The name Nagarjuna was translated into Chinese in three different renderings, namely Longshu [Dragon Tree], Longsheng [Dragon Victory] and Longmeng [Dragon Vigor].The term “Longtian” [Dragon Sky] in Chinese that is often mentioned actually refers to the two Bodhisattvas, Longshu [Nagarjuna] and Tianqin [Vasubandhu].
Nagarjuna ranks third in the transmission lineage of the Eight Shingon Patriarchs, and ranks first among the Eight Shingon Lineage Torchbearers. Nagarjuna was the disciple of the Thirteenth Zen Patriarch, Kapimala. Nagabodhi founded Vajrayana after Nagarjuna’s time, but since Nagarjuna had already received the Surangama Samadhi, the official establishment of Vajrayana named Nagarjuna as its founder.
The Sanskrit name for Longshu Bodhisattva is Nagarjuna. The image of Nagarjuna is carved as the form of a solitary hearer dressed in a monk’s robe, seated on the lotus throne with his palms placed together. This image resembles an arhat. There is mystery and legend surrounding every aspect of Nagarjuna’s life. As an exceptional person with holy characteristics, he could commit any sutras to memory at a glance. He enjoyed a widespread reputation. Before he was ordained as a monk, he was especially fond of women, indulging himself in lustful pursuits. It was only later, when he realized the uselessness of sexual indulgence, that he decided to leave the material world in search of the Buddhist path of renunciation. In a period of ninety days, he read the entire Tripitaka [the three Buddhist canons] and completely understood all the profound doctrines.
The great Bodhisattva Nagarjuna should be credited for the flourishing of Mahayana Buddhism. He was born into a Brahmin family sometime in the last quarter of the second century CE, in Vidarbha in southern India. He passed away in the last quarter of the third century.
A famous account of Nagarjuna depicts him receiving the transmission of the Mahayana sutras from an old monk while he was practicing in the Himalayas. After that, he became engrossed in the works of Mahayana. Because his ancestral link could be traced to the nagas or dragons of northern India, Nagarjuna was able to enter the dragon palace beneath the ocean by using his spiritual powers. Inside, he studied all the Mahayana sutras that were housed there, made his own records and brought the scriptures back. This was the reason why Mahayana Buddhism prospered.
When Nagarjuna was spreading the Dharma in southern India, he defeated many heretics. When he expounded the Mahayana teachings in the monastery of Black Bee Mountain, many Hinayana monks and others from the Black Sect were persuaded and impressed by his superior wisdom. According to the events recorded in the biography of Nagarjuna, he wrote Hundred Thousand Verses of Upadesa, Five Thousand Verses on the Treatise of Adorning the Buddhahood, Fifty Verses on the Treatise of the Expedient Means of Great Compassion, and Hundred Thousand Verses of the Treatise of Fearlessness, from which the Madhyamaka-sastra was derived. His works were numerous. Thus, he was revered as the Lord of a Thousand Treatises.
To my knowledge, Nagarjuna was one of the manifestations of Amitabha Buddha. Therefore, among the Five Buddhas, he is Amitabha. We can find many of his works in Buddhist libraries including the following:
Treatise on the Materials for Bodhi
Friendly Epistles [Surl-lekha]
Compilation of Sutras of the Canopy of Blessings and Right Actions [Sutrasamuccaya]
Treatise on the Twelve Gates [Dvadasa-dvara Sastra]
Fundamentals of the Middle Way [MulamadhyamakaKarikas]
Treatise on the Eighteen Kinds of Sunyata [Astadasakasa Sastra]
Refutation of the Concept of Being in the Mahayana [Bhavasamkranti]
Treatise on the Essence of Expediency, Commentary on the Great Prajnaparamita Sastra [Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra]
Exposition of the Ten Stages of Bodhisattvahood [Dasabhumi-vibhasa Sastra]
Verses in Praise of the Dharma Realm
Treatise of the Absence of Bodhicitta
Verses on the Greatness of Making of Vows
Averting Arguments [Vigraha-vyavartani]
Treatise of Many Minds
Treatise of the Thirty-Seven Stanzas
Four Treatises on Right Mindfulness
Treatise on the Auspicious Blessings
There are also others.
Compared to others, Nagarjuna’s knowledge was most profound and wide-ranging, so he was able to bring Mahayana Buddhism into blossom. He was able to fulfill his bodhisattva mission of propagating the seeds of Buddha-dharma on a large scale.
The history of Nagarjuna’s life is infused with many legends. Some Tibetan lamas said that Nagarjuna was born during the first century BCE. Other lamas said that he was born four hundred years after Sakyamuni Buddha entered into pari-nirvana. There was also a saying that Nagarjuna lived for six hundred years. Other sources mentioned that he was still expounding the dharma between the second and third centuries CE.
So, why do I mention Nagarjuna in my writing about Mahamudra? It is because Nagarjuna is the first lineage holder of Vajrayana. He spoke the Dharma to the king of southern India who was committed to the Buddha-dharma, and made Nagarjuna his imperial advisor. Nagarjuna elucidated the doctrines of the Middle Path as found in the Commentary on the Great Prajnaparamita Sastra. These doctrines, he explained, are the Fourfold Mindfulness of Mahamudra.
The Fourfold Mindfulness as taught by Nagarjuna is as follows:
1.Mindfulness of the body – Contemplation on the empty nature of the body.
2.Mindfulness of the suffering caused by emotions – Contemplation on the five aggregates, which are empty in nature.
3.Mindfulness of the mind – Contemplation on the non-origination and non-extinction of all phenomena.
4.Mindfulness of phenomena – Ceaseless contemplation on the first three kinds of mindfulness.
