Buddhist Philosopher, Nagarjuna
From EarthSchool Harmony page

It is said that the Buddha realized he could not divulge all his knowledge to his disciples. Some of it had to be held back because they were not yet ready. He therefore decided to entrust the fullness of his wisdom to the Nagas, ancient, sacred sea-serpent/dragons who inhabited jeweled palaces at the bottom of the sea. After telling the Nagas how to recognize Nagarjuna, the future sage to whom they should give his secrets, the Buddha went on his way.
Centuries later, sometime between the 1st and early 3rd century CE, the South Indian monk, Nagarjuna, was walking along the shore when the Nagas, recognizing him as the One foretold by the Buddha, reared up with their precious treasure. Astonished, then awed, Nagarjuna gratefully accepted the gifts. Their task completed, the Nagas returned to their watery palaces.

Nagarjuna with his disciple, Aryadeva,
receiving the Prajnaparamita sutra from the Naga Realm
Eastern Tibet, 1800 - 1899
Karma Gardri Painting School
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art
From: Himalayan Art
One of the gifts was the Prajnaparamita sutra, or "Heart Sutra," from which Nagarjuna developed the concept of "emptiness." The Naga King also gave the Prayer Wheel and its practice to Nagarjuna.  (For more on both of these, see our pages on Tibetan Buddhism and the Karmapa.) In the above painting, Nagarjuna is accompanied by Aryadeva, his chief disciple, while a celestial being watches from above.

Below is a detail of the Naga's presentation of the "Heart Sutra":

Note: some of the Nagas' jewels are scattered in the lower left corner --
also in the Naga's shoulder-to-navel necklace.

Here is yet a further detail of the bejeweled Naga
presenting the carefully guarded Sutra.
The two connected pages at this link provide further data on Nagarjuna's life as well as 12 lovely artworks, including the two versions shown here above and below.  Here are some excerpts from the text:
Nagarjuna, Arya (Tibetan: pag pa lhu drup): founder of the philosophical system known as Madhyamaka, the Middle Way School. His exact dates are not known but it is generally believed he lived around the time of the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E....

It was prophesied at his birth that Nagarjuna would live for only ten days but because of pious actions by his father, his life expectancy was raised to seven years. At age seven his parents sent him away from their home because they could not bear the thought of seeing his corpse. He eventually arrived at the great monastic academy Nalanda.  At Nalanda he was initiated into meditation practice by the master Saraha (Rahulabhadra) and attained immortality. Nagarjuna became a great teacher and was widely known in all Buddhist traditions.

Over time Nagarjuna's grasp of the Buddha's teaching deepened and he expressed his understanding in a series of commentaries which taught the doctrine of emptiness and clarified the Middle Way.... At one point during Nagarjuna's long life of ceaseless teaching Nagas, nature spirits that appear as snakes, visited him. The Nagas offered him a teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha known as the One Hundred Thousand Verse Prajnaparamita Sutra that had never been seen in the human world....
This Tibetan Buddhist site offers good links and much more information on Nagarjuna's life. Here is how it opens:
It is said that the Buddha prophesied that someone would come after him who would clear up any confusion regarding Buddha-dharma.  Nagarjuna is considered to be that person.  Often called The Second Buddha, Arya [noble] Nagarjuna (2nd century CE) was from a wealthy South Indian Brahmin family.  He is considered a terton (hidden-text revealer) as well as a philosopher....


Nagarjuna and Naga with Sutra
Eastern Tibet
Buddhist Lineage
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection of Shechen Archives - photographs
From: Himalayan Art
This page focuses on related multi-faceted naga lore. Excerpts:
The word Naga comes from the Sanskrit, and nag is still the word for snake, especially the cobra, in most of the languages of India. When we come upon the word in Buddhist  writings, it is not always clear whether the term refers to a cobra, an elephant (perhaps this usage relates to its snake-like trunk, or the pachyderm's association with forest-dwelling peoples of north-eastern India called Nagas,) or even a mysterious person of nobility.  It is a term used for unseen beings associated with water and fluid energy, and also with persons having powerful animal-like qualities or conversely, an impressive animal with human qualities....

