Mahayanasutralamkara (By Asanga)

Mahayanasutralamkara (By Asanga)

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Item Code: IHL532
Author: Dr. (Mrs.) Surekha VijayLimaye
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Language: Text, Translation and Commentary
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 8170303478
Pages: 578
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.9 inch X 5.8 inch
From the Jacket

Asanga is one of the most important philosophical personalities in the history of Buddhism. His contribution to Vijnanavada School of thought is unparalleled. The Vijnanavada school of Asanga is also known as Yogacara. For Asanga and others, the Absolute truth, i.e. pure consciousness (Vijnana) can only be realized by practice of yoga. That indicated the practical side of this school, while the word “Vijnanavada” brings out its speculative features. In its practical application it is described as Yogacara, i.e. following the path of Yoga.

The Mahayanasutralamkara by Asanga is a landmark in the development of Vijnanavada absolutism. This is a gigantic work on Mahayana Buddhism. The title itself indicates its manifold features of Mahayana. Putting it in Asanga’s own words, its an embellishment of Mahayana sutras. There is no Buddhist topic which is not touched by Asanga. Various topics of Buddhism are discussed on the lines of Mahayana in twenty-one chapters called Adhikasas with commentary.

The present book contains English translation of the Sanskrit text and commentary of the Mahayanasutr-alamkara. The book contains notes and an index of the terms. The book is published under Biblio theca-Indo Buddhica Series.


Asanga has been attributed with the authorship of Mahayanasutralamkara. He is one of the great masters of Mahayana Buddhism. Though there are some differences of opinion about the authorship of Mahayanasutralamkara among the scholars, I have accepted the popular view that Asanga is the author of this great book which gives us briefly all the important tenets of Mahayana Buddhism.

Asanga lived in Gandhara (modern Kandahara in Afganisthan) but his birth place is Purushapura (Peshawar). He was born in a Kushika Brahmana family. Along with his two brothers he was converted to Sarvastivada School of Hinayana Buddhism which could not give his spiritual mind any solace. He was then initiated by Maitreyanatha in the 'Sunya' doctrine of Mahayana. He mastered the spiritual contemplation and was called Suryaprabhasamadhi. With this he could understand the essence of all the texts of the Great vehicle.

Taranatha has stated that Asanga was one of the sons of the Brahmana matron who was married to a member of the Kshatriya community.

Hiuen-tsang has also mentioned the fact that original birth place of Asanga was Gandhara but he goes on, without modification, to change the scene of the legend and transports it to Ayodhya.

After receiving spiritual enlightenment from Maitreyanatha, he resided in a monastary in Dharmankura aranya, a place near Magadha Then he migrated to Usmapura vihara at Sagari and succeeded in bringing king Gambhirapaksha in to the fold of his doctrine.

Towards the end of his life, he remained for twelve years at Nalanda and he passed away in Rajagraha where his disciples erected a monument in his honour.

According to Dr. Bagchi “it can be deduced that Asanga was alive and active in the fifth century A.D.". He gives Professor Lévi’s opinion that the probable date could be the first half of fifth century and Dr. Winternitz's opinion that he “probably lived in the 4th Century and was originally an adherent of the Sarvastivada School”.

Mr. Bagchi in his introduction to Mahayanasutralamkara has refered to the legend that “Asanga ascended the Tusita heaven for receiving enlightenment on the mystery of the Great vehicle from the Bodhisattva Maitreya who used to reside in that blessed region— Furthermore, it has been placed on record that Asanga, during his sojourn in that celestial abode received Yogacarabhumishastra, Mahayanasutralamkara, Madhyanta and other sacred texts from Maitreyanatha. Taranatha has recounted the self same classical episode, with certain modifications and has reiterated that Asanga mastered five teachings of Maitreya by staying in the Tusita heaven"?

Asanga has been neglected by the scholars for- a long time. He has been clouded by his brother Vasubandhu though traditionally it is believed that Asanga was the original propounder of the Yogacara School.

All these accounts may be the reason why modern scholars believe that Maitreyanatha propounded the Yogacara thought. Even Hakuju Ui has attributed the authorship of Mahayanasutralamkara to Maitreyanatha. There are other scholars who hold the view that Asanga and Maitreyanatha are not two persons. Maitreya was also known as Asanga or Asanga was known as Maitreya.

