Paul Donnelly

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


Nāgārjuna is the most influential and revered author and religious figure in many of the the Mahayana Buddhist traditions. Chinese and Tibetan sources credit Nāgārjuna with retrieving the Mahayana sutras from the realm of the submarine serpent/dragon beings, the Nāgās, from which Nāgārjuna gets his name, and he is generally regarded as the founder of the Madhyamaka school of thought. With Nāgārjuna claimed by Vajrayāna, Ch’an/Zen, Shingon, and Pure Land traditions, it is clear that adherents of the major lineages that identified themselves as Mahayana long believed it important to claim this figure and regarded him as embodying more than philosophical brilliance. It is generally accepted that Nāgārjuna lived in South India in the 2nd or 3rd century ce, and he is widely regarded as the first great philosopher of the Madhyamaka school of philosophy and as the first great intellectual figure of the Mahayana developments of Buddhism in India. Buddhist tradition credits him with the authorship of a great many texts, including philosophical works, ethical advice, hymns to the Buddha, and, in the Esoteric Buddhist schools, tantric works. Though the various Mahayana traditions that claim him frequently emphasize his miraculous powers and exceptionally long life, it is primarily his philosophical works that have received the most attention among modern scholars. Due at least in part to the terse and difficult style of these works, his thought has often been approached through his Indian interpreters, especially (in Tibet) Candrakīrti. His writings have also spawned numerous commentaries, mostly in China and Tibet. Schools and sects in these lands have often been defined by their understanding of or relative emphasis on Nāgārjuna’s works and the Madhyamaka school of philosophy.

Article.  5542 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.