Today (August 31st), the 24th day of the seventh lunar month, is a day for us to celebrate the birthday of Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva.
Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva was born in Vidharbha in the south of ancient India 400 years after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa. At the age of seven, he came to Nālandā Monastery where he met Master Saraha. After he turned eight, he requested to be his guru’s upādhyāya (preceptor). He received full ordination from him and was given the name “Bhikṣu Complete Virtue.” Henceforth, he studied and received all the teachings of Nālandā Monastery, including the tripiṭaka and the fourfold division of tantric texts.
Once, when Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva was expounding the Dharma at Nālandā Monastery, two sons of Dragon King Takṣako came to listen to the teachings and invited the bodhisattva to their dragon palace. The bodhisattva explained the Dharma to the dragon-kings and their retinues, and obtained the dragon clay to be used for building millions of Buddhist stupas. He also acquired the Perfection of Wisdom in One Hundred Thousand Lines (Śatasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra) and many dhāraṇī teachings, which he brought back to Jambudvīpa. Since then, he has been revered as Nāgārjuna, which connotes ultimate establishment and achievement.
Later on, Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva extensively explicated the Prajñā teachings and preached the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) doctrine. He composed a variety of expository works on the tripiṭaka and the fourfold division of tantric texts to explain the exoteric and esoteric teachings, including the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā), the Treatise on the Great Virtue of Wisdom (Mahāprajñāpāramitā-śāstra), Daśabhūmika-vibhāṣā, the Precious Garland (Ratnāvalī), Catuḥstava, the Sixty Stanzas on Reasoning (Yuktiṣaṣṭikā), the Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness (Śūnyatāsaptati), the Dispeller of Disputes (Vigrahavyāvartanī), the Treatise on Pulverization (Vaidalyaprakaraṇa), the Friendly Letter (Suhṛllekha), and so forth.
In the third and fourth centuries CE, the works of Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva were introduced to China by Master Kumārajīva through translation, which has exerted profound and lasting influence on Chinese Buddhism. The eight major schools of the Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, i.e., the Abhidharmakośa School, Satyasiddhi School, Vinaya School, Three-Treatise School, Dharma-characteristics School, Huayan School, Tiantai School, and Esoteric School all respect Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva as their patriarch, hence he is known as the common patriarch of the eight schools.
Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva was a great bodhisattva who had already advanced beyond the bodhisattva grounds for the past long eons and had returned to this world all because of his vows. To benefit sentient beings of subsequent ages, he faultlessly chose and elucidated the Buddha’s teachings on dependent origination and empty nature, and established the wondrous way of Madhyamaka. On this auspicious day, let us recollect the virtues and kindness of Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva and vow, as he did, to develop the excellent bodhi mind, to awaken to the truth of emptiness, and to aspire to attain the supreme perfect enlightenment for the sake of benefiting all sentient beings.