Nagarjuna, The Dragon Tree 龍樹 Ryuuju

Samsara, Nirvana = Sunyata: the Middle Way
PRESENTED BY.. .. .. the Wanderling

The Madhyamika school traces its origin to Nagarjuna, the brilliant philosopher and formidable dialectician who flourished in the late second century A.D. Taking Buddha's advocacy of the Middle Way between harmful extremes, between avid indulgence and austere asceticism, and between sterile intellectualization and suffocating mental torpor, Nagarjuna developed a rigorous dialectical logic by which he reduced every philosophical standpoint to an explosive set of contradictions.

This did not lead to the closure of scepticism, as the less vigorously pursued pre-Socratic philosophies did, but rather to the elusive standpoint that neither existence nor non-existence can be asserted of the world and of everything in it. The Madhyamikas, therefore, refused to affirm or deny any philosophical proposition. Nagarjuna sought to liberate the mind from its tendencies to cling to tidy or clever formulations of truth, because any truth short of Sunyata, the voidness of reality, is inherently misleading.

Relative truths are not like pieces of a puzzle, each of which incrementally adds to the complete design. They are plausible distortions of the truth and can seriously mislead the aspirant. They cannot be lightly or wholly repudiated, however, for they are all the seeker has, and so he must learn to use them as aids whilst remembering that they are neither accurate nor complete in themselves.

Read more here:


A great introduction to Nagarjuna and his philosophy
From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Often referred to as "the second Buddha" by Tibetan and East Asian Mahayana (Great Vehicle) traditions of Buddhism, Nagarjuna proffered trenchant criticisms of Brahminical and Buddhist substantialist philosophy, theory of knowledge and approaches to practice. Nagarjuna’s central concept of the "emptiness (sunyata) of all things (dharmas)," which pointed to the incessantly changing and so never fixed nature of all phenomena, served as much as the terminological prop of subsequent Buddhist philosophical thinking as the vexation of opposed Vedic systems.

The concept had fundamental implications for Indian philosophical models of causation, substance ontology, epistemology, conceptualizations of language, ethics and theories of world-liberating salvation, and proved seminal even for Buddhist philosophies in India, Tibet, China and Japan very different from Nagarjuna’s own. Indeed it would not be an overstatement to say that Nagarjuna’s innovative concept of emptiness, though it was hermeneutically appropriated in many different ways by subsequent philosophers in both South and East Asia, was to profoundly influence the character of Buddhist thought.

Nagarjuna was born a "Hindu," which in his time connoted religious allegiance to the Vedas, probably into an upper-caste Brahmin family and probably in the southern Andhra region of India. <> The occasion for Nagarjuna's "conversion" to Buddhism is uncertain. According to the Tibetan account, it had been predicted that Nagarjuna would die at an early age, so his parents decided to head off this terrible fate by entering him in the Buddhist order, after which his health promptly improved.

It is again not known precisely how long Nagarjuna lived. But the legendary story of his death once again is a tribute to his status in the Buddhist tradition. Tibetan biographies tell us that, when Gautamiputra's successor was about to ascend to the throne, he was anxious to find a replacement as a spiritual advisor to better suit his Brahmanical preferences, and unsure of how to delicately or diplomatically deal with Nagarjuna, he forthrightly requested the sage to accommodate and show compassion for his predicament by committing suicide. Nagarjuna assented, and was decapitated with a blade of holy grass which he himself had some time previously accidentally uprooted while looking for materials for his meditation cushion. The indomitable logician could only be brought down by his own will and his own weapon. Whether true or not, this master of skeptical method would well have appreciated the irony.

Read this long and interesting essay here:
Nagarjuna / By Douglas Berger


The tangka of Nagarjuna was from the TibetShop web site.

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

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 twelve volumes known as the Prajnaparamita Sutra. (This teaching had been entrusted to them by Ananda, the Buddha's cousin.)

Nagarjun, [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.

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


.................... A Few Links

Life of Nagarjuna by Geshe Lobsang Tharchin of Shera (Sera)
(Safekeep Copy: http://blog.livedoor.jp/worldkigo/archives/24554156.html)

The Problem of the Historical Nagarjuna Revisited, Ian Mabbett's article.
http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~dsantina/friend.htm N. as model/mentor
The Mahayanavimsaka: 20 verses on Mahamudra
G. Feuerstein's Life of Nagarjuna
Considering the Mula Madhyamaka Karika
Nagarjuna and Deconstructionism !
Skillful Means and Nagarjuna


Illustrations about

...................................... Nagarjuna, Arya
(from Himalayan Art: http://www.himalayanart.org/)

Photographed Image Copyright © 2004
American Museum of Natural History.

Tibet1800 - 1899
Collection of American Museum of Natural History


Nagarjuna, Arya (Tibetan: pag pa lhu drup)
along with the disciple Aryadeva; retrieving the Prajnaparamita sutra from the Naga Realm.
Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin



Painting of Nagarjuna garbha.

One more picture


The Flying Mystics of Tibetan Buddhism
Author: Glenn H. Mullin
Traditional Tibetan literature tells of Buddhist mystics who have taken off in joyful flight. Buddha himself is said to have done so on several occasions, as did Indian masters such as Nagarjuna and Padma Sambhava. The legacy was adopted by Tibetan mystics in the eighth century, with the yogini Yeshey Tsogyal as a prime example, and continued over the centuries. The eleventh century yogi and poet Milarepa is another famous flyer.



