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Nāgārjuna (c. AD 150–200)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F029-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Nāgārjuna was the first Buddhist philosopher to articulate and seek to defend the claim that all things are empty, that is, devoid of their own essential nature. A native of South India, as the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism he exerted a profound influence on the further development of Buddhist thought in South and East Asia. When he claimed that all things are empty, he denied that anything exists solely in virtue of its own inherent nature. If, as all Buddhists hold, existents only arise in dependence on other existents, then nothing may be said to have a determinate nature apart from its relations to other things. Yet prior developments in Buddhist philosophy had presumably shown that anything lacking an independent nature is a conceptual fiction and not ultimately real. Thus if all things are empty, nothing is ultimately real. Still Nāgārjuna claimed not to be a nihilist. Emptiness is rather the defeat of all metaphysical theories, all attempts at grasping the ultimate nature of reality – including nihilism. Insight into emptiness is said to free us from our tendency conceptually to construct an ultimate truth, a tendency that bolsters our sense of self. Thus realization of emptiness is, Nāgārjuna held, required in order to attain full liberation from the suffering caused by clinging.

Citing this article:
Siderits, Mark. Nāgārjuna (c. AD 150–200), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F029-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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