Monday, March 18, 2013

Contribution of Nagarjuna to Buddhism

Nagarjuna, Buddhist Thinker

Nagarjuna was the founder of Madhyamika Buddhist philosophy. Nagarjuna is one of the most popular Buddhist thinkers after Lord Buddha.

Nagarjuna (150 CE) was presumably born in Andhra Pradesh in South India into a Brahmin family. He later converted to Buddhism. His writings formed the foundation of the Madhyamika School. The Prajnaparamita sutras were also developed by him. Nagarjuna was closely associated with the University of Nalanda. Nagarjuna`s most important works are the Mulamadhyamaka-karikas and Vigrahavyavartani. Nagarjuna insists that the Abhidharma outlook is contrary to authentic Buddhist teaching which says everything is empty of inherent nature. According to him entities with essential nature would have to be self-created, which is not possible.

Nagarjuna is primarily remembered for his contribution to the Buddhist philosophy. He developed further the concept of emptiness or Sunyata. This doctrine is also related to the concepts of anatta and dependent origination. He is also believed to develop the two-truth doctrine. According to this philosophy there are two levels of truth. One is the ultimate truth and the other is the conventional truth or the upaya. In Kaccayanagotta Sutta Nagarjuna describes the doctrine in details. There cannot be any dharmas with absolute nature. If reality consisted of dharmas possessing essence, the universe would be static and no changes would take place. Buddhists believe that everything in the world arises in dependence upon causes and conditioning factors. All Buddhists accept that accustomed entities lack essence. Nagarjuna insists that whatever is interdependently originated it is devoid of essential nature. If there are no essences, there are no stable entities with clearly defined identities. He denies that causation is a real relation. Events happen sequentially and human minds impose associations that are treated as causal realities. There are no types, kinds or classes of entities.

The truth is that there is no ultimate description of reality. Conceptual construction ends if there is a realisation that everything is empty. The realisation that there are no absolute truths leads to a compassionate outlook and mental peace. In Vigrabavyavartani Nagarjuna defends an extreme form of skepticism. Nagarjuna is not presenting an alternative version of objective reality.

His writings reveal that he was well conversed with the doctrines of the Nikaya School. Though the influence is apparent but there are not enough proofs to establish the connection. He was however predominantly a Mahayanist. In Buddhism he is also seen someone who has both the qualities of a human and the snake. In Indian tradition the snake is responsible for rain and other water bodies. In Buddhism this term refers to wise person or even an elephant.

He is also referred to as the Second Buddha. He is also referred to as a part of the Six Scholarly Ornaments. This group also includes Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, and Dharmakirti. Nagarjuna`s death is also associated with several legends. While some say that he spent his last days meditating at Shri Parvatha Mountain, others are of the opinion that Nagarjuna was killed by his opponent. However, the teachings of Nagarjuna are still widely followed in Mahayana Buddhism.


Acharya Nagarjuna was 2nd Buddha: Rinpoche

AMARAVATI, Andhra Pradesh (India) -- Was Acharya Nagarjuna of 11th century, described by the Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama as the second Buddha, lived for several hundreds of years? The senior scholar of Namgyal Monastery Jado Rinpoche says ‘Yes’.
Acharya Nagarjuna was the founder of the thesis “Fundamental Wisdom of Middle Way”. Rinpoche recalled that Lord Buddha prophesied that a person with the name of ‘Naga’ would spread his message in later years. It was none other than Acharya Nagarjuna, he said.

When Nagarjuna was born, astrologers predicted that he would live for either seven months or at the most seven years only. However, when he was taken to Nalanda for studies, where the Buddhist philosopher Saraha said that if he became a monk he would live longer and become a great scholar. It was proved correct, Rinpoche said.

Nagarjuna’s contribution to Buddhism was considered to be extraordinary. When there was drought, he meditated and produced enough food for the entire Nalanda. After Lord Buddha, it was Nagarjuna who propagated Buddhism.

Some historians say that there were actually two persons with the name of Nagarjuna and both were Buddhist philosophers. But it was only one Acharya who produced Fundamental Wisdom of Middle Way.

Acharya Nagarjuna lived in Nagarjuna Konda and disciples from Sri Lanka attended his teachings. Buddhism flourished in Sri Lanka long before Jesus Christ, he recalled. Acharya Nagarjuna predicted that young Satavahana would become a king.

