Vasubandhu (Sanskrit: वसुबन्धु; traditional Chinese: 世親; ; pinyin: Shìqīn; Wylie: dbyig gnyen) (fl. 4th to 5th century CE) was an influential Buddhist monk and scholar from Gandhara. He was a philosopher who wrote commentary on the Abhidharma, from the perspectives of the Sarvastivada and Sautrāntika schools. After his conversion to Mahayana Buddhism, along with his half-brother, Asanga, he was also one of the main founders of the Yogacara school.

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[1] and close to Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism.[2] 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; in Chan Buddhism, he is the 21st Patriarch.

Gandharan monk and Yogacara philosopher Vasubandhu as Chan patriarch in a Chinese illustration.
OccupationBuddhist monk
Known forCofounder of the Yogacara philosophical school.

Life and works

Born in Peshawar (in 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."[3] He and Asanga are members of the "Six Ornaments"[4] 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.[5] The earliest biography of Vasubandhu was translated into Chinese by Paramärtha (499-569).[6]

Vasubandhu initially studied with the Buddhist Sarvastivada (also called Vaibhāṣika, who upheld the Mahavibhasa) school which was dominant in Gandhara, and later moved to Kashmir to study with the heads of the orthodox Sarvastivada branch there.[7] 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).[2]

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[8] or Skandagupta[9]) at Ayodhya, who is said to have rewarded him with 300,000 pieces of gold.[10] 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[11]
  • 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[12][13]
  • 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.[14] 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."[15] Scholarly consensus on this question has generally moved away from Frauwallner's "two-authors" position.[16][17]


Seshin Vasubandhu Kofukuji
Vasubandhu: Wood, 186 cm height, about 1208, Kofukuji Temple, Nara, Japan


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."[18] 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.[2]

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. 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.[2] 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.


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:[7]

  • "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.[19]

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.'"[2]

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.[2]

The Thirty verses also outlines the Yogacara theory of the Eight Consciousnesses and how each one can be overcome by 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.[2] 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.[2]


Vasubandhu contributed to Buddhist logic and is held to have been the origin of formal logic in the Indian logico-epistemological tradition. He 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.[20]

This text also paved the way for the later developments of Dignaga and Dharmakirti in the field of logic.


  1. ^ Lusthaus, Dan, 2002. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Philosophy and the Ch’eng Wei-shih lun, New York, NY: RoutledgeCurzon.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Gold, Jonathan C., "Vasubandhu", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  3. ^ Anacker, Stefan; Seven Works of Vasubandhu, the Buddhist Psychological Doctor, page 13.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Dharma Fellowship (2005). Yogacara Theory - Part One: Background History. Source: [1] (Accessed: November 15, 2007)
  6. ^ Takakusu, J., trans. (1904). The Life of Vasubandhu by Paramartha, T'oung-pao 5, 269 - 296
  7. ^ a b Lusthaus, Dan; Vasubandhu
  8. ^ Śrīrāma Goyala (1 August 1992). Reappraising Gupta History: For S.R. Goyal. Aditya Prakashan. p. 123. ISBN 978-81-85179-78-0.
  9. ^ Hans T. Bakker (1984). Ayodhya. Institute of Indian Studies, University of Groningen. p. 31. OCLC 769116023.
  10. ^ Anacker, Stefan; Seven Works of Vasubandhu, the Buddhist Psychological Doctor, page 21.
  11. ^ Matsumoto, David (2015). Jōdoron 浄土論: Discourse on the Pure Land, Pacific World: Third Series 17, 23-42
  12. ^ Abbot, Terry Rae (1985). Vasubandhu´s Commentary to the Saddharmapundarika-sutra. PhD dissertation, Berkeley: University of California
  13. ^ Abbot, Terry (2013). The Commentary on the Lotus Sutra, in: Tsugunari Kubo; Terry Abbott; Masao Ichishima; David Wellington Chappell, Tiantai Lotus Texts (PDF). Berkeley, California: Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai America. pp. 83–149. ISBN 9781886439450.
  14. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh (1958). "On the Theory of Two Vasubandhus". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1): 48–53. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00063217. JSTOR 610489.
  15. ^ Dan Lusthaus, "What is and isn't Yogacara.".
  16. ^ Anacker, Stefan (2005). Seven Works of Vasubandhu. Delhi: MLBD. pp. 7–28.
  17. ^ Gold, Jonathan C. "Vasubandhu". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition). Stanford University.
  18. ^ Lusthaus, Vasubandhu
  19. ^ Butler, Sean (2011) "Idealism in Yogācāra Buddhism," The Hilltop Review: Vol. 4: Iss. 1, Article 6. Available at:
  20. ^ Anacker, Stefan (2005, rev.ed.). Seven Works of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass. (First published: 1984; Reprinted: 1986, 1994, 1998; Corrected: 2002; Revised: 2005), p.31


