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Acharya Nagarjuna

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It is said that the Buddha prophesied that someone would come after him who would clear up any confusion regarding Buddha-dharma.

Nagarjuna is considered to be that person.

Often called The Second Buddha, Arya (noble) Nagarjuna (2nd century CE) was from a wealthy South Indian Brahmin family.

He is considered a terton (hidden-text revealer) as well as a philosopher.

Nagarjuna is sometimes called the First of "The Six Scholarly Ornaments," a group that also includes Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, and Dharmakirti.

Two groups of texts are attributed to him.

The Collections of Reasonings gives the Buddha's intentions in Turning the Wheel of Dharma for a Second Time.

The Collection of Praises concerns the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma)].

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso explains that in it we come to understand via meditation that the dharmadhatu and our own Buddha potential are the same.

While he was seated by a lake one day, a naga came from the depths and invited him to Potala to teach the serpentine water spirits.

As a parting gift, they presented him with the 12 volumes known as the Prajnaparamita Sutra.

(This teaching had been entrusted to them by Ananda, the Buddha's cousin.)

He is best known for his explanation of the term shunyata (Emptiness, or Open-ness) that is developed in that treatise.

The volumes are kept today still, in a temple dedicated to him in Kathmandu.

In those days, there was a terrible famine in the land that grievously affected the monks, for they were supported only by the surrounding community's generosity. Nagarjuna is said to have gone to a distant planet and returned with a Philosopher's Stone that could turn base metals into gold.

With the profit he earned from that enterprise he supported the monastery for six years, but when the monks learned that he had broken a major precept by handling gold, they expelled him.

When Nagarjuna left the monastery, he went to live in the forest where he mastered all the accomplishments of the yogi.

He could make detailed mandalas, prepare the ingredients for the finest incense, and practice astrology.

He is believed to have encountered, and having attained the highest siddhis, subdued yakshas, ghouls and vampires.

He is also said to have found a copper casket containing the text of the Hayagriva tantra, in the Shankarakuta stupa at the Sitavana charnel ground near Bodhgaya.

He is also known for his revelation of the Green Tara practice.


He established and built many temples and stupas with special clay he had received from the nagas.

The Teacher

As a philosopher and exponent of the Middle Way (Madhyamika philosophy) Nagarjuna gave many teachings, had hundreds of disciples and won many debates.

He not only explained the more abstract principles of the Buddha's doctrine, but also poignantly presented the more mundane:

"Whoever is born has to die; whoever are together have to separate; whatever is saved has to be used; whatever is created is impermanent. So do not be upset over these laws of nature."

He warned against wrong interpretations, saying:

"The Conqueror (Buddha) taught openness (sunyata: emptiness) as the refutation of all [any] views. But those who hold openness as a view are called irremediable."


"Openness (sunyata) wrongly conceived destroys the dimly witted. It is like a snake grasped by the head, or a garbled incantation."

Legends of His Death

According to legend, he spent the last part of life in meditation at Shri Pravarta mountain in South India.

His reputation for selflessness was so great that it is said that when his opponents wished his death because they never could best him in an argument, he offered to cooperate.

(They were powerless to do him any physical harm.)

Nagarjuna tibet.jpg

Nagarjuna revealed that one of the debaters had been an ant in a previous life, and was accidentally killed by Nagarjuna with a blade of kusha grass.

This person -- the only being who could harm him in return -- now had the power to kill him which he did, using only a stalk of that same kusha grass.

Aryadeva, the second of The Six Ornaments, continued his teaching traditions.

Nagarjuna's remains, with the exception of his head, are said to be preserved at Shri Pravarta.

Nagarjuna's head that was severed by a blade of kusha grass is kept in this walled-enclosure, guarded by the tiger on its door, that is a part of the Swayambhu complex.

Nagarjun, [[[Wikipedia:ancient|ancient]] case suffixes are dropped in Hindi and other contemporary languages) as he is called in India and Nepal, is believed by Nepalis to have retired to Nagarjun Mountain near Katmandu.

A person with a similar name was the abbot of Nalanda, the great Buddhist monastic university near Bodhgaya, since there is no evidence that the institution was founded before the third century CE.

There was also an alchemist by that name who may also have become identified with the great teacher Nagarjuna. Therefore there is wide disagreement as to how long Nagarjuna lived, with estimates as high as 300 years.