And when he returned from Nalanda he found that Satavahana became the kind of an empire.

The one among first major irrigation projects taken up by the independent India near Nagarjuna Konda was named as Nagarjunasagar Project in memory of Acharya Nagarjuna only.


Nagarjuna's Contribution Towards Chinese Buddhism
by Cheng Jianhua

1. Introduction

Sunyata is the core concept of Nagarjuna' s philosophy. The concept of sunyata was introduced into China in the early fourth century. Kumarajive was the first person who translated Nagarjuna's philosophy into Chinese and preached the doctrine sunyata to the whole community of Chinese Buddhism. Since the scriptures of Madhyamaka (e.g. Madhyamikasastra, Mahaparjnaparamitasastra and Satasastra) were translated into Chinese in succession, there occurred a number of eminent scholars who were very much interested in study of Madhyamika philosophy at the time. Seng-zhao, a great disciple of Kumarajive, had written a book named Zhao-tun on Madhyamika. Although the statement and explanation of Zhao-lun is quite deferred from Nagarjuna's Madhyamikasastra, both the ideas are quite closer.

It was, during the Sui and Tang dynasties the eight kinds of Buddhist Schools like Tian-tai, San-lun (the Three Treatise School), Vijnana, Hua-yen, Chan-zong and the Pure Land School came into existence. All these Chinese Buddhist Schools declared that Nagarjuna was their first master. However, according to some sources, out of these eight Buddhist Schools, there are a few schools such as the Three Treatise School and Tian-tai School which have something to do with Nagarjuna. A so called the Three Treatise School was actually in direct line of succession of Nagarjuna that based its doctrine on Madhyamikasastra, Satasastra, and Dvadasanikayasastra. Tian-tai School based its doctrine on Sadharmapundarikasutra. The central concept of this school " Yi-xin-san-guan " (to view from three aspects with a mind) is actually come from or inspired by Mahaparjnaparamitasastra and the Verse No. 24 of Madhyamikasastra. The early development of Chinese Buddhism, therefore, has something to do with Nagarjuna either directly or indirectly. This shows that Nagarjuna had given a great influence to the Chinese Buddhism and because of his great contribution, he deserves to enjoy high prestige in the Chinese Buddhist society.

In my paper I will focus on the following three aspects: the spread of Nagarjuna's philosophy in its early stage in China, the characteristics of the Three Treatise School and Nagarjuna' s influence to both the Tian-tai and other Chinese schools.

2. Spread of Nagarjuna's philosophy in its early stage in China

Nagarjuna is one of the greatest philosophers the world has so far produced. In the Buddhist world of China and the Far East, Nagajuna exerted a historical influence either in scope or depth that had been surpassed only by that of the Buddha. In fact, devout Buddhists of China (including Tibet and Taiwan), Japan and Korea consider him to be the second Buddha who once again set the Dharma in motion. In the integration of Mahayana and in providing it with a philosophical basis, Nagarjuna played an important role in founding Madhyamika Buddhism. The philosophy of him is somewhat a reconstruction and a new creative synthesis of the Buddha's teaching. Modern scholars drew a parallel between Nagarjuna's philosophy and Kant's philosophy. However, in the critical approach Nagarjuna's philosophy is even more critical than Kant's.

The theory of Madhyamika philosophy of Nararjuna was carried forward later on by his great disciple Aryadeva. It was enhanced in vogue during the end of 5th and 6th century in India that was split into two: the Prasangika school and Svatantrika school. The latter was divided further into two sub-schools: the Sautrantika Svatantrika and the Yogacara Svatantrika. Since the 9th century Madhyamika Buddhism lost its power and influence in India and withered away completely in 15th century. The original Sanskrit scriptures of Madhyamika were lost almost. However, the Madhyamika School was introduced into Tibet in 8th century and even today the school plays still a dominant role in Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddhism was introduced into China around the beginning of the first century, that for roughly a thousand years the Chinese mind was largely dominated by Buddhism. It is, however, during the Wei and Jun dynasties, when Xuanxue, the Chinese philosophical trend of the day based its doctrine on Taoism dominated the Chinese intellectual circle, the concept of parjna and sunyata were introduced into China successively. The metaphysic question of Xuanxue like You (existence) and Wu (non-existence) together with its relations were extensively discussed in the Chinese intellectual circle. For the Buddhist term sunyata (kong) or emptiness is literally quite close to that which was concerned and discussed in Xuanxue, the devout Buddhist scholars interpreted Buddhism by making a farfetched comparison of some Taoist terms in order to propagate Buddhism. This kind of irrelevance caused a big quarrel in the Chinese Buddhist community and as a result several philosophical schools of Buddhism Called "Liu-jia-qi-zong" held in difference on the concept of sunyata were occurred one after another.

