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Guru Nagarjuna lived in India 2,000 years ago. Guru Nagarjuna flourished in the second half of the second century of the Christian era. Guru Nagarjuna was a contemporary friend of the Satavahana king Gautamiputra Yajnasri (166–196 AD.). He came from a wealthy brahmin family from Vidarbha. He went to Nalanda where he became a disciple of the great sage Rahula Bhadra and underwent a thorough training in all five branches of learning.

After his ordination he remained for sometime a monk of Sarvastivada and later changed into Mahayana. In the course of his career as a wandering monk he came across a treatise of Prajnaparamita Sutras. Guru Nagarjuna composed a series of treatise on Madhyamika philosophy based on Prajnaparamita Sutras. Guru Nagarjuna six works on Madhyamika philosophy are well known to the Buddhist world. They are as follows: 1. Mula Madhyamika Sastra, 2. Sunyata Saptati, 3. Yukti Sastika, 4. Vigrahavyavartani, 5. Ratnavali, 6. Vaidalyaprakaran.

Guru Nagarjuna developed a system of philosophy called Madhyamika based on the Buddha’s original sutras. He expounded the true meaning of sunyata based on four point analysis (skt. Catuskoti). According to him all the phenomena and the person have no true existence of their own. They are all dependently originated and cannot have their independent existence. To realize Nirvana, according to him is to realize Emptiness in all its depth. Later on his philosophy was nurtured and enhanced by Arya Deva, Candrakirti, Buddhapalita and Acarya Santi Deva. The Vajrayana doctrine of Nepal is usually based on Madhyamika as well as Yogacara doctrines.

In its sculpture and paintings Guru Nagarjuna is seen as a bodhisattva with nine serpents around his head. Guru Nagarjuna is generally seen in Dharmacakra mudra i.e. teaching mudra symbolizing teaching of the doctrine of emptiness to all sentient beings in order to eliminate ego-grasping. He wears a saffron coloured robe and sits on a cushion proper for a dharma master.

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