to justify Nāgārjuna, as truly worthy of the title “philosopher,” to mainstream philosophers, it has also had the effect among some scholars of dismissing him as insufficiently philosophical. Regardless of the glowing or dim light in which he is thereby cast, Nāgārjuna is appraised according to exclusively philosophical criteria. My “religious critique of philosophizing Nāgārjuna,” then, is aimed at elucidating and problematizing this approach as at best tangential to and at worst seriously distortive of Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole. THE UNIMAGINATIVE QUESTION If I return to the unimaginative question “Is Buddhism a philosophy or a religion?” it is not in order to plunge through a door that is already ajar, but to underline the implications of such a question that are usually ignored. –Bernard Faure, Double Exposure, xii NĀGĀRJUNA (c. 150–250) is generally accepted by Buddhists and Buddhologists alike as one of the most important of all Buddhist thinkers. Indeed, his thought has been core to the historical shaping and reshaping of Buddhism throughout south, central, and east Asia. It continues to fascinate, moreover, as evinced by the plethora of recently published inspirational and intellectual works devoted to him by adherents and academics. Recent scholarly interest in Nāgārjuna has been intense, with especial focus on the vexed question of the rationality, or irrationality, of his thought. For understandable reasons, debates in this regard have gravitated toward two points of friction between the arguments Nāgārjuna laid out in India almost two millennia ago and those considered acceptable by his philosophically minded interpreters today, trained as these latter have typically been in twentieth-century Western analytical philosophy. Briefly stated, the issues at question relate, firstly, to Nāgārjuna’s use of the catuṣkoṭi or tetralemma,1 according to which a proposition may be true, false, both true and false, or neither true nor false; and secondly, to Nāgārjuna’s espousal of the “abandonment of all views” (sarvadṛṣṭiprahāṇāya). I am treating these two topics extensively in related publications (see e.g. Stepien forthcoming c and forthcoming a respectively). Here, I am concerned to bring to light the theoretical underpinnings of the hermeneutical project predominant among present-day scholars, which is to actively overlook or downright depreciate the religious motivation of Nāgārjuna’s arguments. While this project has typically been pursued in an apologetic effort to justify Nāgārjuna as truly worthy of the title “philosopher” to mainstream philosophers, it has also had the effect among some scholars of dismissing him as insufficiently philosophical. Regardless of the glowing or dim light in which he is thereby cast, Nāgārjuna is appraised according to exclusively philosophical criteria such as cogency, consistency, and coherency. My “religious critique of philosophizing Nāgārjuna,” then, is aimed at elucidating and problematizing this approach, however philosophically fruitful it may be, as at best tangential to and at worst seriously distortive of Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole.2 UNVEILING THE EAST In the case of numerous exegetes, there is no attempt made to understand Nāgārjuna within the framework of his own religio-philosophical enterprise. This is so on the implied or explicitly stated assumption that any position that questions or contradicts the canons of Western philosophical logic is irredeemable from irrationality and consequently not even worth serious consideration.3 Thus it is that we find authors otherwise widely divergent in their interpretations of Nāgārjuna agreeing to indict Nāgārjuna’s use or understanding of logic – without, of course, questioning their own logical paradigms. Guy Bugault is especially frank in this respect. In his article, “Logic and Dialectics in the Madhyamakakārikās,” Bugault proceeds “to outline the prolegomena to any reading of the MK by a Western trained in the school of Aristotle, or, more generally, common sense” (Bugault 1983, 8, emphasis added here and throughout subsequent citations), and refers repeatedly to “our instinctive logic” (Bugault 1983, 29) in his affirmations of the validity of applying “methods of contemporary [that is, contemporary Western] learning to unveil old Indian texts” (Bugault 1983, 53). That these latter, suggestively feminine and passive, are evidently in need of such active masculine methods to be “unveiled” is, of course, taken for granted. As such, the bulk of the article is in fact devoted to studying “if and how the principles to which we are accustomed function” (Bugault 1983, 19, emphases original) in the MK—note the “we”— with sections on the principles of contradiction, excluded middle, sufficient reason, and identity and haecceity (respectively, 19–26, 26–41, 41–46, and 46–61). These make reference to canonical Western philosophers from Heraclitus, Cratylus, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Democritus, Empedocles, Parmenides, Diogenes, and Plato to Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, and Russell—in addition to the ubiquitous Aristotle—though only Dignāga and Candrakīrti get any mention, albeit scarce, among Indian (or Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese . . .) Buddhist philosophers. Having shown that “Nāgārjuna’s way of thinking is diametrically opposed to our habitual way, our own being one which obliges us to choose at least, and at most, one of two contradictory assertions” (Bugault 1983, 33–34), and furthermore that “for a Buddhist, in particular a Mādhyamika, the principle of reason—or in this case, pratītya-samutpāda—is directly opposed to the principle of identity” (Bugault 1983, 46) (the which principle, being Aristotelian in origin, he is unable to question), Bugault tries to adopt “a fall-back position to save common sense” (Bugault 1983, 53). In so doing, he ends up claiming that Nāgārjuna’s “Buddhism is a type (a rather special one) of positivism” (Bugault 1983, 57) and that Nāgārjuna’s “doctrine, if it can be said to be one, is therefore completely practical” (Bugault 1983, 65). In arguing for this conclusion, Bugault declares that Nāgārjuna’s “fundamental intention” is “not religious”—it cannot be, “for there is no God” (Bugault 1983, 58) in it. In other words, only theism counts as religion. Such unreconstructed orientalist foisting of Western logical categories and intellectual presuppositions onto Eastern thought is shocking in a late twentieth-century scholar.4 Bugault, however, is far from being alone in appraising Nāgārjuna’s thought according to criteria never themselves queried; criteria whose historical origins in a specifically Greek context render them (for Nāgārjuna certainly) as dependently co-originated, as conventional, and therefore as dubitable, as any other worldly phenomena, but which are unhesitatingly identified by the exegetes in question here as simply “the laws of thought” (Gunaratne 1986, 214). It is within the unquestioned limits of these “laws” that the scholars I critique here expound their critiques of Nāgārjuna: they attempt to fit Nāgārjuna into their own imported parameters, and criticize him for his perceived inability to fully embody them. Thus, among all too many examples, I cite one of the founders of the field, Richard Robinson, for whom “it is possible to transcribe the Kārikās entirely, chapter by chapter, into logical notation,” but who nevertheless adjudicates that Nāgārjuna “makes mistakes in logic” (Robinson 1957, 307). K. N. Jayatilleke, meanwhile, writes, “there is little evidence that Nāgārjuna understood the logic of the four alternatives as formulated and utilized in early Buddhism” (Jayatilleke 1967, 82). Claus Oetke goes further, claiming to demonstrate “the fallacious character” of Nāgārjuna’s argument regarding production and destruction at MK:21:1–6, and pondering, “perhaps Nāgārjuna and his contemporaries might because of historical reasons not yet have been able to give a correct diagnosis of the mechanisms involved in such a fallacy” (Oetke 1990, 94). Presumably, the “historical reasons” for the supposed lack of logical acumen among Indian philosophers such as Nāgārjuna and his contemporaries basically amounts to their being unschooled in what Oetke does not hesitate to call “common sense” (Oetke 1990, 91).5 Speaking more generally of Nāgārjuna’s philosophy as a whole, David Burton declares: “It is my contention—to which surely anyone who tries to read Nāgārjuna’s texts will assent—that, far from being ‘perfect’, Nāgārjuna’s thought, as expressed in his texts, is inchoate and obscure” (Burton 1999, 7). Burton soon specifies that what he calls “Nāgārjuna’s blatantly fallacious reasoning” is such on the basis of the “obvious nihilistic consequences” (Burton 1999, 10) of his ideas, and most particularly of the “obscure” (Burton 1999, 53) doctrine of two truths. This doctrine, a key feature of Nāgārjuna’s system, similarly defeats Mervyn Sprung, who ultimately gives up trying to understand it, stating, “in the end, it is not possible, I believe, to make the relation of saṁvṛti and paramārtha intelligible in any theoretical terms available to us” (Sprung 1973, 50).6 Lastly, Frits Staal seems initially to be defending Nāgārjuna when he contends, “if Nāgārjuna got caught in paradoxes and contradictions, he is not worse off than most philosophers. What would make him an irrationalist is the desire to be illogical” (Staal 1975, 45). This, however, is something no right-minded philosopher would do, on the basis that “any violation of the principle of non-contradiction is irrational” (Staal 1976, 125). Bugault and the other scholars I have cited all adhere to a form of epistemological foundationalism founded upon a combination of doxastic and epistemic basicality.7 That is, they believe that their belief in the logical laws they take to be universally criterial to rationality is not itself dependent on other doxastic or epistemic principles. This is not necessarily problematic in itself as a philosophical position, but it is hardly appropriate when applied to the task of understanding a philosopher whose entire oeuvre is devoted to demonstrating the absurdity of any and all forms of foundationalism. This goes as much for those scholars who are critical of Nāgārjuna’s purported misuse or misunderstanding of such laws as it does for those eager to prove his correct use and understanding of them and thereby to habilitate him in the eyes of peers not a priori amenable to considering non-Western systems of thought as philosophy proper. The apologist tradition vis-à-vis Nāgārjuna and the Madhyamaka school he founded goes back at least as far as David Seyfort Ruegg, who is adamant in maintaining “Madhyamaka reasoning (yukti) is based on the twin pillars of the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle” (Ruegg 1977, 54, where he is summarizing Ruegg 1969), these being requisites for rationality, as we have seen.8 Ruegg states this position even more forcefully when countering the claims of those who would see Nāgārjuna and his subsequent Mādhyamikas as irrational or mystical: “Although it has been alleged that Buddhist philosophers—and, indeed, other Indian thinkers as well—ignore or reject the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle, this contention certainly cannot be sustained as