Seven Works of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor

Seven Works of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor

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  • Book Name Seven Works of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor
  • Author Stefan Anacker
  • Language, Pages English, 497 Pgs. (HB)
  • Upload Date 2024 / 01 / 18
  • ISBN 9788120802032, 8120802039

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Seven Works of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor
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About the Book:

Vasubandhu, one of the most famous Mahayana Buddhist Philosophers, wrote works on a vast variety of subjects. This collection of translations includes the Vada-Vidhi, a work on logic; the Panca-skandhaka-prakarana, which deals with the 'aggregates' making up 'personality'; the Karmasiddhi-prakarana, which in explaining psychic continuity, also attacks many features of earlier Buddhist Psychology; the famous Vimsatika and Trimsika, which take Buddhist psychology into hitherto unexplored areas; the Madhyanta-Vibhaga-bhasya, one of the most profound books for Mahayana realization; and the Tri-svabhava-nirdesa which shows a way for ridding consciousness of ensnaring mental constructions. A glossary of key words is included, as are the texts of those works which survive in Sanskrit. Each translation is prefaced by an explanatory introduction and is followed by notes. These include also references to other Indian philosophical systems and occasional comparisons with modern Western psychology systems, particularly where the latter seem inadequate in comparison with Vasubandhu's Yogacara.

About the Author:

Stefan Anacker, born in the USA of Swiss parents, received his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin (Madison, Wis., USA) in Buddhist Studies. He has also studied Sanskrit and Old Kannada at the University of Mysore. At present he is a research scholar living in Lausanne, Switzerland.



The purpose of this book is to present a Buddhist philosopher, who, though among the most famous, cannot really be said to be well-known. The thought of Vasubandhu has usually been pre- sented in an overly schematic and perhaps misleading way which does not do justice to this many-sided genius. The writings of Vasubandhu are also very relevant to the present time.

In these translations, it has been the goal to avoid the practise usually followed with Indian philosophical studies, where trans- lated texts are encumbered with the original Sanskrit expressions in parentheses. This was done to make the texts as free-flowing as they are in the original, as has been done, for instance, in pre- vious translations of Greek philosophers. Where the original Sanskrit texts exist, these have also been given here, and for key terms and their translations the reader is referred to the trilingual glossary. Professional Indologists may in fact prefer reading the glossary first, so that they know from the outset the original Sanskrit of technical terms. Logicians, on the other hand, will be most attracted to the first treatise presented here, and spiritual seekers certainly most to the sixth.

The work on this book has taken place over a period of many years, and on three different continents. As there is always room for critical re-appraisal in such studies, it is true that some few things I would do differently at this moment, if I were beginning these translations now. On the "prides", for instance, it is pro- bably better to follow the translation of La Vallee Poussin in Kosa V (cf. Discussion of the Five Aggregates, p. 68), though mine has the advantage of avoiding the concepts of "superior" and "inferior" which Vasubandhu warns us against. It is also well to remember that the ethical categories "beneficial" (kusala); "un- beneficial" (akusala), and "indeterminate" (avyakrta) refer not only to their effect of alleviation or infliction of suffering for others, but also to the "karmic" results for the "agent" "himself". Unless this is kept in mind, the statement that beneficial and unbeneficial acts cannot take place without conscious discrimination and voli- tion (p. 62) may be misunderstood,as there may be totally unin- tentional actions harming to others for which the "agent" bears no karmic responsibility according to Vasubandu. As regards the list of "motivating dispositions" (samskara), which have always been a source of controversy (even in the third century B.C. !), it is certain that some scholars would translate several of these items differently. But my translations are in conformity with Vasubandhu's own definitions, and on the whole I am quite happy with them.

