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Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for Clear Realization)

Summary and Keywords

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for clear realization) is an instructional treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfect Wisdom, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Maitreyanātha (c. 350 ce). As a technical treatise, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra outlines within its 273 verses the instructions, practices, paths, and stages of realization to omniscient buddhahood mentioned in Prajñāpāramitā scriptures. In its abridged description, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra furnishes a detailed summary of the path that is regarded as bringing out the “concealed meaning” (sbas don, garbhyārtha) of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains eight chapters of subject matter, with a summary of them as the ninth chapter. The eight subjects (padārtha) of the eight chapters (adhikāra) correspond to eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) that represent the knowledges, practices, and result of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s eight clear realizations are types of knowledge and practices for bodhisattvas (“buddhas-in-training”) to achieve buddhahood set forth within the system of the five paths (lam lnga, *pañcamārga) common to Indian abhidharma and Yogācāra literature. The first three clear realizations are types of knowledge that comprise Perfect Wisdom. Total Omniscience, or the wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārajñatā, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid), is regarded as the fundamental wisdom and the central concept of Prajñāpāramitā. Total Omniscience is direct, unmediated knowledge that exactly understands the manner of reality to its fullest possible extent in all its aspects. Path-omniscience (mārgajñatā, lam shes nyid) comprises the Buddhist path systems of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas mastered by bodhisattvas. Empirical Omniscience (vastujñāna, gzhi shes) cognizes empirical objects in conditioned existence that are to be abandoned. It correlates to knowledge that is comprehended by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. The path to buddhahood itself and the detailed means of its application are covered in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra by the fourth through seventh clear realizations. The fourth chapter is devoted to the realization of wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārābhisaṃbodha, rnam rdzogs sbyor ba), a yogic practice that enables a bodhisattva to gain a cognition of all the aspects of the three types of omniscience. The fifth realization is the summit of full understanding (mūrdhābhisamaya, rtse sbyor), whereby yogic practices reach the culmination of cognizing emptiness. The sixth chapter defines the gradual full understanding (anupūrvābhisamaya, mthar gyis sbyor ba) of the three forms of omniscience. The seventh abhisamaya clarifies the “instantaneous realization” (ekakṣaṇābhisamaya) that occurs at the final moment right before buddhahood. Abhisamayas four through seven are known as “the four methods of realization” of the three types of knowledge. The eighth realization, and last subject in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, is the realization of the dharma body (dharmakāyābhisamaya). In this way, the first three realizations describe the cognitive attainments of buddhas, the middle four realizations discuss the methods that take the cognitive attainments as their object, and the eighth realization describes the qualities and attainments of the dharma body, the resultant body of buddhas. The treatise was extensively commented upon in Indian Buddhism and has been widely studied in Tibetan forms of Buddhism up to the present day.

Keywords: abhidharma, bodhisattva, Mahayana, Prajñāpāramitā, omniscience, path (mārga), abhisamaya (clear realization)

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for clear realization) is an instructional treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfect Wisdom, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Maitreyanātha (c. 350 ce). The treatise has 273 stanzas composed in standard Sanskrit. The text contains verses of varying meter and utilizes rare forms of verb tenses, displaying a sophisticated knowledge of Sanskrit by its author.1 The terse and elliptical language of the text in verse format illustrates its mnemonic function for bodhisattva monks training in Mahayana Buddhist scholasticism amid monastic communities influenced by Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra is unknown in classical East Asian Buddhist traditions; Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions ascribe it to Maitreyanātha, who some scholars have assumed was a teacher of the great Indian Buddhist scholar Asaṅga (c. 4th century ce), while others believe it was Asaṅga himself who wrote these verses.2 The Tibetan tradition considers the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, along with four other texts, as part of a collection known to the Tibetans as the five texts of Maitreya (byams gzhung sde lnga).3 The work’s full title in Sanskrit is Abhisamayālaṃkāranāmaprajñāpāramitopadeśāstra. The term at the beginning of the title, “abhisamaya,” signifies “comprehensive understanding” or “clear realization,” referring to cognitive attainments on the path to buddhahood. Alaṃkāra (Ornament) is a literary style that provides an exposition of a topic. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra is regarded as an upadeśaśāstra (instructional treatise) in that it presents the hidden or concealed meaning (Tibetan sbas don, Sanskrit garbhyārtha) of the longer Prajñāpāramitā corpus of works. Therefore, the full title may be translated as “An Instructional Treatise on Perfect Wisdom called ‘Ornament for Clear Realization.’”4

As a technical treatise, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra consists of an encyclopedic table of contents, communicating in an abridged form the instructions, practices, paths, and stages of realization to buddhahood that are mentioned in the Prajñāpāramitā. The primary purpose of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is to describe the stages of the Mahayana path thought by Indian and Tibetan scholars to be implicitly stated in the Prajñāpāramitā, through outlining realizations and practices that bodhisattvas (buddhas-in-training) must achieve in order to attain buddhahood.5

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra outlines a soteriological system of the entire Mahayana path by either explicitly expressing what is already mentioned in the Prajñāpāramitā, particularly the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā (Perfection of wisdom in twenty-five thousand lines), or superimposing a path schema that is foreign to the scriptures and expressed in abhidharma and Yogācāra terminology. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra lays out its system of buddhalogical teachings through fusing together abhidharma catergories and technical terminology found in Yogācāra treatises with content from the Prajñāpāramitā. The use of categories such as the four types of dichotomous conceptualization (vikalpa) and the multiple bodies (kāya) of a buddha indicate Yogācāra influence on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s author.6

While soteriologically significant, the objectified, codified, and detailed scholastic descriptions of path structures and stages mentioned in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s accounts of the path do not serve as practical guides to Buddhist practice, nor do they provide details of actual meditation experience.7 Rather, the descriptions of the path in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra serve as an archetypal pattern of the worldview in which liberation is possible for the individual practitioner. Buddhist scholastic accounts of the path are constructs or, as Williams notes, “prescriptive systemizations of scriptural material” that were “compiled by monks of formidable learning who were attempting to systematize and schematize the confused and often conflicting descriptions of practices and stages found scattered throughout the canon.”8 As Dreyfus has noted, the path serves as a structure through which Buddhist traditions will formulate their practices, doctrines, and narratives. In the case of Tibetan Buddhist traditions that study and follow the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, “[t]he discussion of the path is central … because it habituates students to the universe in which these narratives make sense, and thus strengthens their religious commitment.”9 Although the descriptions of the path must appear as concrete guides to Buddhist practices for followers of a tradition, Dreyfus argues that this concreteness is itself a reification. The models of the path outlined by texts such as the Abhisamayālaṃkāra are mental constructs that serve as maps to influence and support people in their practices.10 In this manner, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra constructs a soteriological worldview that outlines a narrative of progress to buddhahood but does not describe meditative experiences or provide practical guidelines on how to cultivate such experiences. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra furnishes “the framework that makes a narrative of spiritual progress possible and introduces an element of closure without which the commitment required by Buddhist practices cannot be sustained.”11

The Structure and Content of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra

In terms of general content and structure, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra has 273 Sanskrit stanzas within nine chapters that present the concealed meaning (sbas don, garbhyārtha) of the Prajñāpāramitā sutras. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra lays out the same subject matter numerous times, yet with each repetition of the presentation, the subject matter is covered in successively greater detail.12 The main subject matter of the text is presented five separate times. The (1) homage to Prajñāpāramitā encapsulates the main principles that flow through the whole text. The homage is followed by a restatement of these main principles in (2) a versified table of contents (Abhisamayālaṃkāra 1.3–4). These main principles or topics are then slightly expanded and contained in (3) an elucidation of the “body of the text” (Abhisamayālaṃkāra 1.5–17). The fourth repetition is the most expansive and consists of (4) a detailed articulation (Abhisamayālaṃkāra, 1.18–penultimate) of the paths and stages. Finally, (5) summation verses (Abhisamayālaṃkāra 9.1–2) are given that condense the subject matter of the text into three categories: aims (viṣaya), practices (prayoga), and result (phala).

