Nagarjuna is one of my heroes in Buddhist history.
He was a scholar and adventurer, a mystic and wanderer. And a prolific writer whose work is still with us today.
He’s sometimes called the Second Buddha. He’s the only figure given such a high distinction. He lived in the second century and he’s considered a key figure in several different branches of Buddhism. He’s revered in Zen Buddhism as a patriarch and in Vajrayana Buddhism as a treasure revealer.
He came from the southern part of India. It’s said that he lived for 600 years, but of course that’s a legend. It’s said that he came from a Brahmin family, but other than that very little is known about his life before he became a dharma teacher.
He was a Buddhist monk but also a renegade scholar. He traveled around teaching everyone, not just monks. He presented the same kinds of teachings to everyone, rather than giving some teachings to monks and lesser teachings to everyone else. This was probably unheard of at the time. It seems that he just traveled around giving teachings, but also doing an incredible amount of writing. There’s a tradition of mystic scholars in Buddhism now but Nagarjuna is really one of the early ones.
He was an adherent of the Mahayana School, which emphasizes the Bodhisattva path of wisdom and compassion. He defended Mahayana practice, which many Buddhists at the time believed wasn’t authentic Buddhism. He founded his own branch of Buddhism called Madhyamika, or middle way.