When the great scholar Kumarajiva came to China and translated some important Buddhist books such as Mahaparjnapararnitasastra, Madhyamika Sastra, Dvadasamukha Sastra and Sata Sastra into Chinese, the so-called Xuanxuelized Buddhism was restored again to order. Seng-zhao, a great disciple of Kumarajiva wrote a book Zhao-tun in which it has introduced systematically the origin of the concept of sunyata and criticized clearly the miscomprehension of Buddhism of the day. In order to avoid any confusion and explain clearly the true concept of sunyata, Seng-zhao had a term "bu-zhen-kong " (not real but empty) in his philosophy. According to his philosophy, "bu-zhen " (unreal) is actually "conceptual name". "Name" is unreal that is man-made. What is unreal is actually empty (sunyata). By adapting this new term in explaining sunyata, it shows that Seng-zhao had apprehended correctly the real sense of Nagarjma' s philosophy. Although Seng-zhao took measure for thorough-going reform on the studies of prajna and sunyata his philosophy had not broken away 100 percent from the influence of Chinese Xuanxue. That is to say the situation in its early stage when Nagarjuna's, philosophy was introduced to China was hard for any foreign religion like Buddhism to spread freely and comfortably. That is why Buddhism could run only side by side with the local Chinese sorcery in the very beginning.

3. Characteristics of the Three Treatise School

Indian Madhyamika Buddhism was introduced into China in the 4th century. The so-called "San-lun-zong" (the School of Three Treatise) or "Kong-zong" (the School of Emptiness) was actually based its doctrine on the three books: Madhyamika Sastra, Dvadasamukha Sastra and Sata Sastra. The three books, as a basic doctrine of the Three Treatise School translated by Kumarajiva were originally written by both Nagarjuna and his disciple Aryadeva. The original copy of these books in Sanskrit was also lost. What we talked today the Nagarjuna' s philosophy or Madhyamika Buddhism is in accordance with Candrakirti's Ming-ju-lun (Prasannapada).

When these three treatise books were introduced and translated into Chinese by Kumarajive, it brought a big attention to the Chinese intellectual circle and caused a great interest in the area of philosophy of Buddhist studies. There are number of great scholars exerted their interest in the three treatises, such as Hui-yuan, Seng-rui, Seng-zhao, Dao-seng, Seng-lang, Ji-zang and Fa-lang. Hui-yuan, Seng-rui, Seng-zhao and Dao-seng were early Chinese Madhyamikas. All four were Kumarajiva's contemporaries, the first his correspondent and follower and the other three his disciples. Dao-seng advanced a number of original theories, but it was Seng-zhao who incorporating Taoism into Madhyamika developed a systematic philosophy. But the most important thinker of this school was Ji-zang who was very much honored by emperors of the Sui and Tang Dynasties. The philosophy of Ji-zang completely Indian in viewpoint, though he too quoted some from Taoism. It was Ji-zang carried forward Madhyamika philosophy in vague and founded the Three Treatise School in China. Since then, the Three Treatise School had played a dominant role in the Chinese Buddhist society until its decline in the ninth century.

