Who is Acharya Nagarjuna?

Head of Nalanda University, writer of many treatises on rasayana alchemy and developer of the philosophy of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras. He was the great Buddhist philosopher and the most revered person after Gautam Buddha in Buddhism. He is none other than Acharaya Nagarjuna. Before leaving his mortal body, Gautam Buddha had said that one day another soul will come to the Earth from the land of Bharat who will uphold his teachings. Nearly 400 years later Nagarjuna, who is considered a second Budhha, was born. Present day Andhra Pradesh is believed to be his birth place and because of this Andhra Pradesh government has named the dam on River Krishna after him that is known as Nagarjuna Sagar.

Nagarjuna’s background cannot be said with certainty but believed that he originally belonged to Southern India. Centuries after his death his biographies were written in Chinese and Tibetan. It is expected that he lived between 150-250 CE. He was Brahmin who later adopted Budhhism. As per some sources he spent his last days on the mountain of Śrīparvata. The city close to it would later be known as Nāgārjunakoṇḍa (“Hill of Nāgārjuna”). Present days the Nalgonda/ Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh is considered as Nāgārjunakoṇḍa.

At his birth astrologers predicted that he would live either for seven months or at the most seven years. This saddened his parents and when he was five they sent him with Buddhist monks who came to their town as they could not see their son dying in front of them. The little boy sincerely followed the yogic practices. Monks even taught him the Amitabha mantra. This mantra is for the health and ceaseless light. It is said that the power of mantra gave him longer and extended life. He became a monk and a scholar.

The most important contribution of Nagarjuna to Budhhism is the concept of śūnyatā, or “emptiness. He wrote many writings, sutras and responsible for spreading Mahayana Buddhism. He was a teacher at Nalanda University and because of his preaching he later came to known as Acharaya.

As a young boy he learned and studied Hindu Tatwasaastram as well as magic. He mastered the early writing of Budhhism, ‘the Pali canon’ in just ninety days at a Buddhist monastery. But this arouse his interest to know more about Buddhism and its doctrines. He felt that some important sutras of Buddha had disappeared and so he left the monastery for the search of these. One day when Nagarjuna was talking about the principles of Buddha he noticed that two of the listeners disappeared in the Earth. He followed them and reached the Naga Kingdom a place which was believed to have the remaining sutras of Buddha for safekeeping. These serpent like human beings were chosen by Buddha to keep the volumes of sutras and canonical scriptures (the Prajnaparamitas, the “Perfection of Wisdom” sutras) delivered by Buddha. But Buddha thought that these are too philosophical for that period so asked Nagas to protect these for right time. Nagas then handed over these sutras to Nagarjuna who then spread the light.

Nagarjuan gave two-truths doctrine which states that Buddhism has two levels of truth – the ultimate reality (paramārtha satya) and the conventionally or superficial reality (saṃvṛtisatya).

Nagarjuna taught the concept of relativity. He explained that shortness is only possible because of long length relative to it.

He was an Ayurvedic physician (Ayurveda is a traditional Indian medicine system). Nagarjuna had been credited with explaining the circulatory system and blood tissue. He was also known as the “father of iatrochemistry” because of his work on the benefits of specifically treated minerals known as bhasmas.

Nagarjuna is often considered as a combination of human being and naga. His idols always have a naga protecting his head. In Buddhism Naga also signifies a wise person.

He spent last years of his life at his birth place i.e Andhra Pradesh and continued preaching there.  He had great impact on the minds of people. Once a thief came outside his hut and Nagarjuna was just went for sleep. He asked the thief to take a golden bowl which the king had gifted him as he had nothing except this to offer. Next day the same thief came back with the bowl and thanked achraya for making him realize that his life was as empty as this bowl. This was the power of his words. The thief after this incident became a monk. It is said that Nagarjuna lived for 600 years and the way he left the earth is not known.