Like the wandering youth Sudhana in the Gandavyuha-sutra, I can honestly say that I have learned something from everyone I have ever met. To give complete acknowledgements is thus impossible. However, the following people who have been parti- cularly helpful to me at various stages of this work can be men- tioned: the venerable Gyaltrul Rimpoche, for some direct insights into Samantabhadra; Geshe Sopa (bZod-pa), for the meanings of certain technical turns of phrases in the Karma-siddhi-prakarana; Jinamitra and all the other previous scholars who have worked on these texts; the eminent Prof. Gadjin Nagao, of the University of Kyoto, for this edition and index of the Madhyanta-vibhaga- bhasya; Professor T.V. Venkatachala Shastri, of the University of Mysore, for insight, through Old Kannada literature, into the Jaina point of view; P.K. Raja, of Paduwarahalli, Mysore City, for modern Hindu applications of Mahayana Buddhist ethical thought; Prof. Jacques May, of the University of Lausanne, for his readiness to lend out volumes of his Tibetan Canon; the late Prof. Richard Robinson, for founding the Buddhist studies depart- ment at the University of Wisconsin, without which I would never have learned about these things at all; Prof. Alex Wayman, now of Columbia University, for introducing me to written Tibetan; Prof. Douglas D. Daye, now of Bowling Green University (Ohio), for many ideas on Indian logic and for the translations of the names of the members of the Indian inference-schema; the editors and printers at Motilal Banarsidass, for bringing out this book; and my father, the late Robert H. Anacker, who taught me so much about European cultural history that I had to turn to India to find something new.



VASUBANDHU is one of the most prominent figures in the development of Mahayana Buddhism in India. His name can be found in any history of Buddhism or of India in the Gupta period. However, though many of his numerous works have been translated from the original Sanskrit into Chinese and Tibetan, and much later at least a few into French, hardly any have up to now appeared in English. The seven treatises pre- sented here, though only a minuscule portion of what he wrote, are complete works with a most varied range of topics, and can serve at least as an introduction to his thought. Aside from the enormous influence he has had on almost the entire range of subsequent Buddhist writing, Vasubandhu makes parti- cularly interesting reading because of the great scope of his interests, the flexibility, originality, and openness of his thought, and his motivation to alleviate suffering, particularly that un- necessary suffering that comes from constricted and constructed mental activity. He has used a great variety of therapeutic methods for this purpose, and, as a result, his name has a place in the lineages of teachers of practises as diverse as Pure Land- and Zen. His works are in intensely diverse literary formats, including religious poetry, ethical animal fabless, commentaries on sutras- and treatises, and independent treatises in both prose and verse. His range of interests is also correspondingly vast, and his mental consciousness is equally penetrating when dealing with logic, psychology, the history of the Buddhist Canon, medicine, the most practical instructions for medita- tion, and the signless melting of all mental borders. He demonstrates a fertility, flexibility, range, and profundity of thought that quite overwhelms : by any standards, he is one of the greatest of philosophic and therapeutic writers.

To Vasubandhu, dogmatic reliance on anyone method never exists, and there may be even within one work multiple and con- stantly unfolding outlooks en a particular range of problems. This is why it is easy to misunderstand the purpose of his writings if only some works are considered. There has been a great deal of misrepresentation of what Vasubandhu's Maha- yana methods are attempting to do, simply because certain few works were given a pre-eminent position at the expense of others, and even these weren't always understood. A young man much interested in Nagarjuna and the Prajna-paramita-sutras once termed Vasubandhu a "reifier", since it is not generally said, but obvious when one reads widely in his works that anything he "reifies" he also dissolves. And then there is the standard discussion of Vasubandhu as an "idealist" philosopher, which rests mainly on the interpretations of Hsuan-tsang, who seems to have been most impressed by the preliminary portions of works, rather than their conclusions. Even Vasubandhu's most conscientious commentators, such as Sthiramati, seem often to become bogged down in what is least essential-some- times even making distinctions never made by the master him- self. Vasubandhu uses such a wide variety of means with such skill that it is easy to see how this might happen. The Tibetan historian Bu-ston makes a suggestive statement When he says, "The teacher Sthiramati was even more learned than his teacher Vasubandhu in Abhidharma; the venerable Dignaga proved greater than his teacher Vasubandhu in the field of logic, and the saint Vimuktisena excelled his teacher Vasubandhu in the knowledge of Prajna-paramita. Though these gentle- men may have surpassed Vasubandhu in the mastery of one particular method, the open-endedness and multiplicity of therapeutic skills displayed by him is not fully continued by anyone of them.

