project guide

Book III    The Individual Vehicle Launches the Universal Vehicle (Mahayana)

         Chapter 1    Rediscovery and Revival by Nāgārjuna




The vast majority of Buddhists worldwide do consider that the Buddha himself was the teacher of the Universal Vehicle or Mahāyāna – the nondual form of Buddhism. According to their view, when he gave the discourses (sutras) that set forth the nondualist philosophical and universalist social teachings, he did so to a select group of disciples. He further declared that these teaching should be recorded and held in relative secrecy for 400 years, after which time they would be brought forth publicly into the larger society by a great mendicant monk with the word naga in his name.

Why would the Buddha want to keep the nondualist Universal Vehicle teachings secret for 400 years?

text of clip   10.3.17 Class: video and transcript

That he did so implies that he had a prophetic vision of the ripening of Indian society, that it would be ready for the nondualist teachings only after some centuries, maybe twenty generations of development of the Individual Vehicle being the main presentation (which kind of prophetic insight is hard for modern people to attribute to any human being, understandably).

      Establishing spaces in the monistic society that individuals could drop out into

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            text of clip  Full 10.3.17 class video and transcript

Now,  Nāga in Indic languages means a type of water-being, a cross between a serpent and a dragon with shape-shifting powers, a sort of deity of the underwater, the underground, and even the weather. Like the celestial gods, they were kind of divinities, and they were thought to have been students of the Buddha, and in myth he entrusted the textual records of his universal vehicle discourses to them. During the second century BCE, they opened up their libraries to the prophesied mendicant monk, Nāgārjuna by name, who published them far and wide. Nāgārjuna also wrote extraordinary philosophical and spiritual works of his own, based on them, during his remarkably long lifetime (according to the Buddhists) of 600 years.