According to the Three Treatise School, any philosophy or doctrine is not a systematical consummation, but it should be approached with a critical sense of study. Generally, what approached by Mahayana or Hinayana is only an interest in its annotation of the doctrine. What they seek after is to establish a permanent truth. However, in the mind of the Three Treatise School there is no such which can be treated as permanent. In this case, the Three Treatise School criticized not only the traditional Indian philosophy, but the Buddhist orthodox as well. In order to avoid any arbitrary and bias the Three Treatise Sciiool attaches importance to means and method, but not the annotation of the doctrine itself. The Three Treatise School rejects any fixed form of logic for they do not consider that logic has a priori truth of knowledge. Any kind of metaphysics should be also criticized. According to them, either logic or language is nothing but sunyata, emptiness. Either deduction or induction is but man-made which has no permanent value of truth, Therefore, man's mind should not be obstructed by it. Strictly speaking, the Three Treatise School has no unique method of philosophy itself. From the logical point of view, the theoretical method of Three Treatise School adapted usually is the practice of "empty logic". When they come to debate or to criticize the view of others they utilize always the method that is customarily used by their opponents. In the sense of their opinion, any philosophical method has only the pragmatic value. Any theoretical method by which one can remove any kind of attachment from either oneself or others that deserves value of usage. The aim of the debate or criticism of the school is not necessarily to establish any viewpoint of themselves, but to point out and correct the theoretical contradictory of others.

4. Nagarjuna's influence to both the Tian-tai and other schools

Nagarjuna's philosophy has something to do with the founging of the Tian-tai School. According to Fo-zhu-tong-ji (Record of the Lord Buddha), Hui-wen, an eminent scholar monk of Northern Qi Dynasty was enlightened especially by reading 27th chapter of Mahaparjnaparamitasastra: "the tri-knowledge can be achieved actually with a mind and the 4th chapter of Madhyamikasastra: "what is dependent origination that we call sunyata; it is a conception (prajnapti imposed (or appropriated). It alone is the Middle Path." He established the doctrine of "Yi-xin-san-guan" (to review from three aspects with a mind) after having inspired by the above verses. The actual founder of the Tian-tai School is Zhi-yi. The Tian-tai School based its doctrine on Mahaparjnaparamitasastra and its central teaching is theory of "San-ti-yuan-rong" (the integralrelation between kong – emptiness, Jia – conception, and Zhong – middle way) and " Yi-xin-san-guan " (to review from three aspects with a mind) which were evolved and developed from Nagarjuna's philosophy. That's why this school had traced its philosophy back to Nagarjuna and regarded him as the first master of them. This shows how close relation of Nagarjuna and the Tian-tai School.

According to the Tian-tai School, the world is a flux, things are constantly changing from moment to moment. They are caused and causing to be, they act and are being acted upon, and they come into existence and cease to be. There is no permanent entity or substance, and everything's nature is but sunyata, emptiness (Kong). Things have no substance, but conventional forms, conception and names just like a miracle that is unreal (Jia). All these are constituent in natures that are mutually related without being created that is Middle Path (Zhong). Kong can't be separated from Jia and Zhong, Jia also can't be separated from Kong and Zhong, Zhong too can't be separated from Kong and Jia. The three are integrally related.

Nagarjuna's philosophy avoids the extremes of affirmation and negation. It does riot affirm that there is Substance of Self, nor does it deny them. It attempts to critically review what is and be aware of things as they are. It is the Middle Approach or the Middle Doctrine. It is neither, realism nor idealism, and certainly not nihilism. Nothing has its own being; everything is what it is in relation to other things and nothing has an independent existence. Moreover, nothing is integral entity: things we see and deal with are made up of constituents. Everything is mutually dependent and related. The caused and conditioned nature of all things constitutes their vacuity or emptiness, sunyata.

Other Chinese schools of Buddhism like the Huan-yan, Chan-zong and Pure Land were also influenced more or less by Nagarjuna's philosophy. The Dasabhumivaibhasa sastra is the commentary written by Nagarjuna on Ten stages chapter of the Buddhavatamsakamahavaipulya sutra (Huan-yan-jing) on which the Huan-yan School based its doctrine. It shows that Nagarjuna had further elaborated the doctrine of Huan-yan-jing. Chan-zong (Dhyana School) reckoned Nagarjuna among its Patriarchs and regarded him as the most important Indian link in the long chain of witnesses since Sakyamuni Buddha, and through him negativism, paradox, intuition and the concept of "thusness" (tathata) flowed into Chan. According to some scholars, the fundamental thesis of Bodhidharma (the founder of Chan-zong), Bodhicitta (the Buddha nature) can be realised by inward gazing for everyone has potentially himself of becoming a Buddha. This kind of concept was actually taken from Pu-ti-xin-li-xiang-lun, a Chinese translation of Nagarjuna's works. Although Bodhidharma was the nominal founder of Chinese esoteric school, Nagarjuna was the real philosophical thinker who gave him the impulse to reflection. The Chan School exercised an enormous influence on Chinese thought, life, literature and art for some centuries.