Again Mr. Bagchi has given two opposite views regarding the authorship of this great work. He has quoted G. Tucci from his article entitled ‘On some aspects of the doctrines of Maitreyanatha and Asanga? G. Tucci has furnished fresh arguments to prove that Maitreyanatha is the author of the Mahayanasutralamkara. He has observed that the authorship of the Karika portion of the six treatises belongs to Maitreya and his disciple Asanga composed commentaries on those works. E. Obermiller has held the view that the five works’ attributed to Maitreyanatha by the Tibetan tradition were actually composed by Asanga and that the classical story of revelation of them to Asanga by Maitreya in Tusita heaven is intended to give a divine sanction to the works".

The colophon of the work reveals that the original text is announced by Bodhisattva Vyavadatasamaya. This was translated into Chinese and Tibetan adverbatim. But the real identity of Vyavadatasamaya is not really known.

S. Lévi has split up Mahayanasutralamkara (Sanskrit text) into two separate adhikaras and according to Dr. S. Bagchi "the order of sequence has maintained a semblance of uniformity upto the fifteenth chapter. The remaining portion of it is bereft of the alleged division and the numerical reconing of it. But it is curious to find that the final adhikara has been numbered the twenty-first without any reference to the abrupt break and aberration—so there is apparent lack of organic unity in the body of the present text due to missing link which is essential to account for the number twenty one. According to Professor Lévi "it is probable that the previous chapter is separated into two sections, between the verses 42 and 43. The nineteen previous verses, with their uniform refrain, • constitute a well knit unity like a hymn of conclusion".

Mahayanasutralamkara has been distinctly divided into three parts according to Lévi.

(1) from chapters I to IX.

(2) from chapters X to XIV.

(3) from chapters XV to the end; these division bear resemblance to the arrangement of the Bodhisattva bhumis into three yogasthanas. These ten Bodhisattva bhumis are explained i in short, in the summary.

In chapter II the portion from verse five to the end of the chapter has been translated into English by me from the French version by S. Lévi as the Sanskrit text is not available. Even S. Lévi, has translated verses 5 to the end of the chapter II, from the Tibeten text, for want of, or non-availability of the original text in Sanskrit (Ref.p.20 from M.S.A. by S. Lévi).

The ‘Vijnanavada’ taught by the 'Yogacara school is one of the two schools pf Mahayana, the other is ’M5dhym£ka’ which advocates the ‘Sunyavada'. Both these schools have a large following as they train people to cross this tumultuous ocean of transmigration and to attain Buddhahood. Even though the Buddhahood is attained the Buddha are not content because they think more about other. people’s welfare. They want to be a succour to the miserable people who are caught in the temptations of this world. They want to show people the way out of this misery and a way to real happiness.

The Buddha had already institutionalised religion for the first time in India. Many monasteries had been built and a new community of monks could be seen. A monk had to severe all his worldly ties and live a life of a wandering mendicant, I-le meditated and lived and led a very austere life. The discipline of vinaya regulated his life. Even so the recitation and the principles of the Great vehicle charmed many people and caught their imagination. So, many people were attracted to Mahayana Buddhism.

The first principle of Mahayana is the perfection of knowledge. When the Madhyamika School propagated the doctrine of 'Sunya’ (Void) doubt was created in the minds of people and there was controversy about it. Asanga renewed his effort to propagate Buddhism and his 'Vijnanavada’ was the result. So ‘Vijnanavada’ was a doctrine which could satisfy people mentally as well as spiritually. Time was also favourable for Asanga.

India had just recovered from the dynastic rule of the Guptas. India had her own national art, literature and when Asanga offered his doctrine for spiritual and mental well being, it was simply accepted and absorbed.

Asanga, who was born and brought up in Gandhara, had come in direct contact with the Iranian world which was undergoing a religious revolution, when Zorastrianism was restored by Sassanides and Judaism as well as Christianity were propagated by the apostles. India also needed a true religion which could seduce the wise and attract their attention; push their thought and catch up their imagination. It also needed a religion which could appeal to common people. And shrewd Asanga knew what they needed was a religion which showed them a way which alleviated their sufferings not just blindly but by understanding and analysing it. This is what Asanga has reflected upon and delivered. Thus the doctrine of dharma is characteristic of the school of Asanga and evokes the memory of the ‘intelligibles' taught by the Platonians.

