Understanding Nagarjuna’s Dedicatory Verses in Indian Philosophy: 4 Interesting Concepts
Dedicatory Verses are generally a certain form of performatives which are narrated and presented by an author who, in this case is also the narrator of the verses which he/she dedicates to a certain known personality whom they consider to be their teachers and sources of inspiration. The given dedicatory verses narrated by Nagarjuna are dedicated to his inspiration and teacher, the Buddha. These announce the program of the Mulamadhyamakarika. Nagarjuna was the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, and widely considered the most important Buddhist philosopher after the Buddha. Nagarjuna presents his dedicatory verse to the Buddha by prostrating to him that he is ‘perfect’ and the best of teachers. The Buddha had taught that whatever is dependently arisen is unceasing, unborn, unannihilated, not permanent, not coming and not going, without distinction, without identity and free from conceptual construction.
Four Pairwise Denials in Nagarjuna’s Dedicatory Verses
So, we need to understand the broad inferences which we may tend to make from these terms which are identified to be four pairwise denials. By stating that something is dependently arisen, Nagarjuna through the words of the Buddha here talks about all those living elements which are born or have arisen due to the support and dependency from another significant element and by saying dependently arisen he also asks us to decipher the hidden meaning of it which specifies that this particular element which is dependent on the other doesn’t possess the ability and affinity to arise independently and it wouldn’t even have arisen if the other element which can be considered the ‘mother’ element wouldn’t be present in that situation. Proceeding ahead towards the second denial term stated this particular dependently arisen element is unceasing we need to understand that since this element doesn’t possess the strength and the attribute of independent existence it can be considered a sort of ‘dead’ element and so eventually it fails to live like other independent elements and so it is unceasing. The terms dead and unceasing here are like oxymorons and contradict each other but that is the motive of Nagarjuna to explain his readers that all things that are dependently arisen are without essence. An essence is the true nature of a thing, which it is supposed to possess inherently and considered in itself. But for a thing to have such a nature it would have to be ‘ontologically independent’ in just the way Nagarjuna is denying anything can be.
So, an absence of the essence in anything defines it to be lifeless and dead but at the same time since it is devoid of an essence it also ensures that it is unceasing and an essence still ceases at one point of time but if there is no essence then it is forever unceasing. Now, understanding that such a dependent element is also unborn can be easily inferred as it has no essence and has the attribute of emptiness which is an absence of essence and this characteristic is shared by all that exists.
Understanding the Essence of Dedicatory Verses
Next, we need to understand that these dependently arisen elements do not come and go to any specific geographic location and are forever stagnant and observe a paucity of movement and life as after all they do not have any essence which requires to be spread and communicated further ahead to other organisms of life. So, without any motives and aspirations, these elements retain silence and a stagnant character till eternity. A paucity of movement and aims and aspirations and motives in turn reflect a lost identity and a sense of anonymous characterization as these elements cannot be classified or categorized into any form of qualities possessed by other elements and nor do they possess an independent name or identification. So, we can reflect from these terms at least that these elements are somewhere in between the pairwise denials and they are aroused in such a manner that each attribute of theirs is contradicting to the previous one. Conclusively, these elements are devoid of any sort of distinctions and are also free from conceptual construction as they aren’t a phenomenon of any form of concepts and distinct structures so they are devoid of all these specifications. By unannihilated we mean that the element is not destroyed utterly and also not defeated completely. In all these four pairwise denials, there is no positive assertion about the fundamental nature of things.
Also, Nagarjuna doesn’t state anything clearly about the essence of something in the Dedicatory Verses as he would be denying the coherence and utility of the concept of an essence. Assertions that are denied are assertions about the final nature of phenomena that emerge from philosophical analysis and such assertions are independent of conventions.
Nagarjuna in the Dedicatory Verses defends the conventional existence of phenomena, he will urge that none of them ultimately exist, that none of them ultimately exist, that none of them exist independently of convention with identities and natures that they possess in themselves.
Concluding Remarks about Nagarjuna’s Dedicatory Verses
Also, these dedicatory verses help us gain a deeper insight into the human nature and the mentality of the society’s individuals who largely rely upon the society’s made expectations and authenticity signs which make us as individuals think over our philosophies of ideas and thoughts many times before presenting them before the society and we depend on what is largely validated and believed in a society and if we tend to deviate from it then we experience large outburst of anticipation, disapproval and a large and intense non acceptance from society for not following the rules prescribed in it. Therefore, when we ponder upon the fact that what makes humans increasingly reliant on the conventions created by society and what makes us constantly look out for validation, then it is on the basis of these dedicatory verses as formulated by Nagarjuna. Those propositions or beliefs that are primarily initiated independently of the societal conventions are considered with reprimand or any sort of disapproval or disgust from society then they are not worthy of discussion in the public realm.
In addition, only those dedicatory verses that are proposed by Nagarjuna are considered to be in relation to conventions and can be openly discussed in the societal context. Considered among the most primary realms of Buddhism, Nagarjuna’s verses are to be revered for generations to come! Further generations can cherish the fruits of these verses in essence and can truly attempt to understand their necessity in their socio-cultural context.