Nagarjuna

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Nāgārjuna
Nagarjuna at Samye Ling Monastery.JPG
Golden statue of Nāgārjuna at Samye Ling Monastery.
Born c. 150 CE
South India[1]
Died c. 250 CE
India
Occupation Buddhist teacher and philosopher
Known for Credited with founding the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism
Religion Buddhism

Nāgārjuna (Sanskrit: नागार्जुन, Telugu: నాగార్జునుడు, Tibetan: ཀླུ་སྒྲུབ་Wylie: klu.sgrub Chinese: 龍樹; pinyin: Lóngshù, 龍樹 (Ryūju?), Sinhala: නාගර්ජුන) (c. 150 – c. 250 CE) is widely considered one of the most important Buddhist philosophers after Gautama Buddha.[2] Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Nāgārjuna is also credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras and, in some sources, with having revealed these scriptures in the world, having recovered them from the nāgas (snake-people). Furthermore, he is traditionally supposed to have written several treatises on rasayana alchemy as well as serving a term as the head of Nālandā University.[citation needed]

History[edit]

Very little is reliably known of the life of Nāgārjuna, since the surviving accounts were written in Chinese[3] and Tibetan, centuries after his death. According to some accounts, Nāgārjuna was originally from Southern India.[1][4] Some scholars believe that Nāgārjuna was an advisor to a king of the Sātavāhana Dynasty.[1] Archaeological evidence at Amarāvatī indicates that if this is true, the king may have been Yajña Śrī Śātakarṇi, who ruled between 167 and 196 CE. On the basis of this association, Nāgārjuna is conventionally placed at around 150–250 CE.[1]

According to a 4th/5th-century biography translated by Kumārajīva, Nāgārjuna was born into a Brahmin family,[5] and later became a Buddhist.

Some sources claim that Nāgārjuna lived on the mountain of Śrīparvata in his later years, near the city that would later be called Nāgārjunakoṇḍa ("Hill of Nāgārjuna").[6] Nāgārjunakoṇḍa was located in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The Caitika and Bahuśrutīya nikāyas are known to have had monasteries in Nāgārjunakoṇḍa.[6]

Writings[edit]

There exist a number of influential texts attributed to Nāgārjuna though, as there are many pseudepigrapha attributed to him, lively controversy exists over which are his authentic works. The only work that all scholars agree is Nagarjuna's is the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way), which contains the essentials of his thought in twenty-seven chapters.

According to one view, that of Christian Lindtner,[7] the works definitely written by Nagarjuna are:

  • Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way)
  • Śūnyatāsaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness)
  • Vigrahavyāvartanī (The End of Disputes)
  • Vaidalyaprakaraṇa (Pulverizing the Categories)
  • Vyavahārasiddhi (Proof of Convention)
  • Yuktiṣāṣṭika (Sixty Verses on Reasoning)
  • Catuḥstava (Hymn to the Absolute Reality)
  • Ratnāvalī (Precious Garland)
  • Pratītyasamutpādahṝdayakārika (Constituents of Dependent Arising)
  • Sūtrasamuccaya
  • Bodhicittavivaraṇa (Exposition of the Enlightened Mind)
  • Suhṛllekha (Letter to a Good Friend)
  • Bodhisaṃbhāra (Requisites of Enlightenment)

In addition to the above, there are many other works attributed to Nāgārjuna, and lively controversy over which are authentic. In particular, several important works of esoteric Buddhism (most notably the Pañcakrama or "Five Stages") are attributed to Nāgārjuna and his disciples. Contemporary research suggests that these works are datable to a significantly later period in Buddhist history (late eighth or early ninth century), but the tradition of which they are a part maintains that they are the work of the Madhyamaka Nāgārjuna and his school. Traditional historians (for example, the 17th century Tibetan Tāranātha), aware of the chronological difficulties involved, account for the anachronism via a variety of theories, such as the propagation of later writings via mystical revelation. A useful summary of this tradition, its literature, and historiography may be found in Wedemeyer 2007.

