2016-06-30
The Buddhist monk and teacher Nagarjuna lived sometime around the second century C.E. in India. Thought little is known about his life, many scholars have argued that he was second only to the Buddha in importance, because he was such a huge influence on Zen in China and Japan and on Tibetan Buddhism--and because he founded the Madhyamika (Middle Path) school of Mahayana Buddhism. Despite his importance, however, there have been few efforts to systematically study his seminal work, a 27-chapter poetic meditation, "Verses from the Center."

Now Stephen Batchelor, himself a former monk, has newly translated "Verses from the Center." The translation is accompanied by an engaging essay analyzing the significance of the poem in the development of Buddhist teachings. Batchelor's goal throughout was to treat Nagarjuna's book primarily as a poem, rather than a work of philosophy. There may have been some shortcomings to this approach. At times the translation seems a bit too much like modern blank verse, and one wonders just what important elements of the original are simply lost; Batchelor claims that his "Nagarjunian voice" was influenced by writers "as diverse as John Keats, T.S. Eliot and John Lennon." Still, there are many passages of stunning loveliness in "Verses from the Center." Readers interested in Buddhism will certainly find much of interest here, in the poetry itself, the historical information, and in Batchelor's engaging exegesis.

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