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DHARMAPĀLA (530561), Indian Buddhist thinker associated with the Yogācāra school and founder of a Vijñānavāda ("consciousness only") tradition that was to become highly influential in the scholastic traditions of East Asian Buddhism. His numerous followers include Śīlabhadra, his successor as abbot of Nālandā and teacher of the famous Chinese monk Xuanzang (569664). It was Xuanzang who introduced Dharmapāla's thought to China, where, under the name of Faxiang ("dharma characteristics"), it supplanted the traditions transmitted by Paramārtha (499569) and Bodhiruci (d. 527) to become the dominant form of Yogācāra there. The Faxiang "school" was introduced to Japan beginning in the late seventh century by the monk Dōshō (629710), enjoyed three subsequent transmissions, and, as the Hossō school (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Faxiang), became perhaps the most eminent of the six scholastic traditions that flouished during the Nara period (710784).

The eldest son of a minister in Kāñcīpuram, Dharmapāla became a Buddhist monk in his youth. He studied Buddhism at the Nālandā monastic university and later became its head. In several doctrinal debates Dharmapāla defeated philosophers representing both non-Buddhist and Buddhist (especially Hīnayāna) opinion. At twenty-nine, however, realizing that he was not destined to live long, he retired from his post at Nālandā to concentrate on writing. He died two years later. Despite the relative brevity of his career, Dharmapāla wrote a number of works, some of which are preserved in the Chinese canon. These include the Guansuo yuan lun shi (T.D. No. 1625), the Cheng wei shi lun (T.D. no. 1585), and the Dasheng guang bolun shi lun (T.D. no. 1571). The second of these, Xuanzang's translation of the Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi, a compilation of ten commentaries on Vasubandhu's Triśika (Thirty verses), includes a commentary by Dharmapāla's own hand. More than a mere gloss of the original text of Vasubandhu, however, Dharmapāla's commentary constitutes an original doctrinal treatise in its own right.

Unlike the Mādhyamika thinkers, who concentrated on the refutation of fallacies without explaining how the magic (i.e., the illusion, in Buddhist terms) of "self" should arise in every living being, Dharmapāla offered an intricate analysis of this process from the Yogācāra point of view. This analysis begins with an interpretation of causality, or "dependent co-origination" (pratītya-samutpāda ): every action creates a pattern or potential for future action, just as in legal cases a single decision becomes a precedent for the future. The precedents, karmic residues in this case, are technically referred to as "seeds" (bīja ), which are "deposited," as it were, in a "receptacle" or "store" consciousness, from which, under the proper conditions, they manifest themselves at some future time. The process by which actions "deposit" seeds in the subconscious is known as "impression" (vāsāna ); the actualization of these seeds in the mental life of the being involved is known as "manifestation."

The accumulation of these numerous potentials suggests a division of labor between the storage function, the coordinating function, and the discriminating function. In Yogācāra thought, these functions represent concrete activities of different levels and types of consciousness, usually numbered eight in the system championed by Dharmapāla. The storage function is referred to as ālaya-vijñāna ("storehouse consciousness"). It is the ālaya that receives the bīja s deposited by actions and as such functions as a karmic repository in which the continuity of past actions in the stream of an individual's lives is preserved. The coordinating function is called the "cognitive" center (manas ); it serves to synchronize all the activities of mind so that they function as an integrated whole. It is the manas that, turning inward, fails to perceive that the ālaya essentially has no existence other than the seeds that it stores, and thus falsely imputes to the ālaya the permanence and unity of a self or ātman. Such a (false) belief in the existence of a self is traditionally regarded by Buddhists as the very source of suffering. Ordinary sentient beings (as opposed to Buddhas and very highly advanced bodhisattvas ) are unaware of the actions of these two functions. Ālaya and manas thus constitute unconscious functions of mind.

The discriminating function is represented by the six types of consciousnesses of which we are all aware: the five senses and the thinking process itself (mano-vijñāna ). These, like the manas, are ultimately the very creations, "evolutes," of the seeds stored in the ālaya, which manifest themselves under the proper causal conditions as our psychophysical "selves." What appears in consciousness, under this interpretation, is thus not an external reality but simply the products of previous actions and cognitions thrown into consciousness by the functioning of the ālaya. Thus the mind, which should be indivisible, is, in Dharmapāla's view, fundamentally fractured into subjective and objective components: that which is conscious and that which we are conscious of.

