Vasubandhu | Wikipedia audio article


Vasubandhu (Sanskrit; traditional Chinese:
世親; ; pinyin: Shìqīn; Wylie: dbyig gnyen) (fl. 4th to 5th century CE) was an influential
Buddhist monk and scholar from Gandhara. Vasubandhu was a philosopher who wrote on
the Abhidharma from the perspectives of the Sarvastivada and Sautrāntika schools. Along with his half-brother Asanga, he was
also one of the main founders of the Yogacara school after his conversion to Mahayana Buddhism. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośakārikā (“Commentary
on the Treasury of the Abhidharma”) is widely used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism as
the major source for non-Mahayana Abhidharma philosophy. His philosophical verse works set forth the
standard for the Indian Yogacara metaphysics of “appearance only” (vijñapti-mātra), which
has been described as a form of “epistemological idealism”, phenomenology and close to Immanuel
Kant’s transcendental idealism. Apart from this, he wrote several commentaries,
works on logic, argumentation and devotional poetry. Vasubandhu is one of the most influential
thinkers in the Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition. In Jōdo Shinshū, he is considered the Second
Patriarch and in Chan Buddhism, he is the 21st Patriarch.==Life and works==
Born in Peshawar (present-day Pakistan), Vasubandhu was the half brother of Asanga, another key
personage in the founding of the Yogacara philosophy. Vasubandhu’s name means “the Kinsman of Abundance.” He and Asanga are members of the “Six Ornaments”
or six great commentators on the Buddha’s teachings. He was contemporaneous with Chandragupta I,
father of Samudragupta. This information temporally places this Vasubandhu
in the 4th century CE. The earliest biography of Vasubandhu was translated
into Chinese by Paramärtha (499-569). Vasubandhu initially studied with the Buddhist
Sarvastivada (also called Vaibhāṣika, who upheld the Mahavibhasa) school which was dominant
in Gandhara, and then later moved to Kashmir to study with the heads of the orthodox Sarvastivada
branch there. After returning home he lectured on Abhidharma
and composed the Abhidharmakośakārikā (Verses on the Treasury of the Abhidharma), a verse
distillation of Sarvastivada Abhidharma teachings, which was an analysis of all factors of experience
into its constituent dharmas (phenomenal events). However Vasubandhu had also begun to question
Sarvastivada orthodoxy for some time, and had studied with the Sautantrika teacher Manoratha. Due to this, he then went on to publish an
auto-commentary to his own verses, criticizing the Sarvastivada system from a Sautrāntika
viewpoint (also called Dārṣtāntika).He is later said to have converted to Mahayana
beliefs under the influence of his brother Asanga, whereupon he composed a number of
voluminous treatises, especially on Yogacara doctrines and Mahayana sutras. Most influential in the East Asian Buddhist
tradition have been the Vimśatikāvijñaptimātratāsiddhi, the “Twenty Verses on Consciousness Only”,
with its commentary (Viṃśatikāvṛtti), the Triṃśikā-vijñaptimātratā, the “Thirty
Verses on Consciousness-only” and the “Three Natures Exposition” (Trisvabhāvanirdeśa). Vasubandhu also wrote a texts on Buddhist
Hermeneutics, the Proper Mode of Exposition (Vyākhyāyukti). Vasubandhu thus became a major Mahayana master,
scholar and debater, famously defeating the Samkhya philosophers in debate in front of
the Gupta king Vikramaditya (variously identified as Chandragupta II or Skandagupta) at Ayodhya,
who is said to have rewarded him with 300,000 pieces of gold. Vasubandhu used the money he made from royal
patronage and debating victories to build Buddhist monasteries and hospitals. He was prolific, writing a large number of
other works, including: Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇa (Explanation of the
Five Aggregates) Karmasiddhiprakarana (“A Treatise on Karma”)
Vyākhyāyukti (“Proper Mode of Exposition”) Vādavidhi (“Rules for Debate”)
Catuhśataka-śāstra Mahāyāna śatadharmā-prakāśamukha śāstra
Amitayus sutropadeśa (“Instruction on the Amitabha Sutra”)
Discourse on the Pure Land Vijnaptimatrata Sastra (“Treatise on Consciousness
only”) Mahāyānasaṃgrahabhāṣya (Commentary
to the Summary of the Great Vehicle of Asanga) Dharmadharmatāvibhāgavṛtti (Commentary
on Distinguishing Elements from Reality) Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya (Commentary on
Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes) Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya (Commentary
on the Ornament to the Great Vehicle Discourses) Dasabhūmikabhāsya (Commentary on the Ten
Stages Sutra) Commentary on the Aksayamatinirdesa-sutra
Commentary on the Diamond Sutra Commentary on the Lotus Sutra
Paramärthasaptati, a critique of Samkhya===
Two Vasubandhus theory===Erich Frauwallner, a mid-20th-century Buddhologist,
sought to distinguish two Vasubandhus, one the Yogācārin and the other a Sautrāntika,
but this view has largely fallen from favour in part on the basis of the anonymous Abhidharma-dīpa,
a critique of the Abhidharmakośakārikā which clearly identifies Vasubandhu as the
sole author of both groups of writings. According to Dan Lusthaus, “Since the progression
and development of his thought … is so strikingly evident in these works, and the similarity
of vocabulary and style of argument so apparent across the texts, the theory of Two Vasubandhus
has little merit.” Scholarly consensus on this question has generally
