Abhisamayalankara (Skt. Abhisamayālaṃkāra; Tib. མངོན་རྟོགས་རྒྱན་, Ngöntok Gyen; Wyl. mngon rtogs rgyan), The Ornament of Clear Realization — one of the five treatises that were directly revealed to Asanga by the future Buddha Maitreya,
The text is divided into eight topics:
The eight topics
- knowledge of all aspects, omniscience (Skt. Sarvākārajñatā; Tib. རྣམ་ཀུན་མཁྱེན་ཉིད་, nam kun khyen nyi or རྣམ་མཁྱེན་, "namkhyen")
- base-knowledge, knowledge of the bases, knowledge of the foundation (Skt. vastujñāna; Tib. གཞི་ཤེས་, zhishe) but also all-knowledge (Skt. Sarvajñatā; Tib. ཐམས་ཅད་ཤེས་པ་ཉིད་, tamche shepa nyi)
- complete application of all aspects, application of the realization of all aspects (Skt. Sarvākārābhisambodha; Tib. རྣམ་ཀུན་མངོན་རྫོགས་རྟོགས་པ་ but also རྣམ་རྫོགས་སྦྱོར་བ་, namdzog jorwa)
- culminating application, application when reaching the peak (Skt. Murdhābhisamaya; Tib. རྩེ་མོར་སྦྱོར་བ་, tsemor jorwa)
- progressive application, gradual training, gradual application of the bodhisattva path (Skt. Anupurvābhisamaya; Tib. མཐར་གྱིས་པའི་སྦྱོར་བ་, thar gyi jorwa)
- instantaneous application, momentary training (Skt. Ekakṣanābhisamaya; Tib. སྐད་ཅིག་མའི་སྦྱོར་བ་, kechigme jorwa)
These eight topics are further divided into seventy points.
Not a thing to be removed, nothing to be added
- བསྟན་བཅོས་བཞི་བརྒྱ་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བའི་ཚིག་ལེའུར་བྱས་པ་, shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan
- Arya Vimuktisena, Commentary on the Abhisamayalankara (Skt. abhisamayālaṅkārakārikāvārttika, Tib. ཉི་ཁྲི་སྣང་བ་, nyi khri snang ba)
- [[ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ་སྟོང་ཕྲག་ཉི་ཤུ་ལྔ་པའི་མན་ངག་གི་བསྟན་བཅོས་མངོན་པར་རྟོགས་པའི་རྒྱན་གྱི་ཚིག་ལེའུར་བྱས་པའི་རྣམ་པར་འགྲེལ་པ་], shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa stong phrag nyi shu lnga pa'i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan gyi tshig le'ur byas pa'i rnam par 'grel pa]
- མངོན་རྟོགས་རྒྱན་འགྲེལ་ལེགས་བཤད་གསེར་འཕྲེང་ལས་རྣམ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་མཁྱེན་པ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་སྐབས་, mngon rtogs rgyan 'grel legs bshad gser 'phreng las rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid kyi skabs
- Patrul Rinpoche, Overview
- Pöpa Tulku, The [[Oral Transmission of the [Invincible Maitreya]] and An Adornment to the Vision of the Invincible Maitreya
- ཤེར་ཕྱིན་མངོན་པར་རྟོགས་པའི་རྒྱན་གྱི་ཚིག་དོན་རྣམ་པར་བཤད་པ་མ་ཕམ་ཞལ་ལུང་, sher phyin mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan gyi tshig don rnam par bshad pa ma pham zhal lung
- Mipham Rinpoche ཤེར་ཕྱིན་མངོན་རྟོགས་རྒྱན་གྱི་མཆན་འགྲེལ་པུཎྜ་རི་ཀའི་དོ་ཤལ།, [[sher phyin mngon rtogs rgyan gyi mchan 'grel puN+Da ri ka'i do shal
- ཤེར་ཕྱིན་མངོན་རྟོགས་རྒྱན་གྱི་མཆན་འགྲེལ་པུཎྜ་རི་ཀའི་དོ་ཤལ།་, sher phyin mngon rtogs rgyan gyi mchan 'grel puN+Da ri ka'i do shal''}}
- Abhisamayalankara, Edward Conze (Rome: Is.M.E.O., 1954).
- Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyu Tradition, Volume One, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Ithaca: Snow Lion), Vol. One, July 2011 / Vol. Two forthcoming 2012
- Ornament of Clear Realization: A Commentary on the Prajnaparamita of Maitreya, Thrangu Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal, 2004.
