Nagarjuna (Bodhisattva)

Fourteenth Patriarch of the Chan School in India and founder of the Emptiness (madhyamaka) School of Mahayana Buddhism, he probably lived during the second century AD. He also is included in the patriarchal lineage of other Buddhist schools.

"The Venerable One was from India. When the Thirteenth Patriarch, in the course of his travelling and teaching, reached the part of India where Nagarjuna was cultivating, the Venerable Nagarjuna went out to greet him with these words: 'The deep mountains are so quiet and solitary, the abode of dragons and pythons. How is it that you, who are so virtuous, have strayed so far to come here? What brings you here?' The Patriarch said, 'I am not venerable. I have come to see you Worthy One.' Nagarjuna thought to himself, 'The Thirteenth Patriarch is lying when he denies he is venerable.' The Patriarch knew what he was thinking, and Nagarjuna regretted it, apologizing for being so stupid. The Patriarch immediately transmitted the great Mind-to-Mind Seal to him, and Nagarjuna and the five hundred who were cultivating the Way with him all received the complete precepts.

"After obtaining the Dharma, the Venerable Nagarjuna travelled and taught. When he reached southern India, he found the people there preoccupied with the quest for rewards of heavenly blessings and unaware of how to seek the Buddhadharma. The Patriarch told them the meaning of the Buddha-nature, and how their own natures were endowed with limitless meritorious qualities and blessed rewards. When the multitudes heard that Dharma, they all stopped seeking blessings and turned away from the small to go towards the great. Right where he was sitting, the Patriarch made his body look like the orb of the full moon. The Fifteenth Patriarch-to-be, Kanadeva, was in the crowd and remarked, 'The Venerable One is showing us the substance and characteristics of the Buddha-nature.' Nagarjuna thereupon transmitted the Dharma to Kanadeva and entered the Moon's Orb Samadhi, extensively displaying spiritual transformations. Immediately afterwards, he entered cessation.

"His eulogy reads:

The Buddha-nature in its meaning
Neither exists nor non-exists.
He made appear Samadhi's Orb,
A coral moon on high
An elder brother in the household,
He fell not to biases;
Eyebrows both raised and lowered,
From one mallet dual sounds. . . ."
(VBS #100 (Sept. 1978), p 2)

The philosophical underpinnings of Nagarjuna's teachings have been summarized as follows:


Bodhisattva Nagarjuna

". . . a synthetic survey (samksepa) of Nagarjunas's chief religious and philosophical persuasions.

"The best starting point for such an exposition is the theory of two truths (satyadvaya): a relative or conventional truth (samvrtisatya) that serves as the means for obtaining the absolute or ultimate truth (paramarthasatya).

"The ultimate goal of all endeavors is the highest good of oneself and of others: abolition of rebirth, or nirvana [i.e., enlightenment]. It implies the attainment of Buddhahood, or a twofold body (kayadvaya). This may be considered from four perspectives:

Ontologically: All phenomena (dharma) are empty (sunya) since they lack own-being (svabhava), inasmuch as empirically and logically they only occur in mutual dependence (pratityasamutpanna).

Epistemologically: The ultimate truth (tattva) is the object of a cognition without an object (advayajnana), and thus only an object metaphorically speaking (upadaya prajnapti).

Psychologically: It is the abolition of all the passions (klesa), primarily desire (raga), hatred (dvesa) and delusion (moha).

Ethically: It implies freedom from the bonds of karma but subjection to the altruistic imperatives of compassion (karuna).

"The conventional Buddhist means ([sam]vyavahara) devised for the fulfillment of this objective may be classified variously, but fit most briefly and comprehensively under the heading of the two accumulations for enlightenment (bodhisambhara):

"Accumulation of merit (punyasambhara). This comprises four perfections (paramita): Liberality (dana) and good morals (sila), which are mainly for the benefit of others, and patience (ksanti) and energy (virya), which are for one's own good. Their practice presupposes faith (sradddha) in the 'law' of karma and results in the attainment of the physical body (rupakaya) of a Buddha. Along with the pursuit of meditation (dhyana), the fifth paramita, this constitutes temporal happiness (abhyudaya).

"Accumulation of cognition (jnanasambhara). This consists in ecstatic meditation (dhyana) surpassed by insight into the emptiness (sunyata) of all phenomena (dharmas), or wisdom (prajna). This is the non plus ultra or ultimate good (naihsreyasa) of all living beings. It amounts to the attainment of a 'spiritual body' (Dharmakaya).

"In other words, cognition of emptiness and display of acts of compassion are--to the chosen few--the two means of realizing enlightenment." (Lindtner, Chr. Master of Wisdom: Writings of the Buddhist Master Nagarjuna (Dharma Press, 1986, pp. xx-xxi).


1) Ch. lung shu , 2) Skt. nagarjuna.