The Art Magazine Orientations had an article about Nagarjuna in September 2003.

The Tethong Portraits of the 84 Mahasiddhas
by Robert Warren Clark, independent scholar.

A discussion on the only known set of 84 mahasiddhas (normally shown in a single painting) where they are presented in individual portraits. The paintings were commissioned by Gyurme Tethong, the governor-general of eastern Tibet in 1920s, and are now in his grandson's possession in California. The author groups mahasiddhas into twelve categories, such as luminaries, scholars, those with physical ailments, and explains how they came to attain `siddhi'.

All illustrations: Derge, Tibet, 1920s
One of a set of 84 thangkas, colour on cloth
Height 20 cm, width 15 cm (approx.)
Private collection


Portrait of the Priest Ryumo (Nagarjuna)
One of the Portraits of Seven Patriarchs of Shingon Buddhism
National Treasure Heian Period, 9th Century(Toji Temple, Kyoto)

Copyright © 1996 Kyoto National Museum


The seven eminent religious teachers of the Shingon Sect
(Shichi Kôsô) shichi koosoo 七高僧

(A) Nâgârjuna(chin. Longshu, j. Ryûju, ca. 150-200)

(B) Vasubandhu
(C) Tanluan (Donran)
(D) Daochuo (Dôshaku)
(E) Shandao (Zendô)
(F) Genshin (Eshin-sôzu)
(G) Hônen (Genkû)



..................................... Japanese Links 日本語の資料

 龍樹は西暦150~250年頃の人で、ナーガールジュナ(Nagarjuna)といいます。デカン高原のクリシュナ川流域にナーガルジュナコンダ Nagarjunakonda(ナーガルジュナサーガル Nagarjuna Sagar)という地名があり、そこに有名な仏教遺跡がありますが、そこの出身ともいわれます。





About the Water Mythology and the Snakes Lore in India
Nagas / By Khanro Net


Ryuuju (Naagaarjuna)
Ryuuju bedeutet im Japanischen "Drachenbaum".

Der indische Priester Nagarjuna lebte im 2. bzw. 3. Jhd. in Südindien. Er wird als der Begründer des Mahaayaana-Buddhismus angesehen. Er war ein berühmter Gelehrter, der auch in Nalanda studiert hatte. Er wird im Japanischen auch "Wilder Drache" (Ryuumyoo) genannt. 800 Jahre nach dem Tod des Shakyamuni öffnete er die Tür einer Eisenpagode in Südindien und entnahm ihr geheime Sutras. Daher wird er auch als einer der acht Patriarchen des esoterischen Buddhismus der Shingon-Sekte genannt.
Nach einer anderen Legende hat Gautama Buddha eine Abhandlung seiner Lehre dem Schlangengott Naaga zur Aufbewahrung gegeben, bis die Welt reif für diese Lehre sei. Die Naagas bekehrten Naagaarjuna zum Buddhismus und gaben ihm dann die geheimen Sutras.
Gestalt in einfachem Priestergewand. Die linke erfaßt einen Zipfel des Gewandes, in der rechten Hand hält er einen dreizackigen Donnerkeil.

.Buddhastatuen ... Who is Who   

Ein Wegweiser zur Ikonografie
von japanischen Buddhastatuen

Gabi Greve, 1994






oremuna said...

You have a very good post.

I am very near to the Nagarjuna Konda, Nagarjuna Sagar, Musiam which is 150 km from Hyderabad of India.

Anonymous said...

great post. i think "voidness of reality" would lead your readers into thinking this school presents a nihilistic view however. I generally think of shunyata as "empty of conceptual elaboration". in other words, we add concepts onto our experience and see things through concept solely. so the madhyamaka school used investigations to cut through the clinging to a solely conceptual way of relating to the world. shunyata is then 'beyond' conceptual elaboration, not that reality is voided.

Gabi Greve said...

Hi davee san!
Thanks for dropping in.
I wanted to leave a message in your BLOG, but it would not accept it.

Is there any way to contact you ?


Gabi Greve said...

Nagarjuna's Middle Way

Jonah Winters
Bachelor's Thesis
Reed College, 1994


Anonymous said...

"Nagarjuna saw in the concept sunya, a concept which connoted in the early Pali Buddhist literature the lack of a stable, inherent existence in persons, but which since the third century BCE had also denoted the newly formulated number “zero,” the interpretive key to the heart of Buddhist teaching, and the undoing of all the metaphysical schools of philosophy which were at the time flourishing around him.

Indeed, Nagarjuna’s philosophy can be seen as an attempt to deconstruct all systems of thought which analyzed the world in terms of fixed substances and essences.

Things in fact lack essence, according to Nagarjuna, they have no fixed nature, and indeed it is only because of this lack of essential, immutable being that change is possible, that one thing can transform into another.

Each thing can only have its existence through its lack (sunyata) of inherent, eternal essence. With this new concept of “emptiness,” “voidness,” “lack” of essence, “zeroness,” this somewhat unlikely prodigy was to help mold the vocabulary and character of Buddhist thought forever."

Quote from :
Newsletter - 7/13/04 - Buddhism and Nagarjuna