Detail of the above from:Himalayan Art
[Note both slender green snake-head and pale human-head on one undulating serpentine body]
From that same Naga page, here is a brief passage on Nagarjuna:
...The Indian mahasiddha, Nagarjuna, received his illuminating insights and tantric empowerment with the help of the nagas in the lake beside which he meditated.  Nagarjuna is one of the main champions of Buddhist philosophy, and is traditionally portrayed with a sunshade or halo formed by a multi-headed serpent.  He is called the Second Buddha, partly in tribute to his having established the Madhyamaka [Middle-Way, ie. neither materialist nor nihilist nor idealist] school of philosophy....
Here is a companion Naga Lore page in this 2-part series.
Since nagas appear as dragons in addition to their more serpentine look, this page, "Dragon as Naga," offers more good links and a fairly comprehensive text that looks at dragons, East & West.  Some eloquent, fascinating excerpts:
...In Eastern mythology, nagas are a class of being whose primary role is as protector and benefactor.  Since their abode is the deep water, they are a source of knowledge and of fertility but they also guard the immense riches of the earth.  Thus the Eastern dragon has mainly benevolent and auspicious characteristics but in Western mythology, the role of the dragon has been strictly curtailed rendering it into an ugly, greedy and jealous opponent of the Hero.  It is the opinion of some that the reason for this has to do with the way people in the West view nature itself-- as something to be vanquished....

...The essence of life in the form of the dragon's celestial breath is called in Chinese sheng chi. It is the source of all energy that contributes to fertility and wealth such as the seasonal changes of the rain that allows crops to grow, the warmth of sunshine, balmy sea breezes and fertile soil.  In fact, the dragon is the eastern Mother Nature....

In the era before this one, that is about 1, 800 BCE or around 4, 000 years BP [Before the Present] the celestial indicator or Pole star was not our North Star (Polaris) but Thuban a mid-point star in the constellation known as Draco or Dragon. Draco is the 8th largest of the conventional constellations curving from the "pointers" of the Dipper (Ursa Minor) to brilliant Vega.  To the observer of today, there is no bright star in the configuration.  Yet, the passages in the great pyramid at Gizeh, Egypt, once acted as channels for the light of the star that is called Thuban....

It has been demonstrated that the Angkor Wat complex, the great Khmer (Cambodian) Buddhist shrine, was built in alignment with this celestial formation.  However, in 1,150 CE the constellation of the Dragon was upside down over the site's medieval buildings, but impressively, in the era of 10,500 BCE traces of the very earliest structures there mirrored the Dragon constellation exactly.

The transition from one ruling celestial system to another is marked in the mythologies of the world by accounts of the overthrow of  Titans (Greek) or Ashuras (Indian) by Gods or Devas.  Naturally, this displacement had to be justified, and so the serpentine heavenly Mother, Tiamat of the early Mesopotamians is considered by devotees of the newer deity, Marduk as an evil draconian monster....

Eight-year old Naga-Princess
[See directly below]
This related page looks at cross-cultural female serpent goddesses (don't miss the link to an impressive "Nagini Carving").  In the East, such a goddess is called a Nagini. The page opens with the moving story of a determined eight-year old Naga-princess, daughter of a Dragon-king,  who instantaneously became a Buddha, despite those who tell her this is impossible, considering her gender and age. A good selection of Western lore is also included.
Naga King art
From "Himalayan Art" comes this small but fine collection of 10 artworks depicting Naga Kings.
Finally, returning to the Prayer Wheel, this brief but useful page further establishes its connection to Nagarjuna:
At Lawudo among the many handwritten texts by Lama (Kunsang) Yeshe, who had lived in retreat in a cave, was the Mani Kabum with a short explanation of the lineage of the prayer wheel practice and a few lines on how to visualize when doing the practice.  It seems that the Vajrayana practice of the prayer wheel spread when Nagarjuna gave the practice to Lion-faced Dakini, who gave it to Padmasambhava, who then brought it to Tibet.
More excerpts about the Prayer Wheel:
Lama Zopa mentions that the installation of a prayer wheel seems to have the capacity to completely transform a place and render it  "... peaceful, pleasant, and conducive to the mind."

One of the benefits of the prayer wheel is that it embodies all the actions of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the 10 directions.

To benefit sentient beings, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas manifest in the prayer wheel to purify all our negative karmas and obscurations, and to cause us to actualize the realizations of the path to enlightenment.

All the beings (not only the people but also the insects), in the area where the prayer wheel is built are saved from rebirth in the lower realms; they receive a deva or human body, or are born in a pure land of Buddha....

Nagarjuna and the Nagas
Russian artist/mystic, Nicholas Roerich: 1925
Courtesy of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in NYC

9 July 2012: as a longtime member of the Bodhi Tree Educational Foundation's Board of Directors, it has been a pleasure to be asked to create a number of webpages on Regional and Buddhist topics related to the Foundation. Here is our Site Map with links to the pages I have so far created.  I hope you will enjoy them.
Warm wishes,
Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
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