You can get the book from here:

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

This book is a must read for those seeking to have a foundational understanding of the core teachings of Buddha.

In terms of insight it is more towards anatta. (Comments by John Tan below). I personally think the author should have realised anatta.

Sent John Tan quotations:

It must be repeated here that according to Buddhist philosophy there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul’, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that consciousness (viññāṇa) should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter. This point has to be particularly emphasized, because a wrong notion that consciousness is a sort of Self or Soul that continues as a permanent substance through life, has persisted from the earliest time to the present day.
One of the Buddha’s own disciples, Sāti by name, held that the Master taught: ‘It is the same consciousness that transmigrates and wanders about.’ The Buddha asked him what he meant by ‘consciousness’. Sāti reply is classical: ‘It is that which expresses, which feels, which experiences the results of good and bad deeds here and there’.
‘To whomever, you stupid one’, remonstrated the Master, ‘have you heard me expounding the doctrines in this manner? Haven’t I in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of conditions: that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions’. Then the Buddha went on to explain consciousness in detail: ‘Consciousness is named according to whatever condition through which it arises: on account of the eye and visible forms arises a consciousness, and it is called visual consciousness; on account of the ear and sounds arises a consciousness, and it is called auditory consciousness; on account of the nose and odours arises consciousness, and it is called olfactory consciousness; on account of the tongue and tastes arises a consciousness, and it is called gustatory consciousness; on account of the body and tangible objects arises a consciousness, and it is called tactile consciousness; on account of the mind and mind-objects (ideas and thoughts) arises a consciousness, and it is called mental consciousness.’
Then the Buddha explained it further by an illustration: A fire is named according to the material on account of which it burns. A fire may burn on account of wood, add it is called wood-fire. It may burn on account of straw, and then it is called straw-fire. So consciousness is named account to the condition through which it arises.[57]
Dwelling on this point, Buddhaghosa, the great commentator, explains: ‘… a fire that burns on account of wood burns only when there is a supply, but dies down in that very place when it (the supply) is no longer there, because then the condition has changed, but (the fire) does not cross over to splinters, etc., and become a splinter-fire and so on; even so the consciousness that arises on account of the eye and visible forms arises in that gate of sense organ (i.e., in the eye), only when there is the condition of the eye, visible forms, light and attention, but ceases then and there when it (the condition) is no more there, because then the condition has changed, but (the consciousness) does not cross over to the ear, etc., and become auditory consciousness and so on…’[58]
The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations and that it cannot exist independently of them. He says:
‘Consciousness may exist having matter as its means (rūpupāyaṃ), matter as its object (rūpārammaṇaṃ), matter as its support (rūpa-patiṭṭham), and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop; or consciousness may exist having sensation as its means… or perception as its means… or mental formations as its means, mental formations as its objects, mental formations as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop.
‘Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.’[59]
Very briefly these are the five Aggregates. What we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, or, ‘I’, is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of these five groups. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. ‘Whatever is impermanent is dukkha’ (Yad aniccaṃ tam dukkhaṃ). This is the true meaning of the Buddha’s words: ‘In brief the five Aggregates of Attachment are dukkha’. They are not the same for two consecutive moments. Here A is not equal to A. They are in a flux of momentary arising and disappearing.
‘O Brāhmaṇa, it is just like a mountain river, flowing far and swift, taking everything along with it; there is no moment, no instant, no second when it stops flowing, but it goes on flowing and continuing. So Brāhmaṇa, is human life, like a mountain river.’[60] As the Buddha told Raṭṭhapāla: ‘The world is in continuous flux and is impermanent.’
One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent Self (Ātman), individuality, or anything that can in reality be called ‘I’. Every one will agree that neither matter, nor sensation, nor perception, nor any one of those mental activities, nor consciousness can really be called ‘I’.[61] But when these five physical and mental aggregates which are interdependent are working together in combination as a physio-psychological machine,[62] we get the idea of ‘I’. But this is only a false idea, a mental formation, which is nothing but one of those 52 mental formations of the fourth Aggregate which we have just discussed, namely, it is the idea of self (sakkāya-diṭṭhi).
These five Aggregate together, which we popularly call a ‘being’ are dukkha itself (saṃkhāra-dukkha). There is no other ‘being’ or ‘I’, standing behind these five aggregates, who experiences dukkha. As Buddhaghosa says:
‘Mere suffering exists, but no sufferer is found; 
The deeds are, but no doer is found.’[63]
There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you remove the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum: ‘I think, therefore I am.’