concerns Nāgārjuna and his school, whose entire reasoning is in fact founded on them” (Ruegg 1977, 5). For his part, Tom Tillemans admits that “within Buddhist thought, the structure of argumentation that seems the most resistant to our attempts at formalization is undoubtedly the tetralemma or catuṣkoṭi,” but concludes that “the structures of argumentation most frequently employed by Buddhists—including the Madhyamakas— do not present any violation of our classical logical laws” (Tillemans 1999, 189, 193).9 These and other like-minded scholars are clear that theirs is a self-conscious attempt to prove, in the words of Jay Garfield and Graham Priest, that “Nāgārjuna is not an irrationalist. He is committed to the canons of rational argument and criticism. He is not a mystic” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 96). The latest book-length study of Nāgārjuna’s philosophy, Jan Westerhoff’s Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction (2009), is a further case in point. In similar fashion to Robinson, Katsura, and all the other scholars who try to explain away the “riddle”10 of the tetralemma through various logical stratagems, Westerhoff at first admits that “it seems hard to make sense of it [MK:18:10], at least if we want to stay within the domain of classical logic” (Westerhoff 2009, 71)—which he evidently does.11 Indeed, by “applying the familiar laws of logic” (Westerhoff 2009, 71),12 Westerhoff is ineluctably led to conclude that the verse in question “is a contradiction” (Westerhoff 2006, 371; 2009, 71). Characteristically, he immediately responds by asking, “How can this interpretation be avoided?” (Westerhoff 2006, 371; 2009, 71)—without, of course, explaining why it should be avoided at all. This unquestioning attitude toward “classical logic” is typical of Westerhoff’s work as a whole. In the course of presenting what he is content to describe as a “logically very conservative” (Westerhoff 2009, 90) interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi, Westerhoff expends his greatest efforts in tackling, as expected, the “important problem” (Westerhoff 2009, 80) of the stubbornly contradictory third lemma (“both P and not-P”) to demonstrate that it is in fact logically explicable. The tenor of Westerhoff’s approach may be summed up in his initial question as to this third lemma: “Why, we might well ask, does Nāgārjuna think we have to consider this contradictory option as well, as if this constituted a real possibility?” (Westerhoff 2009, 80–81, emphasis added here and throughout subsequent citations). For just as Raimundo Panikkar, for example, states that “internal contradiction is of its very nature nonsignifying” (Panikkar 1989, 63), so Westerhoff declares that a “contradictory alternative should . . . not constitute a genuine possibility” (Westerhoff 2009, 81 n55).13 This is so despite the fact that Nāgārjuna obviously thought it did. Predictably enough, Westerhoff argues that “the third alternative [in “the case of the tetralemma applied to causation”—apparently a textually unattested positive analogue to MK:1:1] constitutes a compromise between the first and second: it says that things are partly self-caused and partly caused by other objects” (Westerhoff 2009, 83–84). The overtly contradictory nature of the third lemma is thereby obviated and its logical cogency neatly maintained. Further to the particular arguments used with respect to one or other instance of the tetralemma, Westerhoff characterizes his project as a whole in this discussion as having “the specific objective of giving an interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s employment of the tetralemma which makes both logical sense and is in accordance with his general philosophical position” (Westerhoff 2006, 368).14 Given this last phrase about accordance with Nāgārjuna’s philosophy (and let us not forget that Westerhoff’s book is titularly concerned with Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka), I find it remarkable that Westerhoff should then characterize his overall project as explaining “the methodological foundations of Nāgārjuna’s arguments in the catuṣkoṭi . . . entirely within the framework of classical logic” (Westerhoff 2006, 393; 2009, 90). In fact, such attempts to simultaneously do justice to Indian and Western philosophical traditions are commonplace in the literature. Thus, for example, the Cowherds—“an international collective of scholars in Buddhist Studies” (Cowherds 2016, back cover)—“set themselves the task of working out [the ethical consequences of Madhyamaka metaphysics] in a way that does justice to the Madhyamaka tradition in the contemporary philosophical context” (Cowherds 2016, 1). And the editors of The Moon Points Back (Tanaka et al. 2015) identify with its predecessor volume Pointing at the Moon (D’Amato et al. 2009) as being located “at the interface of contemporary logic and analytic philosophy and Buddhist philosophy . . . deploying a common analytic methodology” (Tanaka et al. 2015, xi). Rather than citing further instances (which could easily be undertaken in extenso), I would like to end this section by pointing out that the common thread linking all the scholars I have mentioned is their unquestioning adherence to “our instinctive logic” (Bugault 1983, 29, emphasis added); this “classical logic” imbued with all the onto-theo-logical presuppositions endemic to Western thought. By attempting to provide a “logically very conservative” (Westerhoff 2006, 392; 2009, 90) and cogent account of the catuṣkoṭi, and of Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole, Westerhoff and his peers not only misrepresent Nāgārjuna but unwittingly do a cardinal disservice to the very reason for his repeated use of the catuṣkoṭi, for his espousal of “the abandonment of all views,” and indeed for his entire philosophical edifice; that is, to enable the practitioner to pass beyond the oppositional confines of logical thought as classically defined.15 In short, these scholars have succeeded only in fortifying the fixtures of the mind Nāgārjuna took such pains to undermine. ORIENTALIZING REASONS At the very outset of this section (a little playfully, a little provocatively) titled Orientalizing Reasons, I would like to make it as clear as I can that I am not accusing the scholars I cite, and most especially those working today, of unfamiliarity with or approval of that particular brand of intellectual obtuseness known as orientalism. On the contrary, they are often explicit in railing against what they do not hesitate to call the “postcolonial racism” (Garfield 2002, 253) endemic to the exclusion of non-Western philosophy from the rubric “philosophy.” When they are not actively arguing for its being “intellectually and morally indefensible” (Garfield 2015, ix), this is because “critique of the narrowness, arbitrariness, and ethnocentrism of this characterization is too easy and too boring to undertake” (D’Amato et al. 2009). And of course the entire project of philosophizing with Buddhist as well as Western sources is partially directed toward demonstrating that “it is appropriate to call them both ‘philosophy’” (Siderits 2007, 5). I would also like to express my deep affinity for “rational reconstruction” as opposed or in addition to “textual history,” for “doing Buddhist philosophy” as opposed or in addition to “developing an account of the history of Buddhist philosophy.”16 In terms Garfield proposes, I consider “engaging with” (Garfield 2015, xiii, emphases original) Buddhist philosophy, by which I mean the theoretical project of adopting and adapting it in conversation with non-Buddhist philosophical partners, as much a valid and valuable intellectual enterprise as “engaging in” Buddhist philosophy, by which I mean “the exegetical project of figuring out what Buddhist philosophers said” (Garfield 2015, 320) and a fortiori what they meant. In other words, I consider a philosophically strict approach to Madhyamaka—and more broadly to Buddhist and even more broadly to non-Western religiously situated and philosophically rich texts, by which they are “purged of their religious elements” so as to ascertain whether “they present an overall attractive philosophical picture, or would they only be adopted by one who has a prior commitment to the religious tradition they form a part of” (Westerhoff 2017, 1, 2)—to be methodologically sound. Indeed, such efforts in “comparative philosophy,” “fusion philosophy,” or “cross-cultural philosophy”17 are highly sophisticated philosophical works in their own right and, as such, have been and will doubtless continue to be highly successful at increasing interest in Buddhist philosophy among Western philosophers. What is more, through the theoretical and hermeneutical reflections they occasion, coupled with the higher degree of generalization available to them than to counterparts restricted to a single tradition, these comparative works may lead, and have led, to manifold insights on important questions regarding concept and category formation, terminology, method, motive, etc. in the diverse academic fields with which they are identified (most readily religious studies and philosophy, but also comparative literature, history, and area studies). Whatever its merits or demerits, the present article, based as it is on this body of scholarship, is a case in point of just such reflection. Furthermore, I am not in entire agreement with Andrew Tuck when he discerns an ideological commitment to providing “interpretations and translations of ancient texts that are intended to be as ‘accurate’, ‘objective’, and ‘close to the original’ as possible” (Tuck 1990, 8) on the part of many of today’s South Asianist scholars (and beyond). Such a commitment, rooted in traditional, nineteenth-century, hermeneutic attempts “concerned with the recovery of the original textual meaning” (Tuck 1990, 8)—a meaning which is taken, moreover, to be single and identical with the author’s intention—are what Tuck has in mind when he goes on to state that “it is extraordinary that readers of Indian texts still continue to be naively concerned with discovering the ‘real meaning’ of texts” (Tuck 1990, 14). Although Bugault, concerned as he is with “learning to unveil old Indian texts” (Bugault 1983, 53), may well be guilty of such hermeneutic essentialism, I do not perceive any such hermeneutic naiveté in the bulk of scholars active today. On the contrary, Garfield for one declares his awareness of such pitfalls pellucidly: We are not trying to recover authorial intent, if that is supposed to be something beyond textual meaning; we are not committing the historicist/objectivist fallacy. . . . We are instead trying to construct a reading of those texts that makes sense of them in the dual contexts provided by the textual milieu in which they figure historically—the context of their composition—and our own interpretive horizon, which is the only context in which we can read and understand. (Garfield 2008, 514) Relatedly, the paucity of reliable information as to the socio-cultural context of the presumed producers of the texts under study is such that any attempt to provide what Nāgārjuna or any of his premodern peers “intended” is doomed to failure for historical reasons even before the theoretical project gets off the ground. To stick with Nāgārjuna, despite Joseph Walser’s attempts at “locating