  • 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


  • David J. Kalupahana, The Principles of Buddhist Psychology, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1987, pp 173–192.
  • Francis H. Cook, Three Texts on Consciousness Only, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Berkeley, 1999, pp 371–383 ("Thirty Verses on Consciousness Only") and pp 385–408 ("Twenty Verses on Consciousness Only")
  • Erich Frauwallner, The Philosophy of Buddhism, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2010.
  • Li Rongxi, Albert A. Dalia (2002). The Lives of Great Monks and Nuns, Berkeley CA: Numata Center for Translation and Research
  • Thich Nhat Hanh Transformation at the Base (subtitle) Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness, Parallax Press, Berkeley, 2001; inspired in part by Vasubandhu and his Twenty Verses and Thirty Verses texts
  • Kochumuttom, Thomas (1982). A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience: A New Translation and Interpretation of the Works of Vasubandhu the Yogacarin. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

External links


Abhidharma (Sanskrit) or Abhidhamma (Pali) are ancient (3rd century BCE and later) Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic reworkings of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras, according to schematic classifications. The Abhidhamma works do not contain systematic philosophical treatises, but summaries or abstract and systematic lists.


The Abhidharmadīpa or Lamp of Abhidharma is an Abhidharma text thought to have been authored by Vasumitra as a response to Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośakārikā.

The text consists of verse and prose commentary. It currently survives as an incomplete collection of Sanskrit fragments. However, the text is valuable insofar as it confirms the identity of Vasubandhu as author of the Abhidharmakośakārikā.


The Abhidharmakośakārikā or Verses on the Treasury of Abhidharma is a key text on the Abhidharma written in Sanskrit verse by Vasubandhu in the 4th or 5th century. It summarizes the Sarvāstivādin tenets in eight chapters with a total of around 600 verses. The text was widely respected and used by schools of Buddhism in India, Tibet and East Asia.

Vasubandhu wrote a commentary to this work called the Abhidharmakośabhāsya. In it, he critiques the interpretations of the Sarvāstivādins, Vaibhāṣikas and others of the tenets he presented in his previous work from a Sautrāntika perspective. This commentary includes an additional chapter in prose refuting the idea of the "person" (pudgala) favoured by some Buddhists of the Pudgalavada school. However, later Sarvāstivādin master Samghabhadra considered that he misrepresented their school in the process, and at this point designated Vasubandhu as a Sautrāntika (upholder of the sutras) rather than as an upholder of the Abhidharma.


Asaṅga (Tibetan: ཐོགས་མེད།, Wylie: thogs med, traditional Chinese: 無著; ; pinyin: Wúzhuó; Romaji: Mujaku) (fl. 4th century C.E.) was "one of the most important spiritual figures" of Mahayana Buddhism and the "founder of the Yogacara school". Traditionally, he and his half-brother Vasubandhu are regarded as the major classical Indian Sanskrit exponents of Mahayana Abhidharma, Vijñanavada (awareness only) thought and Mahayana teachings on the bodhisattva path.