moved away from Frauwallner’s “two-authors” position.==Philosophy=====Abhidharma===
Vasubandhu’s Verses on the Treasury of the Abhidharma contains a description of all 75
dharmas (phenomenal events), and then outlines the entire Sarvastivada doctrine including
“meditation practices, cosmology, theories of perception, causal theories, the causes
and elimination of moral problems, the theory of rebirth, and the qualities of a Buddha.” The Treasury and its commentary also expound
all kinds of arguments relating to the Sarvastivada Abhidharma and critique those arguments from
a Sautantrika perspective in the commentary. Major arguments include an extensive critique
of the Self (Atman and Pudgala) and a critique of the Sarvastivada theory of “the existence
of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future]”. In the Treasury, Vasubadhu also argued against
a Creator God (Ishvara) and against the Sarvastivada theory of avijñaptirūpa (“unperceived physicality”
or “invisible physicality”).===Critique of the Self===
Vasubandhu’s critique of the Self is a defence of Buddhist Anatman doctrine, and also a critique
of the Buddhist Personalist School and Hindu view of the soul. It is intended to show the unreality of the
self or person as over and above the five skandhas (heaps, aggregates which make up
an individual). Vasubandhu begins by outlining the soteriological
motive for his argument, writing that any view which sees the self as having independent
reality (e.g. the Hindu view) is not conductive to Nirvana. Vasubandhu then evaluates the idea of the
Self from epistemic grounds (Pramana). Vasubandhu states that what is real can only
be known from perception (Pratyakṣa) or inference (Anumāṇa). Perception allows one to observe directly
the objects of the six sense spheres. Inference allows one to infer the existence
of sense organs. However, there is no such inference for a
solid real Self apart from the stream of constantly changing sense perceptions and mental activity
of the sense spheres.Vasubandhu also argues that because the Self is not causally efficient,
it is mere convention (prajñapti) and a “conceptual construction” (parikalpita). This argument is mainly against the Buddhist
Pudgalavada school who held a view of a ‘person’ that was dependent on the five aggregates,
yet was also distinct, in order to account for the continuity of personality. Vasubandhu sees this as illogical, for him,
the Self is made up of constantly changing sensory organs, sense impressions, ideas and
mental processes and any imagined unity of self-hood is a false projection. Vasubandhu also uses this analysis of the
stream of consciousness to attack non-Buddhist Hindu views of the Atman. Vasubandhu shows that the Hindu view of the
Self as ‘controller’ is refuted by an analysis of the flux and disorder of mental events
and the inability of the supposed Self to control our minds and thoughts in any way
we would like. If the Self is truly an eternal un-caused
agent, it should be unaffected by mere physical and mental causes, and it also seems difficult
to explain how such a force existing independently outside of the mind could causally interact
with it. Vasubandhu also answers several common objections
to the Buddhist not-self view such as how karma works without a Self and what exactly
undergoes rebirth. Vasubandhu points to the causal continuum
of aggregates/processes which undergoes various changes leading to future karmic events and
rebirth.===Momentariness===
During Vasubandhu’s era, the philosophy of space and time was an important issue in Buddhist
philosophy. The Sarvāstivādin tradition which Vasubandhu
studied held the view of the existence of dharmas (phenomenal events) in all three times
(past, present, future). This was said to be their defining theoretical
position, hence their name Sarvāstivāda is Sanskrit for “theory of all exists”. In contrast to this eternalist view, the Sautrāntika,
a rival offshoot, held the doctrine of “extreme momentariness”, a form of presentism (only
the present moment exists). In the Abhidharmakośakārikā, Vasubandhu
puts forth the Sarvāstivādin theory, and then in his commentary (bhasya) he critiques
this theory and argues for the ‘momentariness’ of the Sautrāntika. He also later wrote the Karma-siddhi-prakaraṇa
(“Exposition Establishing Karma”) which also expounded the momentariness view (kṣanikavāda). Vasubandhu’s view here is that each dharma
comes into existence only for a moment in which it discharges its causal efficacy and
then self-destructs, the stream of experience is then a causal series of momentary dharmas. The issue of continuity and transference of
karma is explained in the latter text by an exposition of the “storehouse consciousness”
(ālayavijñāna), which stores karmic seeds (bīja) and survives rebirth.===Yogacara theories===
According to Dan Lusthaus, Vasubandhu’s major ideas are:
“Whatever we are aware of, think about, experience, or conceptualize, occurs to us nowhere else
than within consciousness.” “External objects do not exist.” “Karma is collective and consciousness is
intersubjective.” “All factors of experience (dharmas) can be
catalogued and analyzed.” “Buddhism is a method for purifying the stream
of consciousness from ‘contaminations’ and ‘defilements.'” “Each individual has eight types of consciousness,
but Enlightenment (or Awakening) requires overturning their basis, such that consciousness
(vijñaana) is ‘turned’ into unmediated cognition (jñaana).”===Appearance only===
Vasubandhu’s main Yogacara works (Viṃśatikā and Triṃśikā) put forth the theory of