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra presents its subject matter in terse verses that are often vague in meaning and difficult to understand without the assistance of a commentary. The text presumes that the reader has a background in Buddhist scholasticism, including a knowledge of abhidharma path structures, categories of mental defilements, meditational attainments, analytical procedures, and cosmology, among other topics. Along these lines, the path systems presented in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra are quite complex, with multiple divisions and subdivisions pertaining to each aspect of the path from several angles.

The first repetition of the material occurs in the homage, which embodies in a condensed manner the main doctrines that are found in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. It is the source from which the presentation is derived and contains the overall principles that underline the whole work:

Homage to the Mother of the Buddha together with śrāvakas and bodhisattvas: she who, in the guise of All-knowledge, leads śrāvakas who seek peace to pacification; she who, in the guise of Knowledge of the Paths, causes those who benefit the world to accomplish the welfare of people; [and] possessed of which, Sages teach this all-pervading [dharma] in every aspect.

yā sarvajñatayā nayaty upaśamaṃ śāntaiṣiṇaḥ śrāvakān yā mārgajñatayā jagaddhitakṛtāṃ lokārthasampādikā /

sarvākāram idaṃ vadanti munayo viśvaṃ yayā saṃgatās tasyai śrāvakabodhisattvagaṇino buddhasya mātre namaḥ //13

In this homage, Prajñāpāramitā manifests herself in three forms of omniscience: All-knowledge (sarvajñatā, thams cad shes pa nyid, or vastujñāna, gzhi shes); Knowledge of the Paths (mārgajñatā, lam shes), or Path Omniscience; and Total Omniscience (sarvākārajñatā, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid). She is glorified as the “Mother” (mātṛ, yum) of the śrāvakas (which implicitly include pratyekabuddhas), bodhisattvas, and buddhas. The name “Mother” (mātṛ) may imply a relationship to “mātṛkās,” early abhidharma terminological lists that clarified the distinguishing points of the buddha’s doctrine that should be known (jñeya) or correctly analyzed. Such lists were composed of topics like the four applications of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the seven limbs of enlightenment, and so forth. This term “mātṛkā,” a secondary formation derived from the ordinary word for “mother” (mātṛ), mātṛkā (cognate with English “matrix”), is also used figuratively to mean “source” or “origin.” The Abhisamayālaṃkāra itself may be an early “mātṛkā” of the Prajñāpāramitā, serving as a source for the various lists describing paths and stages to full enlightenment.14

In the opening verses after the homage, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (1.3–4) states that “the perfection of wisdom is proclaimed through eight subjects: (1) Total Omniscience, (2) Path Omniscience, (3) Empirical Omniscience, (4) Full Realization of All Aspects, (5) Realization that has Attained the Summit, (6) Progressive Realization, (7) Instantaneous Realization, and (8) the Dharma-body.”15 The Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains nine chapters, eight of which address each subject in turn. The eight subjects (padārtha) of these eight chapters (adhikāra) of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra correspond to eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) that explain the soteriological purport of Prajñāpāramitā.

Total Omniscience or the wisdom of all aspects (Sanskrit, sarvākārajñatā, Tibetan, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid) is regarded as the fundamental wisdom and the central concept of Prajñāpāramitā.16 For the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and its commentaries, Total Omniscience is direct unmediated knowledge that understands reality as it is (Tibetan, ji lta ba bzhin yod pa, Sanskrit, yathāvadbhāvika) to its fullest possible extent (Tibetan, ji snyed yod pa, Sanskrit, yāvadbhāvikatā) in all its aspects.17 The first chapter comprises ten topics within seventy-three verses, which mention the necessary practices that lead to the Total Omniscience of a buddha. These topics include the aspiration for complete awakening (bodhicittotpāda), special instructions (avavāda), the four-fold limbs of insight (nirvedhāṅga), the basis of attainment whose nature is of the dharmadhātu (ādhāraṃ dharmadhātusvabhāvakam), supports (ālambana), purpose (samuddeśa), the activity of putting on armor and setting out (saṃnāhaprasthitikriye), equipment (sambhāra), and emergence (niryāṇa). The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (1.19–20) lists twenty-two types of aspiration for complete awakening (bodhicittotpāda), a list similar to that found in the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (4.15–20), and a topic of great importance in the history of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.18 The first chapter (1.23–24) also contains a synopsis of the various types of noble beings (ārya), similar to lists in the Abhidharmakośa and Abhidharmasamuccaya; these became a topic of special exegesis in Tibetan Buddhist monastic education after the 12th century.19

The second chapter of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, on the knowledges of all paths (mārgajñatā, lam shes nyid), or Path Omniscience, discusses eleven topics in thirty-one verses. Path Omniscience in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra correlates to three types of path systems that are mastered by bodhisattvas: the paths of śrāvakas, the paths of pratyekabuddhas, and the paths of bodhisattvas. A śrāvaka (Tibetan, nyan thos pa, “Listener”) is a type of individual who has heard or studied the buddha’s teachings and who seeks the peace of nirvana through cultivating a direct realization of the nobles’ four truths. In the system of Abhisamayālaṃkāra, a bodhisattva fixates upon the nobles’ four truths (catvāri āryasatyāni) with particular emphasis on their sixteen aspects. However, a bodhisattva will cognize the nobles’ four truths without perceptually grasping on to their aspects (AA 2.2). This is because even though a bodhisattva recognizes the aspects of disease, calamity, and so forth, he or she does not become attached to these aspects for the purpose of escaping samsara as does a śrāvaka. A pratyekabuddha (Tibetan rang sang gyas, “Solitary Buddha”) is an “individually awakened one” who cognizes the emptiness of external objects through realizing dependent arising but does not thereby attain the full omniscience of a buddha. Pratyekabuddhas do not have much compassion, and attain their awakening in solitude. Given these distinctions, a pratyekabuddha is understood to be superior to a śrāvaka and inferior to a bodhisattva. A pratyekabuddha is superior to a śrāvaka through his or her abandonment of the conceptualization of objects but is inferior to a bodhisattva who also eliminates the conceptualization of subjects.

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra is primarily a technical digest for the training of bodhisattvas. The bodhisattva (Tibetan, byang chub sems dpa’, “buddha-to-be”) is an individual who is intent on achieving full buddhahood for the welfare of beings through cultivating wisdom and compassion.20 The bodhisattva in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is superior in aspiration, abandonment, and realization (AA 1.42). Bodhisattvas are superior in that they aspire for unsurpassable complete awakening (anuttarasaṃyaksaṃbodhi), not only for themselves, but for the sake of all other beings. With emphasis on the altruistic intention for the welfare of all sentient beings, one primary distinction from practitioners of other vehicles is that bodhisattvas have great compassion (mahākaruṇa) (AA 4.27–28). Bodhisattvas abandon not only the afflictional obscurations (kleśāvaraṇa) but also the obstacles that impede complete knowledge (jñeyāvaraṇa). The understanding that actuates their abandonment is not just cognition of the essencelessness of the person (pudgalanairātyma), but realization of the essencelessness of things (dharmanairātmya) through the apprehension of emptiness (śūnyatā) (AA 4.52). In the course of realizing the two types of essencelessness and abandoning the two types of obscurations, a bodhisattva will travel through ten levels or stages (daśabhūmi) (AA 1.47d–1.70). Through the bodhisattvas’ abandonment of the knowledge obstacles they achieve Total Omniscience (sarvākārajñatā), enabling them to help all beings through their achievement of buddhahood.