Sometimes you see a man in a restaurant reading while eating – a very common sight. He gives you the impression of being a very busy man, with no time even for eating. You wonder whether he eats or reads. One may say that he does both. In fact, he does neither, he enjoys neither. He is strained, and disturbed in mind, and he does not enjoy what he does at the moment, does not live his life in the present moment, but unconsciously and foolishly tries to escape from life. (This does not mean, however, that one should not talk with a friend while having lunch or dinner.)
You cannot escape life however you may try. As long as you live, whether in a town or in a cave, you have to face it and live it. Real life is the present moment – not the memories of the past which is dead and gone, nor the dreams of the future which is not yet born. One who lives in the present moment lives in the real life, and he is happiest.
When asked why his disciples, who lived a simple and quiet life with only one meal a day, were so radiant, the Buddha replied: ‘They do not repent the past, nor do they brood over the future. They live in the present. Therefore they are radiant. By brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up like green reeds cut down (in the sun).’[164]
Mindfulness, or awareness, does not mean that you should think and be conscious ‘I am doing this’ or ‘I am doing that’. No. Just the contrary. The moment you think ‘I am doing this’ you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea ‘I am’, and consequently your work too is spoilt. You should forget yourself completely, and lose yourself in what you do. The moment a speaker becomes self-conscious and thinks ‘I am addressing an audience’, his speech is disturbed and his trend of thought broken. But when he forgets himself in his speech, in his subject, then he is at his best, he speaks well and explains things clearly. All great work – artistic, poetic, intellectual or spiritual – is produced at those moments when its creators are lost completely in their actions, when they forget themselves altogether, and are free from self-consciousness.
This mindfulness or awareness with regard to our activities, taught by the Buddha, is to live in the present moment, to live in the present action. (This is also the Zen way which is based primarily on this teaching.) Here in this form of meditation, you haven’t got to perform any particular action in order to develop mindfulness, but you have only to be mindful and aware of whatever you may do. You haven’t got to spend one second of your precious time on this particular ‘meditation’: you have only to cultivate mindfulness and awareness always, day and night, with regard to all activities in your usual daily life. These two forms of ‘meditation’ discussed above are connected with our body.
Then there is a way of practising mental development (‘meditation’) with regard to all our sensations or feelings, whether happy, unhappy or neutral. Let us take only one example. You experience an unhappy, sorrowful sensation. In this state your mind is cloudy, hazy, not clear, it is depressed. In some cases, you do not even see clearly why you have that unhappy feeling. First of all, you should learn not to be unhappy about your unhappy feeling, not to be worried about your worries. But try to see clearly why there is a sensation or a feeling of unhappiness, or worry, or sorrow. Try to examine how it arises, its cause, how it disappears, its cessation. Try to examine it as if you are observing it from outside, without any subjective reaction, as a scientist observes some object. Here, too, you should not look at it as ‘my feeling’ or ‘my sensation’ subjectively, but only look at it as ‘a feeling’ or ‘a sensation’ objectively. You should forget again the false idea of ‘I’. When you see its nature, how it arises and disappears, your mind grows dispassionate towards that sensation, and becomes detached and free. It is the same with regard to all sensations or feelings.
Now let us discuss the form of ‘meditation’ with regard to our minds. You should be fully aware of the fact whenever your mind is passionate or detached, whenever it is overpowered by hatred, ill-will, jealousy, or is full of love, compassion, whenever it is deluded or has a clear and right understanding, and so on and so forth. We must admit that very often we are afraid or ashamed to look at our own minds. So we prefer to avoid it. One should be bold and sincere and look at one’s own mind as one looks at one’s face in a mirror.[165]
Here is no attitude of criticizing or judging, or discriminating between right and wrong, or good and bad. It is simply observing, watching, examining. You are not a judge, but a scientist. When you observe your mind, and see its true nature clearly, you become dispassionate with regard to its emotions, sentiments and states. Thus you become detached and free, so that you may see things as they are.