- Abhisamayalankara (mngon rtogs rgyan), Maitreya – Asanga with commentary by Jamgön Mipham, Padmakara translation group, forthcoming
- John Makransky, Buddhahood embodied: sources of controversy in India and Tibet, New York: SUNY, 1997
- James B. Apple, Stairway to Nirvana: A Study of the Twenty Samghas Based on the Works of Tsong kha pa, SUNY, 2008
- James B. Apple, Contributions to the Development and Classification of Abhisamayālaṃkāra Literature in Tibet from the Ninth to Fourteenth Centuries, JIATS, no. 5 (December 2009), available online here
- Prologue to Abhisamayalankara Commentary by Khenchen Shenga
- The 70 Points of the Abhisamayalankara by Khenpo Tsöndrü
- Prajnaparamita Series on Lotsawa House
The Abhisamaya-alaṅkāra ("Ornament of/for Realization[s]"), abbreviated AA, is one of five Sanskrit-language Mahāyāna Buddhist scriptures which Maitreya--a Buddha or bodhisattva (the point is somewhat controversial)--is said to have revealed to Asaṅga (northwest India, 4th century).
Some scholars (Erich Frauwallner, Giuseppe Tucci, Hakiju Ui) refer to the text's author as Maitreyanātha ("Lord Maitreya") in order to avoid either affirming the claim of supernatural revelation, or identifying the author as Asaṅga himself.
The question then hinges on the dating of the earliest extant AA commentary, that of Arya Vimuktisena.
The AA contains nine chapters and 273 verses. Its pithy contents summarize—in the form of eight categories and seventy topics—the Prajñāpāramitā ("Perfection of Wisdom," abbreviated PP) Sūtras which the Mādhyamika school of Buddhism regards as presenting the ultimate truth.
Thrangu Rinpoche clarifies that usually the PP Sūtras in 100,000, 25,000, and 8000 lines are meant (the "three Mothers"), but that the category might be expanded to a total of 17 texts (the "six Mothers and eleven Sons").:
Several scholars liken the AA to a "table of contents" for the PP.: Edward Conze admits that the correspondence between these numbered topics, and the contents of the PP is "not always easy to see...";: and that the fit is accomplished "not without some violence" to the text.:
The AA is widely held to reflect the hidden meaning (sbed don) of the PP, with the implication being that its details are not found there explicitly. (Sparham traces this tradition to Haribhadra's student Dharmamitra.) :
Sometimes these commentaries spin out elaborate digressions from a single word of the Ornament." :
- Note on spelling variations: The compound title Abhisamayālaṅkāra may be separated as Abhisamaya-alaṅkāra.
Title of the work
The text's full title is:
- Sanskrit: Abhisamayālaṅkāranāmaprajñāpāramitopadeśaśāstra
- Tibetan: Shes rap kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan ces bya ba
- abhisamaya (mngon par rtogs pa) - "Realization(s)"
- alaṅkāra (rgyan) -- "Ornament" (Berzin prefers "Filigree")
- nāma (zhes bya ba) -- "called"
- prajñāpāramitā (shes rap kyi pha rol tu phyin ba) - "Perfection of Wisdom"
- upadeśa (man ngag) -- "Instructions" (literally, "an up-close look")
- śāstra (bstan bcos)-- "Treatise"
- "The word abhisamaya is made up of the prefix abhi ("toward, over"), the prefix sam ("together with"), and the root i, a verb of motion with the secondary meaning "to understand."
Conze adds some details about the term's origins:
- In the Pali scriptures the term is used to designate the stage when we comprehend the four holy truths.
- An admirer views a naturally beautiful woman adorned with golden ornaments reflected in a mirror. The Perfection of Wisdom ūtras are the naturally beautiful woman.
Elaborating on the metaphor, Geshe Jampa Gyatso distinguishes between a "natural ornament" (the beautiful woman, the Perfection of Wisdom), "beautifying ornament" (her jewelry, the eight categories and seventy topics), "clarifying ornament" (the mirror, the AA), and "joyful ornament" (the joy of the beholder or AA devotee).
It is therefore perhaps understandable that the AA,
"The main philosophical view expressed in the Abhisamayalaṅkāra is that of strictest Monism and of the Non-substantiality and Relativity (śūnyatā) of all separate elements of existence, i.e. the standpoint of the Mādhyamikas."
