Nagarjuna, one of India's greatest philosophers, is the most influential thinker in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. While his philosophy has been the subject of numerous studies and translations, Joseph Walser provides the first examination of Nagarjuna's life and writings within the social, religious, and institutional contexts of the early history of Buddhism.
Walser locates Nagarjuna's second century writings at a critical juncture in the development and spread of Mahayana Buddhism. At this time, Mahayanist writings and teachings were regarded with great suspicion, and its followers were subject to legal censure. Walser explores how Nagarjuna's writings, including his most famous works, The Jeweled Garland and Foundational Stanzas, established a connection between the authority of the existing Buddhist canon and Mahayana teachings. In doing so, Nagarjuna was able to demonstrate the legality of Mahayana interpretation within the strictures of Buddhist monastic law. This established a place for Mahayana in the Buddhist tradition and insured the reproduction and transmission of the sect's central texts.