Nāgārjuna historically, socially, and institutionally” (Walser 2005, 2), we know nothing at all with certainty about this writer’s life.18 While it is no doubt true that, as per Walser, “many of the peculiarities of Nāgārjuna’s writings can be more adequately understood if read as strategies devised to respond to the specific demands of the social and institutional context in which he wrote” (Walser 2005, 2), this boils down to little more than a truism based on a desideratum: “We would more adequately understand Nāgārjuna’s philosophy if we more adequately understood the circumstances in which Nāgārjuna’s philosophy was composed.” Although Walser does a fine job of mustering historical and institutional evidence in avowed support of his theses, ultimately he admits to being able to suggest only “a plausible (if, at times, diaphanous) picture of [Nāgārjuna’s] career” (Walser 2005, 3). Besides which, even were we to grant Walser’s hypotheses as to Nāgārjuna’s context, surely Dan Arnold is right in pointing out that the relations among Nāgārjuna’s claims “are not exhaustively explicable as a function of socio-historical pressures” (Arnold 2007, 688)—a point pertinent to thinkers well beyond Nāgārjuna, of course. All of this goes to buttress my point here that a reading of Nāgārjuna’s texts that purports to “unveil” him or them in some unreconstructed orientalizing fashion is a nonstarter. Nevertheless, I feel that more than merely an inveterate historical philologist’s urge toward deciphering the ur-truth of a text is at work when today’s interpreters insist upon the logicality of Nāgārjuna’s tetralemma, or more broadly of his philosophy as a whole. It will be expedient to frame my suggestions as to the reasons for this phenomenon in terms of a response to what I suspect are the two readiest potential objections to my foregoing critique. The first objection would accuse me, despite my denunciation of hermeneutic attempts to recover the authorially intended meaning of the MK and the use of the catuṣkoṭi therein, for example, of subscribing to just such an agenda in my insistence upon sticking to Nāgārjuna’s own philosophical mission. In claiming that the exegetes I have criticized do a grave disservice to Nāgārjuna by ignoring, or at best marginalizing, the soteriological intent of the tetralemma, am I not subscribing to exactly those monolithic notions of authorial intent, interpretive objectivity, and textual primacy as I have just now condemned? My response is as follows: I am happy to go so far as to admit that any reading of a text is as valid as any other, and this on the grounds of the ineluctably grounded nature of hermeneutics as per Vico, the disavowal of textual finality as per Schleiermacher, the proclamation of authorial death as per Barthes, the deconstructive disavowal of logocentrism as per Derrida, or the dismissal of interpretive objectivity as per Gadamer, among the multifarious other factors that constitute me as a twenty-first-century heir to the continental philosophical and hermeneutical currents evoked by these few exemplary figures. But the crucial point to make here is that the scholars I criticize, despite their vocal admission of polysemicity, do not in fact hold such open-ended intellectual commitments as I have acceded to myself. Rather, these scholars remain closed to all but a single “right” way of thinking, which they typically refer to as “common sense” or “classical logic,” but which is just as much in force when they apply deviant logics such as paraconsistency to the texts under study. For regardless of the details of their diverging approaches, they are united in accepting the universal sovereignty of “logic,” “reason,” or “rationality” as a neutral, objective criterion by which to gauge the validity of a given claim or the cogency of a given intellectual system regardless of its historical locus. Garfield states this with utmost clarity in declaring: “Logic transcends metaphysics: It is a canon of reason, not a theory of reality, and a canon of reason ought to be equally valid no matter how the world is” (Garfield 2015, 249), or “reason is . . . a transcendental condition of interpretation both in the sense that we can only vindicate an interpretation to the extent that we read the texts as rational, and we can only justify a reading rationally” (Garfield 2015, 332).19 When these scholars exclusively use such a closed interpretive lens to assess the validity and worth of Nāgārjuna’s thought, I am forced to conclude that, far from acquiescing to a potentially infinite plethora of only-ever-relatively or conventionally true readings, they would—and doubtless will— denounce my own approach as “bereft of reason” (Garfield 2008, 526) and therefore misguided.20 This is doubly ironic given that, as I have mentioned above, Nāgārjuna’s entire enterprise is aimed at undermining belief in or reliance on any “transcendental conditions”—explicitly including those that structure our thinking. As T. R. V. Murti states in characteristically forthright terms, for Nāgārjuna “there is no such thing as a neutral logic which every philosopher accepts or has to accept. . . . Logic is metaphysical to the core” (Murti 1955, 152). To adopt the wording of the title to the present article, Nāgārjuna takes reason to be not some objective, neutral feature of “how the world is,” but as oriented, as karmically driven, as causally constructed, as any other phenomenon. Thus, to posit logic/reason/rationality as some Archimedean point categorically removed from the ambit of conditionality is tantamount to affirming not only the existence of a metaphysical absolute but a position exactly antithetical to Nāgārjuna. To generalize, what I am attempting to argue here is that the preponderant bulk of scholarly activity on Buddhist philosophy, as it has been and continues to be undertaken, suffers from an unacknowledged prioritization of identifiably Western philosophical modes and models, which are, moreover, distinctly ill-suited to the material. While I can readily consider these efforts as so many exercises in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Western philosophy and hermeneutics—and of potentially great worth within this ambit—I am unable to consider them as exercises in Buddhist philosophy or hermeneutics. I am thus in stark disagreement with the Cowherds when they ask: “Are we doing real Buddhist studies when we deploy ideas and techniques from contemporary analytic philosophy to address questions arising from seventh-century Indian debates as adumbrated in fifteenth-century Tibet?” and reply: “We think so” (Cowherds 2011, vii). I am also thereby led to consider the claim made by Garfield that “the texts we and others publish are not about, but are moments within [the Buddhist philosophical] tradition” (Garfield 2015, 333, emphases original) to be deeply misguided. In saying so, I realize I may be accused of falling into the danger of treating “the Buddhist tradition as a complete, mummified object of primarily curatorial interest” (Garfield 2015, 332–333)—as if modern or Western interpreters are or should be barred from engaging with or in Buddhist thought simply by dint of being modern or Western. Here again we come across an acute irony, for it is precisely in evaluating Nāgārjuna in strict accordance with “the canons of rational argument and criticism” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 96) that these scholars do “set [them]selves up as privileged subjects writing hermeneutically closed texts that illuminate the Buddhist philosophical tradition with the cool light of scholarly objectivity” (Garfield 2015, 332). Indeed, in words that should pique the “curatorial interest” of Garfield and his peers, Bernard Faure rightly discerns the denaturing effect of such an enterprise: The apology for “philosophical” Buddhism is perfectly justifiable when it is a matter of winning recognition for Buddhism as a movement of thought in its own right. However, it becomes problematic when it insists on limiting itself to a narrowly rationalist, demythologizing and antiritualistic approach, thereby misrepresenting what Buddhism is and always has been… Reconstructed (or rather distorted) in that fashion, Buddhism has become no more than a museum piece. (Faure 2004, 65) Now, “what Buddhism is and always has been” is many things to many people, of course, and the last thing I would want is to be taken as espousing a certain philosophical construction of Nāgārjuna as the one and only valid candidate. This is not to say that I do not have a favored reading, of course. Indeed, it should be clear by now that I consider an interpretation of Nāgārjuna that takes him to be “philosophico-religious” to be preferable to one that takes him to be “philosophical-not-religious” insofar as this latter ignores or negates what I take to be central features of his thought. The very fact that I consider an exclusively rationalist approach antithetical to Nāgārjuna, ill-suited to the textual material, is and should be taken as evidence of that. But that is beside the point. For the point I am making here (and as I go on to argue with reference to Wayne Proudfoot’s distinction between descriptive and explanatory reduction below) is that the philosophical constructions based on a given text allow many perspectives, including, notably, those not rational, or even those not concerned with rationality. Though efforts to present Nāgārjuna’s MK (or any other Buddhist work) as “a philosophical text to philosophers” (Garfield 1995, viii) may well bear multifarious fruit for “contemporary analytic philosophy,” they are not at all “doing real Buddhist studies;” not at all “within that tradition.” For in eschewing interpretive strategies that take seriously (or even consider at all) the Buddhist philosophico-religious premises within which Nāgārjuna’s thought as a whole must be situated in order to understand it (that is, on its terms), the readings proposed by these scholars effectively function only within the intellectual confines of Western academic debates. Within this context, they serve to proliferate the publication of views and counter-views; in so doing, however, they do not actually engage with the Buddhist philosophy of Nāgārjuna at all. In contrast, I am proposing that, as self-identifying interpreters (as scholars engaged, that is, in textual hermeneutics), we need to provide an interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s thought that he, not “we,” would recognize. The second potential criticism of my position (and one that stems from my immediately preceding comments as much as from my earlier critiques) is that the same interpretive techniques used by modern Western scholars were in fact used by classical Buddhist commentators, be they writing in Sanskrit or any other canonical Buddhist language. Being deeply versed in the various literatures constituting the history of Buddhist philosophy, the scholars I criticize regularly draw on sources considered unimpeachable authorities by the traditions themselves in support of their interpretations. More generally, the principles of rational argumentation recognizable to Western philosophers developed and were effectively deployed in Indian sources too.21 Thus, Nāgārjuna and his Indian philosophical peers were well aware of and took as axiomatic the laws of non-contradiction, excluded middle, and double