Lindtner considers that the Māhaprajñāparamitopadeśa, a huge commentary on the Large Prajñāparamita, not to be a genuine work of Nāgārjuna. This work is only attested in a Chinese translation by Kumārajīva.There is much discussion as to whether this is a work of Nāgārjuna, or someone else. Étienne Lamotte, who translated one third of the work into French, felt that it was the work of a North Indian bhikṣu of the Sarvāstivāda school, who later became a convert to the Mahayana. The Chinese scholar-monk Yin Shun felt that it was the work of a South Indian, and that Nāgārjuna was quite possibly the author. Actually, these two views are not necessarily in opposition, and a South Indian Nāgārjuna could well have studied in the northern Sarvāstivāda. Neither of the two felt that it was composed by Kumārajīva which others have suggested.

Philosophy[edit]

Statue of Nagarjuna in Tibetan monastery near Kullu, India

From studying his writings, it is clear that Nāgārjuna was conversant with many of the Śrāvaka philosophies and with the Mahāyāna tradition. However, determining Nāgārjuna's affiliation with a specific Nikaya is difficult, considering much of this material is presently lost. If the most commonly accepted attribution of texts (that of Christian Lindtner) holds, then he was clearly a Māhayānist, but his philosophy holds assiduously to the Śrāvaka canon, and while he does make explicit references to Mahāyāna texts, he is always careful to stay within the parameters set out by the Śrāvaka canon.

Nagarjuna may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the āgamas. In the eyes of Nagarjuna the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Madhyamaka system.[8] David Kalupahana sees Nagarjuna as a successor to Moggaliputta-Tissa in being a champion of the middle-way and a reviver of the original philosophical ideals of the Buddha.[9]

Sunyata[edit]

Nāgārjuna's primary contribution to Buddhist philosophy is in the use of the concept of śūnyatā, or "emptiness," which brings together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anātman (not-self) and pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination), to refute the metaphysics of Sarvastivāda and Sautrāntika (extinct non-Mahayana schools). For Nāgārjuna, as for the Buddha in the early texts, it is not merely sentient beings that are "selfless" or non-substantial; all phenomena are without any svabhāva, literally "own-being" or "self-nature", and thus without any underlying essence. They are empty of being independently existent; thus the heterodox theories of svabhāva circulating at the time were refuted on the basis of the doctrines of early Buddhism. This is so because all things arise always dependently: not by their own power, but by depending on conditions leading to their coming into existence, as opposed to being.

Two truths[edit]

Nāgārjuna was also instrumental in the development of the two-truths doctrine, which claims that there are two levels of truth or reality in Buddhist teaching, the ultimate reality (paramārtha satya) and the conventionally or superficial reality (saṃvṛtisatya).

In articulating this notion, Nāgārjuna drew on an early source in the Kaccāyanagotta Sutta, which distinguishes definitive meaning (nītārtha) from interpretable meaning (neyārtha):

By and large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by a polarity, that of existence and non-existence. But when one reads the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one reads the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

By and large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), and biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self.' He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It's to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.
"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle..."[10][a]

Relativity[edit]

Nagarjuna also taught the idea of relativity; in the Ratnāvalī, he gives the example that shortness exists only in relation to the idea of length. The determination of a thing or object is only possible in relation to other things or objects, especially by way of contrast. He held that the relationship between the ideas of "short" and "long" is not due to intrinsic nature (svabhāva). This idea is also found in the Pali Nikāyas and Chinese Āgamas, in which the idea of relativity is expressed similarly: "That which is the element of light ... is seen to exist on account of [in relation to] darkness; that which is the element of good is seen to exist on account of bad; that which is the element of space is seen to exist on account of form."[11]

Nagarjuna as Ayurvedic physician[edit]

According to Frank John Ninivaggi, Nagarjuna was also a practitioner of Ayurveda, or traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine. First described in the Sanskrit medical treatise entitled Sushruta Samhita (of which he was the compiler of the redaction), many of his conceptualisations, such as his descriptions of the circulatory system and blood tissue (described as rakta dhātu) and his pioneering work on the therapeutic value of specially treated minerals knowns as bhasmas, which earned him the title of the "father of iatrochemistry.[12]

Influence[edit]

According to Jay Garfield, Nagarjuna is a 'titanic figure' in the history of Mahayana Buddhism:

...his influence in the Mahayana Buddhist world is not only unparalleled in that tradition but exceeds in that tradition the influence of any single Western philosopher. The degree to which he is taken seriously by so many eminent Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese philosophers, and lately by so many Western philosophers, alone justifies attention to his corpus.[13]

Also Gadjin M. Nagao writes:

Nagarjuna who lived around the second or third C.E., was a great philosopher and monk-scholar second only to the Buddha. It was owing to him that Mahāyāna Buddhism got a firm philosophical foundation and almost all forms of Mahāyāna schools of later times regard and accept him as their founder.[14]

In contrast, Richard P. Hayes writes:

Nagarjuna's writings had relatively little effect on the course of subsequent Indian Buddhist philosophy. Despite his apparent attempts to discredit some of the most fundamental concepts of abhidharma, abhidharma continued to flourish for centuries, without any appreciable attempt on the part of abhidharmikas to defend their methods of analysis against Nagarjuna's criticisms. And despite Nagarjuna's radical critique of the very possibility of having grounded knowledge (pramana), the epistemological school of Dignaga and Dharmakirti dominated Indian Buddhist intellectual circles, again without any explicit attempt to answer Nagarjuna's criticisms of their agenda. Aside from a few commentators on Nagarjuna's works, who identified themselves as Madhyamikas, Indian Buddhist intellectual life continued almost as if Nagarjuna had never existed.[15]

Iconography[edit]

Nāgārjuna is often depicted in composite form comprising human and naga characteristics. Often the naga aspect forms a canopy crowning and shielding his human head. The notion of the naga is found throughout Indian religious culture, and typically signifies an intelligent serpent or dragon, who is responsible for the rains, lakes and other bodies of water. In Buddhism, it is a synonym for a realised arhat, or wise person in general. The term also means "elephant".

English translations[edit]

Mulamadhyamakakarika[edit]

Main article: Mulamadhyamakakarika

Other works[edit]

Author Title Publisher Notes
Loizzo, Joseph Nagarjuna's Reason Sixty (Yuktisastika) with Candrakirti's Commentary (Yuktisastikavrrti) Columbia University Press, 2007 Standing midway between his other masterpieces on philosophy and religion, in the Reason Sixty Nagarjuna describes the central thrust of his therapeutic philosophy of language – the elimination of cognitive bias and affective resistances to the gradual cultivation of nondualistic wisdom and compassion.
Kawamura, L. Golden Zephyr Dharma, 1975 Translation of the Suhrlekkha with a Tibetan commentary
Bhattacharya, Johnston and Kunst The Dialectical Method of Nagarjuna Motilal, 1978 A superb translation of the Vigrahavyavartani
Lindtner, C. Master of Wisdom: Writings of the Buddhist Master Nāgārjuna Dharma, 1986 An excellent introduction to Madhyamika, Master of Wisdom contains two hymns of praise to the Buddha, two treatises on Shunyata, and two works that clarify the connection of analysis, meditation, and moral conduct. Includes Tibetan verses in transliteration and critical editions of extant Sanskrit.

Tibetan Translation (product ID: 0-89800-286-9)

Lindtner, C. Nagarjuniana Motilal, 1987 [1982] Contains Sanskrit or Tibetan texts and translations of the

Shunyatasaptati, Vaidalyaprakarana, Vyavaharasiddhi (fragment), Yuktisastika, Catuhstava and Bodhicittavivarana. A translation only of the Bodhisambharaka. The Sanskrit and Tibetan texts are given for the Vigrahavyavartani. In addition a table of source sutras is given for the Sutrasamuccaya.

Komito, D. R. Nagarjuna's "Seventy Stanzas" Snow Lion, 1987 Translation of the Shunyatasaptati with Tibetan commentary
Tola, Fernando and Carmen Dragonetti Vaidalyaprakarana South Asia Books, 1995
Jamieson, R. C. Nagarjuna's Verses on the Great Vehicle