Amitabha sects consider Nagarjuna as their first Patriarch. Amitabha scriptures were known to China since the 2nd century, but the Pure Land School which taught the worship of Amitabha was founded by Hui-yuan and some of its most important teachers began as students of San-lun-zong, the Three Treatise School and then became Amitabhaists. The Amitabha sects hold the doctrine of salvation by faith in Amitabha and their goal is the attainment of his paradise (Sukhavati) by his grace. Nagarjuna's Suhrliekha distinctly countenances Amitabha cult.


Biography of Nagarjuna

Nagarjuna (Klu-grub), together with Asanga (Thogs-med), were the two great pioneers of the Mahayana tradition. Nagarjuna transmitted the lineage teachings of the profound view of voidness from Manjushri, while Asanga transmitted the lineage teachings of the extensive bodhisattva practices from Maitreya.

Nagarjuna was born into a brahmin family probably around the mid-first or early second century C.E. in South India in Vidarbha, a kingdom lying in present-day Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. He was predicted in various sutras, such as The Descent into Lanka Sutra (Lan-kar gshegs-pa’i mdo, Skt. Lankavatara Sutra). At birth, a soothsayer predicted he would live only seven days, but if his parents made offerings to a hundred monks, he could live to be seven years old. Fearing for his life, at age seven, his parents sent Nagarjuna to Nalanda Monastic University in North India, where he met the Buddhist master Saraha. Saraha told him that if he became a renunciate and recited the Amitabha mantra, he would lead a long life. Nagarjuna did so and then joined the monastery, receiving the name “Shrimanta.”

At Nalanda, Nagarjuna studied sutra and tantra with Ratnamati – an emanation of Manjushri – and, with Saraha, especially The Guhyasamaja Tantra (dPal gsang-ba ‘dus-pa’i rgyud). In addition, he learned alchemy from a brahmin, and gained the ability to transmute iron into gold. Using this ability, he was able to feed the Nalanda monks during famine. Eventually, Nagarjuna became the abbot of Nalanda. There, he expelled eight thousand monks who were not keeping the vinaya monastic rules of discipline properly. He also defeated five hundred non-Buddhists in debate.

Two youths, who were emanations of the sons of the naga king, came to Nalanda. They had about them the natural fragrance of sandalwood. Nagarjuna asked how this was so and they confessed to him who they were. Nagarjuna then asked for sandalwood scent for a statue of Tara and the nagas’ help in constructing temples. They returned to the naga realm and asked their father, who said he could help only if Nagarjuna came to their realm beneath the sea to teach them. Nagarjuna went, made many offerings, and taught the nagas.

Nagarjuna had known that the nagas had The Hundred Thousand Verse Prajnaparamita Sutra (Shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa stong-pa brgya-pa, Skt. Shatasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutra) and requested a copy. When Buddha had taught Prajnaparamita, far-reaching discriminating awareness (the perfection of wisdom), the nagas had taken one version of it back to their realm for safekeeping, the gods another, and the yaksha lords of wealth yet another. Nagarjuna brought back the hundred thousand verse version, although the nagas kept the last two chapters to ensure that he would return and teach them further. Later, the last two chapters were filled in with the last two chapters of The Eight Thousand Verse Prajnaparamita Sutra (Shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa brgyad stong-pa, Skt. Ashtasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutra) . This is why the last two chapters of these two recensions are the same. Nagarjuna also brought back naga clay and built many temples and stupas with it.

Once, when Nagarjuna was teaching Prajnaparamita, six nagas came and formed an umbrella over his head to protect him from the sun. Because of this, the iconographic representation of Nagarjuna has the six nagas over his head. From this event, he got the name Naga. And from the fact that his skill in teaching Dharma went straight to the point, like the arrows of the famous archer Arjuna (the name of the hero in the Hindu classic, Bhagavad Gita), he got the name Arjuna. Thus, he became called “Nagarjuna.”