The Chinese believe that he visited and taught there. Also, he is credited by Japanese Buddhists with having taught the complete path of reliance on Amitabha.

In any case, teachings attributed to Nagarjuna are today still widely followed in all the countries where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced.

Named for Acharya [master-teacher] Nagarjuna, Nagarjuna Sagar is a place 150 kms. from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, India.

It is where the Mahachaitya, most sacred of stupas [Tib. chorten) is located.

The Brahmi inscription states it contains relics of the Buddha.

Progressive Misinterpretation

Andrew Tuck, in an inquiry into the philosophy of scholarship, charts three phases in the sequence of views of Western-trained scholars concerning interpretation of Nagarjuna's Treatise on the Middle Way:

Nagarjuna 1201.jpg
"A classic is a classic because it engenders multiple meanings.

The most lasting truths are found in the least reductive configurations of the largest possible number of conflicting interpretations. In other words, the most useful interpretation may well be one that takes into account as many previous interpretations as possible and attempts to disclose the ways in which these earlier readings made sense, both to the interpretative scholar and to his or her readers . . . .

Every reading of a text--including, of course, the most carefully contextualized and historicized readings--will, in some ways, be unavoidably determined by some set of prejudgments. The choice is, therefore, not between good readings, undetermined by irrelevant considerations, and bad readings, rendered inaccurate by interpretive prejudice. The choice between one reading and an even better reading is a difference in degree and not in kind.

Within any set of rules for what counts as a desirable interpretation, choices between more and less preferable readings of texts can and will be made.

And a study such as this suggests that our conventionally agreed-on rules of interpretation--the rules that tell us what is relevant, and what sorts of judgments are harmfully prejudiced--are anything but constant.

Our preferences in regard to what constitutes a good interpretation are just as determined as our readings themselves... .

Nagarjuna's celebrated warnings about the perils of wrongly understanding sunyata [... ] or holding this non-position as if it constituted a philosophical view in itself ("Those for whom sunyata is itself a theory, I call incurable." ch. 13, v. 8) thus become doubly important in the new Western climate of skepticism about philosophical theorizing.

Nagarjuna ... did not intend to substitute his theory for those of his opponents. His only intention...was to cure others of the philosophical illness ... . Nagarjuna was convinced, as a Buddhist, that the salvation of all living beings was at issue ... .

This study offers neither an indictment of the comparative enterprise nor a suggestion that any new interpretive perspective . . . will offer anything like a 'final and infallible,' or even a wholly satisfying, interpretation.

A new interpretation is often a response to a new set of critical concerns, not a solution to a formerly unsolved or poorly solved puzzle.



From there he traveled to Patliputra to worship Goddess Saraswati. At 18 he became a Buddhist and began an in-depth study of Ayurveda and Buddhist Philosophy.

Kumarajiva’s (AD 344) Life of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna says much about this young scholar. Kumarajiva went to China and translated many Sanskrit works into Chinese. These Chinese translations too relate to the lives of (Ashwaghosh and Nagarjuna.

The original Sanskrit text has been lost and translations of the original Chinese versions into Indian languages have yet to be effected.

Bodhisattva Nagarjuna was born in AD 78 during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya.

In those days Patliputra has scholars like Kautilya, Bhartihari, Vasumitra, and Asanga and two brothers Aryadeva and Ding Nag.

However, in AD 102, Nagarjuna reigned supreme. We have references to the effect that the learned Vasumitra came to Pataliputra, all the way from Purushpur (Peshawar), to pay homage to that great philosopher.

During the time of Nagarjuna, Buddhism had seen many changes and Nagarjuna did not entirely agree with the Buddhist philosophy. He founded ‘Shunyavada’, the cult of nothingness. He had not entirely forsaken the Vedic teachings, and his ‘Shunyavada’ shares many similarities with Kashmir Shaivism. He is also the founder of the Madhyamik School of Buddhism. Two of his works are well-known:

Mul Madhyamika Karika and Vigraha Vyavar Vartika.

His work, Suhrilekha (letters to the King), is addressed to the Satavahana king, Yashshri (AD 173-230). He also studied the Mahayana creed in great detail and later propagated it in north India. His views of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy on existentialism have comparable perspectives to the modern views of Heideggar and Sartre.

