NAGARJUNA’S KILLER TIME GAP

1ce24b49ef2c97c59535c8ba9b69f382I am no scholar and frankly admit that my long years of immersion in Eastern Philosophy were driven solely by an obsession to destroy my own darkness. In my teens, I dived into esoteric teachings in an attempt to understand my angst, and while much I learned took me a little further down the road to peace, it was a Buddhist Geshe I met in Manhattan many years ago who finally helped me sort out the confusion I felt about the nature of reality; it was through him that I came upon the luminous Indian scholar Nāgārjuna, considered second only to Gautama Siddhartha in the context of his critical contributions to eastern thought.

Nagarjuna’s life is a bit of a mystery to us moderns since surviving accounts of his life were written, in Chinese and Tibetan, centuries after his death. Most likely he was born into a Brahmin family in South India and later became a Buddhist. Some say he was an advisor to Yajna Sri Satakarni, a king of the Satavahana dynasty who ruled between 167 and 196 CE, which places him around 150–250 CE. Nagarjuna is considered the founder of the Madhyamaka School; due to his efforts, the concept of ‘emptiness’ (shunyata)—which he focused on in order to refute the metaphysics of some of his contemporaries—became the central ontological concept in Mahayana Buddhism. Continue reading

Absolute & Relative Reality – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #2/12

buddhist-teacherAngelica and I rode the subway into downtown Manhattan, then walked to a packed hall near 8th street in the simmering east village to hear this lama speak. And she was right — he was brilliant and magnetic. In hindsight, it is easy to see how his unique methods of teaching eastern wisdom gave my own life rich meaning, and forever changed its course.

The next few years flashed by as I studied with him, absorbing every nugget he dropped. I saw his ego grow monstrous as his flock swelled, but I stayed on, convinced that his teachings were authentic, culled directly as they were from the ancient scriptures. In fact I was so enraptured by his efforts to spread the dharma among the lost tribes of Manhattan that I offered to transcribe his teachings on Mahamudra — a word that has many connotations in the Buddhist world, but which he introduced to us as an ancient teaching on the nature of samsara, or relative reality. Continue reading