Nagarjuna’s “Precious Garland of Advice for a King”

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The person is not earth, not water,
not fire, not wind, not space,
not consciousness, not all of them [together].
What person is there other than these?
                –Verse 80

In this series access commentaries by Venerable Thubten Chodron and Khensur Jampa Tegchok on a classic Indian Buddhist philosophical text, Precious Garland of Advice for a King by Nagarjuna.

About the author

Nagarjuna is the most erudite and renowned scholar-practitioner of ancient India, thought to live around 50-150 CE or 150-250 CE. A prolific writer, his view of dependent arising and emptiness is regarded as the highest philosophical teachings on the nature of reality and liberation available in Tibetan Buddhism.

About the text

In Precious Garland, Nagarjuna demonstrates the practicality of his wisdom regarding how to navigate the intricacies of worldly life to balance everyday needs with spiritual practice. Through various lines of reasoning, Nagarjuna shows us how to take advantage of human life to secure future happy rebirths for the purpose of making ongoing progress towards the ultimate goal of full awakening.

Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland takes the form of five chapters of 100 verses each:

  1. Chapter One addresses how to create the causes for higher rebirth—ethical conduct, generosity, the dedication of merit and so on—and the highest good of full awakening—the wisdom realizing emptiness.

  2. Chapter Two elaborates on this topic with an interwoven explanation of the causes and effects of higher rebirth and highest good.

  3. Chapter Three inspires us with an in-depth explanation on the causes for full awakening—the two collections of merit and wisdom—alongside encouragement that bodhisattva practices provide us with the tools necessary to create such causes.

  4. In Chapter Four, Nagarjuna imparts advice on how to be an effective, skillful leader that acts from a foundation of ethical conduct, compassion and kindness. Venerable Chodron’s commentary contextualizes this advice within our modern setting, showing the enduring relevance of the Buddha and Nagarjuna’s wisdom.

  5. Chapter Five focuses on the practices of bodhisattvas—those who aspire to full awakening for the benefit of others. These teachings provide a roadmap regarding what faults to abandon and what qualities to cultivate in our spiritual endeavors. By doing so, we actualize our own lasting state of happiness and be able to help others do the same.

Who it’s for

A source text for the lamrim or stages of the path to awakening literature, Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland provides an in-depth and yet accessible presentation of the path to awakening. Coupled with Venerable Chodron’s clear commentary on how modern-day practitioners can understand and relate to this centuries-old advice, this set of teachings will prove meaningful for new and seasoned practitioners alike.

Resources

Access the audio and video records of Venerable Thubten Chodron’s teachings, as well as links to review quizzes:

You may also consider listening to teachings by Khensur Jampa Tegchok, who gave a commentary on Precious Garland at Sravasti Abbey in 2006 and 2008:

A more extensive commentary by Khensur Jampa Tegchok, edited by Venerable Thubten Chodron, has been published as Practical Ethics and Profound Emptiness, available from Wisdom Publications. View short talks by Venerable Chodron on the story behind the book and a reading of a few excerpts here.

Remaining for an immeasurable time
and wishing to obtain immeasurable awakening
for the sake of immeasurable beings,
the bodhisattvas perform immeasurable virtue,

So how could they not obtain before long awakening,
even though it is immeasurable,
through the collection of these four
that are immeasurable?
             –Verses 219-220