Nagarjuna later traveled to the Northern Island (Northern Continent) to teach. On the way, he met some children playing on the road. He prophesied that one of them, named Jetaka, would become a king. When Nagarjuna returned from the Northern Island, the boy had in fact grown up and become the king of a large kingdom in South India. Nagarjuna stayed with him for three years, teaching him, and then spent his last years elsewhere in his kingdom, at Shri Parvata, the holy mountain overlooking modern-day Nagarjunakonda. Nagarjuna wrote for the King A Precious Garland (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali). This was the same king to whom Nagarjuna wrote A Letter to a Friend (bShes-pa’i spring-yig, Skt. Suhrllekha), namely King Udayibhadra (bDe-spyod bzang-po).

Some Western scholars identify King Udayibhadra with King Gautamiputra Shatakarni (ruled 106 – 130 C.E.) of the Shatavahana Dynasty (230 B.C.E. – 199 C.E.) in present-day Andhra Pradesh. Some identify him with the next king, Vashishtiputra Pulumayi (130 – 158 C.E.). It is difficult to identify him exactly. The Shatavahanas were patrons of the stupa in Amaravati, where Buddha had first taught The Kalachakra Tantra and which was close to Shri Parvata.

King Udayibhadra had a son, Kumara Shaktiman, who wanted to become king. His mother told him that he could never become king until Nagarjuna died, since Nagarjuna and the King have the same lifespan. His mother said to ask Nagarjuna for his head and since Nagarjuna was so compassionate, he would undoubtedly agree to give it to him. Nagarjuna did in fact agree, but Kumara could not cut his head off with a sword. Nagarjuna said in a previous life, he had killed an ant while cutting grass. As a karmic result, his head could only be cut off with a blade of kusha grass. Kumara did this and Nagarjuna died. The blood from the severed head turned into milk and the head said, “Now I will go to Sukhavati Pure Land, but I will enter this body again.” Kumara took the head far away from the body, but it is said that the head and the body are coming closer together each year. When they join, Nagarjuna will return and teach again. All in all, Nagarjuna lived six hundred years.

Among the many texts on sutra topics that Nagarjuna wrote are his Collections of Reasoning (Rigs-pa’i tshogs), Collections of Praises (bsTod-pa’i tshogs), and Collections of Didactic Explanations (gTam-pa’i tshogs).

The Six Collections of Reasoning (Rigs-tshogs drug) are:

Root Verses on Madhyamaka, called "Discriminating Awareness" (dBu-ma rtsa-ba shes-rab, Skt. Prajna-nama- mulamadhyamaka-karika),
Precious Garland  (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali),
Refutation of Objections (rTsod-pa zlog-pa, Skt. Vigrahavyavarti).
Seventy Verses on Voidness (sTong-nyid bdun-bcu-pa, Skt. Shunyatasaptati),

Sutra Called “Finely Woven” (Zhib-mo rnam-‘thag zhes-bya-ba’i mdo, Skt. Vaidalya-sutra-nama),

Sixty Verses of Reasoning (Rigs-pa drug-cu-pa, Skt. Yuktishashtika),

Included among his Collections of Praise are:

Praise to the Sphere of Reality (Chos-dbyings bstod-pa, Skt. Dharmadhatu-stava),

Praise to the Deepest Truth (Don-dam-par bstod-pa, Skt. Paramartha-stava),

Praise to the Supramundane (Buddha) (‘ Jig-rten-las ‘das-par bstod-pa, Skt. Lokatita-stava).

Included among Nagarjuna’s Collections of Didactic Explanations are:

A Commentary on (the Two) Bodhichittas (Byang-chub sems-kyi ‘grel-ba, Skt. Bodhichittavivarana),

Anthology of Sutras (mDo kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Sutrasamuccaya),

Letter to a Friend (bShes-pa’i spring-yig, Skt. Suhrllekha).

Also attributed to Nagarjuna are several two commentaries to The Guhyasamaja Tantra, including:

Abbreviated Means for Actualization (sGrub-thabs mdor-byas, Skt. Pindikrta-sadhana),

Method for Meditating on the Generation Stage of the Mahayoga Tantra Guhyasamaja Mixed with Its Textual (Sources) (rNal-‘byor chen-po’i rgyud dpal gsang-ba ‘dus-pa’i bskyed-pa’i rim-pa’i bsgom-pa’I thabs mdo-dang bsres-pa, Mdo-bsres, Skt. Shri-guhyasamaja-mahayogatantra-utpattikrama-sadhana-sutra- melapaka).