Asatkalpa (Sanskrit: असत्कल्प्), this Sanskrit term is derived from the word, asat, meaning 'unreal' combined with the word, kalpa, here in the context of Advaita Vedanta philosophy meaning 'a little less than complete', and is another word for mithya meaning 'the almost unreal world' or 'unreal conceptuality'. In the context of Yogacara school of Buddhism it is one of the three transformed modes of the mind which three are – parikalpa, 'the act of imagination', abh utaparikalpa, 'the act of imagining the unreal forms', and asatkalpa, 'the act of imagining the non-existent'.

Buddhist logico-epistemology

Buddhist logico-epistemology is a term used in Western scholarship for pramāṇa-vāda (doctrine of proof) and Hetu-vidya (science of causes). Pramāṇa-vāda is an epistemological study of the nature of knowledge; Hetu-vidya is a system of logic. These models developed in India during the 5th through 7th centuries.

The early Buddhist texts show that the historical Buddha was familiar with certain rules of reasoning used for debating purposes and made use of these against his opponents. He also seems to have held certain ideas about epistemology and reasoning, though he did not put forth a logico-epistemological system. The structure of debating rules and processes can be seen in the early Theravada text the Kathāvatthu.

The first Buddhist thinker to discuss logical and epistemic issues systematically was Vasubandhu in his Vāda-vidhi ("A Method for Argumentation"), who was influenced by the Hindu work on reasoning, the Nyāya-sūtra.A mature system of Buddhist logic and epistemology was founded by the Buddhist scholar Dignāga (c. 480–540 CE) in his magnum opus, the Pramāṇa-samuccaya. Dharmakirti further developed this system with several innovations. Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika ('Commentary on Valid Cognition') became the main source of epistemology and reasoning in Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhist philosophy refers to the philosophical investigations and systems of inquiry that developed among various Buddhist schools in India following the parinirvana (i.e. death) of the Buddha and later spread throughout Asia. The Buddhist path combines both philosophical reasoning and meditation. The Buddhist traditions present a multitude of Buddhist paths to liberation, and Buddhist thinkers in India and subsequently in East Asia have covered topics as varied as phenomenology, ethics, ontology, epistemology, logic and philosophy of time in their analysis of these paths.

Early Buddhism was based on empirical evidence gained by the sense organs (ayatana) and the Buddha seems to have retained a skeptical distance from certain metaphysical questions, refusing to answer them because they were not conducive to liberation but led instead to further speculation. A recurrent theme in Buddhist philosophy has been the reification of concepts, and the subsequent return to the Buddhist Middle Way.Particular points of Buddhist philosophy have often been the subject of disputes between different schools of Buddhism. These elaborations and disputes gave rise to various schools in early Buddhism of Abhidharma, and to the Mahayana traditions such as Prajñāpāramitā, Madhyamaka, Buddha-nature and Yogācāra.


In Hinduism and Buddhism, the Sanskrit term Bījā (बीज) (Jp. 種子 shuji) (Chinese 种子 zhǒng zǐ), literally seed, is used as a metaphor for the origin or cause of things and cognate with bindu.

Creator in Buddhism

Buddhist beliefs regarding a creator deity are conflicted. It teaches the concept of gods, heavens and rebirths in its Saṃsāra doctrine, but it considers none of these gods as a creator. Buddhism posits that mundane deities such as Mahabrahma are misconstrued to be a creator. Buddhist ontology follows the doctrine of Dependent Origination, whereby all phenomena arise in dependence on other phenomena, hence no primal unmoved mover could be acknowledged or discerned.