and the Heart of Dependent Origination

D.K., 2001 Translation and edited Tibetan of the Mahayanavimsika and the Pratityasamutpadahrdayakarika, including work on texts from the cave temple at Dunhuang, Gansu, China
Hopkins, Jeffrey Nagarjuna's Precious Garland: Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation Snow Lion Publications, 2007 ISBN 1-55939-274-6
Brunnholzl, Karl In Praise of Dharmadhatu Snow Lion Publications, 2008 Translation with commentary by the 3rd Karmapa
Jones, Richard Nagarjuna: Buddhism's Most Important Philosopher Booksurge, 2010 Translation into plain English with commentaries of the Mulamadhyamikakarikas, the Vigrahavyavartani with Nagarjuna's commentary, and part of the Ratnavali.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The version linked to is the one in found in the nikayas, and is slightly different from the one found in the Samyuktagama. Both contain the concept of teaching via the middle between the extremes of existence and non-existence. See A.K. Warder, A Course in Indian Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, pages 55–56, or for the full text of both versions with analysis see pages 192–195 of Choong Mun-keat, The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A comparative study basted on the Sutranga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyuktagama; Harrassowitz Verlag, Weisbaden, 2000. Nagarjuna does not make reference to "everything" when he quotes the agamic text in his MMK; in this regard see David Kalupahana, Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way. SUNY Press, 1986, page 232.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Kalupahana, David. A History of Buddhist Philosophy. 1992. p. 160
  2. ^ Garfield, Jay L. (1995), The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  3. ^ Rongxi, Li; Dalia, Albert A. (2002). The Lives of Great Monks and Nuns, Berkeley CA: Numata Center for Translation and Research, pp. 21–30
  4. ^ Buddhist Art & Antiquities of Himachal Pradesh By Omacanda Hāṇḍā (Page 97)
  5. ^ Notes on the Nagarjunikonda Inscriptions, Dutt, Nalinaksha. The Indian Historical Quarterly 7:3 1931.09 pp.633–653 "..Tibetan tradition which says that Nagarjuna was born of a brahmin family of Vidarbha."
  6. ^ a b Hirakawa, Akira. Groner, Paul. A History of Indian Buddhism: From Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna. 2007. p. 242
  7. ^ Lindtner, C. (1982) Nagarjuniana, page 11
  8. ^ Christian Lindtner, Master of Wisdom. Dharma Publishing 1997, page 324.
  9. ^ David Kalupahana, Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way. Motilal Banarsidass, 2005, pages 2,5.
  10. ^ SN 12.15 Kaccayanagotta Sutta: To Kaccayana Gotta (on Right View)
  11. ^ David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, pages 96–97. In the Nikayas the quote is found at SN 2.150.
  12. ^ Frank John Ninivaggi Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide to Traditional Indian Medicine for the West, page 23. (Praeger/Greenwood Press, 2008). ISBN 978-0-313-34837-2.
  13. ^ Garfield & Priest, Nāgārjuna and the Limits of Thought, 2002
  14. ^ Nagao, Gadjin (1991). Madhyamika and Yogacara: A Study of Mahayana Philosophies. State University of New York Press. p. 173. ISBN 9780791401873. 
  15. ^ Hayes, Richard P. Nagarjuna: Master of Paradox, Mystic or Perpetrator of Fallacies?, 2003

Sources[edit]

  • Garfield, Jay L. (1995), The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Kalupahana, David J. The Philosophy of the Middle Way. SUNY, 1986
  • Lamotte, E., Le Traite de la Grande Vertu de Sagesse, Vol I (1944), Vol II (1949), Vol III (1970), Vol IV (1976), Institut Orientaliste: Louvain-la-Neuve.
  • Mabbett, Ian, 1998. “The problem of the historical Nagarjuna revisited”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 118(3): 332–346.
  • Murti, T. R. V., 1955. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. George Allen and Unwin, London. 2nd edition: 1960.
  • Murty, K. Satchidananda. 1971. Nagarjuna. National Book Trust, New Delhi. 2nd edition: 1978.
  • Ramanan, K. Venkata. 1966. Nāgārjuna's Philosophy. Charles E. Tuttle, Vermont and Tokyo. Reprint: Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi. 1978. (This book gives an excellent and detailed examination of the range and subtleties of Nagarjuna's philosophy.)
  • Ruegg, D. Seyfort (1981), The literature of the Madhyamaka school of philosophy in India (A History of Indian literature), Harrassowitz, ISBN 978-3-447-02204-0
  • Sastri, H. Chatterjee, ed. 1977. The Philosophy of Nāgārjuna as contained in the Ratnāvalī. Part I [ Containing the text and introduction only ]. Saraswat Library, Calcutta.
  • Streng, Frederick J. Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967.
  • Tuck, Andrew P., 1990. Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship: on the Western Interpretation of Nāgārjuna, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Walser, Joseph. Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • Westerhoff, Jan. The Dispeller of Disputes: Nāgārjuna's Vigrahavyāvartanī, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Westerhoff, Jan 2009. Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka. A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wedemeyer, Christian K. 2007. Āryadeva's Lamp that Integrates the Practices: The Gradual Path of Vajrayāna Buddhism according to the Esoteric Community Noble Tradition. New York: AIBS/Columbia University Press.

External links[edit]