[10:23 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: This book is nice
[10:23 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: I didnt see the buddhaghosa quote in the first two pages above before
[10:23 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: I think its clear and good
[10:23 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: The fire and wood
[10:29 PM, 1/23/2021] John Tan: Yes
[11:20 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: I think the only point missing is what dependently originates does not truly originate
[11:20 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: But that would be the unique point of mahayana and this book is theravadin
[11:43 PM, 1/23/2021] John Tan: What does they mean in this context? The subjectively is "gone" and everything turns "objective". How this notion "objectively" arise? Because of this, there is "existence". These notions "objectively", "existence" r what "inherentness" mean. If nothing is "inherently" there, then it is neither subjective nor objective but merely designated as objective or subjective, this is the "conceptual level" of release I m talking abt. Then there is the level of taste i told u.
[11:44 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: oic..
[11:44 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: so the book is more like anatta but turn into objectivity
[11:47 PM, 1/23/2021] John Tan: It is anatta, otherwise path towards emptiness will be clear.
[11:48 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: ic..
[11:48 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: yeah i think the author realised anatta
[11:49 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: i told anurag to get this book, he got it yesterday 

[11:58 PM, 1/23/2021] John Tan: I heard many said it is a good book
[11:58 PM, 1/23/2021] Soh Wei Yu: yeah.. i think its the best introduction to buddha's teachings

  • I was contemplating and marinating in the "not found" essence I posted about a few days ago here when there was a marked changed in perception. I had been seeing the "not here, not anywhere, non-local" taste of everything that was coming up on the cushion and off. At one point I started to feel the whole phenomenal field as flux, then it spread to this body-mind. Everything felt like transient presence that is not found. The mind "interacting" with things was seen to have always been various clusters of conditions exerting themselves as the sense field. It was seen that it has always been this way, no center to anything at all. I sat there with my jaw hanging open for 5 minutes, such a giant sense of relief and gratitude washed over me. It felt like I had been involved somehow with keeping up the radiance of the transient field and I had just dropped that. The whole thing is doing itself, what I think of as me interacting with the world is just scattered transience, not found, not linked. My mind blew up and didn't come back together and it's so much better this way. Empty, Luminous, Not here, Not anywhere, Just flux with no boundaries, all boundaries were strictly conceptual. Fluxing gonna flux. 🙏 🙏 🙏


    I forgot to mention right before this in my practice I was starting to intuit the nature of grasping and how emptiness directly counteracts that. The feeling of "being involved" was grasping and then the whole field was realized to be always already empty. No more conditions for grasping the field itself, so that let go and caused the feeling of everything doing itself

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    Nice 🙂

    Jayson MPaul
    shared a link.

    I was reading this post about total exertion last night from the blog and it had this video attached: While watching it I remembered of a mystical experience I had many years back during a psychedelic trip of seeing everything like this video. Seeing everything linking up with everything else in real time in my visual field. I remember at that moment I felt like I was the life force of the universe, the connection between all things. That seemed to be a peak experience of total exertion.
    This morning while sitting, I got settled in the not foundness of the field and started to question time as well. The not foundness of time is also quite releasing. An insight I had the other day popped up: in direct experience there is no dividing line between sound/silence, vision/darkness, etc. Bringing in dependent origination of the vivid colors and shapes, I could see that there was no dividing line between the eye, light, the objects being reflected off, and the visual field. These vivid colors ARE the expression of the eye, the sun, the brain, the body, the room, the breath, everything. All phenomena are the full expression of the totality and at the same time are completely not found, weightless, nowhere at all. All hope of grasping something fell away. It is all just this.

 I have added a new blogger tag . Click on that link to view past writings by John Tan.




Alessandro Socio Migliori

What is a good commentary of mmk?


André A. Pais

I like Garfield's.



Stian Gudmundsen Høiland

I’ve read almost all of them, and the one by Mark Siderits & Shoryu Katsura is the most balanced and unbiased by far:

That isn’t always what you want though. Sometimes you want the author to weight in more heavily, and for that nothing beats Mervyn Sprung’s Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way.



Nagarjuna's Middle Way: Mulamadhyamakakarika (Classics of Indian Buddhism)

Nagarjuna's Middle Way: Mulamadhyamakakarika (Classics of Indian Buddhism)



Alessandro Socio Migliori



André A. Pais

I've actually just started rereading the MMK with Garfield's commentary along with Siderits/Katsura. I find the latter very "lofty", going into little detail, although helpful at times. I'm only 2 chapters in though.



Tyler Jones

André, I would distinguish between a commentary and an explanation. A commentary need only clarify what the root text is actually saying, because it was often cryptic to save words and fit the meter. For instance Candrakirti wrote a commentary on MMK, and also his own text explaining Madhyamaka. I think Siderits is an exemplary commentary, and for an explanation I go to Westerhoff.


