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STHIRAMATI . Although he was born in India, Indian Buddhist literature has almost nothing to say about Sthiramati (470550). Therefore, Tibetan and Chinese sources must be relied on for information on his life. According to Tibetan Buddhist historians, Sthiramati was born in Daakarāya, the son of a śūdra, and as a child studied under Vasubandhu (c. mid-fourth to mid-fifth centuries). Both Chinese pilgrim scholars Xuanzang (600?664) and Yijing (635713) mention Sthiramati as one of the great Buddhist philosophers and that he was a disciple of Guamati (c. 420500). In addition, in Chengweishilun shuji, Kuiji (632682), a disciple of Xuanzang, gives short biographies of the ten great Buddhist masters. He includes Sthiramati and names him as a student of Guamati. Kuiji also reports that Sthiramati hailed from the state of Laā in southern India and was an older contemporary of Dharmapāla (530561). Also, in the opening section of the Uighur translation of his Abhidharmakośabhāyaīkā Tattvārthanāma Sthiramati states explicitly that Guamati was his teacher. This is significant evidence to confirm the Chinese scholars' account that Sthiramati was a disciple of Guamati, not of Vasubandhu as the Tibetan historians asserted.

Both Tibetan and Chinese sources note that he dwelled at Nālandā. However, Sthiramati's name is closely associated with the city of Valabhī, and the fact that Sthiramati was one of the most renowned Buddhist masters at Valabhī is attested to by both Chinese Buddhist sources and historical documents. Regarding the dates of Sthiramati's life, Ui Hakuju suggested 470 to 550 whereas Erich Frauwallner suggested 510 to 570. Ui's date appears to be more plausible as a working hypothesis than the one established by Frauwallner because he based his calculation on Xuanzang, who, in turn relied on the dates of Dharmapāla as well as Śīlabhadra (529645). Ui also relied on the date of Guamati, which he established as around 420 to 500.

Extant Works

Sthiramati is mostly known through his two extant works in Sanskrit that have been edited and partially translated into western languages: the Madhyānta-vibhāgaīkā and the Triśikābhāya. However, the Tibetan tradition attributes thirteen works to the name Sthiramati. Among them seven are Tantric texts, although it is almost impossible to know whether the author of these works is the same Sthiramati. Of the remaining six, two are Tibetan translations of the Madhyāntavibhāgaīkā and the Triśikābhāya, and four are works of which the Sanskrit originals are lost, namely, Sūtrālakāravttibhāya, Pañcaskandhaprakaraavibhāa, Abhidharmakośabhāyaīkā Tattvārthanāma, and Ārya Mahāratnakūadharmaparyaya-śatasāhasrikā Kāśyapaparivartaīkā. The Chinese canon also contains four works under the name Anhui (Sthiramati): Jushelun shiyishu, Dacheng zhongguan shilun, Dacheng apidamo zajilun, and Dacheng guang wuyunlun. Among these the Jushelun shiyishu and the Dacheng guang wuyunlun appear to correspond respectively to the Abhidharmakośabhāyaīkā Tattvārthanāma and the Pañcaskandhaprakaraavibhāa (although they are different in contents), whereas the Dacheng apidamo zajilun and the Dacheng zhongguan shilun are works extant only in Chinese translation. Thus, in all, there are eight non-Tantric works that can be attributed with some certainty to Sthiramati.

Sthiramati was primarily a commentator and did not compose any independent treatise. His most significant contribution is in the field of Yogācāra philosophy. In his commentaries Sthiramati appears as a thinker who was mainly concerned with clarifying and systematizing Yogācāra philosophy, and, although he did have his preferences, he was not particularly interested in sectarian controversy. Sthiramati's commentaries on major Yogācāra texts, including the Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra and the Madhyāntavibhāga, show that one of his main intentions was to elucidate the Mahāyāna concept of enlightenment (bodhi) or buddhahood, expressed by the term dharmadhātu, and its soteriological implications as the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path. These issues are discussed at great length in his two larger works: the Madhyāntavibhāgaīkā and the Sūtrālakāravttibhāya.

YogĀcĀra Thought

Sthiramati's systematic understanding of Yogācāra philosophy is found most succinctly in his Triśikābhāya. According to this, ordinary people are inclined to impose the concepts of persons (pudgala) and phenomena (dharma) on the realities that in truth consist of moment-to-moment processes of cognitions (citta or vijñapti ) caused by their own conditions. The view of self (or person) constitutes afflictive obstruction (kleśāvaraa) that hinders liberation (moka) whereas the construct of phenomena leads to cognitive obstruction that hinders omniscience (saravajñatva). The teaching of mind-only (cittamātra) or cognition-only (vijnaptimātra) is to enable unenlightened people to understand the selflessness of persons (pudgalanairātmya) and the selflessness of phenomena (dharmanairātmya). The constructed duality of persons and phenomena (grāhakagrāhyadvaya) is of imagined nature (parikal-pitasvabhāva) and is ultimately nonexistent. However, this dualistic concept is constructed based on the transformation of consciousness (vijñānapariāma) or cognition-only (vijnaptimātra), which is of a dependent nature (paratan-trasvabhāva). To see that realities are cognition-only and free from the superimposition of the duality of persons and phenomena is to realize their true nature (parinpan-nasvhabhāva). Because the knowledge of the selflessness of persons is an antidote to the false view of self and because the knowledge of the selflessness of phenomena is an antidote to cognitive obstructions, to remove afflictive and cognitive obstructions is to achieve liberation and omniscience or buddhahood.

According to Sthiramati, the teaching of vijñaptimātra (i.e., things do not exist with intrinsic natures but are only the transformations of consciousness) is to refute the errors of the two extreme views: (1) that the objects, like consciousness (vijñāna), are real; and (2) that, like the objects, consciousness only exists conventionally but not ultimately.

Due to the lack of translation of his works into Chinese, Sthiramati did not get as much appreciation as Dharmapāla in the Chinese tradition. Chinese Buddhists' interpretations of Sthiramati's views on Yogācāra tend to be fragmentary and at times unfounded, and his more important contributions went unknown.

See Also

Buddhism, overview article; Enlightenment; Vasubandhu; Yogācāra.


Frauwallner, Erich. "Landmarks in the History of Indian Logic." Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd und Ostasiens 5 (1961): 125148.

Friedman, David Lasar, trans. Madhyāntavibhāgaīkā: Analysis of the Middle Path and the Extremes. Utrecht, 1937. A translation of the first chapter.

Jacobi, Hermann, trans. Triśsikavijñapti des Vasubandhu mit bhāya des ācārya Sthiramati. Stuttgart, 1932.

Lévi, Sylvain. Une systéme de philosophie bouddhique. matériaux pour l'étude du systéme Vijñaptimātra. Paris, 1932.

O'Brien, Paul Wilfred, trans. "A Chapter on Reality from the Madhyāntavibhāgaśāstrā." Monumentica Nipponica 9 & 10 (195354): 277303; 227269.

Tekin, Sinaşi, ed. Abhidharma-Kośabhāyaīkā Tattvārtha-nāma. The Uigur Translation of Sthiramati's Commentary on Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośaśāstra. New York, 1970.

Ui Hakuju. Anne Gohō yuishiki sanjussho shakuron. Tokyo, 1953.

Yamaguchi, Susumu. Sthiramati, Madhyāntavibhāgaīkā: Exposition systématique du Yogācāravijñaptivāda. 3 vols. Nagoya, Japan, 19341937.

Cuong Tu Nguyen (2005)