All the same, as ‘yoga' is inherent in all Indian spirituality, Asanga searches for the principle of his doctrine through 'Yogacara'.

‘Yoga' looks after the spiritual welfare of man, by internal observation, analysis and classification of the mystical states. It is a well known fact that all the systems of Indian Philosophy are related directly to ’Yoga' and ’Yogacara' is no exception. The Buddha had also propagated ‘Yoga’ to attain supreme illumination. Hinayana too prescribes the teachings and mystic exercises directly imported from ’Yoga'. So it is not at all surprising, that Asanga makes a thorough study of "Yoga'.

There are traditionally six organs. The five sense organs which are external; ‘manas' which is the internal sense and is the vehicle of six sensations, 'Vijnana'. Asanga analyses and discovers that besides the incessant flux of phenomenon, there is a novel sensation which he calls the ‘alayavijnana'. This is a permanent reservoir, where the acquired effects are stored and transformed into causes at the right time and place. It is not the self or ‘atman', as Buddhism does not believe in the self; it is also not the ego as the ego too is just imagination only. One can call it the affirmation of ‘Being’ which is found enveloped in all our Judgments and sensations, it is also to an extent the conscience. It is the ‘manas' which separates and brings about the sensation of 'I am’ or the ego. So it is the ‘manas’ which, instead of being aware of the absolute truth replaces it with the egoself. This sensation of ‘alayavijnana’ puts everything under its spell and makes one forget the supreme reality. It takes everyone in, and through them it shows the permanence in what is not permanent. Inspite of all this, one can free oneself from the captivity of this spell. So according to this doctrine it is not a freedom obtained by mystic union. Freedom is when transformed by the internal revolution, the sensation of 'alayavijnana' blends itself with the ‘dharmadhatu' where all the differenciation ceases. The fictitious ‘me’ or ‘I’ (ego) is abolished and substituted by the universal consciousness, where the sense of others and 'l' is seen as equal and identical.

The agent of this internal revulsion is the Absolute which invades and purifies the ‘alayavijnana’ bringing about the Bodhi or illumination which is at once abstract and concrete.

As the nature of Truth is one, ‘It is uniform and immovable in the multitude of infinite Buddha. It is ineffable so it escapes the discursive reason. One cannot define it as either existence or non—existence. It is an universal revelation, it contains all and is not seen; it is uninterrupted and is not manifested at intervals. Its essential characteristic is fundamental unity only. It excludes all duality as it is 'Absolute - solid Being' which 'IS'. It has a beauty of its own which surpasses the 'Hinayana Nirvana which is total cessation. It gives a Nirvana which is apratisthita (which never stops). It gives unusal energy which flows as passive actions. The causality of dharma has no more any hold.

But Bodhi does not come suddeny and entirely. It comes gradually to one who practices ‘Yoga' as stated by ‘Yogacara'. Such a person (one who practices yoga) is called a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva has to practice for a long time to arrive at a definite identity. One who reaches such a state is called a 'Buddha'.

The Bodhisattva has to go through ten stages. These are called a ‘Buddha’. It is very essential to know these ten 'Bhumis' to understand ‘Mahayanasutralamkara’. The first is 'adhimukticarya’ and the last one in ascending order is 'Buddhabhumi’. The adhimukticarya is a joyous stage. Bodhisattva obeys intuition which stops at the void. It makes him realise that what is apparent is void and everything is non-substantial. There is no reality in any dharma. Dharma is just a phenomenon of the spiritual world constructed by mums. At the same time one grasps the ‘Dharmata' (common characteristics) of the dharma and enters in the generalisation; moving towards the Universal Absolute. The ecclesiastical discipline transforms one at once. The second world is called the‘immacu1ate'. One has disengaged oneself from the senses, thus going forward towards the goal (nirvana). The mind is purified by the moral suffering and is perpetually in dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (realisation). In the third world the 'Pure', there is a reopening in the 'world of desire', without the study of the dharma which henceforth is non-substantial, he clarifies this for others too. He undertakes his proper work which is the maturation of creatures. Then one passes 'to the knowledge' (Prajna) and goes on to the fourth world 'the raft', by exercising the virtues of power and knowledge which constitute a part of illumination (bodhipaksa). Graced with this he removes the two obstructions which are suffering and knowables. He then clears the deflection by bending the side of illumination towards transmigration. He puts forth, his merits which are huge, for the service of creatures.