However, Mahayana Buddhism does believe in the doctrine of Sunyata(emptiness) or Tathata(thatness) out of which all things emerge. Furthermore, this ultimate reality is considered to be the Tathagatagarbha (Womb of all Buddhas) and the Adi Buddha (Primordial Buddha) who is worshipped differently in various Mahayana traditions as Vairocana or Amitabha and in the Vajrayana traditions as Samantabhadra or Vajradhara. Thus this concept of an ultimate reality which is the source of all things approximates the idea of a creator God.


Dignāga (a.k.a. Diṅnāga, c. 480 – c. 540 CE) was an Indian Buddhist scholar and one of the Buddhist founders of Indian logic (hetu vidyā). Dignāga's work laid the groundwork for the development of deductive logic in India and created the first system of Buddhist logic and epistemology (Pramana).According to Georges B Dreyfus, his philosophical school brought about an Indian "epistemological turn" and became the "standard formulation of Buddhist logic and epistemology in India and Tibet." Dignāga's thought influenced later Buddhist philosophers like Dharmakirti and also Hindu thinkers of the Nyaya school. Dignāga's epistemology accepted only "perception" (pratyaksa) and "inference" (anumāṇa) are valid instruments of knowledge and introduced the widely influential theory of "exclusion" (apoha) to explain linguistic meaning. His work on language, inferential reasoning and perception were also widely influential among later Indian philosophers. According to Richard P. Hayes "some familiarity with Dinnaga's arguments and conclusions is indispensable for anyone who wishes to understand the historical development of Indian thought."Dignāga was born in Simhavakta near Kanchipuram and very little is known of his early years, except that he took as his spiritual preceptor Nagadatta of the Pudgalavada school before being expelled and becoming a student of Vasubandhu.

Eight Consciousnesses

The Eight Consciousnesses (Skt. aṣṭa vijñānakāyāḥ) is a classification developed in the tradition of the Yogācāra school of Mahayana Buddhism. They enumerate the five sense consciousnesses, supplemented by the mental consciousness (manovijñāna), the defiled mental consciousness (kliṣṭamanovijñāna), and finally the fundamental store-house consciousness (ālāyavijñāna), which is the basis of the other seven. This eighth consciousness is said to store the impressions (vāsanāḥ) of previous experiences, which form the seeds (bīja) of future karma in this life and in the next after rebirth.


In philosophy, idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to materialism, idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.

Idealism theories are mainly divided into two groups. Subjective idealism takes as its starting point the given fact of human consciousness seeing the existing world as a combination of sensation. Objective idealism posits the existence of an objective consciousness which exists before and, in some sense, independently of human ones. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects those physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind.

The earliest extant arguments that the world of experience is grounded in the mental derive from India and Greece. The Hindu idealists in India and the Greek neoplatonists gave panentheistic arguments for an all-pervading consciousness as the ground or true nature of reality. In contrast, the Yogācāra school, which arose within Mahayana Buddhism in India in the 4th century CE, based its "mind-only" idealism to a greater extent on phenomenological analyses of personal experience. This turn toward the subjective anticipated empiricists such as George Berkeley, who revived idealism in 18th-century Europe by employing skeptical arguments against materialism. Beginning with Immanuel Kant, German idealists such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer dominated 19th-century philosophy. This tradition, which emphasized the mental or "ideal" character of all phenomena, gave birth to idealistic and subjectivist schools ranging from British idealism to phenomenalism to existentialism.

Idealism as a philosophy came under heavy attack in the West at the turn of the 20th century. The most influential critics of both epistemological and ontological idealism were G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, but its critics also included the new realists. According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the attacks by Moore and Russell were so influential that even more than 100 years later "any acknowledgment of idealistic tendencies is viewed in the English-speaking world with reservation". However, many aspects and paradigms of idealism did still have a large influence on subsequent philosophy.


The Kusha-shū (倶舎宗) was one of the six schools of Buddhism introduced to Japan during the Asuka and Nara periods. Along with the Tattvasiddhi school (Jōjitsu-shū) and the Risshū, it is a school of Nikaya Buddhism, which is sometimes derisively known to Mahayana Buddhism as "the Hinayana".