Gelugpa writers, following Bu ston, specify that Maitreya's text teaches something called "Yogācāra Svātantrika Madhyamaka.": The category is often criticized as artificial, even by the standards of Tibetan doxography.
In an aside, Ian Charles Harris finds it "curious" that
- "...Maitreya is generally considered to be the mythical instructor of Asaṅga, and therefore for those who see Māhāyana Buddhism in terms of schools as Harris does not], to be the founder of the Yogācāra-Vijñānanavāda.
One wonders why someone seeking to establish a rival school to Nāgārjuna should wish to write a treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā if, as many authors believe, it is amenable only to an interpretation from the standpoint of the Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka." :
Harris goes on to note the "strange fact" that Tsongkhapa would be a self-avowed Prasangika, despite his system's assignment of "all the great Madhyamaka authorities on the Prajñāpāramitā" to Yogācāra Svātantrika Madhyamaka.:
According to Makransky, the AA was designed to impose a Yogācāra framework and vocabulary onto the PP. AA commentator Arya Vimuktisena preserves this Yogācāra reading; however, Makransky sees Haribhadra's reading as an attempt to "Mādhyamika-ize" the AA. Later Tibetan commentators broadly follow Haribhardra. :
The Eight Categories and Seventy Topics
The AA is divided into eight categories, which correspond to the first eight chapters of the work (the ninth being a summary), and (with one technical exception in chapter eight) :
This division into eight appears thus at the beginning of the AA itself:
These eight categories naturally fall into three groups, as shown below.
The seventy topics (here enumerated but not shown) are their subdivisions.
Obermiller traces this list to a manual attributed to 'Jam dbyangs Bzhad pa, who also created the various definitions and category-boundaries familiar to Tibetan debaters.: The text may be subdivided further still, into 1,200 items.
Unless otherwise indicated, the English terms below follow Sparham's translation (which revises Conze's).
The Three Knowledges
- 1. Knowledge of all aspects
- 2. Knowledge of paths
- 3. All-knowledge
Berzin explains these categories as
- "...groupings of realizations gained by the three sets of aryas ('phags-pa, highly realized beings), those who have gained nonconceptual cognition of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths.
The three are organized into basis, pathway, and resultant stages and thus, in a complex manner, are cumulative.
This is the "all-knowledge" of chapter three. A bodhisattva, in order to benefit all sentient beings, must additionally cognize the various possible paths by which others may progress, so that he may, for example, teach in different ways in accordance with their various situations and capacities.
The Four Practices
- 4. Full awakening to all aspects
- 5. Culmination clear realization
- 6. Serial clear realization
- 7. Clear realization in a single instant
Referring to the above, Dreyfus explains that
- "...the Ornament presents the four practices or realizations [chapters 4-7], emphasizing particularly 'the practice of all the aspects' (rnam rzdogs sbyor ba),
which is treated in the fourth chapter. In fact, that practice is the central topic of the text and may have been an actual practice in which all the aspects of the three wisdoms [chapters 1-3] are brought together...
The last Category concerns the result of spiritual practice:
- 8. The Resultant Truth Body
By this is meant the Dharmakāya, one of several glorified spiritual bodies (Makransky prefers "embodiments") which a Buddha is said to possess. A commentarial tradition beginning with Arya Vimuktisena interprets the AA as teaching the existence of three such bodies (the trikaya doctrine);
- "Haribhadra had read AA 8 as a systematic treatise whose purpose was to present a logically coherent model of Buddhahood. His perspective owed much to Buddhist logic and Abhidharma traditions that had sought such systematic coherence.
Ratnākorāśānti, basing himself instead on the perspective on nondual yogic traditions, specifically understood the terms svābhāvikakāya and dharmakāya in AA 8 (and throughout Mahāyana literature) to refer to a Buddha's own perspective on the nature of his attainment,
Tsong kha pa and Go ram pa's interpretations are closely related to their differing perspectives on a Buddha's awareness, which was an explicit topic of discussion in Candrakirti's Mādhyamikāvatāra, upon which they both commented." :
For Makransky, the controversy reflects a fundamental tension between immanent and transcendent aspects of Buddhism, which is also reflected in debate over the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, or gradual vs. sudden enlightenment (as at Samye).
- First class: Introduction to the AA as well as the special topic, the "Twenty Sangha."
