Both David J. Kalupahana (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna, Delhi 1991) and Joseph Walser (Nāgārjuna in Context, New York 2005 – don’t waste your money on it) consider Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā to be an implicit reaction on the Pali Scripture the Kaccāyanagottasutta.
The monk Kaccāyana is mentioned in the Mūla, hence the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā has him as addressee, they said. Could be. Let’s not go too far into it and not add to the wild speculations of especially Mr. Walser.
One of the verses in the Mūla, Ch. 24, 14, seems to render Nāgārjuna’s thinking on emptiness most clearly, and at the same time most intricate. David Kalupahana, the only one who bothered to give us the transliteration of the Sanscrit verses (a posthumus thank you to Mr. Kalupahana), made his own translation. Mr. Walser used M. Sprung’s 1967 version (Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapada of Candrakirti, p.235. London 1967).
Both translations differ in the rendering of the words “yujyate” and “sūnyatā/ sūnyam”.
Here are the two lines:
Sarvam ca yujyate tasya sūnyatā yasya yujyate,
sarvam na yujyate tasya sūnyam yasya na yujyate.
David J. Kalupahana translated them with:
“Everything is pertinent for whom emptiness is proper. Everything is not pertinent for whom the empty is not proper.”
M.Sprung offered the translation:
“All things make sense (yujyate) for him for whom the absence of being (sunyatā) makes sense. Nothing makes sense for him for whom the absence of being does not make sense.”
Yujyate – derived from the stem yuj. We see here how one translator used “(being) pertinent”, and the other choose “make (making) sense”.
In Sanskrit the stem “yuj” is applied in many ways, such as in -yujya: to yoke, to fix, to charge, to concentrate, to join, etc.
In Pali things seem to be a lot simpler. We come across “anuyoga” [Sk. Anu + yuj] which stands for application, devotion to, execution, and practice of.
To a Buddhist mind the word sūnyatā appears to be a lot less complicated. The Pali interpretation is indeed “absence of self” (atta), by Mr. Sprung understood as “absence of being”.
The Mahāyāna Sanscritic interpretation of sūnyatā goes beyond the discussion of the self and implies the ultimate ens-lessness of beings and things, the lack of enduring essence in whatever there might be in the universe.
So we might be tempted to amalgamate both translations of the two lines and conclude that, as “yuj” is intrically linked with the meditative mind that is totally absorbed in the subject, the text ought to be understood as
“As long as your (meditative) mind is totally yoked (yuj-) to (the concept of) utter lack of essence (sunya-) in everything, the ens-less makes sense.
But so long as your (non-meditative) mind is not totally yoked (yuj-) to (the concept of) of utter lack of essence (sunya-), the (abstract concept of) ens-less does not make sense, does not speak to you.”