negation on whose bases classical Western logic is founded.22 Indeed, Nāgārjuna’s own texts, not to mention the vast commentarial literature surrounding them in premodern Indian as well as Tibetan and Chinese contexts, abound in arguments to the effect of proving or disproving theses on eminently logical grounds. Further, Nāgārjuna’s primary argumentative strategy, prasaṅga, is explicitly designed to reduce his opponent’s position to absurdity, an end oft achieved by means of demonstrating its violation of just such logical laws. To this I would respond with the following observations. Although logical principles such as those mentioned do hold argumentative force in Madhyamaka texts, including the MK, the texts themselves make clear that the function of these principles differs markedly from that found in their modern Western utilization. Buddhist writers such as Nāgārjuna were engaged in a very different activity from that of the Western scholars I have considered. This activity was informed not by the purportedly detached description of metaphysical truth espoused by academic philosophers but by, firstly, the avowedly Buddhist acknowledgement of the impossibility of such detachment within the realm of saṃsāric attachment and, concomitantly, the desire to rid oneself and others of the suffering necessarily entailed in such attachment. For the Buddhist philosophical project is irreducibly soteriological in its orientation; to marginalize or ignore the teleological end of texts such as the MK (that is, ultimately, the attainment of nirvāṇa) is to engage in (presumably willful) eisegetic catachresis (or, more briefly put, in critical abuse). The Buddhist hermeneutical project, furthermore, is informed by the same end. Therefore, in formulating a reading of Nāgārjuna’s thought, be it in catuṣkoṭi form or not, the first and foremost aim of Buddhist exegetes was, and is, to aid in the liberation of sentient beings, the which goal is approached in the śāstra literature under study here through the apprehension of reality as it is; shorn, that is, of inevitably false conceptual reification. That this, the attainment of nirvāṇic liberation by means of the cessation of desire-driven ignorance, is the aim of the entire endeavor is either explicitly stated or simply taken for granted in every Buddhist text, including treatises such as the MK and its paratexts. (As a corollary point, I thus see no reason to propose a qualitative distinction among scriptures, treatises, and commentaries—that is, sūtra, śāstra, and vṛtti literatures—as has often been taken for granted in the scholarship.)23 Let us not forget that the MK itself begins with dedicatory verses announcing that the purpose of Nāgārjuna’s text is consonant with the teachings of “the Fully Enlightened Buddha, best of speakers, who taught dependent co-origination for the purpose of the cessation of conceptualization.”24 Although a study of this topos in Madhyamaka texts, to say nothing of Buddhist ones as a whole, is well beyond the scope of the present article, I would hope that the merely conventional nature of supposedly apodeictic logical laws as per Nāgārjuna, and thus that his soteriologically motivated utilization of them as not implicative of any avowal of their ultimate (that is, conceptually unconstructed, metaphysically independent) validity, should be sufficiently clear from his texts as to be beyond disputation. As such (and to reiterate a point made earlier), if we are interested in discerning what interpretations of Nāgārjuna’s texts proffered by classical exegetes such as Candrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, or Piṅgala (青目), say, are up to, then we must understand them within the context of the avowedly Buddhist intentions of these authors (their abhiprāya). This is not to fall into some “historicist/objectivist fallacy” or deny our inextricability from our own “interpretive horizon” (see Garfield 2008, 514 quoted above). Rather, it is to maintain that if we are engaged in textual hermeneutics then we must take our texts’ own formulations of their purpose and purport seriously; otherwise we become engaged in the methodologically valid but different activity of philosophical construction. All this will hopefully also put paid to the idea that I simply “see the application of logic and rationality as inimical to spiritual pursuits” (Siderits 2003, 14–15). As Siderits alleges, this would indeed be “guilty of a bit of ethnocentrism,” since it would be to apply a dichotomy between “philosophical rationality” and “soteriological value” foreign to the Indian Buddhist case (Siderits 2003, 15). On the contrary, as will become more apparent below, following Nāgārjuna I maintain that reasoned argumentation is an efficacious means toward the soteriological end of liberation. Importantly, however, I do not thereby aver (and definitely do not see Nāgārjuna averring) that reason stands removed from the net of conditionality as some kind of “substantive ultimate truth” (Siderits 2003, 17) or structuring principle. Indeed, while Siderits on the one hand defends a “semantic interpretation of emptiness, [according to which] the truth that liberates is the insight that there can be no truth apart from the contingent institutions and practices of social existence” (Siderits 2003, 18), or in other words, that “there is no such thing as how the world is independently of the concepts we happen to employ” (Siderits 2003, 21), on the other hand he never questions the “grand narrative” (Siderits 2003, 20) of “discursive reason” (Siderits 2003, 10) itself. As such, although Siderits is more circumspect than Garfield when it comes to proclaiming the universal and transcendental authority of reason, he too could well be accused of turning out to be metaphysically realist about rationality itself. For a Buddhist philosopher such as Nāgārjuna, by contrast, even if the soteriological mission may (in part) be satisfied through the deployment of rational means designed to facilitate insight into reality as it really is (yathābhūtadarśana), this in no way implies that these or any other such efficacious means should be taken as transcendentally valid. Indeed, for Nāgārjuna, any such adherence to foundationalist bases would be taken as evidence of, precisely, ad-herence; that is, of one’s still being affixed to, stuck with, afflicted by—not freed from—the infrastructure of suffering. REIMAGINING RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY My catalogue of the attempts to “rescue” Nāgārjuna, and in particular his catuṣkoṭi, from illogicality in the section on Unveiling the East is, I trust, adequate testimony to an ongoing and often avowedly apologetic effort on the part of the exegetes involved to do Nāgārjuna a favor by ridding his philosophy of irrational oriental leftovers. In the section on Orientalizing Reasons, I argued that this has typically involved an imposition of logical models that fail to do justice both to the texts they purport to study and, more broadly, to the religio-philosophical paradigms within which authors such as Nāgārjuna lived, wrote, and practiced. The reasons for this inveterate demand for “reason” in Nāgārjuna’s work are not hard to divine, and are certainly worth delving into. We approach here one of the many places at which differing conceptual schemas at work in the Buddhist and Western philosophico-religious worldviews render meaningful critical analysis particularly fraught with the pitfalls of misunderstanding. Since Plato’s instauration of the opposition between doxa and epistêmê,25 Western philosophy has perceived itself as the preeminent realm of knowledge, as distinct from mere belief. Garfield puts this position into the mouths of philosophers in the following succinct terms: “There is a world of difference between philosophy and religion, and what passes for ‘Eastern philosophy’ is in fact religion misnamed. Western philosophy is independent of religion, and is a rational, religiously disinterested inquiry into fundamental questions about the nature of reality, human life, and so on” (Garfield 2002, 252). The origins of such a partitioning of philosophical and religious endeavors has, of course, as much to do with the overtly paradoxical (and in this strict sense irrational) beliefs central to the Christian religion as it does with the rationalistic approach of the ancient Greeks. Such a net distinction is simply not operative in the Buddhist sphere, whose origins avowedly lie not in a call to belief, but in a call to insight.26 Indeed, despite the ostensible division between (Greek) philosophy and (Christian) religion in the West, each has in practice been saturated with the other over the many centuries intervening since their historical confrontation (a fact one surely need not read Augustine to observe). Thus, Garfield deflates the philosophers’ claim to “religiously disinterested inquiry” with the objection that this would be to do away with the bulk of Western philosophy, on the basis that: this distinction is supposed to deliver the result that St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Descartes’s Meditations, including the proofs of the existence of God, and Leibniz’s discussion of theodicy are philosophical, while Dharmakīrti’s investigations of the structure of induction and of the ontological status of universals, Tsong khapa’s account of reference and meaning, and Nāgārjuna’s critique of essence and analysis of the causal relation are religious. Anyone who has a passing familiarity with all of the relevant texts will agree that something has gone seriously wrong if this distinction is taken seriously. (Garfield 2002, 252)27 The adoption of etic methodological principles is to some extent a necessary feature of comparative work (including my own), and I am certainly not arguing that such a procedure is inherently erroneous and consequently that comparative work is indelibly flawed. In the scholarship on the catuṣkoṭi I have criticized above, however, the tendency to apply anachronistic and/or anachoristic28 categories has been carried too far; to such an extent that these interpreters have, I have argued, effectively reneged on the emic project of understanding Nāgārjuna in his own terms (or at least in terms recognizable to him) altogether. In so doing, they have engaged in what Wayne Proudfoot has called “descriptive reduction:” “the failure to identify an emotion, practice, or experience under the description by which the subject identifies it” (Proudfoot 1985, 196). As a methodological approach in the study of religion (or analogous fields), Proudfoot states forthrightly, “this is indeed unacceptable” (Proudfoot 1985, 196). His reasoning, with which I am entirely in accord, is that: An experience must be specified under a description that can be ascribed to the subject, and it is the task of the historian of religions to identify the particular concepts and descriptions available to people in particular contexts and to disentangle them from our anachronistic [and anachoristic] tendency to ascribe our concepts to those people. This is what much of the study of religion is about. (Proudfoot 1985, 185) Proudfoot goes on to contrast “descriptive reduction” with what he proposes to call “explanatory reduction,” which “consists in offering an explanation of an experience [or other religious phenomenon] in terms that are not those of the