Tibetan sources too give indication of Nagarjuna’s medical works. He was a Siddha, a Sorcerer, and a powerful alchemist.

His close proximity to South India is worth noting. His laboratory was on Shree Parvat, i.e., Srisailam (where the famous Shiva Temple (Jyotirling) Mallikarjuna is located) in Andhra Pradesh.

At Srisailam, he experimented on metals, especially on mercury (parad). (The other name for parad is darad and the place was called Dardistan.)

Here the chemist distinguished between metals and sub-metals, and also between solvents and solubles. He found that mercury could dissolve all metals and Nagarjuna was given the appellation Rasraj.

Ayurvedic medicine prior to Nagarjuna comprised preparations largely from vegetable sources. Nagarjuna founded Ras Chikitsa or Rasayan which was vehemently opposed by orthodox vaidyas.

Rasvaidyas however argued that the advantage of rasa is the small dose that is required, and the quick action, which protected the patient from imbibing foul tasting decoctions.

They also argued that vegetable-based medicine becomes stale in the course of time while medicines comprising chemicals improve and become more potent.

Nagarjuna invented the processes of "distillation" and "calcinations".

According to Vrinda and Chakradutta he also discovered Kajjavali, the black sulphide of antimony.

They were able to convert most metals into ashes and use them as powerful medicines.

Makaradhwaj or Chandrodaya is a mercury compound that can work wonders with patients close to death.

Like modern chemotherapy, rasa medicine is excellent but can sometimes be harmful.

The preparation of ashes (bhasma) is a tedious chemical process that entails a thousand calcinations (sahasraputi).

We still do not know how these processes impart special qualities to known chemical compounds.

Nagarjuna had a command over iron and mercury. The treatise on iron (Lauha Shastra) existed in ancient times and Dhanvantari and Agnivesh refer to it. Kashyap and Dhanvantari experimented on the transformation of iron into gold but were unsuccessful. Patanjali's also refers to a Lauha Shastra, yet it is undeniable that the Lauha Shastra of Nagarjuna is excellent.

Nagarjuna was the first to use mercury and Kharpar (antimony?) as medicine, making them insoluble (agnisah). He found five types of mercury : The examples red and grey (slake) were good; yellow, white or multi colored (peacock color) had bad qualities and needed at least 18 treatments (sanskar) before they could be used. Regarding mercury, quicksilver, a vast amount of literature (post-Nagarjuna) is available. The Siddha sect (neither Buddhist nor Vedic) held that parad is Shiva, Mica is Parvati, gandhak is the raja of Parvati, and many fanciful theories were formulated. Mercury becomes solid and a Shiva linga can be made out of it. They worshipped a parad Shiva linga, called it Raseshwar, and started Raseshwarvad.

Few Ayurvedic alchemists have made a mercury linga even in modern times. Other sects like Pashupati, Shaiva, Pratbhingya, and Vedics were attracted to the science of mercury.

Buddhism had sects like Vajrayana (vajra is iron), Lingayana, or Sahajayana, and Mantrayana. They believed that the knowledge of Mantra and Tantra must be kept a secret, but Gorakhnath discussed them and his chief disciple believed this secrecy was merely for show.

Vagbhatta lists the names of 27 Rasa Siddha Rasacharyas and Nagarjuna is one of them. Bharvi, the great poet, includes him in the quartet of four great scholars, the other three being Aryadeva, Ashwaghosha, and Kumar Labdh. He also forms part of the list of 84 Siddhas of Vajrayan.

The Arabic word alchemist, the Latin word chemist, and modern chemistry are gifts of Nagarjuna. All these alchemists were in search of the elixir of life (and still are), and of a prescription capable of transforming iron or base metals into gold.

Their quest is for a drug that can serve as an antidote for all poisons (theric). Modern science can be said to be indebted to many of these futile pursuits.

Although he was a Buddhist scholar of which Pali was the principal language, Nagarjuna wrote in Sanskrit, a language which was being discarded at that time. Sanskrit scholars too owe a debt of gratitude to Nagarjuna.

The Buddha in one of his discourses said one who serves a patient serves him. Nagarjuna followed this tenet, inscribing his prescriptions on stone slabs in Patna so that they were available to all. Nagarjuna’s preaching of religion was not orthodox, and was acceptable to all in the perspective of the land, time, and people, and that is why he has been called the "Bodhi tree".

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