See also: emptiness, Bodhisattva.

BTTS References: FAS Ch1 (VBS).


A grammatical form of the Sanskrit word namas, meaning 'bow', obeisance', 'reverential salutation', and often interpreted as meaning 'homage to', 'devotion to', or 'take refuge with.'


1) Ch. na(n) mwo .


. . . the primal pure substance of beginningless bodhi nirvana. It is the primal essence of consciousness that can bring forth all conditions. (SS I 180)

The meaning of nirvana is the very Dharma-nature of all Buddhas. (NS, Ch 3, Pt. 4)

Nirvana is a Sanskrit term that is interpreted in various ways: 1) cessation, or extinction, referring to the elimination of the afflictions at the time of enlightenment or to the ceasing to be of the skandhas (see Five Skandhas) when an enlightened person at death chooses to be reborn no longer; 2) freedom from desire; and 3) no longer either coming into being or ceasing to be.

In addition to the above references to enlightenment, in later times the term nirvana came to be used as a polite way of speaking of the death of a monk (bhikshu) regardless of whether or not he was enlightened and truly entering nirvana.

The most common analogy for Nirvana in the Theravada tradition is the going out of a lamp because of its wick and oil being used up:

"But if someone should ask you, Vaccha: 'This fire in front of you that is extinguished, in what direction has that fire gone from here, east, west, north or south?' What would you answer to such a question?"

"That does not apply, dear Gotama. For that fire that burned because of fuel consisting of straw and wood, has consumed this and not been given anything else and is therefore called 'extinguished (nisbuto) through lack of fuel.'"

"Just so the form of the Thus Come One is given up,its root broken, uprooted like a palm, free from further growth or renewed existence in the future. The Thus Come One is free from everything called form, he is deep immeasurable, unfathomable, just like the deep ocean." (Majjhima Nikaya I 486ff)

The Buddha repeats the whole series of questions and answers, substituting the other four of the Five Skandhas--feeling, cognition, formations, and consciousness--one by one in each successive repetition.

"Most people think that nirvana follows upon death, but actually it is not necessarily an after-death state. It is the certification of the attainment of noumenal being (li). 'Nirvana' is a Sanskrit word, which is interpreted to mean 'neither coming into being nor ceasing to be'. Since there is neither coming into being nor ceasing to be, birth and death have come to an end. One attains nirvana when one is no longer subject to birth and death. However, nirvana does not mean that the Buddha dies. When the Buddha dies, he enters nirvana; he enters the noumenal being of nirvana and verifies its four qualities--permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. Some people who haven't seen things clearly in their study of Buddhism think that nirvana is just death, but nirvana is definitely not death. One who has that view does not understand the principles of Buddhism." (SS I 180-181)

In order to help prevent people from getting attached to the idea of nirvana, the Bodhisattva Nagarjuna stated:

Samsara [i.e., the stream of conditioned existence] has nothing that distinguishes it from nirvana; nirvana has nothing that distinguishes it from samsara. The limit of nirvana is the limit of samsara; there is not even the subtlest something separating the two.

(Prasannapada, p. 535, quoted in Robinson, Early Madhyamika, p. 40)

There are many synonyms for Nirvana, as shown by the following passage:

World Honored One, the ground of fruition is bodhi, nirvana, true suchness, the Buddha-nature, the amala-consciousness, the empty treasury of the Thus Come One, the great, perfect mirror-wisdom. But although it is called by these seven names, it is pure and perfect, its substance is durable, like royal vajra, everlasting and indestructible. (SS IV 207)


1) Ch. nye pan , 2) Skt. nirvana, 3) Pali nibbana, 4) Alternate translations: cessation, extinction, enlightenment.

See also: enlightenment.

BTTS References: VS 429 (4 kinds); UW 157; DFS II 315-316 (3 kinds); DFS VII 1356 (2 kinds); SS I 180-181; SS IV 138-139, 244-245.

Nirvana Sutra

There are two sutras having this title, one Mahayana and one Hinayana. Both have the same complete title: Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Both sutras recount the events which took place and the teachings of the Buddha which he bestowed immediately prior to his entering nirvana. The perspective and scope of the two works is, of course, radically different. As to length, the Hinayana text is chapter length, while the Mahayana sutra is three volumes in English translation.


BTTS References: Translation of the Mahayana sutra is in progress. (Note: The only complete English translation now available is The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana-sutra; a complete translation from the Chinese classical language in 3 volumes. Yamamota, Kosho, tr. Oyama (Japan):Karinbunko, 1973. A translation of the other Sutra has been done by the Pali Text Society as "Book of the Great Decease." Dialogues of the Buddha III, pp. 78-191.)

no outflows

See outflows.