subject and that might not meet with his approval” (Proudfoot 1985, 197, emphasis added). Proudfoot immediately adds, “this is perfectly justifiable and is, in fact, normal procedure,” but whether or not such an approach is normal, we must surely be wary of ascribing positions to a given subject with which s/he would disagree. Indeed, I admit to finding the stated distinction between descriptive and explanatory reduction ill-defined on the basis that, in both cases, the analyst reduces the subject’s position to one intelligible to the analyst but not to the subject. I fail to see how such an explanatory approach avoids the inveterate tendency toward the ascription of “our concepts to those people.” Such an approach, moreover, appears to lie at odds with Proudfoot’s claim much later in the same book that “the distinguishing mark of a religious experience is not the subject matter but the kind of explanation the subject believes is appropriate” (Proudfoot 1985, 231, emphasis added). How, after all, can an analyst’s explanation be taken as appropriate by the subject when it does not meet with his or her approval or even understanding? It is important to note, however, that my suspicion as to Proudfoot’s dichotomy and his defense of explanatory reduction in spite of a given subject’s disapproval only stands if we, as analysts, are in fact avowedly engaged in the endeavor of understanding a given subject’s experience, text, or position as understood by that subject. If this is not the case, if, that is, we are engaged in what I earlier referred to as “philosophical construction” and are thus unconcerned as to whether the given subject would or would not recognize our interpretation-cum-elaboration, then the reductionism espoused by Proudfoot is an effective practice. It is, moreover, one that may lead to great insights as to the subject at hand, as evinced by, for example, Freudian, Marxist, Feminist, or Existentialist explanatory approaches to subjects obviously unfamiliar with, indeed even pre-dating, these intellectual currents. But a psychoanalytical reading of Oedipus Rex, say, takes as given the fact that Sophocles was unaware of Freudian theory and would not recognize its application to his text. An analogous case, however, cannot be made in the context of logically oriented Western scholarly interpretations of Nāgārjuna for, as I have shown above, these analyses are avowedly exercises in textual hermeneutics; they are ones, moreover, that effectively posit a reading that is presupposed to be univocally valid. In other words, the scholars criticized above do not accept as given that Nāgārjuna would not recognize his words in their readings; rather, to cite once again the revealing mission propounded by Westerhoff, they aim to remain completely “in accordance with his general philosophical position” (Westerhoff 2006, 368). Despite the common claims to be “doing philosophy” by extrapolating from Nāgārjuna’s stated positions to what these would be in the context of debates in Western philosophy, it is evident that these scholars are in fact “doing hermeneutics” by constantly making claims as to what Nāgārjuna’s stated positions are. That is, they are not concerned solely with extracting philosophical metal from the ore of Buddhist texts and using this to construct philosophical edifices on foreign territory, as it were, but in determining how this material fit, or fits, within the surrounding strata of autochthonous ground. Or, to dispense with the metaphor, they are not (or not only) elaborating philosophical ideas drawn from Nāgārjuna, but (also) elaborating what they claim are Nāgārjuna’s philosophical ideas. All of this I state by way of an extended methodological caution against uncritically answering “the unimaginative question” of the relationship between “religion” and “philosophy” in terms derived from the Greco-Christian complex and therefore definitionally unsuited to the task of describing Indo-Buddhist thought. For, to cite the characteristically insightful analysis of Ruegg: In the Western tradition, philosophy has indeed very often defined itself in opposition to religion, and the fact that scholars of Buddhism may regard the subject of their studies as both a religion and a philosophy has then led to the most extraordinary misunderstanding and confusion. (Ruegg 2010, 219)29 Such confusion is the result, not of willful obfuscation, but of the fact that the object under study—Buddhist thought—does not readily conform to the classificatory schemas imposed by the typical subject—the Western thinker—in unquestioning acquiescence to their purported universality. In saying this, my point is not to join what Tillemans calls “a long debate on the question of whether the tetralemma . . . stands as an example of a radical divergence between Asian logics and the classical logic of the West” (Tillemans 1999, 191). For the debate among commentators such as those I cite has not been conducted with regard to the greater or lesser degree of convergence or divergence between two logical systems taken on their respective terms. Rather, it has been concerned to demonstrate the greater or lesser degree of adherence of one (the Asian) to the other (the Western), where this latter has been taken as the principial yardstick to which the material other is to conform. In other words, the debate (if one may still call it that) has been rigged in advance in such a way that the only question remaining—surely as “unimaginative” as any—concerns the extent to which a certain phenomenological analysandum (viz., the religion-philosophy of Buddhism) can be reduced to one of its analytically predetermined categories (viz., philosophy). In elaborating this point, I can do no better than to cite Ruegg again, who states unequivocally that in Buddhism: the philosophical side cannot usually be divorced and treated entirely separately from the religious without a certain more or less arbitrary compartmentalization, for no hard and fast dividing line can normally be drawn between the philosophical and the religious. . . . [Buddhism is] a comprehensive soteriological teaching necessarily involving a philosophical foundation. . . . In short, Buddhism is what is commonly referred to [in Western terms] as a philosophy and a religion. (Ruegg 1967, 5)30 Despite this, one need not look hard to still see in effective application the very pernicious distinction Ruegg identified decades ago.31 Having already detailed at some length the efforts among modern and contemporary scholars of Nāgārjuna to demonstrate that, contrary to appearances, he is after all “logical,” I want to shift in this section to a more explicit discussion of the binary opposition at work in such a characterization. As noted above, for Garfield and Priest, “Nāgārjuna is not an irrationalist. He is committed to the canons of rational argument and criticism. He is not a mystic” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 96). This and similar statements,32 although doubtless intended to do some service to Nāgārjuna (on which more presently), evince that even readers such as Garfield and Priest who propose a dialetheic interpretation of the tetralemma (and thus one at odds with more classically oriented logical approaches) have been led astray by what Panikkar refers to in his essay “Aporias in the Comparative Philosophy of Religion” as “presuppositions.”33 There, Panikkar proposes “a fundamental distinction between ‘assumption’ and ‘presupposition’” according to which an assumption is defined as “the conscious axioms that I set in order to study further,” while a presupposition “is unconscious . . . underneath my constructions at their basis (supposition—subponere); they are also sent ‘before’ my examination, as it were, and before my eyes, so that they allow me to examine and see where I am standing (prae-suppositio).” Though this final phrase appears to confer a positive role upon presuppositions, it is important to note that, on Panikkar’s own formulation, “I am not aware of my presuppositions and take them so much for granted that I neither see them nor detect their possible problemacity.” Indeed, it is only through interaction with an “other who, although unaware of his own presuppositions, causes me to see mine by questioning a presupposition he cannot accept, and vice-versa,” that presuppositions are accepted (and thus turned into assumptions) or rejected (thereby modifying one’s standpoint) (Panikkar 1980, 374). Now, in applying Panikkar’s distinction here, I would like to nuance it by problematizing his characterization of assumptions as conscious and presuppositions as unconscious. Presuppositions in Panikkar’s sense can, I propose, be as much conscious as unconscious, for I take the important point about them to be that they are unquestioned, or rather, from the perspective of those who hold them, unquestionable. (Besides which, it would be rather foolhardy for me to be claiming insight as to what is or is not conscious in a given scholar’s mind!) One way in which presuppositions, in this sense, are evidently at work in the scholarly literature on Nāgārjuna is in the maintenance of the logical/rational/philosophical vs illogical/irrational/mystical dichotomy. Surely, whether Nāgārjuna is or is not a “mystic,” like the related question of whether or not (or the extent to which) he is or is not a “Buddhist” philosopher as opposed to a philosopher tout court, is not only alien to the Indian and Buddhist traditions in which he lived and wrote but also utterly uninformative as to the worth of his work.34 Thus, Garfield and Priest’s comment that “none of the important commentarial traditions in Asia, however much they disagree in other respects, regard him in this light;” that is, “as simply a mystic or an irrationalist of some kind” (Garfield and Priest 2002, 87), says very little, if anything at all, for of course no one of the classical thought-traditions of Asia regarded Nāgārjuna as a mystic: they did not even know the term. Nor do the extant debates among those thought-traditions regarding the in/adequacy of conceptual thought, of language, or of meditative absorption, for example, to arrive at truth/reality (satya) map unproblematically onto such a “philosopher vs mystic” paradigm. What renders this paradigm not just another assumption but a presupposition in this case is not its unconscious avowal—the fact that Garfield et al. discuss the binary explicitly puts paid to that idea. Rather, it is that they pre-suppose it to be a binary opposition not as a “conscious axiom” but as the very function according to which to judge Nāgārjuna’s thought. It is as if they were constructing a two-dimensional graph on a standard Cartesian coordinate system, taking “philosopher” and “mystic” unquestionedly and unquestionably as real variables, and trying to bring Nāgārjuna as close as possible to the “philosopher” axis. The acknowledgement of one’s own historicity (including one’s own prejudices) is, of course, a necessary feature of critically aware scholarship. Yet, as the multifarious examples of Occidento-centric perspectives I cite should show, too often “we” position “ourselves” at such a remove from the author at hand that we effectively lose all or most of his/her perspective altogether. It may seem obvious, but I believe it to be of the utmost importance in this context to point out that Nāgārjuna was not speaking