Emptiness decoded



June 2017

By Ashima Mittal

Nagarjuna: The Second
Buddha
Author Mohini Kent
Published by Wisdom Tree
Hardbound
` 695, pages 80

Nagarjuna is someone for whom I have immense admiration. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I recite a verse he wrote in the praise of the Buddha and his explanation of emptiness,” says Dalai Lama in the foreword to Nagarjuna: The Second Buddha.

Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist philosopher, remains a mystery for most including the ardent believers of Buddhism. While a mere mention of his name can inspire awe in anyone with faintest familiarity with Buddhist traditions, little is known about the length and breadth of his teachings. Mohini Kent, the author, unlocks this mystery by making us traverse the landscape of 2nd century BC. The book carefully peels layers of Nagarjuna’s complex philosophy. As a reader, I was riveted by the details of different historical timelines that Kent chalks out to enable us to understand Nagarjuna as he may have been in his childhood and youth. Throughout the book, I realised that the heart of his teachings was the simple realisation that life is about becoming self aware.

At one point in the book, Kent writes, “Voidness is what constitutes ultimate reality in Buddhism”. Voidness, as I understood through the course of reading the book, really means to understand that nothing is fixed in life and things are always already changing. For any seeker, acceptance of change remains one of the most important realisations. While we know it’s easier said than done, Nagarjuna tells us to follow an ethical path to achieve this goal. Kent offers a reader-friendly translation of the Vajra Prajnaparamita sutra or what is popularly known as the diamond sutra. Each set of teachings and stories in the book is accompanied by paintings of Nagarjuna in different mudras. The brightly coloured pictures add to our understanding of Nagarjuna and the fables associated with his life. Often times while reading, I relied on the images to understand complex details. The book, both in terms of its intellectual mission to make Nagarjuna accessible to people, and making his philosophy relevant to contemporary times, is a commendable attempt and an apt tribute to this genius of yore.


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