Bodhisattva Nagarjuna - the first Patriarch of Jodo Shinshu


Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
Nagarjuna (approximately 150-250 C.E.), is dubbed the ”father of Mahayana Buddhism” and is famous for his rejection of any affirmation about the ultimate nature of reality in the Mahayana doctrine of emptiness. He founded the school of Madyamika (Middle Path) dialectics. The teachings of this school, together with the Yogacara[1] teachings are the basis of Mahayana theory and practice. Maybe the majority of nowadays Buddhists know about Nagarjuna from his subtle writings on emptiness, but they forget or they don’t know that he also sought refuge in Amida Buddha and was reborn in the Pure Land after his death.

As an Amida devotee, Nagarjuna is considered by Shinran Shonin as the first of the seven Patriarchs of the true Pure Land teaching (Jodo Shinshu).

In the chapter “The Way of Easy Practice” from the volume “Dasabhumika – vibhasa – sastra” (“Commentary on the ten-stages Sutra”), he speaks about two types of practices:

1) a hard one, based on personal power, similar to walking on land, and
2)  an easy one, based on the Compassion of the Buddhas, similar to walking on water. 

Thus, he reccomends saying the Name of various transcendent Buddhas, among which he especially focuses on Amida.

Even though he recommends the easy way to those incapable of great personal efforts, which may lead to the impression that the Nembutsu of faith is for “lesser” beings only, he himself as a highly accomplished Master seeks refuge in Amida:

"The Buddha of Infinite Light and Wisdom,
whose body is like a mountain of genuine gold,
I worship with my body, speech and heart
by joining hands and bowing down toward Him.

If anyone is mindful of that Buddha's infinite power and merit,
He will instantly enter the Stage of Assurance.
So I am always mindful of Amida."

(Junirai - Twelve Adorations)

Thus, for him, Amida's salvation turns out to be a universal way, for both the “inferior” and “superior” beings. Buddha’s Compassion does not make a difference between the two, as he clearly said:

“All the sages and the saints, all people and gods seek refuge in Him,
That’s why I also take refuge in Him, and worship Him.”

(Junirai - Twelve Adorations)






[1] Yogacara (“the practice of unifying meditation”) teachings which explain all plains of existence in terms of consciousness and teach the meditation about the relationship between personal conscience and the universe, as well as reaching supreme Enlightenment by realizing the inseparable unity between the two. 

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