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Date(s) - 13 Oct 2017
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Pearl Kibre Medieval Study (Room 5105)

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Please join the Friends of the Saints on FridayOctober 13, at 7 p.m. in the Pearl Kibre Medieval Study (Room 5105) of the CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave.) for the following paper and our customary pot-luck refreshments:


A Saint’s Advice to a Warrior King: Nāgārjuna’s Ratnāvalī (Rinchen phreng ba

 Toy-Fung Tung

Assistant Professor

Department of English

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

Written likely between 170 and 204 A.D., Nāgārjuna’s Ratnāvalī is a 500-verse epistle, likely addressed to the last king of the Satavahana Empire by a poet-philosopher, known as the “Second Buddha.” Not unlike Augustine, Nāgārjuna was a towering religious thinker, who had no doubts about his future place in Buddhist hagiography. He is considered the founder of the “Middle Way” school, one of the foundational philosophical formulations of Buddhist doctrine. What could such a saint have to say—and need 500 verses to say—to a conquering king, who set out to reclaim lands in the Deccan area lost by his predecessors? Every fact surrounding the Ratnāvalī is only accurate to a degree of likelihood. Even the original Sanskrit text has not survived complete, although complete versions exist in Tibetan and Chinese translation. The Tibetan verses are a testament to the Tibetan veneration towards the Indian founders of Buddhism. The written Tibetan language was devised in the eighth century expressly in order to translate the holy Sanskrit scriptures. The Tibetan translators not only adhered to meaning, but observed metrics and tried to reproduce even the word order of the original. Tibetan translation is a unique endeavor for this reason, and in my translations, I have tried to reproduce as faithfully as possible the Tibetan poetic effects and syntactical order. So, again, what could a philosophical saint have to say to a moderately successful local king? Interspersed with the hardest philosophical questions—such as what is reality? — Nāgārjuna gives the king practical advice about retaining power, while enticing him with the immeasurable god-kingdoms he might be granted, should he pursue the Buddhist spiritual path. My talk will present some of Nāgārjuna’s arguments and rhetorical strategies.