The Five Stage (Complete Stage) (Rim-pa lnga-pa, Skt. Pancakrama).

Nagarjuna’s most famous disciple was Aryadeva (‘ Phags-pa lha), author of Four Hundred Verse Treatise on the Actions of a Bodhisattva’s Yoga (Byang-chub sems-dpa’i rnal-‘byor spyod-pa bzhi-brgya-pa’i bstan-bcos kyi tshig-le’ur byas-pa, Skt. Bodhisattvayogacarya-catu:shatakashastra-karika) and several commentaries on The Guhyasamaja Tantra.

Alexander Berzin

Nagarjuna (klu grub). An Indian master of philosophy and a tantric siddha. One of the Eight Vidyadharas; receiver of the tantras of Lotus Speech such as Supreme Steed Display. He is said to have taken birth in the southern part of India around four hundred years after the Buddha’s nirvana. Having received ordination at Nalanda Monastery, he later acted as preceptor for the monks. He knew alchemy, stayed alive for six hundred years and transformed ordinary materials into gold in order to sustain the sangha. At Bodhgaya he erected pillars and stone walls to protect the Bodhi Tree and constructed 108 stupas. From the realm of the nagas he brought back the extensive Prajnaparamita scriptures. He was the life pillar for the Mahayana, but specifically he was a major exponent of the Unexcelled Vehicle of Vajrayana. Having attained realization of Hayagriva, he transmitted the lineage to Padmasambhava.

Nagarjuna (klu sgrub) In accordance with many prophecies found in both sutras and tantras, Nagarjuna; (klu sgrub) was born in a Brahmin family in the south Indian land of Beda. An astrologer predicted that in the best case (if he practiced the dharma), the child would live for no more than seven years. When seven years were almost gone, the parents sent their son away on pilgrimage with a servant, because they could not bear the thought of seeing his corpse. However Nagarjuna reached Nalanda and meet Saraha who told him that he could escape death if he were ordained as a monk. Nagarjuna also receive the initiation into the mandala of Amitayus and practicing the mantra recitation through the last night of his seventh year, he could free himself from the fear of death. The following year Nagarjuna received the initial monk ordination and became proficient in all the branches of knowledge in both the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras. Saraha also gave him many teachings upon the secret Mantrayana.
Having mastered all these teachings Nagarjuna returned to see his parents again. He then took the full monastic vows. Once, a terrible famine broke out in Magadha and continued for twelve years. Saraha asked Nagarjuna to provide for the monks of Nalanda who lacked all necessities. Nagarjuna decided to find out how to make gold. He took two sandalwood leaves and, with the appropriate mantras, gave them the power to instantly transport a person to wherever he wished to go. Holding one leaf in his hand and concealing the other in the sole of his sandal, he traveled across the ocean to an island where a famous alchemist lived. Nagarjuna requested instructions in the making of gold. Now the alchemist realized that Nagarjuna must have come across the water by a secret technique, so hoping to acquire this secret he said, "Let us exchange either our crafts or our wealth." "We should exchange our crafts," answered Nagarjuna, and gave him the leaf he held in his hand.
The alchemist, thinking that Nagarjuna was no longer able to leave the island taught him how to make gold. Then Nagarjuna, by means of the sandalwood leaf he had hidden in his sandal, returned to India. There he turned a lot of iron into gold and provided the whole Sangha with all their needs. Later Nagarjuna became abbot of Nalanda. He repeatedly defeated all his opponents, both the heretics, such as Shankara, who ridiculed the Madhyamika view and the shravaka who asserted the invalidity of the Mahayana. Some Nagas came to attend to Nagarjuna's teachings and requested him to visit the Land the Nagas. Having taught the Naga King and his subjects, Nagarjuna returned with the text of the Prajnaparamita in One Hundred Thousand Verses and its abbreviated form. With these scriptures he revived the Mahayana tradition. He himself composed many treatises elucidating the view of the Madhyamika and setting a reference point to the whole Mahayana philosophy on relative and absolute truths.
In accordance with the prediction of Arya Tara, Nagarjuna went to leave and teach in South India. There, too, he composed many treatises. His teachings on Vinaya were equaled to Lord Buddha's First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, his teachings on emptiness to the Second Turning, and his Collection of Praises (such as the Praise to the Absolute Expanse) to the Third Turning. Once a young prince, who coveted his father's kingdom, was told by his mother, "Your father's life is linked to that of Master Nagarjuna who himself attained eternal life. Therefore, you will never rule the kingdom." Later not bearing her son's unhappiness, the queen added, "Nagarjuna is a Bodhisattva, if you ask him for his head, he will give to you." The prince did accordingly, and Nagarjuna consented to give his head. But although the prince struck with his sword again and again, the master's neck could not be severed. Nagarjuna said, "Once when I was cutting kusha grass I cut off the head of an insect.
The karmic consequence of this act can still affect me and you can easily kill me with a blade of kusha grass." The prince tried and at the first stroke the masters' head fell on the ground. Milk, not blood, poured out and the severed head spoke: "I shall now go to Tushita heaven, but later I shall return in this very same body." Afraid, the prince, threw the head far away. However both the head and body of Nagarjuna turned into stone and it is said that the head, slowly but surely, moves closer to its trunk and that eventually, when the two reunite, Nagarjuna will revive and perform vast deeds for the benefit of the Doctrine and beings. Nagarjuna had four principal spiritual sons, Shakyamitra, Nagabodhi, Aryadeva, and Matanga, as well as three close sons, Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, and Ashvagosha.