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s third chapter describes the qualities of Empirical Omniscience (vastujñāna, gzhi shes; literally, “knowledge of bases”), which is a type of knowledge that cognizes empirical objects that are to be abandoned in conditioned existence. In sixteen stanzas, the third chapter makes reference to nine topics that correlate to knowledge that is comprehended by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas.21 Empirical Omniscience is mastered by bodhisattvas as well, but bodhisattvas do not cling to the pacifying results of this realization’s cognition. That is, bodhisattvas “are not stationed in existence because of wisdom; nor, because of compassion, do they abide in peace” (prajñayā na bhave sthānaṃ kṛpayā na śame sthitiḥ, AA 1.10ab). Empirical Omniscience leads śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas to comprehend the entirety of unconditioned and conditioned things (dharmas) found in Buddhist classifications, including the five aggregates (skandha), the twelve sense spheres (āyatana), and the eighteen sense objects (dhātu).

The full realization of all aspects (sarvākārābhisaṃbodha, rnam rdzogs sbyor ba), which is the focus of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s fourth chapter, consists of yogic practices that enable a bodhisattva to gain a cognition of all the 173 modes, or aspects, of the three types of omniscience.22 This chapter outlines the multiple aspects (ākāra) in each of the three knowledges that a bodhisattva masters. This realization also sets forth the special trainings (prayogā) that enable a bodhisattva to adopt qualities (guṇa) and discard faults (doṣa) necessary for acquiring the marks (lakṣaṇa) that establish the preparatory factors for liberation (mokṣabhāgīya) and the preparatory analytical factors (nirvedhabhāgīya). The factors for liberation and preparatory analytical factors constitute the first two paths among the five paths found in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. The final three paths, the paths of seeing (darśana), meditation (bhāvanā), and the distinctive path (viśeṣa-mārga), equivalent to the path of no-more learning (aśaikṣa-mārga), are progressively described throughout the remainder of the text. The fourth realization concludes with qualities that a bodhisattva gains through proficiency in the first two paths.

As the bodhisattva progresses to full buddhahood through the cognitive attainments and mental purifications that occur on the paths of preparation, seeing, and cultivation, the paths become irreversible (avaivartika) from full buddhahood. The term irreversible in this instance generally signifies a point reached in the career of a bodhisattva after which there can be no turning back from the attainment of full buddhahood. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra distinguishes three phases of a bodhisattva becoming increasingly endowed with marks and signs of being irreversible: (1) while on the path of preparation cultivating the preparatory analytical factors, (2) while on the path of seeing cognizing eight moments of receptivity and eight moments of knowledge, and (3) while on the path of meditation. As the bodhisattva progresses through these path phases he or she increases cognition of emptiness and thereby turns away from attachment to sensory objects and gains a multitude of moral, ascetic, and even hygienic qualities.23 The Abhisamayālaṃkāra and its commentaries (AA 4.40–43) specify, for example, that the irreversible bodhisattva will abstain from taking life, engaging in theft, or drinking liquor, as well as have clean robes and bodies free from worms. Bodhisattvas who gain these qualities become part of the assembly of irreversible bodhisattvas (avaivartika bodhisattva saṃgha) (AA 4.38–4.51), begin to realize the sameness of cyclic existence and nirvana (saṃsāranirvaṇasamatā) (AA 4.60), work toward the purification of a buddhafield (buddhakṣetraviśuddhi) (AA 4.61), and gain competence in the employment of skillful means (upāya) (AA 4.62–63).

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s fifth clear realization is the summit of full understanding (mūrdhābhisamaya, rtse sbyor) or “culminating insight.”24 This abhisamaya is composed of forty-two verses outlining eight factors and phases of yogic practices that reach culmination while cognizing emptiness (śūnyatā). The first four factors, signs (liṅga), increase (vivṛddhi), steadying (nirūḍhi), and mental composure (cittasaṃsthiti), describe increasingly higher and higher levels of the culminating insight.25 The fifth and sixth factors, respectively, mark the culminating insight of the path of seeing (darśanamārga) and the path of meditation (bhāvanāmārga). These two paths are counteragents to four sets of conceptualizations (caturdhā ca vikalpasya pratipakṣaścaturvidhaḥ, AA 1.14): two grasped-object conceptualizations (AA 5.5) and two grasper-subject conceptualizations (AA 5.6).26 The two kinds of grasped-object conceptualizations concern the reification of things that are pursued (pravṛttipakṣādhiṣṭhānagrāhyavikalpa, ’jug gzung rtog) and the reification of things to be relinquished (nivṛttipakṣādhiṣṭhāna¬grāhyavikalpa, ldog gzung rtog). The two kinds of grasper-subject conceptualizations concern substantially existing persons (pudgaladravya), which are conceived to be substantially existent (rdzas ’dzin rtog), and nominally existing beings (prajñaptipuruṣa), which are conceived to imputedly exist (btags ’dzin rtog). Comprehensions connected with these four types of concepts, formative in the path of preparation, become the dominant focal point on the Mahayana paths of seeing and cultivation. The last two factors of culminating insight concern how the bodhisattva practices uninterrupted meditative stabilization (ānantaryasamādhi) and removes mistaken practices through skillful means.

By reference to thirteen topics in one verse, the sixth chapter defines the gradual full understanding (anupūrvābhisamaya, mthar gyis sbyor ba) of the three forms of omniscience.27 This clear realization of “gradual insight” consists of engaging in the six perfections of bodhisattva practice. The seventh abhisamaya, last of the four practices, clarifies the “instantaneous realization” (ekakṣaṇābhisamaya, skad cig gcig pa'i mngon par rdzogs par byang chub pa) that occurs at the final moment right before buddhahood. This realization is of four kinds or types (vidhā, prakāra), which are outlined in five verses.28 According to Haribhadra, the first type is the awakening marked by all unpolluted non-matured dharmas (avipākānāsravasarvadharma). The other three are the “perfection of wisdom that arises from the maturation of all bright dharmas” (vipākadharmatāvasthānāsravasarvadharma), “that dharmas have no marks” (alakṣaṇasarvadharma), and “the non-dual true reality of dharmas” (advayalakṣaṇasarvadharma).29 The seventh realization indicates that the Abhisamayālaṃkāra does not only teach gradual stages of realization.

The last subject in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the result of the path, is the realization of the dharma-body (dharmakāyābhisamaya, chos sku mngon rtogs pa) in its multiple aspects. Indian and Tibetan commentators debate about what exactly constitutes the correct interpretation of the multiple aspects of a buddha’s embodiment, whether buddhahood has a threefold or fourfold embodiment.30 A number of Tibetan scholars, following the Indian scholar Haribhadra, will understand these four as (1) the body of dharma (dharmakāya), (2) the embodiment of buddhahood in its essence (svābhāvikakāya), (3) the embodiment of communal enjoyment (saṃbhogakāya), and (4) the limitless forms of awakened manifestation (nairmāṇikakāya). The body embodiment of buddhahood in its essence (svābhāvikakāya) is constituted by twenty-one undefiled (nirāsrava) qualities that have reached complete purity (AA 8.2–6).31 The embodiment of communal enjoyment (saṃbhogakāya) embraces the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks of a great being (AA 8.12–32). The limitless forms of awakened manifestation (nairmāṇikakāya) are emanation bodies that impartially work for the benefit of the world, carrying out twenty-seven types of altruistic activities until the end of cyclic existence (AA 8.33–40).32

The eight subjects found in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra are usually understood in terms of three categories that are mentioned in the final verses of the text’s ninth chapter. The first three clear realizations (1–3) are aims or objects (viṣaya) to be known by bodhisattvas. The next four realizations (4–7) are practices (prayoga) to be cultivated by bodhisattvas in order to cognize the first three realizations. Finally, the dharma-body (phala) occurs as a result of the practices that actualize the clear realizations.