A Sarvastivada school, Kusha-shū focussed on abhidharma analysis based on the "Commentary on the Abhidharmakośabhaṣya (倶舎論)" by the fourth-century Gandharan philosopher Vasubandhu. The school takes its name from that authoritative text.Names commonly associated with the Kusha-shū are Dōshō (道昭 638–700), Joe (644–714), Chitsū (智通 ?–?), Chitatsu (智達 ?–?), and Genbō (玄昉 ?–746).


Mahāyāna Sūtrālamkāra kārikā (Chinese: 大乘庄严经论, "The Adornment of Mahayana sutras") is a major work of Buddhist philosophy attributed to Maitreya-nātha as dictated to Asanga. The text, written in verse, presents the Mahayana path from the Yogacara perspective. It comprises twenty-two chapters with a total of 800 verses and shows considerable similarity in arrangement and content to the Bodhisattvabhūmiśāstra, although the interesting first chapter proving the validity and authenticity of Mahāyāna is unique to this work. Associated with it is a prose commentary (bhāṣya) by Vasubandhu and several sub-commentaries by Sthiramati and others; the portions by Maitreya-nātha and Vasubandhu both survive in Sanskrit as well as Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian translations.


The Sarvāstivāda (Sanskrit; Chinese: 說一切有部; pinyin: Shuō Yīqièyǒu Bù) was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Asoka (third century BCE). It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.The Sarvāstivādins were one of the most influential Buddhist monastic groups, flourishing throughout North India (especially Kashmir) and Central Asia until the 7th century. The orthodox Kashmiri branch of the school composed the large and encyclopedic Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra during the reign of Kanishka (c. 127–150 CE). Because of this, orthodox Sarvāstivādins who upheld the doctrines in the Mahāvibhāṣa were called Vaibhāṣikas.

The Sarvāstivādins are believed to have given rise to the Mūlasarvāstivāda sect as well as the Sautrāntika tradition, although the relationship between these groups has not yet been fully determined.


The Sautrāntika or Sutravadin (Sanskrit, Suttavāda in Pali; Chinese: 經量部\ 說經部; pinyin: jīng liàng bù\ shuō jīng bù; Japanese: 経量部, romanized: Kyou Ryou Bu) were an early Buddhist school generally believed to be descended from the Sthavira nikāya by way of their immediate parent school, the Sarvāstivādins. While they are identified as a unique doctrinal tendency, they were part of the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya lineage of monastic ordination.Their name means literally "those who rely upon the sutras", which indicated, as stated by the commentator Yasomitra, that they hold the sutras, but not the Abhidharma commentaries (sastras), as authoritative. The views of this group first appear in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya of Vasubandhu.


Vikramaditya (IAST: Vikramāditya) was a legendary emperor of ancient India. Often characterized as an ideal king, he is known for his generosity, courage, and patronage of scholars. Vikramaditya is featured in hundreds of traditional Indian legends, including those in Baital Pachisi and Singhasan Battisi. Many describe him as a universal ruler, with his capital at Ujjain (Pataliputra or Pratishthana in a few stories).

According to popular tradition, Vikramaditya began the Vikrama Samvat era in 57 BCE after defeating the Shakas, and those who believe that he is based on a historical figure place him around the first century BCE. However, this era is identified as "Vikrama Samvat" after the ninth century CE. Other scholars believe that Vikramaditya is a mythical character, since several legends about him are fantastic in nature.

"Vikramaditya" was a common title adopted by several Indian kings, and the Vikramaditya legends may be embellished accounts of different kings (particularly Chandragupta II).


The Vimśatikāvijñaptimātratāsiddhi (Sanskrit: विम्शतिकाविज्ञप्तिमात्रतासिद्धि) or Twenty Verses on Consciousness Only is an important work in Buddhism. The work was composed by Vasubandhu (fl. 4th century) and is notable within the discourse of Yogacara and has influenced subsequent Buddhadharma discourse of other schools.

