Nagarjunas Life and Teachings – The Middle Way

We’ve decided what we are.
That’s the dream.
When the dream fades, it’s not that we don’t exist.
How could we not exist since we never existed?
– Nagarjuna


Nagarjunas Life and Teachings

Acharya Nagarjuna was an Indian philosopher, who was the founder of Madhyamaka (Middle Way) school of Mahayana Buddhism. He was arguably, the most famous Buddhist thinker after the great Gautama Buddha himself.

Buddhist Daily Wisdom

Acharya Nagarjuna

Acharya Nagarjuna holds an almost unequaled place among the ranks of those Buddhist saints who expounded the preaching of Buddha Sakyamuni for the benefit of the world.

Given the majesty of Acharya Nagarjuna’s name and the importance of the role he has played in the expansion and growth of Buddhist thought, it is not surprising that the story of his achievements and his life should play among the legendary.

Early Life

Acharya Nagarjuna lived sometime during the last quarter of the first century C.E. and the first quarter of the 2nd century C.E. He was born in a Brahmin family in Vidarbha in South India. Vidarbha was situated in the contemporary Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The birth of Nagarjuna was predicted in a number of Sutras. For example, Lankavatara Sutra is one among the others where it is said that, at birth, he was prophesied to live only for seven days. But his life span would be extended to seven years, but his parents must make contributions and offerings to a hundred monks.

Nalanda Buddhist Monastery and University Image:

Nalanda Buddhist Monastery and University

Unable to bear the sight of his untimely and premature death, the accounts of Nagarjunas life and teachings tell us that his parents sent the him to the Nalanda Monastic University situated in North India, a Buddhist monastery. At the university, Nagarjuna came in contact with the Buddhist chief Saraha.

The Buddhist chief, Saraha recommended him that by reciting the Amitabha mantra regularly, his life would be extended and he would lead a healthy life. This mantra is for the health and eternal light. Nagarjuna agreed to it. Buddhist believe that the power of Amitabha mantra gave him an extended life. He was named as “Shrimanta”.

As a young man, he learned and considered Hindu Tatwasaastram and along with enchantment and magic. At Nalanda, he examined tantra and sutra with Ratnamati, which is a transmission of Manjushri.

He also learned the Guhyasamaja Tantra with the help of Saraha. He learned and mastered the early written work of Buddhism, ‘the Pali group’ in only ninety days at a Buddhist religious community.

Nagarjuna also gained the knowledge of Alchemy from a Brahmin. He gained the skill to transform iron into gold. Utilizing this capacity, he could sustain the Nalanda monks amid starvation and famine. While in Nalanda, he removed a number of monks Vinaya religious guidelines and rules of order in a proper manner. He additionally vanquished and defeated around four hundred non-buddhists in a verbal debate.

Buddhist Daily Wisdom

Nagarjuna and the Nagas

Two young people, who were spreads of the children of the naga lord, landed in Nalanda. They had a natural aroma of sandalwood with them. When Nagarjuna enquired about the fragrance, they admitted him their identity. Nagarjuna then requested sandalwood fragrance for Tara (a statue) and asked for the help of the nagas in building sanctuaries and temples.

They came back to the naga domain to seek the permission of their father. But, the naga lord insisted that, he would help only if Nagarjuna went to their sphere underneath the ocean in order to share his teachings. Acharya Nagarjuna agreed to them and went underneath and taught nagas.

How he came to be known as “Nagarjuna”

Once upon a time, while Nagarjuna was teaching the philosophy Prajnaparamita (the Perfection of Wisdom) known commonly as the Heart Sutra, some nagas (six of them) came and framed a canopy like structure over his head. From this occasion, he came to be known by the name – Naga.

Also, from the way that his expertise in teaching the philosophy of Dharma, where he went straight into the point, comparable to the archery of the acclaimed Arjuna, he was called as Arjuna. In this way, he got to be called “Nagarjuna.” In Buddhism Naga also implies a wise person.

He later traveled all through India, frequently captivating in philosophical open discussions with advocates of different religions, including different Buddhists who restricted the recently rising Mahayana articulation of Buddhism. He spent the final years of his life at his origin i.e. Andhra Pradesh and kept preaching there. Nagarjuna lived for a long time and the way he left earth is not known.

