By Nagarjuna ཀླུ་སྒྲུབ། (Author), Kanyyur Kyabje Rinpoche (Commentary), The Padmakara Translation Group (Translator)
Snow Lion, Boston & London, 2013
Nagarjuna’s poetic presentation of the fundamental teachings of the Great Vehicle, or Mahayana, is remarkable for its concise style and memorable imagery, making it one of the most widely quoted sources in other commentaries on the Mahayana path. The great Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (first-second century C.E.) wrote his celebrated poem “Letter to a Friend” as a gift of advice to a South Indian king, and it has since become a monument in the Indian shastra tradition.
Despite its short length (only 123 verses), Nagarjuna’s “Letter to a Friend” covers the entire Mahayana path, combining a practical approach to daily conduct with a theoretical exposition of the different stages leading to enlightenment. It has thus been an ideal source for many of Tibet’s great scholars seeking a scriptural authority to enhance their own descriptions of the Buddhist path. Any difficulties in understanding the poem are overcome here by Kangyur Rinpoche’s commentary, which turns Nagarjuna’s sometimes cryptic poem into straightforward prose, expanding on each topic and ordering the different subjects in such a way that on returning to the original poem, the reader can easily make sense of the advice it contains.
It includes headings to explain Nagarjuna’s frequent changes in subject and full explanations of the ideas introduced in each verse. In addition to the commentary, this book presents the original poem in the Tibetan and in a new English translation that attempts to emulate Nagarjuna’s lines of metric verse. Also included are Kangyur Rinpoche’s structural outline (sa bchad), a Tibetan line index to enable students to locate quotations used in other Tibetan works, full notes, and a glossary.