- Second class: Finished through the seventh topic of the first AA chapter; the supplementary topic was dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda)
- Third class: Finished the first AA chapter and continued; also studied the Yogacara theory of the storehouse consciousness (ālāyavijñāna),
- Fourth class: Focused on the fourth chapter of the AA ("which is regarded as the most difficult"), supplemented with "the teaching about the four degrees of trance in the sphere of Etherial Bodies...and the four degrees of mystic absorption in the Immaterial Sphere."
The fourth-year students would conclude with a celebratory feast.
Obermiller adds that "All these studies are conducted in the form of lectures which are accompanied by controversies between the different groups of students according to the method of 'sequence and reason' (thal-phyir)." :
- There are Twenty [categories]: those with dull and sharp faculties, those who have attained faith and vision, those who are born from family to family, those born with one interval,
Beyond that, the list is quite difficult to decipher.
which may be expanded to eight by distinguishing between approachers to (zhugs pa), or abiders at ('bras gnas), each level. Unfortunately the list of twenty does not correspond very well with this earlier one.
Definitive and Interpretable Scriptures
Tibetan tradition accepts the common Mahayana view that Sakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) taught various kinds of teachings that do not seem to agree—hence the various discrepancies between nikaya Buddhism and the Mahayana scriptures—and following the Sandhinirmocana Sutra,
and is therefore faced with the task of defending its authorities while simultaneously minimizing contradictions between them.
Form and Formless Realm Absorptions (Trances)
21 ancient Indian AA commentaries are extant.
The oldest is that of Ārya Vimuktisena (Grol sde), called
Illuminating the Twenty Thousand: A Commentary on the Ornament (Pañcavimsatisāhasrikāprajñāparamitopadesasāstrabhisamāyalaṅkāravrtti, nyi khri snang ba).
Written in a different style from its successors, it makes frequent reference to Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośaśāstra.
(Abhisamāyalaṅkāralokāprajñāpāramitāvyākhyā, rgyan snang) Based on the 8000-line PP Sutra, it was composed circa AD 800. Haribhadra also edited an abridgment of this work, called the "Short Commentary" (Sphuṭārtha, 'grel pa don gsal/'grel chung).
Rounding out the list of 21 are:
- Commentary on the Difficult Points of the Compedium (sdud pa'i dka' 'grel).
- Clear Explanation of the Words Commentary ('grel bshad tshig gsal)
- Compendium of Meanings (bsdus don)
- Compendium of Meanings.
- Compendium of Meanings.
- Renowned Parts (grags cha)
It has fewer words to explain [since it is based on the 8,000-line PP rather than the 25,000-line version].
The AA was extremely influential in Tibet, resulting in the production of numerous commentaries.
The first were those of "Ngok Lotsawa" or "Ngok the Translator" (Rngog Lo tsa ba Bal ldan Shes rab, 1059–1109): Mngon rtogs rgyan gyi don bsdus pa (a summary), Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i man ngag mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan gi tik chung (a "small" commentary), and an 8000-line Prajnaparamita summary called Yum brgyad stong pa'i 'grel pa'i don bsdus (possibly a sub-commentary to Haribhadra's Short Commentary).
Well known Nyingma commentaries on the AA include the sher phyin mngon rtogs rgyan gyi spyi don by Dza Patrul Rinpoche, Orgyen Jikmé Chökyi Wangpo which forms the whole of the sixth volume of his Collected Works; and The [[Words of the Invincible] Maitreya]], (ma pham zhal lung) by Pöpa Tulku Dongak Tenpé Nyima.
Sakya commentators on the AA include 'Go rams pa bsod nams seng ge (four commentaries), Shakya Chogden, Shes ba Kun rig (seven commentaries and treatises),: and G.Yag ston (Sangs gyas dpal, g.yag phrug pa, 1350–1414).
The latter's work is King of Wish-Fulfilling Jewels(Mngon rtogs rgyan 'grel pa rin chen bsam 'phel dbang rgyal), in eight volumes.
His disciple Gyaltsab (rGyal tshab Dar ma Rin chen) also wrote an AA subcommentary, called Ornament of the Essence (mngon rtongs rgyan gyi grel pa dor gsal rnam bshad snying po'i rgyan).
In East Asia
The AA seems not to have been translated into Chinese until the 1930s.
The institute failed to survive the Chinese Civil War.
In the West
Obermiller, a specialist in Yogacara and Tathagatagarbha literature, also wrote a lengthy article on the AA ("The Doctrine of PP...") and was in the process of composing Analysis of the AA when he died.
While Obermiller approached the AA from the perspective of "Monism," which he associated with Vedanta, his studies in the Buryat Mongolian monastery of Dgah ldan dar rgyas gling (Chilutai) exposed him to a more traditional hermeneutic framework.
