The Two Indian Patriarchs

Nagarjuna (Jp. Ryuju)

According to tradition, Nagarjuna was the first Mahayana patriarch to advocate the Pure Land way and Vasubandhu is attributed with being the first to explain it clearly. One of the greatest of all Buddhist teachers, Nagarjuna was a Mahayana scholar in southern India who is thought to have lived between AD. 150 and 250. He is especially known for his systematization of the doctrine of shunyata (non-substantiality). His philosophy was called the Madhyamika doctrine. Because of his overwhelming authority, he is also claimed as a patriarch by many other sects and schools. Nagarjuna is important to the Pure Land tradition for his treatise the Shih-chu-p'i-p'o-sha lun which praises Amida Buddha and advocates recitation of his name as the quick and easy path of faith (Williams, 257). However, there have been doubts raised as to whether the Shih-chu-p'i-p'o-sha lun was really written by Nagarjuna since there are no Sanskrit or Tibetan extant copies (Hirakawa, 1957).

Vasubandhu (Jp. Seshin)

One of the most important Mahayana teachers. Vasubandhu was born in Gandhara in India in the fifth century C.E. and is known as T'ien-ching in Chinese Buddhist texts. It is said that he first studied the Theravada teachings and wrote the Abhidharmakoshabhasyam but soon turned to Mahayana under the influence of his elder brother Asanga, who was a scholar of the Consciousness Only doctrine. Works attributed to Vasubandhu are so many that he is known as the monk of a thousand writings. In the Pure Land tradition, he is listed as the second of the Pure Land patriarchs in India becasue of his Treatise on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wang-sheng lun). As no extant copies of the Wang-sheng lun exist in Sanskrit or Tibetan, however, scholars have come to doubt whether the author is the same Vasubandhu who systematized the Yogacara school (Hirakawa, 1979; 101-11).


Hirakawa, Akira, Jujubibasharon no chosha ni tsuite, Indogaku bukkyogaku kenkyu, 5-2, 1957.

----- Indo Bukkyoshi, vol.2 (Tokyo: Shunjusha, 1979).

Williams, Paul Mahayana Buddhism : the Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge, 1989).

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