Indian Buddhist Commentaries

A long tradition of commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra developed in India and Tibet. Traditional accounts mention that the great Yogācāra scholar Asaṅga (c. 315–390 ce) wrote the Tattvaviniścaya and that his half-brother Vasubandhu (fl. 4th century) wrote the Paddhati, both commentaries to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra that are lost. Ārya Vimuktisena (or Vimuktiṣeṇa, c. early 6th century ce) is the author of the earliest extant commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the Abhisamayālaṃkāravṛtti.33 Ārya Vimuktisena’s commentary links the Abhisamayālaṃkāra to the Pañviṃśatisāhasrikā and serves as the basis for all subsequent Indian and Tibetan commentaries.34 The next major scholar who comments upon the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is Haribhadra, who was active during the reign of Dharmapāla (r. c. 770–810). He composed four works related to Abhisamayālaṃkāra including the Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā, a long explanatory commentary that comments on the Abhisamayālaṃkārā in correlation with Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā, and the Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikāśāstravivṛti, a short commentary that provides an exposition on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra without relying on any Prajñāpāramitā text.35 The Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikāśāstravivṛti is the base text for Abhisamayālaṃkāra commentaries in the Tibetan tradition. After the works of Ārya Vimuktisena and Haribhadra, another sixteen Indian commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra were composed during the Pāla dynastic era (750–1150 ce) and are preserved in Tibetan translation.36 Some commentaries are conjoined with a Prajñāpāramitā scripture, while others independently comment on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra without conjoining to a scripture. Bhadanta Vimuktisena, a student of Ārya Vimuktisena, composed the Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikāvārttika (Tôh. no. 3788). Dharmamitra (fl. 800–850 ce) composed the Abhisamayālaṃkāraprasphuṭapadā (P 5194), an important subcommentary to Haribhadra’s Vivṛti that glosses and clarifies Haribhadra’s statements on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra.37 Dharmakīrti of Suvarṇadvīpa (fl. 975–1025 ce), known in Tibetan as Serlingpa (gser gling pa), “the man from Sumatra Island,” composed the Durbodhālokā, another subcommentary on Haribhadra’s Vivṛti. A number of Indian commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra were composed by figures affiliated with Vikramaśīlā during the 11th and 12th centuries. Prajñākaramati (c. 950–1000 ce) wrote the Abhisamayālaṅkāravṛttipiṇḍārtha (Tôh. no. 3795). Ratnakīrti, a pupil of Jñānaśrīmitra associated with both the Somapuri and Vikramaśīlā monasteries, composed the Abhisamayālaṅkāravṛttikīrtikalā (Tôh. no. 3799). Ratnākaraśānti (c. 1000 ce) composed the Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikāvṛttiśuddhamatī and Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitāpañjikāsāratamā. The Sāratamā connects the Abhisamayālaṃkāra to the 8,000-verse Prajñāpāramitā from a Yogācāra philosophical perspective.38 Another well-known scholar from Vikramaśīla monastery, Abhayākaragupta (fl. 1100 ce), composed the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāvṛttimarmakaumudī (Tōh. no. 3805), a commentary that connects the Abhisamayālaṃkāra with the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā. Abhayākaragupta’s Munimatālaṃkāra, of which a complete Sanskrit manuscript has been recovered, is a text that comments on sections of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, and has been described by D. S. Ruegg as “one of the last of the major comprehensive treatises of Indian Buddhism.”39

Tibetan Commentaries

Tibetan Buddhists have continued the commentarial tradition of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra up to the present day. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra has “had the most lasting impact of any sūtra commentary [in Tibet],” Schoening notes, serving as a gateway for the study of the Prajñāpāramitā by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as being a fundamental text in the contemporary Tibetan Buddhist monastic curriculum.40 Hundreds of commentaries to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra were composed in pre-modern Tibet. The Tibetans translated the root text of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and several of its commentaries in the Imperial Period (7th–9th centuries), especially during the reign of Khri-srong lde-btsan (c. 740–798).41 However, the first indigenous commentary was not composed until Rngog lo-tsā-ba blo-ldan shes-rab (1059–1109 ce). Rngog blo-ldan shes-rab translated not only the Haribhadra’s Vivṛti, but also the Ālokā, as well as the Vṛtti of Ārya Vimuktisena. Rngog lo-tsā-ba also made a revised translation of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in collaboration with the Indian paṇḍita Go mi ’chi med (Amaragomin). The two principal commentaries Rngog wrote are known as the Ṭīk chung, or Lo tsā ba chen po’i bsdus don (MHTL no. 11471), and the Lo tsā ba blo ldan shes rab kyi phar phyin ṭīk chen (MHTL no. 11470). The Lo tsā ba chen po’i bsdus don has only recently become available for study.42

The works of Rngog blo-ldan shes-rab are not the only early Tibetan commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra that have recently become available. The dPal-brtsegs Research Centre for Old Tibetan Manuscripts (Dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ’jug khang), based in Lhasa, Tibet, between 2006 and 2015 released 120 volumes of manuscript facsimiles of Tibetan Buddhist scholarly works dating from the 11th to the 14th centuries.43 Among the commentaries found in these volumes, approximately fifty are related to the Prajñāpāramitā, of which around forty-five are Abhisamayālaṃkāra commentaries.44 Some of the more important commentaries among the manuscripts are Ar byang-chub ye-shes’s (11th century) Mngon rtogs rgyan kyi ’grel ba rnam par ’byed pa (Volume 2, text 9, pages 91–447), Gro-lung-pa blo-gros ’byung-gnas’s (b. 11th century) Brgyad stong ’grel chen gyi bshad pa (Volume 3, text 11, pages 579–745), and Khu shes-rab brtson-’grus’s (1075–1143) Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan gyi ’grel ba’i tshig dang don gsal bar bshad pa (Volume 10, text 4, pages 15–331).

Among the most highly regarded Tibetan commentaries was that of Gnyal zhig pa ’jam dpal rdo rje (fl. c. 1200). He composed a commentary over 500 folios long on Haribhadra’s Vivṛti called Theg chen po la ’jug pa (MHTL no. 11517).45 This commentary was recently recovered from Communist mainland China in the form of a handwritten manuscript that is preserved at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India.46 The renowned scholar and historian Bu-ston rin-chen-grub (1290–1364) composed the Lung gi nye ma, a commentary on Haribhadra’s Vivṛti. The Sa skya master Nya dbon kun dga’ dpal (1285–1379) was one of the greatest Prajñàpàramità commentators of his era. His Abhisamayālaṃkāra commentary, the Shad sbyar yid kyi mun sel, was written at Sa skya in 1371, and represents a reformulation of Bu ston’s Lung gi nye ma. G.yag-ston Sangs-rgyas-dpal (1350–1414), a great master of the Sakya tradition, wrote a number of commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. His most famous was the eight-volume Mngon rtogs rgyan ’grel pa rin chen bsam ’phel dbang rgyal (King of wish-fulfilling jewels). Tsong-kha-pa blo-bzang grag-pa (1357–1419), a famous scholar and founding figure of the Gelukpa (dge lugs pa) tradition, wrote the Legs bshad gser phreng (Golden garland of eloquence) in his youth. This work has been translated into English in four volumes.47 The later Gelukpa (dge lugs pa) tradition, up to the present day, follows the interpretation of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra found in Rgyal tshab rje dar ma rin chen’s (1362/4–1432) Rnam bshad snying po’i rgyan (Ornament of the essence). The Sa-skya scholar Rong ston shes bya kun rig (1367–1449), a disciple and successor of G.yag-ston Sangs-rgyas-dpal, also wrote a commentary on the Vivṛti of Haribhadra.48 The Tibetan commentarial tradition on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra reached its apex in mid-15th century Tibet, although individual commentaries are occasionally composed in present-day Tibetan monastic communities. The Tibetan method of exegesis on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra allowed for the commentaries to evolve into a tour de force of encyclopedic Buddhist doctrinal knowledge, where even minor topics could be expanded into hundreds of pages and specific topics could develop into separate books or form distinct genre categories within Tibetan Buddhist literature.49

