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ASAGA (c. 315390 ce) was the founder of the Yogācāra school of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India. Asaga was born as a son of a brahman in Puruapura (Peshawar in Pakistan). His younger brother was the famous Yogācāra thinker Vasubandhu. Originally Asaga belonged to the Mahīśāsaka school of Hīnayāna Buddhism, but later converted to the Mahāyāna. According to Paramārtha's biography of Vasubandhu, Asaga's conversion took place after an ascent to Tuita Heaven, where he received religious instruction from Maitreya, a bodhisattva who is worshiped as the future Buddha. Later, Asaga composed a treatise dealing with the seventeen stages (bhūmi ) of yoga practice based on the teachings he had received from Maitreya. The same account is recorded by Xuanzang in his Da Tang xiyu ji. As there exist some Yogācāra treatises that are traditionally ascribed to Maitreya(nātha), some scholars have assumed that the bodhisattva Maitreya, to whom Asaga is said to have owed his knowledge of the Yogācāra system, was really a historical person. The opinion of modern scholarship remains divided on this issue. In his old age, Asaga is reported to have converted his brother Vasubandhu, previously an exponent of the Hīnayāna teachings, to Mahāyāna. Asaga continued a life of religious scholarship in the vicinity of Ayodhya until his death at the age of seventy-five.

The most important of Asaga's many treatises are (1) Abhidharmasamuccaya, a brief explanation from the Yogācāra viewpoint of the elements constituting phenomenal existence; (2) Xianyang shengjiao lun (*ryadeśanāvikhyāpana ), an abridgment of the Yogācārabhūmi; and (3) Mahāyānasagraha, a comprehensive work on the Yogācāra doctrines and practices. Asaga's works are characterized by a detailed analysis of psychological phenomena inherited from the Abhidharma literature of the Hīnayāna schools. The Mahāyānasagraha, in which Asaga gives a systematic exposition of the fundamental tenets of the Yogācāra school, comprises ten chapters dealing respectively with the following subjects: (1) ālaya-vijñāna, (2) three natures of beings (trisvabhāva ), (3) the realization of the truth of representation-only (vijñaptimātra ), (4) six kinds of perfection (pāramitā ), (5) ten bodhisattva stages (bhūmi ), (6) moral conducts (śīla ), (7) meditative concentration (samādhi ), (8) non-discriminative knowledge (nirvikalpa-jñāna ), (9) the transformation of the base of existence (āśraya-parāvtti ) and the state of "nirvāa without abode" (apratihita-nirvāa ), and (10) the three bodies of the Buddha. The first two chapters are concerned with the object to be learned (jñeya ), chapters 3 to 8, the learning and the practice leading to the attainment of Buddhahood, and chapters 9 to 10, the result of learning and practice. Asaga's basic thoughts are presented in the first two chapters.

The first chapter treats the doctrine of ālaya-vijñāna in full detail. The term ālaya-vijñāna occurs in earlier works such as the Sadhinirmocana Sūtra and the Yogācārabhūmi, but there is no mention of it in the treatises attributed to Maitreya. The ālaya-vijñāna is a subliminal consciousness in which the impressions (vāsanā s) of past experiences are preserved as the seeds (bīja s) of future experiences. The "consciousness-in-activity" (pravtti-vijñāna ), that is, the six kinds of sensory and mental consciousness, is produced from the seeds preserved in the ālaya-vijñāna. When the pravtti-vijñāna functions, it leaves its impression in the ālaya-vijñāna. This impression becomes the seed of a future consciousness-in-activity. According to the Yogācāras, a human being is nothing other than the stream of consciousness thus formed by the mutual dependence of the ālaya-vijñāna and the consciousness-in-activity. Asaga admits that besides the six kinds of consciousness there is the "I-consciousness" called manas (or klia-manas ), whereby the ālaya-vijñāna is wrongly conceived of as a real self (ātman ). However, the classical theory of eightfold consciousness is not explicitly advocated by him.

The second chapter of the Mahāyānasagraha is devoted to the elucidation of the so-called three-nature doctrine, which maintains that all beings possess an "imagined nature" (parikalpita-svabhāva ), a "dependent nature" (paratantra-svabhāva ) and a "consummated nature" (parinipanna-svabhāva). The image of an object that appears in a stream of consciousness is of dependent nature precisely because the image is dependent for its origination upon the impressions of past experiences preserved in the ālaya-vijñāna. The object fictively superimposed upon it is of imagined nature, while the absence of the superimposed object, that is, the object as devoid (śūnya ) of reality, is of consummated nature. This doctrine is also found expounded in earlier Yogācāra works, but Asaga sets forth an original view that the imagined and the consummated natures are two divisions or two aspects of the dependent nature.

The Mahāyānasagraha was translated into Chinese by Paramārtha (499567), and became the basic text of the newly formed Shelun sect (abbreviated from the Chinese name for the Mahāyānasagraha, the She dasheng lun ). This sect suffered a decline following the establishment of the Faxiang sect by Kuiji, a disciple of Xuanzang (596664), who recognized the transmission of the Yogācāra teachings of Dharmapāla (530561) as authoritative.

See Also

laya-vijñāna; Maitreya; Vasubandhu; Vijñānabhiku; Yogācāra.


Frauwallner, Erich. Die Philosophie des Buddhismus. 3d rev. ed. Berlin, 1969. A brief explanation of Asaga's philosophical ideas and a German translation of some important portions of the Mahāyānasagraha are given on pages 326350.

Lamotte, Étienne. La somme du Grand Véhicule d'Asaga (Mahāyānasagraha ); vol. 1, Version tibétaine et chinoise (Hsüan-tsang ); vol. 2, Traduction et commentaire. Louvain, 19381939. In the footnotes of the translation many passages of the commentaries by Vasubandhu and Asvabhāva are translated from Chinese.

Nagao Gadjin. Shōdaijōron: Wayaku to chūkai, vol. 1. Tokyo, 1982. The translation is based on the Tibetan version. A Chinese translation by Xuanzang is printed above the Japanese translation. The Tibetan text with a reconstituted Sanskrit text is also appended. Volume 1 covers up to the end of Chapter 2.

New Sources

Hopkins, Jeffrey. "A Tibetan Contribution on the Question of Mind-Only in the Early Yogic Practice School." Journal of Indian Philosophy 20 (1992): 275343.

Keenan, John P. "Asanga's Understanding of Madhyamika: Notes on the Shung-chung-lun." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 12, no. 1 (1989): 93107.

Prets, Ernst. "The Structure of Sadhana in the Abhidharmasamuccaya." Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Sudasiens und Archiv fur indische Philosophie 38 (1994): 337350.

Hattori Masaaki (1987)

Revised Bibliography