1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nāgārjuna

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20241181911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 19 — NāgārjunaThomas William Rhys Davids

NĀGĀRJUNA, a celebrated Buddhist philosopher and writer. He is constantly quoted in the literature of the later schools of Buddhism, and a very large number of works in Sanskrit is attributed to him. None of these has been critically edited or translated; and there is much uncertainty as to the exact date of his career, and as to his opinions. The most probable date seems to be the early part of the 3rd century A.D. He seems to have been born in the south of India, and to have lived under the patronage of a king of southern Kosala, the modern Chattisgarh. Chinese and Tibetan authorities differ as to the name of this monarch; but it apparently is meant to represent an Indian name Sātavāhana, which is a dynastic title, not a personal name. Of the works he probably wrote one was a treatise advocating the Mādhyamaka views of which he is the reputed founder; another a long and poetical prose work on the stages of the Bodhisattva career; and a third a voluminous commentary on the Mahādprajñā-pārāmitā Sūtra. Chinese tradition ascribes to him special knowledge of herbs, of astrology, of alchemy and of medicine. Two medical treatises, one on prescriptions in general, the other on the treatment of eye-disease, are said, by Chinese writers, to be by him. Several poems of a didactic character are also ascribed to him. The best known of these poems is The Friendly Epistle addressed to King Udayana. A translation into English of a Tibetan version of this piece has been published by Dr Wenzel.

Authorities.—H. Wenzel, Journal of the Pali Text Society (1866), pp. 1–32; T. Watters, On Yuan Chwāng, ed. by Rhys Davids and S. W. Bushell (London, 1904–1905). Tāranātha’s Geschichte des Buddhismus in Indien, trans. Anton Schiefner (Leipzig, 1869); W. Wassiljew, Der Buddhismus (Leipzig, 1860).  (T. W. R. D.)