The fifth world is ‘difficult to earn'. This is gained by superior knowledge. Here the dharma is confined to the universals; where the development of dharma is reduced to the four sublime Truths taught by the Buddha (suffering, origin, life and suppression). The Bodhisattva explains these to others.

In the sixth stage, one's mind (thought) is not enchained to the circle of causality (Pratityasamutpada). In the transcendent, there is necessarily no good or bad, as all the personal ego) sentiment is eliminated ‘vis-a-vis' Nirvana. At such a time one is as much near illumination as transmigration with the acquisition of the knowledge one becomes accomplished.

The seventh world is "very critical. It is achieved only after hard work in the earlier six worlds and there is only a bait of the new series ahead. It is in this stage that one recalls all the Bodhisattva by indefinite repetition one after other. A subject is studied more and more without expectations of the fruit of the anterior studies; as he goes on, more and more signs of mental revulsion are seen in him but he rests on the impressions (abhisamskaras, the agents of mental activity which are superior and affect the passivity of the mind.

The eighth world, ‘the immobile’ shows a complete revulsion. His work of maturation of creatures is shown hereafter by extreme ways; his accomplishments become super- accomplishments. His ways of apostolateship which are once again grounded are no more sterile. His formulae (dharani), his ways, become extreme. His study embraces the complete body of dharma and has no ego sentiment; he has definitely parted from the manaskaras. He absolutely masters the indifferenciation with no signs or movement. He has no more need to purify his 'field’. His future domain is the ‘Buddha' as he knows when and where he realises his nature as the Buddha; infact he receives the prophecy of a Buddha, which fixes his term in the time and place in the myriads of Aeons and the dhatu. He enters in a definite unsurpassability; this is the production of an Illuminated mind.

This initial act can come in anyone of the stages as they are not marked by watertight compartments. This is accomplished by a Bodhisttva by the only joy which is maturation (vipaka). In this state he has immovable equality. The dharma, of production dissolves (anutpada - dharma - ksanti). The dharma, the world, the phenomenon of mind, retreat for him in his eternal Pari-Nirvana. Then he is the possessor of all the sciences in details and integrity. He also achieves the maturation of creatures. This is the ninth world; the world of ‘good mind’.

In the tenth world of non-substantiality of dharma, the Bodhisattva receives all the anointing from the Buddhas who consecrate him for the Buddhahood, as he is in complete samadhi and formulae which are the body of the dharma. In this state the marvelous metamorphosis is exhibited and this is the highest state where one realises one’s own Buddha nature. Here he has no obstructions of anykind nor repose, his illumination is absolute and pure.

These are the fundamentals from which Asanga has deviated in his system. (He is not concerned with the exposition of the career of a Bodhisattva and does not follow its developments in detail). He is only concerned about explaining the ‘mind’ and the reason of existence by arrangement or interpretation. In fact Asanga has taken the knowledge of these ten ‘Bhumis’, by Bodhisattvas as granted.


Acknowledgements ix
Introduction xi
I The Preview of the Great Vehicle 1
II Recourse to Surrender 24
III The Gotra 33
IV Production of thought 42
V Eligibility to knowledge 59
VI The Reality (Tattva) 68
VII Influence (Power) 77
VIII The Maturation 85
IX The Illumination 103
X The Liberation 150
XI Question of Dharma 159
XII Preaching 224
XIII Acquirement (knowledge) 244
XIV The Advice (preaching) and the lesson 259
XV The Act accompanied by remedies 282
XVI The Perfections 285
XVII The Worship, association with (service), the proof for it 339
XVIII The Wings of illumination 379
XIX The Virtue 455
XX & XXIThe Establishment of Conduct 497
Appendix 536
Index 541