—from Mathieu Ricard

Acharya Nagarjuna is one of the most important figures of early Buddhism. His significance is emphasized by the fact that he is sometimes referred to as "the Second Buddha."

Nagarjuna was a leading voice in the establishment Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasized the Bodhisattva vow to work for the enlightenment and freedom from suffering of all beings and not merely oneself.

Nagarjuna lived in India in the second century CE, at about the time that Buddhism was being brought to China and other east Asian regions. He was born into a Brahmin family in Bedarwa ("The Land of the Palms") in southern India, fulfilling a prophecy attributed to the Buddha:

In the Southern region, in the Land of the Palms,
The monk Shriman of great renown,
Known by the name, 'Naga',
Will destroy the positions of existence and non-existence.
Having proclaimed to the world my vehicle,
The unsurpassed Great Vehicle,
He will accomplish the ground, Very Joyful,
And depart to the Land of Bliss.

As a young boy, Nagarjuna excelled in his studies, showing early signs of his keen intellect, which is reflected in his later writings.

A fascinating story is told of how he came to the Buddhist path. As a young man, Nagarjuna along with three friends, learned the secret of invisibility from a sorcerer. They used this ability to secretly enter the royal palace and seduce the attractive young women at court. The ruse was discovered, and the royal guards were told to attack where they saw footprints appearing without apparent cause. All three of Nagarjuna's friends were killed, and Nagarjuna survived only by staying close to the king. (An allegorical story with layers of meaning in it.)

This experience taught the young Nagarjuna how desires lead to suffering, and he fled to the mountains to become a monk, becoming the student of a Buddhist master.

He later journeyed throughout India, often engaging in theological debate with proponents of various religions, including other Buddhists who opposed the newly emerging Mahayana expression of Buddhism.

Nagarjuna eventually founded a monastery, establishing his own order of monks. Unlike other Buddhist teachers of the time, he taught from his own direct insight, rather than simply restating and recategorizing the sacred literature that had been passed down.

One of Nagarjuna's major contributions to Buddhist literature is the hugely influential Prajnaparamita Sutras (or Wisdom Discourses), which is a series of conversations between the Buddha and his disciples on the importance of sunyata ("emptiness") in coming to full awakening. The story is told that, one day while meditating near a lake, a naga, or water wisdom snake, came to the surface and asked him to journey to the underwater kingdom of nagas in order to teach them. He did so, and as a gift of thanks, he was entrusted with the twelve-volume Prajnaparamita Sutras, which were deemed ready to be released back into human consciousness. This event is also said to be how he came by his name, Nagarjuna.

Another important work associated with Nagarjuna is the Mulamadhyamakakarika ("Verses from the Center" or "Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way"), a series of koan-like riddles and inquiries into the emptiness and the ephemeral nature of self-existence in the form of poetry.

In the iconography associated with Nagarjuna, he is often depicted seated in meditation beneath a protective canopy of nagas, the serpents associated with awakened wisdom.


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