Nāgārjuna (c.150-250 CE) was an Indian philosopher, the founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle Path) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and arguably the most influential Indian Buddhist thinker after the Gautama Buddha himself.
His writings were the basis for the formation of the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) school, which was transmitted to China under the name of the Three Treatise (Sanlun) School. He is credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajnaparamita sutras, and was closely associated with the Buddhist university of Nalanda.
Very few details on the life of Nagarjuna are known, although many legends exist. He may have been born in South India, probably near the town of Nagarjunikonda. According to traditional biographers and historians such as Kumarajiva, he was born into a Brahmin family, but later converted to Buddhism. This may be the reason he was one of the few significant Buddhist thinkers to write in Sanskrit rather than Pāli or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.
From studying his writings, it is clear that Nāgārjuna was conversant with the Nikaya school) philosophies and with the emerging Mahāyāna tradition. If the most commonly accepted attribution of texts (that of Christian Lindtner) holds, then he was clearly a Māhayānist, but his philosophy holds assiduously to the canon, and he virtually never quotes or refers to, let alone depends on, Mahāyāna texts. His philosophy is highly independent (as appropriate to one who cites the pratyekabuddhas for authority!), and his early Madhyamaka thought is in many ways a middle road between the two vehicles.
In Tibetan tradition, he is identified with a sorcerer of the same name. Some identify him with Nāgasena as well.
There exist a number of influential texts attributed to Nāgārjuna, although most were probably written by later authors. The only work that all scholars agree is Nāgārjuna's is the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way), which contains the essentials of his thought in twenty-seven short chapters. According to Lindtner the works definitely written by Nagarjuna are:
Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way)
śūnyatāsaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness)
Vigrahavyāvartanī (The End of Disputes)
Vaidalyaprakaraṇa (Pulverizing the Categories)
VyavahTemplate:Arasiddhi (Proof of Convention)
YuktiṣTemplate:Aṣṭika (Sixty Verses on Reasoning)
Catuḥstava (Hymn to the Absolute Reality)
RatnTemplate:Avalī (Precious Garland)
PratītyasamutpTemplate:AdahṝdayakTemplate:Arika (Constituents of Dependent Arising)
Bodhicittavivaraṇa (Exposition of the Enlightened Mind)
Suhṝllekha (To a Good Friend)
BodhisaṃbhTemplate:Ara (Requisites of Enlightenment)
There are other works attributed to Nāgārjuna, some of which may be genuine and some not. There is evidence for a second, later, Template:Nagarjuna who was the author of a number of tantric works which have subsequently been incorrectly attributed to the original Template:Nagarjuna.
It is worth noting that Lindtner considers that the MTemplate:Ahapraj˝Template:Aparamitopadeśa, a huge commentary on the Large Praj˝Template:Aparamita not to be a genuine work of Template:Nagarjuna. This is only extant in a Chinese translation by Kumarajiva. There is much discussion as to whether this is a work of Template:Nagarjuna, with some original comments by Kumarajiva, or an original work by Kumarajiva based on the philosophy of Template:Nagarjuna.
Template:Nagarjuna's primary contribution to Buddhist philosophy is in the development of the concept of śūnyatā, or "emptiness," which brings together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anatta and pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination). For Template:Nagarjuna, it is not merely humans that are empty of Template:Atman; all things are without any svabhTemplate:Ava, literally "own-nature" or "self-nature", and thus without any underlying essence; they are empty of being. This is so because they are arisen dependently: not by their own power, but by depending on conditions leading to their coming into existence, as opposed to being.
Template:Nagarjuna was also instrumental in the development of the two-truths doctrine, which claims that there are two levels of truth in Buddhist teaching, one which is directly true, and one which is only conventionally or instrumentally true, commonly called upTemplate:Aya in later Mahāyāna writings. Template:Nagarjuna drew on an early version of this doctrine found in the KaccTemplate:Ayanagotta Sutta, which distinguishes nītTemplate:Artha (clear) and neyTemplate:Artha (obscure) terms. Template:Nagarjuna differentiates between saṃvṛti (conventional) and paramTemplate:Artha (ultimately true) teachings, but he seldom declares any to fall in this latter category; for him, even śūnyatā is śūnya--even emptiness is empty. For him, ultimately,
निवृतम् अभिधातव्यं निवृत्ते चित्तगोचरे
nivṛtam abhidhātavyaṁ nivṛtte cittagocare
The designable is ceased when/where the range of thought is ceased,
अनुत्पन्नानिरुद्धा हि निर्वाणम् इव धर्मता। ७
anutpannāniruddhā hi nirvāṇam iva dharmatā| 7
Nirvana is like phenomenality, unarisen and unstopping.