I shall elucidate on this further:
Mindfulness of the body – As Buddhists that practice Mahamudra, it is necessary to remind ourselves to frequently practice mindfulness of the body, visualizing our fathers on our right and our mothers on our left, along with all of our parents, relatives and loved ones in the six realms surrounding us. The hell realm is located the closest to us. Lying further away is the hungry ghost realm. After that is the animal realm, followed by the human realm. Further away is the asura realm, and the furthest is the heavenly realm.
If one does not cultivate the Buddha-dharma, eventually he will become spiritually degenerated. This is true for all sentient beings. All of us who are mindful of ourselves in the physical body know that physical phenomena must undergo the four stages of completion, existence, destruction and finally emptiness. Likewise, everyone is subject to birth, old age, sickness and death. Thus, when observing the mindfulness of the body, it is important to contemplate on the empty nature of the body. As stated in the Diamond Sutra, we must see through the delusion of the physical and egotistical self. The perception of a self, a being, a life, and a soul is essentially empty.
Being mindful of the body means to contemplate on its empty nature. One who is deluded is an ordinary mortal. One who is enlightened is a buddha.
This concept of mindfulness of the body is fundamentally similar to concepts that one first learns in studying Buddhism, and may appear to be “elementary.” Nonetheless, not many people are able to see through the delusion of the body. Many are aware that “all material things will eventually be destroyed, and all living things will age and die,” and that no one is excluded from this natural process. However, those who cannot see through the delusion of the body will continue to pursue fame, fortune and other material things. These deluded people will naturally fall into the three lower realms and will be drawn back into the six realms of samsara.
Thus, constant contemplation on mindfulness of the body involves contemplation on the empty nature of the physical body, and it is the first step in seeking renunciation.
Mindfulness of the suffering caused by emotions – The five aggregates are born from five kinds of discursive thoughts, and are certainly not a part of the nature of True Reality or Suchness. The cause and effect of these two are linked and mutually dependent. The five aggregates are the aggregates of form, feeling, conception, habitual action and consciousness. The aggregate of form refers to physical form. The aggregate of sensation is the feeling caused by the perception of physical objects. The aggregate of conception is the arising of thoughts. The aggregate of habitual action refers to unfocused mental formations and unrefined actions. The aggregate of consciousness is the mental faculty that is responsible for all changes and transformations.
In principle, the arising of the five aggregates stems from a defiled thought, which results in the confusion between true reality and delusion. In turn, this forms the aggregate of consciousness. From consciousness arise the aggregates of form, sensation, conception and habitual action. They overlap one another and arise in stages.
Generally speaking, it is necessary to first eliminate the aggregate of form before attempting to eliminate all five aggregates. The root of all aggregates stems from the rise of discursive thoughts. Sakyamuni Buddha once said, “The five aggregates are rooted in delusions, and yet the inherit nature of our true mind is pristine and sublime. It is inherently pure and perfect, and is devoid of thoughts and contamination. Even though the true essence of our self-awareness was originally wonderful and clean, when a single thought drifts due to karmic affinity, the five aggregates arise, and the drifting thought subsequently transforms into delusion.”
For this reason, the Buddhist practitioner of Mahamudra must recognize the delusion and emptiness of the five aggregates by being mindful of the suffering caused by emotion. Once he sees through this, he will naturally develop disdain for the cycle of life and death. Ultimately, he will understand the mindfulness of emotion afflictions, contemplate on the five aggregates, long for the genuine bliss of nirvana, and no longer foolishly attach to the burning house of the three lower realms.
Mindfulness of the mind – Contemplation on the non-origination and non-extinction of all mental phenomena. Here is a verse: “The nature of phenomena arising from mental conditions is marked by non-origination, non-extinction, non-destruction, non-permanence, non-coming into being, non-going out of being, non-identity, and non-differentiation. With the cessation of all deluded concepts, I pay homage to the buddhas who have expounded the wonderful teachings of tranquility.”
The Buddhist practitioner of Mahamudra should contemplate on the world as being created from the thoughts of sentient beings. This is like the saying, “the three realms are created by the mind, and all phenomena are formed from consciousness.” We must first pacify the discursive mind. Then the six defilements [generated from the tainted six faculties will cease to arise, and the karmic obscurations will be eliminated too. When one arrives at the stage where no thought arises, the six realms of cyclic existence will disappear and one will be liberated from the three lower realms.
The statement “the three realms are created by the mind, and all phenomena are formed from consciousness” illustrates the reality that all phenomena are marked by non-origination and non-extinction. By understanding that “all phenomena are marked by non-origination and non-extinction,” one realizes that “emptiness and illusion are non-dual and undifferentiated. [At the level of realization,] there is no love or hatred, no giving or taking, and no mind of grasping or craving. The mind of equanimity is well engendered and fortified. One will then bring awakening and liberation to oneself and others. That is the perfect realization and complete practice of the bodhisattva’s mindfulness of the mind.
Mindfulness of mental phenomena – The Mahamudra practitioner must constantly and vigilantly contemplate on the first three states of mindfulness. One should not take the concepts lightly and practice it with a negligent attitude. Nagarjuna’s method of contemplating on the four forms of mindfulness leads to the silencing of all discursive thoughts, thereby help one to gain the great perfection of Mahamudra.
Here’s a verse:
One must contemplate on the nature of the dharma realm,
The body, sensations and mind are mental states.
Mahamudra itself is a Dharma.
It expresses the doctrine of the Middle Way.
(Grand Master Lu’s Book 51 -“Highest Yoga Tantra and Mahamudra”)
True Buddha Translation Teams (TBTTs)