Treatises and Teachings of Nagarjuna

Acharya Nagarjuna was an accomplished master of Buddhist doctrine. He wrote voluminously on almost every facet of Buddhist religion and philosophy. Although, Nagarjuna has rightly won widespread acclaim as the principal proponent of the Madhyamapratipad or ‘the middle way’, and as a master of dialectic, his writings also include wide range of works on Vinaya, on Tantra, on the career of the Bodhisattva, and on the practice of the Paramitayana (Perfection of wisdom) sutras.

Among the later are counted Sutrasamuccaya (Compendium of Sutras), which consisted passages from 68 sutras, most of which were Mahayana texts. He also wrote works of a highly devotional character, such as the Catuhstava.

The Philosophy of Madhyamaka

Nagarjuna Image -

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Madhyamaka (the Middle Way) is a Mahayana Buddhist school of theory established by Nagarjuna and his principle devotee, Aryadeva, in India somewhere around 150 and 250 C.E. At its center Madhyamaka is an endeavor to set forward with intelligence and logical consistency.

As indicated by this perspective, every imaginable thing, both external and internal, are empty of their very own inborn nature. That is, they are the aftereffect of endless causes and conditions that are in turn dependent on endless conditions and causes.

Nagarjuna took the center way in the middle of existence and non-existence, in the middle of superficial and ultimate truth. He taught the doctrine of relativity, i.e. Light exists just in connection to darkness, shortness exists in connection to length, the component of good exists in connection to the bad and so on. He expressed that the theory and the hypothesis of reality prompted further delusion and not to learning and gaining knowledge.

The genuine objective is to surrender all the perspectives and not embrace another philosophical perspective of life. For example, a man struck by an arrow did not anticipate on where the pointed arrow was made, what wood was utilized. He just tries to know how the arrow was to be removed in order to reduce pain and suffering.

The Idea of Emptiness or Shunyata

Nagarjuna’s idea of Shunyata or emptiness is that every single conscious being can’t freely exist as they have no individual being of their own. Everything emerges and passes away because of causal conditions. His essential point was not to portray the world but rather discredit courses in which man misinterpreted the world.

Nagarjuna’s method of logical examination provides us with abstract tools to establish and validate the emptiness in this sense of miracles ranging from the self, time, the Four Noble Truths, the senses, the Twelve Links, and Nirvana itself, which are misbeliefs when considered independent realities.

These misunderstandings account, in accordance with this custom, for the misery of unenlightened and ignorant beings. The reliable and logical strategy for the school is most straightforwardly laid out in Mulamadhyamakakarika by Nagarjuna, which is considered by many the most eminence and significant philosophical content in Buddhism.

The Two-Truth Doctrine

Nagarjunas Life and Teachings

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Nagarjuna was also instrumental in the development of the two-truth doctrine. The two truths doctrine depends on the perspective that there are two realities or truths – conventional reality (samvriti satya) and the truth about this reality, which is considered as a “lower truth”, and ultimate reality (paramartha satya) and its truth, which is accepted as a “higher truth”.

However, at the end, Nagarjuna rejects this dualism in reality and shows that both truths are one and the same. It is our purported common sense and our comprehension of the world that causes the problem. This is because we tend to see the world as a gathering of discrete realities interacting with one another and with the self. In terms of the Buddhist point of view, this is called ignorance. This ignorance leads to suffering and grief (dukha). The two truths principle depends on the reasonableness of teaching (upaya).

The works of Nagarjuna

Mulamadhyakakarika (the fundamental stanzas based on the middle path) is considered as one of the the core texts of the Madhyamika School. It is one of the most significant and powerful texts in Mahayana Buddhism and is assigned to Nagarjuna. Some of the other works of Acharya Nagarjuna are as follows:

* Pratityasamutpadahrdayakarika (Constituents of Dependent Arising)

* Vyavaharasiddhi (Proof of Convention)

* Vaidalyaprakarana (Pulverizing the Categories)

* Catuḥstava (Hymn to the Absolute Reality)

* Vigrahavyavartani (The End of Disputes)

* Ratnavali (Precious Garland)

* Sunyatasaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness)

* Yuktisaṣṭika (Sixty Verses on Reasoning)

* Vaidalyasutra-nama (Finely Woven)

* Prajnanama-mulamadhyamaka-karika (Discriminating Awareness)


Some of his collections of Moral Explanations are:

* Bodhicittavivaraṇa (Exposition of the Enlightened Mind)

* Sutrasamuccaya (Compendium of Sutras)

* Suhṛllekha (Letter to a Good Friend)



Nagarjuna is the most renowned thinker in the historical accounts of Buddhism after the Buddha himself. The teachings of Nagarjuna can be appreciated by a wide spectrum of readers. Those who desire a comprehensive and concise manual of instruction in the philosophy and practice of Buddhism will surely not be disappointed by it.

He composed on every part of Buddhist rationality and religion. His works urge humanity to strive for freedom and liberation. He urges the people to think about and study suffering, its effects and causes and the desire for salvation which can be accomplished by sacrificing the attachment to physical objects and rising above the cycles of birth and death. He stresses on the right to meditation, conduct and morality to achieve this goal. His statue is quite often found near the statue of Buddha.

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10 Responses to Nagarjunas Life and Teachings – The Middle Way

  1. Dylan says:

    This is a really fascinating website and you have a really wonderful design. Everything looks really nice.

    And I never heard of Nagarjunas before or any of his teachings. Im not going to lie, it is a little confusing. Not because you didnt explain it nicely because you did an amazing job doing that.

    It’s just very deep. Its definitely worth reading though and I’m going to go back and reread it because it’s very interesting.

    Thanks for the info!

    • Ian H says:

      You’re welcome. And thanks for the kind words. I think the most important takeaway is the concept of interdependence of everything. Nothing can exist without everything else. And the interconnectedness of all sentient and nonsentient beings.


  2. Matt Killy says:

    Hi there!

    I truly enjoyed your article. Never really took a lot of time to read articles about Buddhism but I have to say that your posts are always great so I’m starting to really learn lots of new stuff and I couldn’t be more happy about it 🙂

    That’s also the first time I heard about Nagarjuna and I have to say that his story is very interesting!

    Keep up the great work so I can keep learning about Buddhism 🙂


    • Ian H says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks so much for those words! I’m always learning too, every time I come back to a text or teaching I see or realize something I hadn’t before.

      Lots of great articles to come. Stay tuned! 🙂

  3. Shane says:

    Hi! I would love to check out your page, being Buddhist myself, but the page wont open from my phone… I don’t know if its just my phone, but you may be missing an audience… Please comment back, I’d love to be able to see it. I would love to follow your site and think this is a great niche idea

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Shane,

      Thanks for letting me know. I just tried it with my phone and was able to open it without any issues. I do have the plugin installed that makes the site mobile-friendly. Could you try to access it again when you get a chance? I will also have the rest of my family try to access on their phones as well.

  4. JeffWA says:

    Hi Ian,
    That was a very profound article that you posted about one of the legendary individuals connected to the Buddhist faith Acharya Nagarjuna. Not of that faith I previously was unaware of what this individual has meant throughout history with people who worship that faith. However I gained such knowledge and based on how well you were able to tell readers just what this individual was able to accomplish in life.

    A great article that you obviously took a great deal of time researching the individual who was its subject Ian,

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks Jeff! I’ve read Nagarjuna’s works before and every time I read them, there is something I didn’t see before. Truly profound wisdom indeed.

  5. Mijareze says:

    Nagarjunas Life and Teachings-The Middle Way
    Daily Wisdom and Reflections:
    Nagarjuna was an Indian Philosopher who founded The Middle Way… It is interesting to read about Nagarjuna’s life. I am, however, a Christian, so the doctrine Buddha and The Middle Way are a little strange to me. Still, I give credit to anyone who can learn and achieve as Nagarjuna did. Thank you for allowing me to comment!

    Edward Mijarez

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Edward,

      Thanks for commenting!

      I think Nagarjuna served to introduce more clarity around the Buddha’s teaching since he was an enlightened master himself. I definitely respect Jesus as a spiritual brother of the Buddha since their teachings are remarkably similar.

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