Controversies and Supplementary Topics in the Study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra has prompted a number of supplementary discussions and controversies over the long history of the text’s study in both India and Tibet. Discussions and controversies that occurred in India can only be inferred from evidence found among the extant twenty-one Indian commentaries to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. Only a few of these commentaries have been completely translated into English, and even then, we often do not know the full context of what debates and discussions took place in the study and practices related to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in pre-modern India. Despite a number of initial studies the historical development of Indian, as well as Tibetan, commentarial exegesis on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is unknown. For example, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is usually studied according to eight subjects (padārtha), as well as in terms of seventy topics (don bdun cu, *artha saptatiḥ). Is the list of seventy topics an Indian or Tibetan development? Are the same seventy topics listed by commentators? Did the list become standardized, and if so, when? Some scholars claim that the same seventy topics are listed by Ārya Vimuktisena and subsequent commentators.50 Yet, Tsong-kha-pa blo-bzang grag-pa (1357–1419) explains that the commentaries of Haribhadra are not clear as to exactly what topics count among the seventy and that, further, it is only in the later Pāla-era commentaries of Ratnākaraśānti, in his Śuddhamatī, and Ratnakīrti, in his Kīrtikalā, that an exact list of seventy topics and their corresponding passages are discussed.51 So the list of seventy topics appears to be an Indian Buddhist development that was standardized in the later Pāla period, but only further studies will confirm the history of such developments. In brief, an intellectual history of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in India based on the twenty-one commentaries and additional evidence has yet to be written.

Scholarly knowledge on the study and exegesis of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in Tibetan intellectual history is better known, yet there is still a great amount of this literature that needs to be researched, translated, and explained.

A great amount of the current understanding of supplementary discussions and controversies related to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra are based on special manuals (yig cha) studied in the Tibetan Buddhist monastic colleges among Geluk (dge lugs) traditions. A number of these manuals were composed after the 16th century and reflect decades, if not centuries, of analysis and elaboration upon refined subtle points of exegesis related to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra primarily based on oral debate. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra manuals in the Geluk tradition are established from Tsong-kha-pa blo-bzang grag-pa’s Legs bshad gser phreng (Golden garland of eloquence) and his disciple, Rgyal-tshab-rje dar-ma rin-chen’s (1362/4–1432) Rnam bshad snying po’i rgyan (Ornament of the essence) commentaries in correlation with Haribhadra’s Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikā-śāstravivṛti. Se-ra rje-btsun chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan (1469–1546) authored the debate manuals for Byes college of Se ra and Byang rtse college of dGa’ ldan; the manuals followed by sMad college of Se ra were by mKhas-sgrub bstan-pa dar-rgyas (1493–1568) and Grags-pa bshad-sgrub (1675–1748); those utilized by Shar rtse College of dGa’ ldan and Blo gsal gling College of ’Bras spungs were authored by Paṇ-chen bSod-nams grags-pa (1478–1554), and, finally, the manuals used by sGo mang College of ’Bras spungs and bKra shis ’kyil monasteries were written by ’Jam-dbyangs bzhad-pa Ngag-dbang brston-’grus (1648–1721).52

Although these manuals have a great amount of subject matter in common, they contain debate on minute points of difference held between monastic collegiate rivals. The points of discussion range from debating whether the purported author of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, which the Tibetan tradition unanimously proclaims to be Maitreya, is a bodhisattva or a buddha, to arcane points in the treatise’s final chapters. If fact, a scholar associated with ’Bras spungs monastery, Ngag-dbang dpal-ldan (b. 1797), composed a manual exclusively devoted to listing and briefly discussing point by point the differences between sGo mang and Blo gsal gling Colleges in the exegesis of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra.53

The monastic textbooks on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra also discuss supplementary topics related to the study of Prajñāpāramitā. For instance, Se-ra rje-btsun chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan discusses in his Rgyan ’grel spyi don rol mtsho topics such as the different meanings of nirvana with remnant and without remnant (lhag bcas lhag med kyi myang ’das), the manner in which the wheels of dharma are presented (chos kyi ’khor lo ji ltar bskor ba’i tshul), and an excursus on conventional and ultimate realities (kun rdzob bden pa dang don dam bden pa).54

In addition to supplementary topics related to the study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra found within the commentaries and textbooks, the Tibetan scholarly tradition developed supplementary treatises that focused on four subject areas in the study of Prajñāpāramitā (phar phyin zur bkol bzhi) correlated with a sequence of four classes (’dzin grwa) in the monastic curriculum. The initial course of study (gzung gsar ’og ma, “lower level for new students”) has the supplementary study of the twenty varieties of the spiritual community (dge ’dun nyi shu), the second-level course (gzung gsar ’gong ma, “upper level for new students”) is supplemented with the study of dependent co-arising (rten ’brel), the third-level course (skabs dang po, “the first chapter”) studies the differences between interpretable and definitive meaning in the interpretation of Buddhist scripture (drang nges), and the fourth-level course (ston mo’i ’dzin grwa, “course ending with a feast”) focuses on the study of the concentrations and formless absorptions (bsam gzugs).55

Tibetan debate manual authors also developed specialized works treating the study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in terms of seventy topics (don bdun cu, *artha saptatiḥ). In his study of the seventy topics with Tibetan teachers, the pioneer of the modern study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Eugene Obermiller, identified a number of verses that prompted discussion and debate. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s Chapter 1 (verses 23 and 24) lists the twenty varieties of the spiritual community (dge ’dun nyi shu) in relation to the special instructions (avadāna) concerning the three jewels of the buddha, the dharma, and Saṃgha. Chapter 1 (verses 48–70) contains an enumeration of the preparation of dharmas (yongs su sbyong ba) for the gradual attainment of the ten levels of a bodhisattva. Chapter 1 (verse 71) mentions the equipment of antidotes (pratipakṣa-saṃbhāra) to calm subject and object conceptualization (grāhya-grāhaka-vikalpa). Chapter 2 (verses 3 and 4) describes the four degrees of path of preparatory analytical factors (nirvedha-bhāgīya). Chapter 2 (verses 9 and 10) focuses on the degrees of the path of preparatory analytical factors in the pratyekabuddha path. Chapter 2 (verses 26–27) centers on the conditions for the path of meditation. Chapter 4 (verses 6 and 7) provides the characteristics of the practitioner-vessel for hearing the Prajñāpāramitā. Chapter 4 (verses 55–59) describes the attainment of awakening through the path of meditation and examines the attainment through the purviews of conventional and ultimate realities. Chapter 5 (verse 23) mentions the “Lion’s Sport meditative stabilization” (seng ge rnam par bsgyings pa’i ting nge ’dzin) where the twelve limbs of dependent-arising (rten ’brel yang lag bcu gnyis) are realized in direct and the reverse order. Chapter 5 (verses 35 and 36) concludes “the removal of the conceptualizations on the path of meditation.” Finally, Chapter 8 (verses 7–11) provoked discussions on the vision, wisdom, and character of buddhahood. These verses all serve as focal points for ongoing debates about specific topics in the Tibetan study of Prajñāpāramitā.

Influenced by the Geluk tradition’s extensive monastic study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and in consultation with indigenous Tibetan scholars trained in Geluk monastic colleges, modern scholars have examined several of these controversial topics of study. A few examples may be mentioned based on the topic’s occurrence in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra.

