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The Abhidharmakośa (Treasury of Abhidharma) was composed by the fourth- or fifth-century Indian Buddhist master, Vasubandhu. No scholarly consensus exists concerning whether or not Vasubandhu, the author of the Abhidharmakośa, should be identified with Vasubandhu, the author of numerous MahĀyĀna and YogĀcĀra school treatises. According to traditional biographical accounts, Vasubandhu composed the verses of the Abhidharmakośa, or kārikā, as a digest of orthodox Kashmiri Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika abhidharma doctrine. However, in his prose auto-commentary, the bhāṣya, Vasubandhu frequently criticized Sarvāstivāda doctrinal positions and presented his own divergent interpretations.

Typical of the later abhidharma genre of polemical, summary digests, the Abhidharmakośa attempts to present the entirety of abhidharma doctrinal teaching according to a logical format, while also recording variant, sectarian interpretations and often lengthy arguments on specific points. For his organizational structure and much of his content, Vasubandhu relied upon earlier abhidharma treatises: notably, for content, upon the massive scholastic compendia (vibhāṣā) of Kashmir, and for structure and tenor of interpretation, upon the Abhidharmahṛdaya (Heart of Abhidharma) texts of Gandharā. The Abhidharmakośa is divided into nine chapters (nirdeśa):

  1. Elements (dhātu)
  2. Faculties (indriya)
  3. Worlds (loka)
  4. Action (karma)
  5. Contaminants (anuśaya)
  6. Path of Religious Praxis and Religious Persons (mārgapudgala)
  7. Knowledge (jñāna)
  8. Meditative States (samāpatti)
  9. Person (pudgala)

The ninth chapter contains a refutation of the theory of the existence of the person and may represent a separate treatise by Vasubandhu, appended to the remainder of the Abhidharmakośa. The Abhidharmakośa became the most influential early Indian Buddhist Abhidharma text within the later scholastic traditions of Tibet and East Asia, where it served as a textbook within monastic curricula and generated numerous commentaries.

See also:Abhidharma; Dharma and Dharmas; Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda


La Vallée Poussin, Louis de, trans. L'Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, 6 vols. Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1923–1931. English trans. Leo M. Pruden, Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam, Vols. 1–4. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1988–1990.

Collett Cox