Monday, February 14, 2011
acrylic on paper
30 x 22 inches (sheet)
Nagarjuna's life is shrouded in myth. He was an Indian mahasiddha, who lived sometime around the 1st c. AD. He is noted for writing a tremendous number of texts, the most important of which is the Prajnaparimita Sutra (Discourses on the Perfection of Wisdom). The story is that Nagarjuna obtained this text from the nagas, the snake gods who live deep underwater. For this reason he is shown with snakes around his head. Arjuna, the second part of his name, means white; hence his skin is white. He is shown with a treasure vase, indicating the importance of his contributions.
The Prajnaparimita Sutra is the foundational text of Mahayana Buddhism. In depictions of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, he is shown holding it in his left hand. Another widely-read text brought forth by Nagarjuna is the Root Treatise on the Wisdom of the Middle Veiw. For more on the miraculous life of Nagarjuna, see Glenn Mullin, The Flying Mystics of Tibetan Buddhism, Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2006, pp 29-32, 102-7, 133-4.
James Churchward, in his book The Sacred Symbols of Mu (1933), reports that the Nagas were the earliest settlers in India, highly educated and cultured, who were overcome and chased north by the Aryans, who then established the Brahmin caste (p. 274-5).