James B. Apple has examined the topic of the “Twenty Saṃghas” based on Indian and Tibetan commentaries. As mentioned, the Twenty Varieties of the Saṃgha (dge ’dun nyis shu) is a subject derived from Chapter 1 (verses 23 and 24) of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and is considered to be one of most difficult topics to comprehend. The “Twenty Saṃghas” refers to an exhaustive list of the stages through which noble beings (ārya) may pass in their progress toward enlightenment through various lifetimes in various cosmological realms. The saṃgha, as construed in this sense, represents those qualities of an ideal figure that provide structure to the Tibetan Buddhist worldview where soteriological results of the path can take place. The saṃgha of noble beings consists of those who have achieved the sixteenth moment of the path of seeing (darśanamārga, mthong lam) and who actualize the truth of cessation (satyanirodha, ’gogs bden) and the truth of the path (mārgasatya, lam bden pa). This typological list of twenty does not provide a description of any one individual’s path to enlightenment; rather, it enumerates all of the possible stages through which any given individual might pass, depending upon factors such as that individual’s cosmological circumstances and the acuity of his faculties. Although the Twenty Saṃghas always consists of a list of twenty, various interpretations can lead to various lists of twenty. The lack of regularity in accounting for the list of twenty serves as the basis for varying scholarly accounts and the complexity of the topic.56

David Seyfort Ruegg has explored the question of how the unconditioned and undifferentiated dharma-element (dharmadhātu) that pervades all reality can be the basis of a variety of spiritual lineages (gotra). The Abhisamayālaṃkāra mentions the gotra at several places (Chapter 1, verse 5; Chapter 1, verses 38d–39ab), and the commentaries provide an exegesis on the interconnection between the dharma-element and the various spiritual categories. Ruegg has also explored this topic in detail in relation to the question of buddha-nature or the “essence of the Tathāgata” (tathāgatagarbha) and the doctrine of One Unique Vehicle (ekayāna).57

A special course related to the study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is the study of the concentrations and formless absorptions (bsam gzugs). Leah Zahler has studied and analyzed this topic within the Geluk monastic curriculum in several works.58 This special topic concerns the study of meditation and the meditative states of the four concentrations (dhyāna, bsam gtan) and the four formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti, gzugs med kyi snyoms ’jug). The Geluk presentation of the topic interconnects the study of the perfections in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra with the details on meditative states provided from the Abhidharma literature of the Abhidharmakośa and Abhidharmasamuccaya. The topic focuses on mapping the concentrations and absorptions to Buddhist cosmological realms and their concomitant mental states within the context of stabilizing meditation (’jog sgom) and analytical meditation (dpyad sgom) practices. Controversies among the debate manuals are concerned with determining precise definitions for the meditative states and their most soteriological efficacious practice.

As mentioned, Chapter 8 of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra provoked discussions on the nature of a buddha and the number of embodiments that constituted buddhahood. A prevalent doctrine upheld by a number of Mahayana traditions was that there exist three bodies of a buddha: dharmakāya, saṃbhogakāya, and nirmāṇakāya. Some interpreters upheld a fourth body that is found in the exegesis of the Abhisamayālaṃkara. John J. Makransky has analyzed this controversy and its interpretation by a majority of Indian and Tibetan commentators of the Abhisamayālaṃkara. In brief, the Indian commentator Ārya Vimuktisena held that only three bodies are mentioned in the Abhisamayālaṃkara, while the fourth body, the svābhāvikakāya, represents the essence of the first three bodies. The Indian scholar Haribhadra enumerated four bodies, with the first three comprising a conditioned basis of a buddha’s attainment, and the fourth, unconditioned and related to the tathāgata-garbha, as the svābhāvikakāya. The distinction between Ārya Vimuktisena and Haribhadra on the enumeration of buddha embodiments encouraged a number of controversies among both Indian and Tibetan commentators.59

Review of the Literature

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra has been studied by modern scholarship only since the beginning of the 20th century. In broad terms the approach has been to establish reliable editions of the primary texts, furnish translations of these texts, and then explain thematic points of Buddhist doctrine and practice in relation to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. The Russian Indologist Fedore Ippolitorich Shcherbatskoi (Stcherbatsky, 1866–1942) first brought attention to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in a brief article on Yogācāra in 1905.60 M. P. Masson-Oursel, based on unedited manuscripts of the Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā held by Louis de La Vallée Poussin and Sylvain Lévi, published a Sanskrit edition and French translation of an extract of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s eighth chapter (verses 1–12, 33–40) in his study of the three buddha embodiments (kāya).61 An edition of the base text of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in Sanskrit and Tibetan was first published in 1929 by Stcherbatsky and Eugène Obermiller (1901–1935).62 Obermiller followed the publication of the base text with pioneering studies—based on consultation with Tibetan scholars and commentaries—that focused on analyzing the doctrines and points of exegesis of Prajñāpāramitā in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. His “The Doctrine of Prajñāpāramitā as Exposed in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra of Maitreya” has not been superseded as an introduction to and summary of the path system of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and its related literature.63 Obermiller followed this work with a series of fascicles that analyzed each chapter of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra with its specific topic, based on the Indian commentaries. The series was unfinished, however, leading up through only Chapter 4.64 Concurrent with these initial studies, Sanskrit editions of Haribhadra’s Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā, a work that contains the base text of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Haribhadra’s commentary, and the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā, was published by the Japanese Buddhologist Unrai Wogihara (1869–1937) and the Italian scholar of Tibetan and the history of Buddhism Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984).65 A Sanskrit word-index to the Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā was published by Ryūsei Keira and Noboru Ueda in 1998.66 Kajiyoshi Kōun published a Sanskrit edition and Japanese translation of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in his Genshi hannyakyō no kenkyū (1944).67 The great pioneer of Prajñāpāramitā studies, Edward Conze (1904–1979), published the first English translation of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, along with a Sanskrit and Tibetan index (1954).68 Among Conze’s numerous other works related to Prajñāpāramitā, his Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom and The Prajñāpāramitā Literature contain useful information for the study of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra.69 The Prajñāpāramitā Literature, in addition to contextualizing the development of Prajñāpāramitā and its associated works, provides an annotated bibliography on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and all its major commentaries in Sanskrit and Tibetan. After initial editions of Haribhadra’s Ālokā, an edition of the first chapter of Vimuktisena’s Abhisamayālaṃkāravṛtti was published, followed by Ratnākaraśānti’s Sāratamā.70 Hirofusa Amano (1931–) published a number of studies on Haribhadra’s Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikā-śāstravivṛti, culminating in a complete edition (2000) and Tibetan-Sanskrit index (2005) to the work.71 An English translation of the first seven chapters of Haribhadra’s Vivṛti was published by Alexander T. Naughton.72 In addition to the critical edition of the base text and available Sanskrit commentaries, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and its related literature has been a source in modern scholarship for the analysis of the embodied qualities of buddhahood, issues in the interpretation of tathāgathagarbha, and the elucidation of Buddhist categories of noble beings among other topics.73 Gareth Sparham completed a monumental translation into English of both Vimuktisena’s Abhisamayālaṃkāravṛtti and Haribhadra’s Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā in four volumes.74 Sparham also completed an equally immense translation in English of Tsong-kha-pa’s Golden Garland of Eloquence followed by the Geluk (dge lugs) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Karl Brunnhölzl published studies on the Abhisamayālaṃkārā and its commentaries as found in the Nyingma (rnying ma) and Kagyü (bka’ brgyud) traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.75

Further Reading

Apple, James B. Stairway to Nirvāṇa: A Study of the Twenty Saṃghas Based on the Works of Tsong Kha Pa. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.Find this resource:

    Apple, James B. “The Mahāyāna Path of the Bodhisattva in the Ornament for Clear Realization.” Religion Compass 5, no. 5 (2011): 166–179.Find this resource:

      Brunnhölzl, Karl, trans. Gone Beyond: The Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, the Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyü Tradition. 2 vols. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2011 and 2012.Find this resource:

        Brunnhölzl, Karl. Groundless Paths: The Prajnāpāramitā Sūtras, “The Ornament of Clear Realization,” and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2012.Find this resource:

          Conze, Edward. Abhisamayālaṅkāra. Rome: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1954.Find this resource:

            Conze, Edward. The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom with the Divisions of the Abhisamayālaṅkāra. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.Find this resource:

              Conze, Edward. The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. 2d rev. ed. Tokyo: Reiyukai, 1978.Find this resource:

                Dreyfus, Georges B. J. The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk. A Philip E. Lilienthal Book. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.Find this resource:

                  Makransky, John J. Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.Find this resource:

                    Obermiller, Eugéne. “The Doctrine of Prajñāpāramitā as Exposed in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra of Maitreya.” Acta Orientalia 11 (1932): 1–133, 334–354.Find this resource:

                      Obermiller, Eugéne. Prajñāpāramitā in Tibetan Buddhism. Classics India Religion and Philosophy Series 3. Delhi: Classics India Publications, 1988.Find this resource:

                        Sparham, Gareth, trans. Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā. 4 vols. Fremont, CA: Jain, 2006–2012.Find this resource:

                          Sparham, Gareth, trans. Golden Garland of Eloquence = Legs bshad gser phreng. 4 vols. Fremont, CA: Jain, 2008–2013.Find this resource:


                            (1.) David Reigle, “The ‘Virtually Unknown’ Benedictive Middle in Classical Sanskrit: Two Occurrences in the Buddhist Abhisamayālaṅkāra,” Indo-Iranian Journal 40, no. 2 (April 1997): 119–123.

                            (2.) The question of Maitreyanātha’s historicity is too long and complex for the present article. See F. I. Stcherbatsky, “Notes de Littérature Bouddhique: La Littérature Yogàcàra d’après Bouston,” Le Muséon (1905): 141–155; Giuseppe Tucci, On Some Aspects of the Doctrines of Maitreyanātha and Asanga (Calcutta University Readership Lectures, 1930); and Noriaki Hakamaya “Chibetto ni okeru Maitreya no gohō no kiseki,” in Chibetto no Bukkyō to Shakai, ed. Yamaguchi Zuihō (Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1986), 235–268, for discussion on this topic.

                            (3.) The “five texts of Maitreya” in the Tibetan traditions are the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, Madhyāntavibhaṅga, Dharmadharmatā-vibhaṅga, and the Uttaratantra.

                            (4.) James B. Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa: A Study of the Twenty Saṃghas Based on the Works of Tsong Kha Pa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008), 48–49.

                            (5.) James B. Apple, “The Mahāyāna Path of the Bodhisattva in the Ornament for Clear Realization,” Religion Compass 5, no. 5 (2011): 166–179.

                            (6.) Edward Conze, “Maitreya’s Abhisamayâlaṅkâra,” East and West 5, no. 3 (1954): 196.

                            (7.) This paragraph is found in Apple, “The Mahāyāna Path,” 166–179.

                            (8.) Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge), 356, note 27; and Robert H. Scharf, “Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience,” Numen: International Review for the History of Religions 42, no. 3 (1995): 261–262.

                            (9.) Georges B. J. Dreyfus, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, a Philip E. Lilienthal Book (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 179–180.

                            (10.) Dreyfus, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, 181.

                            (11.) Georges B. J. Dreyfus, “Tibetan Scholastic Education and the Role of Soteriology,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 20, no. 1 (1997): 62.

                            (12.) Gareth Sparham, “Background Material for the First of the Seventy Topics in Maitreyanātha’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 10, no. 2 (1987): 142.

                            (13.) Kōei Amano, Abhisamayālaṃkāra-Kārikā-Sāstra-Vivṛti (Kyoto: Heirakuji-Shoten, 2000), 5.

                            (14.) Edward Conze, The Prajñāpāramitā Literature, 2d rev. ed. (Tokyo: Reiyukai, 1978), 13.

                            (15.) Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa, 52.

                            (16.) Eugéne Obermiller, The Doctrine of Prajñā-Pāramitā As Exposed in the Abhisamayālamkāra of Maitreya (Talent, OR: Canon, 1984), 72–74; and Gareth Sparham, trans. Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā, Volume One: First Abhisamaya (Fremont, CA: Jain, 2006), 188–190.

                            (17.) Ah-yueh Yeh, “A Study of the Theories of yāvad-bhāvikatā and yathāvadbhāvikatā in the Abhidharmasamuccaya,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 7, no. 2 (1984): 185–207.

                            (18.) Dorji Wangchuk, The Resolve to Become a Buddha: A Study of the Bodhicitta Concept in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism (Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies, 2007).

                            (19.) Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa.

                            (20.) Apple, “The Mahāyāna Path,” 166–179.

                            (21.) Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, 51–67, 299–328.

                            (22.) Conze, The Prajñāpāramitā Literature, 105.

                            (23.) Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa, 65–66.

                            (24.) Obermiller, The Doctrine of Prajñā-Pāramitā, 79–80.

                            (25.) Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, xvi.

                            (26.) Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, 12–40.

                            (27.) Obermiller, The Doctrine of Prajñā-Pāramitā, 81.

                            (28.) Brian Galloway, “Sudden Englightenment in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the Lalitavistara, and the Śikṣāsamuccaya,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 32 (1988): 141–147.

                            (29.) Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, xix.

                            (30.) John J. Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997).

                            (31.) Hodo Nakamura, “The Classification of the Buddhakāya Theory in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra,” Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies (印度学仏教学研究‎) 58, no. 3 (2010): 82–86.

                            (32.) Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, 247–265.

                            (33.) English translation Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā, 4 vols. (Fremont, CA: Jain, 2006–2012). Sanskrit edition of first chapter Corrado Pensa, L’Abhisamayālaṃkāravṛtti di Ārya-Vimuktisena. Primo Abhisamaya, Testo e note critiche (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1967).

                            (34.) Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa, 21–36.

                            (35.) Gareth Sparham, trans., Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā. Fourth Abhisamaya, vol. 3 (Fremont, CA: Jain, 2009); and Kōei Amano. Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikā-sāstra-vivr̥ti: Haribhadra’s Commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikā-śāstra Edited for the First Time from a Sanskrit Manuscript (Kyōto: Heirakuji-Shoten, 2000).

                            (36.) James B. Apple, “Contributions to the Development and Classification of Abhisamayālaṃkāra Literature in Tibet from the Ninth to Fourteenth Century,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies no. 5 (December 2009): 1–56.

                            (37.) D. Seyfort Ruegg, “The Gotra, Ekayāna and Tathāgatagarbha: Theories of the Prajñāpāramitā according to Dharmamitra and Abhayākaragupta,” in Prajñāpāramitā and Related Systems: Studies in Honor of Edward Conze, eds. L. Lancaster and L. O. Gómez, Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series 1 (Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1977), 283–312.

                            (38.) Padmanabh S. Jaini, ed., Sāratamā: A Pañjikā on the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Patna: Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, 1979).

                            (39.) D. S. Ruegg, The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1981), 115.

                            (40.) Jeffrey D. Schoening, “Sūtra Commentaries in Tibetan Translation,” in Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, ed. Lhundup Sopa, José Ignacio Cabezón, and Roger R. Jackson (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion), 111–124; and Dreyfus, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping.

                            (41.) Marcelle Lalou, “Les textes bouddhiques au temps du roi Khri-sroṅ-lde-bcan,” Journal Asiatique 361: 313–353, texts no. 516, 517.

                            (42.) rNgog blo ldan shes rab, “rNgog lo tsā ba” (1059–1109). Lo tsa ba chen po’i bsdus don: A Commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. Introduction by Blo bzang mkhyen rab rgya mtsho and Dr. David P. Jackson (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1993).

