The Madhyamaka Bus?

Thursday February 5, 2009

The Madhymaka Bus

Last Thursday, there was a piece in the Guardian newspaper about the current struggle for the souls of the nation being played out on the sides of London buses. It started with an advertising campaign launched back in January by the British Humanist Association and luminaries such as Richard Dawkins and A. C. Grayling, in which the advertising space on a number of London buses was emblazoned with the words: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The appearance of these so-called atheist buses led to at least one hundred and fifty complaints being registered with the advertising standards people, on the grounds that this slogan was offensive and that here was a claim that could not be substantiated.

Fear of claims incapable of substantiation does not seem to have hindered The Christian Party, however. Under the leadership of Rev. George Hargreaves, they have just announced that they are countering with the following slogan, similarly emblazoned: “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.” The move from ‘probably’ to ‘definitely’ seems, to my mind, to be a retrograde step, and the Christian Party have failed to iron out the apparent non sequitur lurking in the original; but it is rather touching, nevertheless, to see that Professors Dawkins and Grayling are united with the Rev. Hargreaves in wishing our well-being and enjoyment.

At this stage in proceedings, it seems to me that there’s no reason for Buddhists not to pitch in and join the fun. My proposal is for a Madhyamaka bus bearing the following well-known verse from the Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā of the philosopher Nāgārjuna:

Neither an entity nor a nonentity
Moves in any of the three ways.
So motion, bus
and route are nonexistent.

Oh, and why not enjoy your life while you are at it?

Image: FordPrefect on, Creative Commons ShareAlike

Nagarjuna quotation adapted from translation of the Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā

# · Karen wilson

Hello there Will, I think your message for the bus is great, the unfortunate thing is your message, my mail and the web are also subject to the same ethos.
May peace and peace and peace, be everywhere.


# · Peter Clothier

Great idea! But why not, more simply, “There is no bus (signed) The Buddha”…?

# · Stephen MacDonald

I love the idea of having a buddhist sign on the side of the bus in this style. To, as Will suggests, join in the fun!! But is there a way we could make it happen?

# · jake

The message on London bus was different than what you have said here. It was “There is probably no god….”. Just wanted to set the record straight


# · Will

Thanks, Jake. I’ve corrected the text. Not sure what went wrong there!
All the best,

# · ropata

How about what Jesus said (Matthew ch.11)?

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

# · Will

I’m not sure all of that would fit on the side of a bus, Ropata.

# · Robert Leslie

At the risk of being serious I suggest that motion, route, and bus are “equally empty” rather than “non-existent”.

Any way, all the suggested signs beat the pharma ads and their ilk which we must endure here in the U.S. You folks are having more fun!

# · Will

True, Robert, there are philosophical problems here… The original, incidentally, as translated by Garfield, simply has the word “mover” where I have “bus”, and in his commentary Garfield raises the same question as you, but goes on to say that this second chapter needs to be read in the context of the first chapter on conditions in the text, which serves to “bring motion, change and movable and changeable entities back from the brink of extinction.” Whether it also serves to bring the bus you are waiting for back from the brink of extinction is, alas, a different matter.
All the best,

# · Raj

Since Everything came from No Thing and Everything will go back into No Thing perhaps we Atheists Christians and Buddhists can agree on that No Thing as
the Supreme Being!

# · Jack O'Sullivan

How about,

“Atheists, Christians and Buddhists all agree that your life can be better spent on other things than reading buses.

Go on, enjoy yourself.”

Think how many seconds of people’s lives will be saved by ignoring bus adverts!

# · Jack O'Sullivan

NB: Just clarifying that I didn’t mean by my previous comment that I disliked your idea, it’s a very humorous take on the situation :)

# · Dominic

I found a site where you can create your own virtual bus poster.

I quite like “Chuang Tzu said: To a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.” And “Neither exisence nor nonexistence as we understand it applies to God.” But that’s just me.

# · Will

Thanks for the fantastic link, Dominic!
Best wishes,

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