to us at all. Nāgārjuna was not addressing us twenty-first-century “interpreters, philosophers, readers,”35 but rather primarily the fellow Buddhists, and secondarily the fellow Indian religious thinkers, of his time. Though we may know nothing with any certainty as to their biographies, we are safe at least in asserting (based on the textual data we do have) that these contemporaries were no academic scholars interested merely in articulating the most cogent interpretation of a given text, but first and foremost religionists devoted to the one task incumbent upon them regardless of their sectarian affiliation: liberation. It is to these interlocutors—doubtless intellectually astute ones given the subtlety with which Nāgārjuna wrote, but primarily intellectually astute Buddhists nevertheless—that Nāgārjuna’s text is addressed. I stated that this is of the utmost importance to recall because I believe it drastically alters our understanding of what Nāgārjuna’s text is doing, or at least is trying to do. From this perspective, the fact that Nāgārjuna does not make sense to “us,” as logically minded analysts, in no way detracts from the coherence of his position within the context of his overall philosophico-religious (read: Buddhist) project.36 If we take the alternative, and predominant, approach, according to which Nāgārjuna must “be meaningful to us . . . be persuasive to us” (Garfield 2008, 515, emphases added), we may as well go the whole hog and denounce Nāgārjuna as making no sense to us as English readers on the basis that he wrote in Sanskrit. Of course, the inclination to demonstrate the logicality of Nāgārjuna to us, “as interpreters,” on the part of a Garfield is motivated less by any racist security in the superiority of Western systems of thought37 than by the felt need to have Nāgārjuna taken seriously by us—as Western philosophers—as a philosopher. Similar sentiments are felt by other scholars in the field, as when Christian Coseru, for example, states, “I am always happy to see mainstream philosophers take an interest in what is being said in the name of Buddhist philosophy” (Coseru 2014).38 He goes on, however, to take Priest’s dialetheic characterization of Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi to task, and this not for any perceived invalidity of Priest’s account but simply because it leads to “the notion that Buddhist philosophy is full of contradictions.” Given this characterization, Coseru laments: “And so here we go again: Eastern thought is intuitive and mystical and Western philosophy is rational and argumentative, and the twain shall never meet.” In the stead of Priest’s contradictory and ineffably minded Nāgārjuna, Coseru urges us to turn to Westerhoff’s account of Nāgārjuna’s critique of Nyāya epistemology. “This,” he announces, “is not a Madhyamaka wrapped up in paradox, but one we can make sense of” (emphasis added). There is no need, of course, for Coseru to explain just who his “we” is referring to. In such apologetic attempts to render Nāgārjuna comprehensible to fellow Western scholars and philosophers, what I find most noteworthy is the failure to appreciate and acknowledge the obvious fact that Nāgārjuna’s intended audience was not comprised of “us” but of his fellow ancient Buddhist and non-Buddhist Indians. Surely it would be absurd for us to write treatises attempting to conform to the literary canons and philosophical criteria operative in some far distant future land we had not ever heard of. Yet that seems to be the prevailing demand made upon Nāgārjuna: that he, a Buddhist philosopher living and writing in India some two thousand years ago, make sense according to the intellectual frameworks we twenty-first-century Westerners take to be normative. Besides which, if practically no Western philosopher satisfies the “secularity condition,” according to which philosophy must be “religiously disinterested,” then why should Nāgārjuna? This last point leads me to observe that, despite their evident acute awareness of the fallacy of the position that religiosity does not characterize Western philosophy,39 scholars such as Garfield, Coseru, and many others concerned with Buddhist philosophy nevertheless apply this fallacy to Nāgārjuna insofar as they insist upon reading Nāgārjuna in exclusivist fashion as “philosophical-not-religious.” But while a demonstration of Nāgārjuna’s philosophicality may serve to undermine some orientalist stereotypes among some Western philosophers convinced of the areligiosity of their own tradition, this strategy must surely count as a rather disingenuous expedient means given that it is being deployed by scholars who also forcefully argue against the conviction that “Western philosophy is independent of religion” (Garfield 2002, 252). This strategy is mistaken substantively in that it does not serve to understand Nāgārjuna, whose philosophical arguments are inextricably interwoven with his religious aims. It is also mistaken methodologically in that it applies a norm (of religious disinterestedness) developed in twentieth-century Western analytical philosophy to a second-century Indian Buddhist thinker. Moreover, given that this norm in fact is fallacious insofar as it paints a picture of ancient, premodern, modern, and contemporary European and Euro-derived philosophers and philosophies whitewashed of their religious elements, surely the better, if admittedly more difficult, long-term approach for scholars (such as myself) committed to studying Buddhist philosophy as philosophy (and to having it recognized as such) would be to demonstrate, first, the historically determinative place of religion in the Western philosophical canon; acknowledge, second, the historically determinative place of religion in the Buddhist philosophical canon; and on this twin basis attempt, third, to understand the Buddhist philosophical canon’s contributions to philosophy, be it Buddhist, Western, or of whatsoever provenance.40 Only thus, I propose, can a full understanding and honest appraisal of the philosophical contribution of Buddhist philosophy be achieved; and only thus can its fruits be meaningfully then applied (if that is the project) to problems in Western philosophy. Closely related to the failure to accept Nāgārjuna on his own terms is the twin failure to acknowledge that our terms, even our logical terms, are historically and culturally specific, and thereupon to adapt our use of these terms to his so as to enable meaningful dialogue and learning. After all, Nāgārjuna is unable to make the step across, as it were, the intellectual divide separating us from him. One, he never knew us; and two, he is now dead and so can never come to know us. But we, endowed with both our own intellectual apparatus (including the meta-hermeneutical facility to locate ourselves within our given milieu) as well as the linguistic and other scholarly tools required for entry into the Nāgārjunian Weltanshauung, are not so disabled. It is thus incumbent upon us, as interpreters, as philosophers, as scholars of religion, to read Nāgārjuna (in all his polyvalence), not what our ideologically predetermined disciplinary divisions would make of him. To make sense of texts such as the MK in the dual contexts of their writerly and our readerly compositions, a shift needs to take place in our understanding of Philosophy vis-à-vis Religion. I capitalize these terms to draw attention to their accepted status as discrete fields of human life, susceptible to discrete modi operandi and, as such, studied in discrete departments of academic institutions. So long as philosophers perceive their endeavor as constitutively distinct from that of religionists, and of religious studies scholars, we will remain ill equipped to shoulder our share, the reader’s share, of the compositional burden. And, to elaborate on a point I touched upon in the preceding paragraph, we will remain unable to actually learn from the texts we study and write about, even if—or rather especially when—they necessitate a rethinking of our intellectual structures. Given the richness of the material with which we are concerned, that would be “bereft of reason” indeed. I gratefully acknowledge comments received on previous iterations of the ideas presented here, particularly from Jay Garfield, C. W. Huntington, and the three anonymous peer reviewers, without whose input the present article would be immeasurably poorer. I likewise gratefully acknowledge the Berggruen Philosophy & Culture Center for funding that enabled completion of this work. REFERENCES Arnold , Dan . 2007 . Review of Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture, by Joseph Walser . Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75 ( 3 ): 684 – 688 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bagger , Matthew . 2007 . The Uses of Paradox: Religion, Self-Transformation, and the Absurd . New York : Columbia University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Betty , L. Stafford . 1983 . “ Nāgārjuna’s Masterpiece: Logical, Mystical, Both, or Neither ?” Philosophy East and West 33 ( 2 ): 123 – 138 . 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Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: New Editions of the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese Versions, with Commentary and a Modern Chinese Translation (中论颂: 梵藏汉合校 · 导读 · 译注) . 上海 : 中西书局 . Footnotes 1 Here as throughout, I use the Sanskrit term “catuṣkoṭi” as equivalent to the Greek-derived “tetralemma.” Note also that I refer to Nāgārjuna’s major work, the Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā), as MK, or as MK:X:Y where the X:Y stands for the particular chapter and verse cited. The Sanskrit text is sourced from Siderits and Katsura 2013, which itself follows the edition by de La Vallée Poussin (1913) 1970 as modified by Ye 2011. 2 It should thus be clear that I am not primarily concerned here to present a particular interpretation of Nāgārjuna, but rather, as the subtitle to the article denotes, to present a critique of the currently predominant mode of interpreting him. This is not because I have somehow managed to attain a Buddha’s unperturbed reflective awareness (ādarśajñāna) and thereby passed beyond all hermeneutic horizons. On the contrary, as I go on to acknowledge, I do consider some interpretations of Nāgārjuna better (in the sense of textually justified) than others, but I neither mount sustained arguments nor (have the necessary space to) present adequate Nāgārjunian textual evidence in support of any such interpretive stance here. There is only so much, after all, that a single article can seek to accomplish, and the “primary” objects of my critique here are not the works of Nāgārjuna per se but the modern Western “secondary” literature surrounding them. 3 Although racist stereotypes are undoubtedly still at work in unquestioningly assuming the sole validity of Western logic as opposed to Indian/Buddhist varieties (such as those countenancing four as opposed to two truth values), Western analytical philosophers who refuse to tow the line are similarly ignored or disparaged. Graham Priest provides a textbook example of this. His groundbreaking book on dialetheism—a notion he rightly declares “is outrageous, at least to the spirit of contemporary philosophy” (Priest 2006, xv, emphasis original)—was initially rejected by ten major publishers before making it to print. In its second edition, Priest details how critical reviewers initially discouraged publication of the book on the grounds that his position was “totally wrong-headed in the most radical way possible” (Priest 2006, xvii), not “serious” (Priest 2006, 284), or just plain “silly” (Priest 2006, xviii). Priest is left to conclude that “arguments against an entrenched orthodoxy have a hard time making any impact” since “people will disregard the arguments because they have already rejected the conclusion. What this says about rationality in operation, I leave the reader to ponder” (Priest 2006, xviii). The present article, I suspect, will have similar trouble swimming against the current of “orthodoxy.” 