                            (43.) The Collected Works of the Kadampas (bka’ gdams gsung ’bum), bka’ gdams gsung ’bum phyogs bsgrigs thengs dang po (2006), gnyis pa (2007), gsum pa (2009), gzhi pa (2015). 120 volumes. khreng tu’u/: si khron dpe skrun tshogs pa/si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

                            (44.) James B. Apple, “The Transmission of Early Tibetan Prajñāpāramitā Commentaries based on newly uncovered bKa' gdams pa works” (Vancouver, BC: International Association of Tibetan Studies, 2010).

                            (45.) Gareth Sparham, “A Note on Gnyal zhig 'Jam pa'i rdo rje, the Author of a Handwritten Sher phyin Commentary from about 1200,” Tibet Journal 21, no. 1 (1996): 19–29; and Jampa Samten, “Notes on the Late Twelfth or Early Thirteenth Century Commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra: A Preliminary Report of a Critical Edition,” Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Vol. I: Tibetan Studies, ed. Ernst Steinkellner (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997), 831–841.

                            (46.) ʼJam-paʼi-rdo-rje, Mngon par rtogs paʼi rgyan gyi ʼgrel bshad theg pa chen po la ʼjug pa zhes bya ba = An extensive explanation on mngon rtogs rgyan (abhisamayalaṃkāra (sic)) (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2005).

                            (47.) Gareth Sparham, trans., Golden Garland of Eloquence = Legs bshad gser phreng, 4 vols. (Fremont, CA: Jain, 2008–2013).

                            (48.) David P. Jackson, ed., Rong-ston on the Prajñāpāramitā Philosophy of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra: His Sub-Commentary on Haribhadra’s “Sphuṭārthā: A Facsimile Reproduction of the Earliest Known Blockprint Edition, from an Exemplar Preserved in the Tibet House, New Delhi (Kyoto: Nagata Bunshodo, 1988).

                            (49.) Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa, 21–46.

                            (50.) This seems to be the presumption of Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied, 113–114, 129, 141, and 396, note 12.

                            (51.) Tsong-kha-pa blo-bzang grags-pa, Sparham, Golden Garland of Eloquence, 156.

                            (52.) Guy Newland, “Debate Manuals in dGe lugs Monastic Colleges,” in Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, ed. José Ignacio Cabezón and Roger R. Jackson (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996), 202–216.

                            (53.) Ngag dbang dpal ldan, Blo gsal gling dang bkra shis sgo man grva tshang gi dbu phar gyi yig cha’i bshad tshul bkod pa blo gsal dga’ ston, Collected Works, vol. ga (New Delhi: Guru Deva, 1983), TBRC: 5926.

                            (54.) Bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan ’grel pa dang bcas pa’i rnam bshad rnam pa gnyis kyi dka’ ba’i gnas gsal bar byed pa legs bshad skal bzang klu dbang gi rol mtsho zhes bya ba bzhugs so//.

                            (55.) Eugéne Obermiller, Analysis of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities, 2001), v–vii.

                            (56.) Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa; James B. Apple, A Stairway Taken by the Lucid: Tsong kha pa’s Study of Noble Beings Śata-piṭaka Series (New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 2013).

                            (57.) David Seyfort Ruegg, “Ārya and Bhadanta Vimuktisena on the gotra-theory of the Prajñāpāramitā,” Beiträge zur Geistesgeschichte Indiens (Festshrift für Erich Frauwallner), WZKSO 12–13 (1968/1969): 303–317; and Ruegg, La théorie du tathāgatagarbha et du gotra: Études sur la sotériologie et la gnoséologie du bouddhisme (Paris: Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 1969).

                            (58.) Leah Zahler, Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998); Leah Zahler, Study and Practice of Meditation: Tibetan Interpretations of the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2009).

                            (59.) Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied.

                            (60.) Shcherbatskoi, “Notes de littérature bouddhique: La littérature yogācāra d’après Bouston,” Le Museon 6, no. 1 (1905): 144–155.

                            (61.) M. P. Masson-Oursel, “Les trois corps du Bouddha,” Journal Asiatique, 1, XI série (1913): 581–619, extracts from Abhisamayālaṃkāra, chapter 8.1–12, 33–40.

                            (62.) Fedore Ippolitorich Stcherbatsky, and E. Obermiller, Abhisamayālaňkāra-prājñāparamitā-upadeśa-śāstra: The Work of Bodhisattva Maitreya, Fasc. I: Introduction, Sanskrit Text and Tibetan Translation (Leningrad, Academy of Sciences of USSR, 1929), XII, 112 (Bibl. Buddh. XXIII, fasc.1).

                            (63.) Eugéne Obermiller, “The Doctrine of Prajñāpāramitā as Exposed in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra of Maitreya,” Acta Orientalia 11 (1932): 1–133, 334–354.

                            (64.) Eugéne Obermiller, Analysis of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Calcutta Oriental Series no. 27 (London: Luzac, 1933, 1936, 1943), published in three fascicles. Reprinted in a single volume by Asian Humanities Press in 2001.

                            (65.) Unrai Wogihara, Abhisamayālaṃkār’ālokā Prajnāpāramitāvyākhyā, Commentary on the Aṣṭasāhasrikā-Prajnāpāramitā by Haribhadra Together with the Text Commented on (Toyo Bunko, 1932–1935); and Giuseppe Tucci, The Abhisamayālaṃkārāloka of Haribhadra: Being a Commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra of Maitreyanātha and the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā (Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1932).

                            (66.) Ryūsei Keira, and Noboru Ueda, Sanskrit Word-Index to the Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā Prajnāpāramitāvyākhyā (U. Wogihara Edition) = ogiwara unrai kōteiban genkan shōgonron kōmyō hannya haramitta shaku bongo sōsakuin ([Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified], 1998).

                            (67.) Kajiyoshi Kōun, Genshi hannyakyō no kenkyū (Tōkyō: Sankibō Busshorin, 1944).

                            (68.) Edward Conze, Abhisamayalaṅkāra: Introduction and Translation from Original Text, with Sanskrit-Tibetan Index, Serie Orientale Roma, 6 (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1954).

                            (69.) Edward Conze, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom with the Divisions of the Abhisamayālaṅkāra (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1975); and Conze, The Prajñāpāramitā Literature.

                            (70.) Corrado Pensa, L’Abhisamayālaṃkāravṛtti di Ārya-Vimuktisena: Primo Abhisamaya. Testo e note critiche (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1967); and P. S. Jaini, Sāratamā: A Pañjikā on the Aṣṭasāhasrikā by Ācārya Ratnākaraśānti, Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, 18 (Patna: Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, 1979).

                            (71.) Kōei Hirofusa Amano, “Sanskrit Manuscript of the Abhisamayalaṅkara-vṛtti (in Six Parts),” Bulletin of the Hijiyama Women’s Junior College 7 (1983): 1–15; Bulletin of the Faculty of Education of Shimane University 19 (1985): 124–138; vol. 20 (1986), pp. 67–86; vol. 21 (1987), pp. 39–51; vol. 22 (1988), pp. 10–25; vol. 23 (1989), 1–7; Amano, Abhisamayālaṃkāra-Kārikā-Sāstra-Vivṛti; and Amano, Index to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikā-śāstra-vivr̥ti: Tibetan-Sanskrit (Kyōto: Heirakuji-Shoten, 2005).

                            (72.) Alexander T. Naughton, Classic Mahayana Soteriology: An Annotated Translation of Chapters 1–7 of Haribhadra’s Short Commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Otani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute, 1991).

                            (73.) Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied; Ruegg, La Théorie du Tathāgatagarbha; and Apple, Stairway to Nirvāṇa.

                            (74.) Sparham, Abhisamayālaṃkāra.

                            (75.) Karl Brunnhölzl, Groundless Paths: The Prajnāpāramitā Sūtras, “The Ornament of Clear Realization”, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2012); and Karl Brunnhölzl, Gone Beyond: The Prajnāpāramitā Sūtras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyü Tradition, 2 vols. (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2011 and 2012).