Northern Buddhism

See Mahayana Buddhism.

no self

Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there;
Nirvana is, but not the man that enters it;
The path is, but no traveller on it is seen.
(Vis. XVI, quoted Nyan. BD 12)

The teaching of no self is one of the most fundamental of the Buddha's teachings. Suffering, the Buddha taught, is caused by our clinging to a self, an individuality that is illusory and does not exist. What 'self' is it that does not exist? It is not merely the personality, or ego, that identifies itself in terms of social role and interaction. Almost all religions know that self to be illusory. No self also includes the basic self of our physical being, including our human sexuality, the so-called 'soul' and various other levels of spiritual 'Self'. The 'self' of cosmic consciousness that identifies with the universe--which the Hindus call atman--is also included. All those are mere attachment to illusion.

The Buddha declared:

O bhikkhus, when neither self nor anything pertaining to self can truly and really be found, this speculative view: "The universe is that Atman (Soul); I shall be that after death, permanent, abiding, everlasting, unchanging, and I shall exist as such for eternity"--is it not wholly and completely foolish?

(M I (PTS), p. 138, quoted in Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, p. 59)

Then the World Honored One explained the instability of the self.

"Whatsoever is originated will be dissolved again. All worry about the self is vain; the self is like a mirage, and all the tribulations that touch it will pass away. They will vanish like a nightmare when the sleeper awakes.

"He who has Awakened is freed from fear; he has become a Buddha; he knows the vanity of all his cares, his ambitions, and also of his pains.

"It easily happens that a man, when taking a bath, steps upon a wet rope and imagines that it is a snake. Horror will overcome him, and he will shake from fear, anticipating in his mind all the agonies caused by the serpent's venomous bite. What a relief does this man experience when he sees that the rope is no snake. The cause of his fright lies in his error, his ignorance, and his illusion. If the true nature of the rope is recognized, his peace of mind will come back to him; he will feel relieved; he will be joyful and happy.

"This is the state of mind of one who has recognized that there is no self, that the cause of all his troubles, cares, and vanities is a mirage, a shadow, and dream."

(quoted in Lin Yutang. Wisdom of India and China, "Buddhism".)

"If one says that one has a self-nature (an intrinsic nature of one's own), then one has an attachment. If one thinks that there is no self-nature, then one is without attachment. If one has attachment, then one still has afflictions and ignorance. If one doesn't have any attachments, then one is without afflictions and ignorance. If there are no attachments at all, then there is no place from which afflictions come forth and there is no ignorance. We say: 'Make the self empty;' 'originally there isn't any thing'. That's right, it is empty; however, one still exists as an individual. If one, in fact, exists here and now and speaks of being 'empty, empty', while still continuing to exist as an individual, then one is still here. One isn't empty.

"This teaching is to help people get rid of their attachments. Don't be attached to the existence of a self. If you're not, that is emptiness. However, this doesn't mean that your body will disappear, or that your fundamental nature will disappear. One's self-nature should disappear in the sense that it becomes the same substance as empty space. That is basically the way it should be. The fundamental nature is emptiness, and emptiness is the fundamental nature. But if one is still attached to the existence of a fundamental nature, then one cannot unite with empty space, because one has still not broken through that attachment. Why is it that the Buddha's body is like empty space? It is because he has no attachments. The Bodhisattva should also learn about this kind of state of the Buddha. Therefore, don't have any attachments. If one has attachments, then automatically one will give rise to ignorance and afflictions. If one has attachments, there is selfishness, and then one is bound to have afflictions. When one has no attachments and there is no self, then there is no selfishness and there are no afflictions. To be without any afflictions is to see the nature. Those who see the nature know no anxiety, they don't know the meaning of worry." (FAS Ch22 141)

In his Treatise on Consciousness-Only Tripitaka Master Sywan-Dzang concludes his review of arguments refuting the reality of self in this way:

The truth is that each sentient being is a continuous physical and mental series which, by the force of vexing passions (klesa) and impure acts, turns from one state of existence (gati) to another in cycles of transmigration. Tormented by suffering and disgusted with it, he seeks the attainment of Nirvana.

Hence we conclude that there is positively no real Atman; that there are only various consciousnesses which, since before the beginning of time, have followed one another, the subsequent one arising with the disappearance of the antecedent, and thus a continuous series of causes and effects (karmic seeds--actual dharmas--karmic seeds) is formed; and that, by the perfuming energy (vasana) of false thinking, an image of a pseudo-Atman (of the likeness of an Atman) arises in the consciousness, and it is this pseudo-Atman which the ignorant take for a real Atman.

(CWSL, Wei Tat, tr. 27)


1) Ch. wu wo , 2) Skt. anatman, 3) Pali anatta, 4) Alternate translations: selflessness, not-self, non-ego.

See also: enlightenment, emptiness, attachment, Five Skandhas, Brahma Net Sutra (Hinayana).

BTTS References: FAS Ch22 141.