4 Be it noted that Bugault, although relatively unknown among Anglo-American scholars (presumably on account of writing predominantly in French), was no academic lightweight. Until his death in 2002, he was Professor of Indian Philosophy and Comparative Philosophy at Paris-Sorbonne and member of both the Société Asiatique and the Association Française pour les Études Sanskrites. Bugault maintained his positions and methods to the end. In the ‘Methodological Precautions’ to his article of 2000, for example, he announces his intention to again “seek and find quite unexpected help from Aristotle” interpreting the MK (Bugault 2000, 386). In the introduction to his 2002 translation of the MK into French, furthermore, he reiterates in summary form his previously stated positions (see for example the statement that, though Aristotle “knows perfectly well the tetralemma” (connaît parfaitement le tétralemme), “he simply abhors it” (simplement il l’abhorre) (20)). 5 The relevant passage is worth citing in full, as it provides a perfect minor case study of the tendency I describe. Oetke states: Oetke initially admits at least the seeming soundness of Nāgārjuna’s argument, but, as is typical, he does not question the validity of applying the classical predicate calculus to Nāgārjuna; nor does he query the objectivity he ascribes to his own intuitions in assessing Nāgārjuna’s argument as “intuitively sound.” Even more problematically, Oetke does not explain why “implausibility” based on “common sense” should act as an argument against Nāgārjuna’s positions, particularly as “the non-existence of . . . entities the existence of which is not questioned by [the substantialist presuppositions Oetke calls] common sense” is precisely the conclusion Nāgārjuna’s well-known notion of emptiness entails. By adjudicating a priori as to what does and what does not count as “intuitively sound,” “plausible,” or “common sensical,” and this on distinctly non-Madhyamaka svabhāvic/foundationalist grounds, Oetke shows himself to have missed the entire thrust of Nāgārjuna’s niḥsvabhāvic/antifoundationalist philosophy. On this, David Seyfort Ruegg’s formulation of the matter is characteristically adroit: “Nāgārjuna was evidently convinced of the paradoxicality of many so-called common-sense views of the world and the real based on the assumption of entities or essences possessing own-being (svabhāva)” (Ruegg 1977, 5). 6 Note the “us.” Sprung has already (Sprung 1973, 48) lamented that “śūnyatā is ambivalent in a frustrating way” in that it both expresses that things are “devoid” and is a synonym for reality (“tattva, tathatā, paramārtha, dharmatā, and nirvāṇa”). He appears to remain very much still caught up in the species of reifying thought according to which one or other—or both—of the two truths must be in some sense real/svabhāvic, without realizing the emptiness/dependent co-origination of both. In 1979, Sprung continues to bemoan “the mystifying Mādhyamika theory of two truths” (Sprung 1979, vii). 7 I follow Steup (2005, 3.1) in my usage of these terms. 8 For a historically informative and philosophically astute complication of what Indian Buddhists meant by the term yukti, see Nance (2007). 9 Note the “our” in both cases. Tillemans goes on to specify, “when we translate the Madhyamaka’s statements into a logic with two types of interpretations [viz., existential and referential quantification], we will not encounter any violation of the laws of contradiction, excluded middle or double negation, or of any other theorems of classical logic” (Tillemans 1999, 200). Here and throughout the present article, I adopt Tilleman’s statement earlier in the same paper that “by the term ‘classical logic,’ we understand the first order propositional and predicate calculus that one generally finds in a work on elementary logic” (Tillemans 1999, 192). 10 Robinson (1957, 305) and Katsura (2000, 203) both consider the tetralemma a “riddle” for which they are concerned to provide a “solution.” 11 Note that chapter four of Westerhoff’s 2009 book is an almost verbatim reproduction of his 2006 article. In what follows, I cite one or the other (sometimes both). For reference, MK18:10 states: Whatever comes into being dependent on something Is not the same as that thing Nor is it different from that thing Therefore it is neither annihilated nor eternal (pratītya yad yad bhavati na hi tāvat tad eva tat / na cānyad api tat tasmān nocchinnaṃ nāpi śāśvatam). Westerhoff translates the relevant portion of the verse (up to na cānyad api) as “whatever comes into being dependent on some object is not identical with that object, nor is it different from that object.” 12 “Familiar,” that is, to “us.” 13 After all, as Thomas Wood states in a similar vein, “from the logical point of view, truth is a univocal concept, for the claim of univocality is logically equivalent to the assertion that it cannot be the case that P and also the case that not-P at one and the same time. This assertion is fundamental to all logic. Any statement that violates this logical law of non-contradiction is meaningless or at least analytically false” (Wood 1994, 224). 14 Westerhoff’s language is slightly toned down in the 2009 version, wherein he claims to provide an interpretation “that both makes logical sense and sheds most light on Nāgārjuna’s philosophical position” (Westerhoff 2009, 68). 15 I undertake detailed discussion of the soteriological aim underpinning Nāgārjuna’s enterprise as a whole and provide copious quotations from his oeuvre to this effect in related forthcoming publications (see especially Stepien forthcoming a). Of course, the logical confines Nāgārjuna was attempting to overcome were quaternary rather than binary in structure. 16 For this terminology, see Garfield and Priest (2002, 88) and Garfield (2015, 320) respectively. I take Garfield and Priest’s “rational reconstruction” to be more or less equivalent to the “strong textualist” approach of Richard Rorty espoused by C. W. Huntington (1989, 8). Before going on, however, I believe it may be useful to remove some of the slippage between the two approaches characterized by Garfield and Priest as “rational reconstruction” and “textual history.” This can be accomplished, first, by reducing the term “reconstruction” (with its implications of textual fidelity, and hence of hermeneutics) to “construction,” since the point of this approach, as opposed to the historico-hermeneutical one, is precisely to build new ideas with the old textual material. Given the controversial nature of the role of rationality in Nāgārjuna’s, and more broadly Buddhist, philosophy, moreover, I think it also prudent to expunge the “rational,” since this unnecessarily and unfairly forecloses the constructions open to us. As for the alternative approach, I will prefer “textual hermeneutics” to “textual history,” and this for two reasons. One, I see the prime impetus for this methodology to lie in the properly hermeneutical endeavor of textual interpretation, which may be based on and/or be the basis of historical information, but which nonetheless stands (however slightly) removed from the aims and means of the historian. And two, because, the potential confusion between the study of a text in its historical context and the study of a text’s history (or, to put it another way, between what a text said and says vis-à-vis its historical interlocutors and what a text historically underwent and undergoes) is thereby obviated. On this basis, then, I propose, and in the pages that follow will use, a distinction between “textual hermeneutics” on the one hand, engaged in the exegesis of a given text, and “philosophical construction” on the other, engaged in the elaboration of ideas and arguments based on but not necessarily found in a given text. 17 For “an alternative approach” to “fusion philosophy,” which, “rather than asking what Asian philosophy can do for us, . . . set[s] out to investigate which theories, approaches and models from contemporary Western philosophy can [be] used to support, analyze, refine and advance insights into the ‘big questions’ developed during the last three millennia of Asian thought,” see Westerhoff (2015)—and note the “us.” For a stated preference for “cross-cultural philosophy” rather than “comparative philosophy,” see Garfield (2002, viii). 18 Luis Gómez already made this point when he stated that among “problems arising from the data itself, one must count the absence of sociographic and biographic data. Specifically in the study of Nāgārjuna, reliable data on his life, to say nothing of valid data, is virtually non-existent” (Gómez 2000, 97). 19 See also Garfield (2008, 515), where he states “cogency is hard to make sense of without a background assumption of rationality. In sum, a commitment to reason is a transcendental condition of interpretability.” For a discussion of Garfield’s characterization highly relevant to my argument here, see also Huntington (forthcoming), from which I echo the following passage: To assert, as [Garfield] does, that “we can only justify a reading rationally” is to make a methodological claim about how one ought to go about doing the history of Buddhist philosophy; a claim with which I happen to agree. . . . However, it in no way follows that in order to vindicate our interpretation of the original Buddhist texts as legitimately philosophical we must necessarily read them as instantiations of reasoned argumentation. 20 “Bereft of reason” is Garfield’s characterization of Huntington in response to Huntington (2007). These two articles sparked a debate initially culminating in Madhyamaka & Methodology: A Symposium on Buddhist Theory and Method (Smith College 2010). The present article is situated within and seeks to further this debate. For the most recent contributions by its originator, see Huntington (2017 and forthcoming). 21 For recent book-length studies of Indian logic, see for example Vidyabhusana (1971), which includes an extended discussion (part II, section II) on The Buddhist Logic; Shen (1985), which refers to Buddhist logic throughout; Gokhale (1992), which discusses Buddhist as well as Nyāya logic; Matilal (1998), which deals with Buddhist logic most at length in chapters four and five; and Ganeri (2001), which is A Reader not of classical sources but of classic twentieth-century essays on the topic. For studies of specifically Buddhist Indian logic, see for example Matilal and Evans (1986), which includes an initial foray into the question of Does the Mādhyamika Have a Thesis and Philosophical Position? by Ruegg, which is fleshed out in much greater detail in Ruegg (2000); Wayman (1999), which treats of and translates Buddhist logical works from the millennium spanning from Asaṇga (c. 300–370) to Tsongkhapa (1357–1419); and Wang and Zheng (2012), which focuses on scholastic history. The classic work is Stcherbatsky [1930] 1962. Li (1986) is rare in crossing the Indo-Chinese divide in that it is a systematic and detailed comparative study of Indian and Chinese Buddhist thought. 