The interaction of the three functions, further complicated by the subject-object split, transforms the reality of the illusional existence of living beings. These functions are therefore referred to as the "three sources of transformation." What is usually called "self" is merely the "subject portion" of the ālaya as interpreted by the manas. Similarly, what is usually called the "external world" is the "object portion," a mere sense of externality. Whether or not there exists a world outside of consciousness is not at issue here: it is the sense of externality that obtains within consciousness that is the subject of Dharmapāla's analysis, for deliverance or enlightenment consists in realizing that the "self" and the "real" world are mere reifications, enforced in language, of consciousness.

Yogācāra analysis of reality, a term as ambiguous in Sanskrit as it is in English, thus must take into account the varying ways in which a thing may be construed as real. According to Yogācāra doctrine, a "triple nature" (trisvabhāva ) is inherent in all things. First, there is the sense in which all things are mere constructs of mind, mental fabrications devoid of reality outside of the consciousness that creates them. This character of things is referred to as parikalpita-lakaa ("imaginary character"). Second, there is the sense in which things are dependently originated, devoid of any independent reality but "real" in the sense that they exist as part of a nexus of events that mutually condition and reinforce each other. This character of things is referred to as paratantra-lakaa ("dependent character"). Finally, things are characterized as "ultimately real" when viewed without the distortions of conceptualization. But what constitutes this "perfected character" (parinipanna-lakaa ) is precisely the "emptiness" (śūnyatā ) of the thing, its lack of self-nature (svabhāva ) or the "ultimate absence of a reality-in-its-own-right." Such a reality is also referred to as "suchness" (tathatā ).

Dharmapāla's Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi was the subject of at least three major commentaries (T.D. nos. 1830, 1831, 1832) and a host of subcommentaries. Although Faxiang thought failed to survive the challenges posed by the creation of the new, more fully sinicized, Buddhist traditions of the Tang period (618907), its doctrines were kept alive in the wide dissemination of the commentaries to the Cheng wei shi lun. In Japan, Hossō thought continues to this day to serve as part of the basic Buddhist training of scholars and clerics alike.

See Also

Ālaya-vijñāna; Kuiji; Paramārtha; Tathatā; Vasubandhu; Xuanzang; Yogācāra.


Fukaura Seibun. Yuishikigaki kenkyū. 2 vols. Kyoto, 1954.

Fukihara Akinobu. Gohōshū yuishikikō. Kyoto, 1954.

La Vallée Poussin, Louis de, ed. and trans. Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-tsang. 2 vols. Paris, 19281929.

Nakamura Hajime. "A Brief Survey of Japanese Studies on the Philosophical Schools of the Mahāyāna." Acta Asiatica l (1960): 6788.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. Indian Philosophy, vol. l. 2d ed. London, 1927. Dharmapāla's contributions to Buddhist thought are discussed in the chapter entitled "The Yogācāras."

Sharma, Chandradhar. A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Livingston, N. J., 1971. For treatment of Dharmapāla, see chapters entitled "Vijñānavāda" and "Svatantra-Vijñānavāda."

Ueda, Yoshifumi. "Two Main Streams of Thought in Yogācāra Philosophy." Philosophy East and West 17 (1967): 155165.

New Sources

Keenan, J. P., ed. Dharmapalas's Yogacara Critique of Bhavaviveka's Madhyamika: Explanation of Emptiness: The Tenth Chapter of Ta-ch'eng Kuang pai-lun shih lun, Commenting on Aryadeva's Catuhsataka Chapter Sixteen. Lewiston, N.Y., 1997.

Tillemans, T. J. F. Materials for the Study of Aryadeva, Dharmapala and Candrakirti: The Catuhsataka of Aryadeva, Chapters XII and XIII, with the Commentaries of Dharmapala and Candrakirti. Vienna, 1990.

Vasubandhu, et al. Treatise in Thirty Verses on Mere-Consciousness: A Critical English Translation of Hsüan-tsang's Chinese Version of the Vijñaptimatratatrimsika with Notes from Dharmapala's Commentary in Chinese. Delhi, 1992.

Richard S. Y. Chi (1987)

Revised Bibliography