Nāgārjuna and the doctrine of "skillful means"

Philosophy East and West 50 (4):559-583 (2000)
The role of "skillful means" is examined in relation to the important Mahāyāna philosopher Nāgārjuna, and it is argued that the doctrine of "emptiness" is best understood as a critical reflection on the nature of Buddhist praxis. Whereas traditional Western scholarship sees Nāgārjuna as struggling with certain metaphysical problems, a "skillful means" reading situates his philosophy within a debate about the nature and efficacy of Buddhist practice. Thus, a "skillful means" reading of Nāgārjuna does not ask what it means for causality, the self, or consciousness to be "empty" in a very general sense, but how "emptiness" relates to the soteriological practices of Buddhism and what it means for these practices to be "empty" of inherent nature. It is argued that this situates Nāgārjuna's philosophy within a highly critical, self-reflective movement in the Buddhist tradition
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