4 · 1d


Soh Wei Yu


John tan said "In terms of ranking, I prefer Jan Westerhoff, Garfield then Siderits. Like what Tyler said Siderits is more of clarifying what the root text is saying, his presentation is quite structured in point forms and the settings behind the text and opponent views help readers understand the root text better. Westerhoff went far beyond and many points are related to anatta insight but more from the philosophical angle. But what all these books lack is how it can help one breakthrough conceptualities, what exactly is mmk trying to arrive at. After studying mmk, how does it help in freeing our mind?”



Tyler Jones

There are a couple of things I really like about Westerhoff. The first is that his "Western philosophy" style exposition makes it easier for me to grasp the subtle points than the explanations by shedra trained khenpos/geshes that I have seen. I have the same praise for Garfield. The second is that he incorporates Tsongkhapa's illuminating philosophical insights on various points without being a fully Gelug presentation, which is what Garfield gives. 



  • Soh
    , loved the quote by Tsong-Kha-Pa! By the way just to let you know I have started my study of Nagarjuna. Using the book by Mark Siderits. Have you got any other suggestion?

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    And for a basic introductory book on emptiness, can also check out “how to see yourself as you really are” by dalai lama, which greg goode has also written a commentary (findable on his website) based on that text

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    [11:32 PM, 8/20/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Ok
    [11:34 PM, 8/20/2018] John Tan: How u see yourself as u really r is a good read too
    [11:34 PM, 8/20/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Dalai Lama?
    [11:34 PM, 8/20/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Ya I read before. It’s good
    [11:34 PM, 8/20/2018] John Tan: Yes
    [11:35 PM, 8/20/2018] Soh Wei Yu: TOP recommendation by Greg lol
    [11:35 PM, 8/20/2018] Soh Wei Yu: He also made a commentary on that text
    [11:35 PM, 8/20/2018] John Tan: Is it?
    [11:35 PM, 8/20/2018] John Tan: Lol
    [10:25 AM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: After mmk, I realized it is all just although going in-depth on mmk helps to provide deeper understanding.
    [10:25 AM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: 🤣
    [11:36 AM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: What do u mean
    [11:37 AM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: The way Hong wen Liang explain mmk also like Anaya
    [11:37 AM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Anatta
    [11:38 AM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: It is anatta but don't want to say to much lah
    [11:38 AM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: Lol
    [11:41 AM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: It however provides us deeper insights and can clear those tendencies that relates to mind obscuration to a great extend especially on the issue of production and existence.
    [11:45 AM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Oic..
    [11:47 AM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: Anatta is experiential insight but certain mind obscurstion tendencies are difficult to see and r brought to light through ultimate analysis. This helps a lot.
    [11:48 AM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Ic..
    [6:28 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Btw
    [6:28 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: U remember what Greg Goode wrote about his experience with madhyamika
    [6:29 PM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: No
    [6:29 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: It led to anatta sort of insight and experience
    [6:29 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: His contemplation on prior entity
    [6:29 PM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: Can't remember
    [6:30 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: "It
    looks your Bahiya Sutta experience helped you see awareness in a
    different way, more .... empty. You had a background in a view that saw
    awareness as more inherent or essential or substantive?
    had an experience like this too. I was reading a sloka in Nagarjuna's
    treatise about the "prior entity," and I had been meditating on
    "emptiness is form" intensely for a year. These two threads came
    together in a big flash. In a flash, I grokked the emptiness of
    awareness as per Madhyamika. This realization is quite different from
    the Advaitic oneness-style realization. It carries one out to the
    "ten-thousand things" in a wonderful, light and free and kaleidoscopic,
    playful insubstantial clarity and immediacy. No veils, no holding back.
    No substance or essence anywhere, but love and directness and intimacy " -
    [6:31 PM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: Ic
    [6:33 PM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: Mmk helps me a lot on clear the obscuration on existence and production. Not so much in experiential experience. Experience remains the same, more on karmic obscuration that blinds me on these aspects.
    [6:34 PM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: But there e lots of confusions due to the usages of certain terms across the different schools. Need quite some time to clarify all these terms.
    [6:36 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Oic..
    [6:36 PM, 8/22/2018] Soh Wei Yu: Maybe because u already realise anatta. When Greg read madhyamika he was still stuck with one mind subsuming
    [6:37 PM, 8/22/2018] John Tan: Possibly