Aryadeva’s “400 Stanzas on the Middle Way”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like cattle intended for slaughter,
Death is common to all.
Moreover when you see others die
Why do you not fear the Lord of Death?
            –Verse 6

Blinded by desire they do not see
Sensuality’s faults, like a leper scratching.
Those free from desire see the infatuated
As suffering like the leper.
            –Verse 64

In this series access commentaries by Venerable Thubten Chodron and Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe on a classic Indian Buddhist philosophical text, Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way by Aryadeva.

About the author

Aryadeva, said to have lived between the second and third centuries C.E., was a native of what is now known as Sri Lanka. The heart disciple of Nagarjuna, Aryadeva was a learned scholar, debater and teacher at Nalanda monastery in India. The Tibetan canon contains many works on sutra and tantra attributed to Aryadeva.

About the text

The Four Hundred Stanzas is both a commentary and supplement to Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Middle Way. The text devotes much time to illuminate the meaning of Nagarjuna’s assertion that the Middle Way teachings on emptiness present a path that leads to full awakening.

Moreover, the text provides in-depth refutations of non-Buddhist tenet systems not addressed in Nagarjuna’s writing, and an in-depth explanation of those parts of the path to awakening associated with conventional truths.

Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way is divided into 16 chapters of 50 verses each. The first eight chapters explain the stages of the path to awakening dependent on conventional truths. Subjects covered include:

  • The main topics for meditation on impermanence and death
  • Understanding the nature of the body to be unclean and a source of pain
  • Learning to apply antidotes to disturbing states of mind
  • The qualities of the Buddha’s enlightened mind and enlightened activity
  • The practices of bodhisattvas
  • Rebirth, renunciation and karma
  • Preparing oneself to be a good student

Having come to an understanding of conventional reality, the second eight chapters focus on ultimate truth. Aryadeva presents various lines of reasoning to understand emptiness, the Buddhist doctrine of how things really exist: that things lack inherent existence, but rather exist dependently. Subjects covered include:

  • Refutation of self, space, time, particles and liberation as permanent functional things
  • Refutation of erroneous concepts of the self
  • The selflessness of phenomena
  • Becoming a suitable vessel for teachings on emptiness
  • Understanding that things do not exist as they appear
  • Overcoming the two extremes of absolutism and nihilism
  • Refutation of inherent production, duration and disintegration
  • Refuting various misconceptions regarding the teachings on emptiness

Who it’s for

Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas provides a comprehensive layout of the Buddhist world view as well as an in-depth presentation of the Middle Way philosophy of ultimate reality. These teachings thus cater to new and seasoned students of Buddhism alike.

The clear commentary by Venerable Thubten Chodron grounds these teachings with practical advice on how to implement them in daily living. A text frequently taught by Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe, his commentary shares the insights that arise from prolonged familiarity and exploration of the subject matter.

Resources

Access the audio and video recordings of Venerable Thubten Chodron’s teachings, as well as links to review quizzes here:

You will find the ongoing series of teachings by Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe on the Sravasti Abbey youtube playlist here:

If the future is produced
Why is it not present?
If it is unproduced
Is the future permanent or what?
            –Verse 256

If a thing did not depend
On anything else at all
It would be self-established,
But such a thing exists nowhere.
            –Verse 326