Anacker (1984: p. 159) in making reference to the works of Dharmapala and Xuanzang, holds that:

Perhaps no work of Vasubandhu's has been more consistently misunderstood than The Twenty Verses. It has frequently been used as an authoritative source for opinions that are in fact not even there. The main point here is not that consciousness unilaterally creates all forms in the [U]niverse, as has been supposed by Dharmapala and [Xuanzang], but rather than an object-of-consciousness is "internal", and the "external" stimuli are only inferrable. What is observed directly are always only perceptions, colored by particular consciousness- "seeds". The very fact that these "seeds" are spoken of at all indicates a double influence. On one hand, every consciousness-moment deposits a "seed": on the other, each "seed" influences every subsequent consciousness-moment, until a "revolution at the basis" of consciousness is achieved.

Dan Lusthaus (undated: unpaginated) holds that:

Vasubandhu's most original and philosophically interesting treatise is his Twenty Verses (Vimśatikā). In it he defends Yogācāra from objections by Realists. Yogācāra claims that what we think are external objects are nothing more than mental projections. This has been mistaken for an Idealist position because interpreters focus on the word "object" instead of "external". Vasubandhu does not deny that cognitive objects (viṣaya, ālambana, etc.) exist; what he denies is that they appear anywhere else than in the very act of consciousness which apprehends them. He denies that such cognitive objects have external referents (bahya-artha). What Vasubandhu means is that cognition never takes place anywhere except in consciousness. Everything we know we have acquired through sensory experience (in Buddhism the mind is considered a special type of sense). We are fooled by consciousness into believing that those things which we perceive and appropriate within consciousness are actually outside our cognitive sphere. Put another way, we mistake our interpretations of things for the things themselves. Consciousness is driven by karmic intentionalities (the habitual tendencies produced by past actions), and how we perceive is shaped by that conditioning. The goal of Yogācāra is to break out of this cognitive narcissism and finally wake up to things as they are, devoid of erroneous conceptual projections.

Tola and Dragonetti (2004, p. 134), in contrast, assert that:Vasubandhu states in first place...: All is only mind, consciousness; there exist only representations, mental creations, to which no external object corresponds.

They base their claim on their translation from Vasubandhu's autocommentary to the Twenty Verses, which opens with the statement

In the Mahayana, the three worlds are established to be only consciousness, according to the sutra that affirms: "O sons of the Victorious, the three worlds are only mind (citta)." ... [The word] "only" is [used] with the purpose of denying (the existence of external) things.


Yogachara (Sanskrit: योगाचार; IAST: Yogācāra; literally "yoga practice"; "one whose practice is yoga") is an influential tradition of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing the study of cognition, perception, and consciousness through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It is also variously termed Vijñānavāda (विज्ञानवाद, the doctrine of consciousness), Vijñaptivāda (the doctrine of ideas or percepts) or Vijñaptimātratā-vāda (the doctrine of 'mere vijñapti), which is also the name given to its major epistemic theory. There are several interpretations of this main theory, some scholars see it as a kind of Idealism while others argue that it is closer to a kind of phenomenology or representationalism.

According to Dan Lusthaus, this tradition developed "an elaborate psychological therapeutic system that mapped out the problems in cognition along with the antidotes to correct them, and an earnest epistemological endeavor that led to some of the most sophisticated work on perception and logic ever engaged in by Buddhists or Indians." The 4th-century Indian brothers, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, are considered the classic philosophers and systematizers of this school, along with its other founder, Maitreya.It was associated with Indian Mahayana Buddhism in about the fourth century, but also included non-Mahayana practitioners of the Dārṣṭāntika school. Yogācāra continues to be influential in Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism. However, the uniformity of a single assumed "Yogācāra school" has been put into question.

Topics in Buddhism
The Buddha
Key concepts
Major figures
Related topics


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.