Along with a translation of the AA (or the three-fifths of it which he finished), he also provided a summary of Haribhadra's commentary for each section.
Edward Conze, who was active from the 1950s to the 1970s, devoted his career to PP translations and commentaries, his AA translation being an early example.
An especially significant work was his translation of the PP Sutra in 25,000-lines, which he organized according to the AA topics.
This required a certain amount of creative editing on his part—for example, his translation does not strictly follow the 25,000-line AA, but incorporates text from other PP Sutras.
Their ranks included Gareth Sparham (who translated the AA anew,
The AA has also received attention from several Western dharma centers (notably the Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy), with the result that the AA has now been transmitted to the West not only as a text, but as a family of living spiritual traditions.
- Apple, James B. Stairway to Nirvana: A Study of the Twenty-Samghas base on the works of Tsong Kha Pa. SUNY Press, 2008. The enumeration of "Twenty Sangha," with countless expansions and subdivisions, is a traditional topic associated with Tibetan commentaries on the AA.
- Apple, James B. "Twenty Varieties of the Samgha: A Typology of Noble Beings (Arya) in Indo-Tibetan Scholasticism" (in two parts, Parts I and Part II). Journal of Indian Philosophy 31 (2003), 503-592; and 32 (2004), 211-279.
These are chapters of Apple's doctoral dissertation for the University of Wisconsin (Madison), which later evolved into the monograph Stairway to Nirvana (see above).
- Conze, Edward. The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2000 (1978). See pp. 101–120.
- Conze, Edward (translator and editor). The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom: With the Divisions of the Abhisamayālankāra. Univ. of California Press: 1985.
- Conze, Edward (translator). Abhisamayalankara.pdf Abhisamayālankāra: Introduction and Translation from Original Text, With Sanskrit-Tibetan Index. Serie Orienta: Rome, [n.d.; actually 1954].
- Dreyfus, Georges.
The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk. University of California Press: 2003. Ch. 8 (pp. 174–182 of this edition) discusses the role of the Abhisamayalankara in the Tibetan monastic curriculum.
- Dreyfus, Georges. "Tibetan scholastic education and the role of soteriology." In Paul Williams (ed.), Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, vol. VI, pp. 32–57. Originally published in the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies vol. 20, no. 1 (1997), pp. 31–62. This is an early (and extended) version of material later incorporated into The Sound of Two Hands Clapping. Dreyfus's discussion of the Abisamayalankara begins on pp. 46, and continues to the end of the article.
- Makransky, John J. Buddhism Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet. SUNY Press, 1997. Focuses on the eighth chapter of the AA. Instead of three or four "bodies" (kāya), Makransky prefers to speak of "embodiments."
- Obermiller, E[ugène]. Analysis of the Abhisamayalamkara. Asian Humanities Press: 2003. Original publication London: Luzac & Co., 1936.
- Obermiller, E. The Doctrine of Prajñā-Pāramitā as Exposed in the Abhisamayalamkara of Maitreya. Canon Publications: 1984. Originally published in Acta Orientalia 11 (1932–33), pp. 1–133, 334-354.
- Obermiller, E. & Theodore I. Shcherbatskoi. Abhisamahalankara-Prajnaparamita-Upadesa-Sastra: The Work of Bodhisattva Maitreya. Sri Satguru Publications, 1992.
- Sparham, Gareth (translator). Abhisamayalamkara with Vrtti and Aloka (in four volumes). Jain Publishing Company, 2006 (vol. 1) and 2008 (vol. 2).
- Sparham, Gareth (editor). Golden Garland of Eloquence, vols. 1 and 2. Jain Publishing Company. 2008. Translation of an AA commentary by Tsongkhapa.
- Thrangu Rinpoche. The Ornament of Clear Realization: A Commentary on the Prajnaparamita of the Maitreya Buddha. Sri Satguru Publications: Delhi, 2001. Oral translation by Ken and Katia Holmes; final translation by Cornelia Weishaar-Gunter. A short oral commentary by a leading Karma Kagyu lama.
- Toh Sze Gee (translator). The Explanation Ornament of the Essence along with (i) the Root Text of the Treatise of Quintessential Instructions of the Perfection of Wisdom: Ornament for Clear Realization and (ii) the Commentary Clear Meaning. FPMT Masters Program: Pomaia, Italy, 2008. Privately circulated, will eventually be made available for sale as a text file.