22 See for example Ruegg (1977, 5 and 54) quoted above. 23 In oral comments made during the Q&A to his talk on September 29, 2014 at the Buddhist Studies Forum at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, Jay Garfield stated that sūtra and śāstra texts are completely different genres. Sheldon Pollock, however, sees the sūtra as a “major sub-genre” of the śāstra (Pollock 1985, 500). R. C. Dwivedi’s account of “the concept of the śāstra” appears to vacillate in calling the genre śāstra or sutra; see for example, Dwivedi (1985–1986, 43). 24 I have paraphrased Nāgārjuna here. A more literal translation of the relevant verses (MK:0:2) is: Dependent co-origination As the felicitous cessation of conceptualization This is what the Fully Enlightened Buddha taught I salute him, the best of speakers (yaḥ pratītyasamutpādaṃ prapañcopaśamaṃ śivam / deśayāmāsa saṃbuddhas taṃ vande vadatāṃ varam). It is noteworthy that Siderits and Katsura (2013, 13) include an explanatory gloss in their translation of MK:0:2b, which is thus rendered: “[. . . for the purpose of nirvāṇa characterized by] the auspicious cessation of hypostasization.” They further note that: This verse serves not only as a dedication of the work to the Buddha but also as an announcement of purpose… Nāgārjuna does not explicitly claim here that this work will help one achieve liberation from saṃsāra (it is Candrakīrti who says this is the purpose of the text), but what he does say suggests that this is the intention behind his work. 25 See for example Republic V 476D-477B on knowledge and opinion, 477B-478D on these two as faculties operating on distinct objects, and 478D-480A on the objects of opinion (Plato 2006, 183–189), which Plato states to lie “somewhere between pure being and not being” (Plato 2006, 188). In relation to this passage, Szaif (2007, 257) states Plato’s argument as one that: characterizes the doxastic state of mind as a state of deception and the objects a person in this state is acquainted with as being deceptive or ‘untrue’ insofar as they (like dream images) conceal their nature as mere copies. The only way to overcome this deception is philosophy . . . [which] make[s] us aware of the reality of the Forms. For a far ampler account of Plato’s theory of knowledge by the same author, see Szaif (1996). As for Plato’s ontological characterization of conventional reality as “between pure being and not being,” and more generally his notion of the “metaxy” (the “in-between” or “middle ground”) in the Symposium, this has seemingly colored Bugault’s reading of Nāgārjuna, for he declares that “Nāgārjuna . . . is the philosopher of the ‘in-between’” (Bugault 1983, 27). Ruegg, however, cites the Laṅkāvatārasūtra in this regard, which “states that the wise person will not take his stand even in a middle position—a metaxú—located between the two extreme positions of existence and non-existence (i.e., Positions I and II of the catuṣkoṭi)—an important point that has sometimes been overlooked in discussions of the Madhyamaka as a Philosophy of the Middle” (Ruegg 2000, 114 n8). Nāgārjuna’s “middle way” should thus not be taken as located between being and nonbeing, but rather as the rejection of both; indeed, of all four possible positions as per the catuṣkoṭi. 26 See, for example, Regington Rajapakse, who argues that the Buddha “is a religious teacher but also a philosopher” (Rajapakse 1986, 51). See also Mahinda Deegalle (2010), which includes a long section of papers delivered at the 2009 conference of the European Network of Buddhist Christian Studies on the topic of Authority in Buddhism and Christianity. These papers cover matters such as scriptural, spiritual, institutional, and political authority as well as “the crisis of authority” in the two religions. What I suggest here should not be misconstrued as a reductionist claim to the effect that Christianity and Buddhism can be characterized adequately, distinctively, and respectively as belief centered and insight centered. Rather, I am calling attention, first, to the understanding, of immense historical importance to the development of both “religion” and “philosophy” in Western (that is, Christianate) culture, that these are distinct, if not mutually opposed, spheres of action, and second, to the fact that such an understanding is not operative within the classical Buddhist worldview of Nāgārjuna. 27 Roy Perrett (2016, 4) makes the same claim in the context of his critique of what he calls the “secularity condition” on philosophy. 28 The OED dubs “anachorism” a nonce word, which is unfortunate, since the need for a spatial equivalent for the temporal incongruity encapsulated in “anachronism” is evident. 29 The following passage is also worth citing in full in this context: In deciding whether Buddhist doctrine—either as preceptive scriptural teaching (deśanādharma) or as a way of life to be practised (adhigamadharma)—is genuinely philosophical, much will of course depend on what we think philosophy is about. Were it to be considered to be unbridled speculative thought, or about the construction of a metaphysical system, Buddhist thought would no doubt not be pure philosophy. And a doctrine like Buddhism, which has represented itself as therapeutic and soteriological, would not be counted as essentially philosophical so long as philosophy is understood to be nothing but analysis of concepts, language, and meaning (though these matters do play an important part in the history of Buddhist thought, too). But the fact remains that, in Buddhism, soteriology, gnoseology, and epistemology have been closely bound up with each other. (Ruegg 2010, 223) The soteriological import of Buddhist philosophy as expressed by Nāgārjuna has already been emphasized and will occupy our attention again below. To separate what for Nāgārjuna are two sides of the same coin (a coin only in circulation for the purpose of paying the ferrier to get one to the farther shore), I am proposing that Nāgārjuna is exemplary as a Buddhist philosopher in that he conceives the rational search for abstract truth typically taken (in Western currency) to characterize the philosophical enterprise to be intelligible, let alone valuable, only insofar as it serves the soteriological end of the religious. 30 Huntington (1989, 14) cites the full passage I select from here. 31 Jin Park has recently formulated her critique of such “arbitrary compartmentalization” in much the same terms as my own. She writes: Mark Siderits, a scholar of Buddhist philosophy, began his book Buddhism as Philosophy (2007, 7) by analyzing the discipline of philosophy. Siderits distinguished Buddhist philosophy from religion, stating that Buddhist philosophy is not concerned about ‘soteriology,’ ‘faith,’ or ‘theistic reality,’ and instead focusing on attaining the ultimate goal of liberation through ‘rational investigation of the nature of the world.’… Siderits’ effort to present Buddhism as philosophy, ironically, indicates that Buddhism has yet to be fully accepted as a philosophy in the Western scene. In order to claim that Buddhism is a philosophy, Siderits had to impose on Buddhism the characteristics of the traditional Western philosophical categories. (Park 2017, 186) 32 See for example Garfield and Priest 2002, 87: “Nāgārjuna is simply too committed to rigorous analytical argument to be dismissed as a mystic.” In an article co-written by Garfield and Priest together with Deguchi, they elaborate, furthermore, that “Buddhism can be rational although inconsistent—indeed, ultra-rational, since the contradictions are the result of following a certain view of the world through to its logical conclusions” (Deguchi et al. 2008, 401). Note that Matthew Bagger is an exception in that he characterizes Nāgārjuna straightforwardly as a “mystic” (see Bagger 2007, 13), but it is telling that he is a specialist not of Nāgārjuna but of philosophy of religion. Steven Katz, another philosopher of religion, also classifies Nāgārjuna among the mystics based on his broadening of the traditional understanding of the term “mysticism” to include nontheistic religious traditions, as per his definition: “Mysticism is the quest for direct experience of God, Being, or Ultimate Reality, however these are understood, that is, theistically or non-theistically” (Katz 2013, 3). The numerous problems with this formulation (e.g., the prioritization of “experience”; the onto-theological presuppositions at work in emphasizing “God,” “Being,” and “Reality”; and the dichotomization of these into “theistic” or “nontheistic”) are beyond the scope of the present article. Besides which, I can only approve Denys Turner’s declaration that “I do not know of any discussions which shed less light on the subject of ‘mysticism’ than those many which attempt definitional answers to the question ‘what is mysticism?’” (Turner 1995, 2, emphasis original). Finally, L. Stafford Betty’s article (whose title, “Nāgārjuna’s Masterpiece: Logical, Mystical, Both, or Neither?”, is sufficient testimony to the unquestioned prevalence of the “logical vs mystical” paradigm), concludes that he is both (Betty 1983, 136). 33 See also Panikkar 1988, where he proposes “diatopical hermeneutics [as] the required method of interpretation when the distance to overcome, needed for any understanding, is not just a distance within one single culture (morphological hermeneutics), or a temporal one (diachronic hermeneutics), but rather the distance between two (or more) cultures, which have independently developed in different spaces (topoi) their own methods of philosophizing and ways of reaching intelligibility along with their proper categories” (Panikkar 1988, 130). Perhaps “anatopical” could be used to supplement the term “anachoristic” suggested above. 34 That “mysticism,” no less than “religion,” is a Western—and recent—invention has been convincingly shown in a plethora of scholarly monographs and articles (see for example Proudfoot 1985, 184 and Masuzawa 2005). 35 These designations are taken from Garfield (2008, 515–516), where he uncritically positions himself and us “as interpreters . . . as philosophers . . . as readers . . . as good mādhyamika readers.” 36 See also in this respect Gómez’s effort to take “Madhyamaka as a form of religious thought” (Gómez 2000, 96, emphasis original). 37 Garfield’s statements (2002, 252–253, quoted above) suffice to put paid to that idea. 38 The following citations in this paragraph are likewise from this paper. 39 Again, see in particular Garfield’s comments above (2002, 252) as to the arbitrariness of classifying the arguments of Aquinas, Descartes, and Leibniz, say, as “philosophical,” but demarcating (and denigrating) those of Dharmakīrti, Tsongkhapa, and Nāgārjuna as “religious.” 40 On this model, the present article would be conceived primarily as working toward the second desideratum. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Journal of the American Academy of ReligionOxford University Press

Published: Jun 4, 2018

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