More recently, Vasubandhu has been split into two Those who assert that there were two great Vasubandhus are put in the quandary of having to state which works are which Vasu- bandhu's. Neither tradition nor internal evidence support their view. The effect of Vasubandhu's conversion to Maha- yana among his former colleagues is well-documented. For Vasubandhu is not only a great Mahayana philosopher; he is also a great Abhidharmika, and it is as an Abhiharmika that he began his writing career. Abhidharma is the ancient Bud- dhist phenomenology of moment-events, and the reduction of psychological processes to such moments. The combina- tion of Abhidharma and Mahayana is one of the salient features of many of Vasubandhu's treatises. Vasubandhu perhaps found the wholesale denial of causality in Nagarjuna's stricter works contrary to the spirit of upaya, "Skill in means" taken for the alleviation of suffering. But ultimately, that is, from the point of view of prajna, or non-dualistic insight, Vasubandhu cannot really assert anything, either. The constructed "own- being", that range of events constructed by the mental con- sciousness, is recognized as exactly that, and is observed by Vasubandhu to have a constricting suffering-inducing effect if it is fixedly believed. It is true that present-day Tibetan classi- fications of Buddhist philosophy regard Nagarjuna and Vasu- bandhu as disagreeing. But these are really the disagreements of sixth-century followers of Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu. They belong to a time when Buddhism had become an academic subject at places such -as the University of Nalanda. They may have disagreed because they were academics fighting for posts and recognition.

Vasubandhu, on the other hand, seems interested in intro- ducing concepts only for the dissolving of previously-held ones. and these new concepts remove themselves later. They are provisional : once they have had their alleviating effect, they can be discarded, just as the Diamond Sutra recommends we do with all Buddhist formulations.

Theyare makeshift rafts, and once they have taken us across a turbulent stream, we do not need to carry them on our backs. It is a "revolution at the basis" (asraya-paravrtti) which Vasubandhu's works point towards-a state of consciousness where all previous modes of thought are abandoned.

The seven treatises presented here are arranged in a "pro- gressive" fashion. The first work deals with the recognition of faulty logic in human statements; the second concerns types of moment-events and their delineations; the third, through the scholastic objection-and-reply method, fills up holes in the classical Abhidharma psychological theory; the fourth and fifth apply the new theory to startling conclusions; the sixth delineates a path to "revolution at the basis", and the seventh points to the deepest insights of a therapeutic method rooted in meditation (yoga-acara) and compassion. It is likely that some people will find certain works more interesting than others: the logician will be most attracted to the first, the ethical thinker or spiritual seeker most to the sixth, for instance.

The motivating hope behind this work of translation is that alleviating clarity may be found by those who suffer, that old cruel and stupid boundaries may vanish, and that the living world may find more harmony and bliss.




  Introduction 31
  Translation of Text 38
  Notes to the Translation 47
  Introduction 51
  Translation of Text 65
  Notes to the Translation 75
  Introduction 85
  Translation of the Text 93
  Notes to the Translation 121
  Introduction 159
  Translation of the Text 161
  Notes to the Translation 175
  Introduction 183
  Translation of the Text 186
  Notes to the Translation 189
  Introduction 193
  Translation of the Text 211
  Notes to the Translation 273
  Introduction 289
  Translation of the Text 291
  Notes to the Translation 296
1 Vimsikavrttih 413
2 Trimsikavijnaptikarikah 422
3 Madhyanta-Vibhaga-Bhasyam 424
4 Trisvabhavanirdesah 464


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