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Journal for the Study of Religion

versión On-line ISSN 2413-3027
versión impresa ISSN 1011-7601


MASON, Garth. Is Samsāra actually the Same as Nirvāa? A critical examination of Nāgārjuna's provocative understanding of emptiness. J. Study Relig. [online]. 2014, vol.27, n.2, pp.94-114. ISSN 2413-3027.

A recent trend in interpreting Nāgārjuna's claim that samsãra is the same as Nirvāṇa is to highlight the identity of dependent origination and emptiness in Nāgārjuna's writings. Although this trend is correct in foregrounding the identity claim in this central Mahãyãna thinker's philosophy, the complexity of the claim requires interrogation. In this article I will explore various possible ways of interpreting Nāgārjuna's claim that a broad all-encompassing understanding of emptiness leads to a clear appreciation of all things. For example, some theorists place his assertion within a textual context and others place it in a historical context, while others again explore the logic of the statement. This article examines three possible interpretative models of what Nãgãrjuna could mean by the interaction between conventional and ultimate knowledge: Model One - The Identity Model. Conventional knowledge is identical to ultimate knowledge; Model Two - The Equivalence Model. There is an equivalent relationship between conventional knowledge and ultimate knowledge; Model Three - The Nihilistic Model. Both conventional and ultimate knowledge are fundamentally indiscernible and therefore devoid of meaning. Hopefully, by comparing the strengths and viability of the three models, this article will contribute to a better understanding of Nāgārjuna's provocative claim that a clear understanding of things is attainable through apprehension of emptiness. Further, I will posit that the best possible model for understanding this claim is the equivalence model. But that does not suggest that the other two models do not offer useful ideas in the interpretation of Nāgārjuna's claim. It is, therefore, important to consider the contribution of each model.

Palabras clave : Nāgārjuna; Samsāra; Nirvāa; identity theory; equivalence; nihilistic; conventional knowledge; ultimate truth; two-truths; sameness.

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