“vijñaptimātra” which has been rendered variously as ‘representation-only’, ‘consciousness-only’
and ‘appearance-only’. While some scholars such as Lusthaus see Vasubandhu
as expounding a phenomenology of experience, others (Sean Butler) see him as expounding
some form of Idealism similar to Kant or George Berkeley.The Twenty verses begins by stating: In Mahayana philosophy…[reality is] viewed
as being consciousness-only…Mind (citta), thought (manas), consciousness (chit), and
perception (pratyaksa) are synonyms. The word “mind” (citta) includes mental states
and mental activities in its meaning. The word “only” is intended to deny the existence
of any external objects of consciousness. We recognize, of course, that “mental representations
seem to be correlated with external (non-mental) objects; but this may be no different from
situations in which people with vision disorders ‘see’ hairs, moons, and other things that
are ‘not there.'” One of Vasubandhu’s main arguments in the
Twenty verses is the Dream argument, which he uses to show that it is possible for mental
representations to appear to be restricted by space and time. He uses the example of mass hallucinations
(in Buddhist hell) to defend against those who would doubt that mental appearances can
be shared. To counter the argument that mere mental events
have no causal efficacy, he uses the example of a wet dream. Vasubandhu then turns to a mereological critique
of physical theories, such as Buddhist atomism and Hindu Monism, showing that his appearance
only view is much more parsimonious and rational.The Thirty verses also outlines the Yogacara theory
of the Eight Consciousnesses and how each one can be overcome on the stages of enlightenment,
turning consciousness (vijnana) into unmediated cognition (jnana) by cleansing the stream
of consciousness from ‘contaminations’ and ‘defilements.’ The Treatise on Buddha Nature was extremely
influential in East Asian Buddhism by propounding the concept of tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature).===Three Natures and non-duality===
The Thirty verses and the “Three Natures Exposition” (Trisvabhavanirdesha) does not, like the Twenty
verses, argue for appearance only, but assumes it and uses it to explain the nature of experience
which is of “three natures” or “three modes”. These are the fabricated nature (parikalpitasvabhāva),
the dependent (paratantrasvabhāva) and the absolute (pariniṣpannasvabhāva). The fabricated nature is the world of everyday
experience and mental appearances. Dependent nature is the causal process of
the arising of the fabricated nature while the absolute nature is things as they are
in themselves, with no subject object distinction. According to Vasubandhu, the absolute, reality
itself (dharmatā) is non-dual, and the dichotomy of perception into perceiver and perceived
is actually a conceptual fabrication. For Vasubandhu, to say that something is non-dual
is that it is both conceptually non-dual and perceptually non-dual. To say that “I” exist is to conceptually divide
the causal flux of the world into self and other, a false construct. Just the same, to say that an observed object
is separate from the observer is also to impute a false conception into the world as it really
is – perception only. Vasubandhu uses the analogy of a magician
who uses a magic spell (dependent nature, conceptual construction) to make a piece of
wood (the absolute, non-duality) look like an elephant (fabricated nature, duality). The basic problem for living beings who suffer
is that they are fooled by the illusion into thinking that it is real, that self and duality
exists, true wisdom is seeing through this illusion.===Logic===
Vasubandhu contributed to Buddhist logic and is held to have been the origin of formal
logic in the Indian logico-epistemological tradition. Vasubandhu was particularly interested in
formal logic to fortify his contributions to the traditions of dialectical contestability
and debate. Anacker (2005: p. 31) holds that: A Method for Argumentation (Vāda-vidhi) is
the only work on logic by Vasabandhu which has to any extent survived. It is the earliest of the treatises known
to have been written by him on the subject. This is all the more interesting because Vāda-vidhi
marks the dawn of Indian formal logic. The title, “Method for Argumentation”, indicates
that Vasabandhu’s concern with logic was primarily motivated by the wish to mould formally flawless
arguments, and is thus a result of his interest in philosophical debate. This text also paved the way for the later
developments of Dignaga and Dharmakirti in the field of logic.==Notes====
Works==Abhidharma Kosha Bhashyam 4 vols, Vasubandhu,
translated into English by Leo Pruden (based on Louis de La Vallée-Poussin’s French
translation), Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley, 1988-90. L’Abhidharmakosa de Vasubandhu, traduit
et annoté par Louis de La Vallée-Poussin, Paul Geuthner, Paris, 1923-1931 vol.1 vol.2
vol.3 vol.4 vol.5 vol.6 Internet Archive (PDF) Stefan Anacker, Seven Works of Vasubandhu
Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1984, 1998 Ernst Steinkellner and Xuezhu Li (eds), Vasubandhu’s
Pañcaskandhaka (Wien, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008) (Sanskrit
Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 4). Dharmamitra, trans.; Vasubandhu’s Treatise
on the Bodhisattva Vow, Kalavinka Press 2009, ISBN 978-1-935413-09-7

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