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Asaṅga (ca. 320–ca. 390) is regarded as the founder of the Yogācāra tradition of MhĀyĀna philosophy. His biography reports that he was born in PuruṢapura, India, and converted to Mahāyāna from the HĪnayĀna, later convincing his brother Vasubandhu to make the same move. Together they systematized the teachings of Yogācāra, authoring the main Yogācāra commentaries and treatises. Asaṅga's many works include Abhidharmasamuccaya (A Compendium of Abhi-dharma), which presents and defines technical terms and usages, and the Xīanyang shengjiao lun, extant only in Chinese translation, a text that summarizes the truly compendious Yogācārabhūmi (Stages of Yogic Practice), with which he is also connected as author/editor. Other commentaries are attributed to him on important Yogācāra and some Prajñāpāramitā and Madhyamaka works as well. By far his principal work is the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (Summary of the Great Vehicle), in which he presents the tenets of Yogācāra in clear and systematic fashion, moving step by step, first explaining the basic notion of the storehouse consciousness and its functional relationship to the mental activities of sensing, perceiving, and thinking, then outlining the structure of consciousness in its three patterns of the other-dependent (dependent arising applied to the very structure of consciousness), the imagined, and the perfected, which is the other-dependent emptied of clinging to the imagined. He then sketches how the Asan mind constructs its world; he develops a critical philosophy of mind that, in place of abhidharma's naive realism, can understand understanding, reject its imagined pattern, and—having attained the perfected state of ŚŪnyatĀ (emptiness)—engage in other-dependent thinking and action. Asaṅga thereby reaffirms the conventional value of theory, which had appeared to be disallowed by earlier Madhyamaka dialectic. He treats the practices conducive to awakening (perfections, stages, discipline, concentration, and nonimaginative wisdom) and finally turns to the abandonment of delusion and the realization of buddhahood as the three bodies of awakening. Asaṅga's work is a compendium of critical Yogācāra understanding of the mind.

See also:Consciousness, Theories of; Madhyamaka School; Yogācāra School


Keenan, John P., trans. The Summary of the Great Vehicle by Bodhisattva Asaṅ ga (Translated from the Chinese of Paramārtha). Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1992.

Lamotte, Étienne, ed. and trans. La Somme du Grand Véhicule d'Asaṅga (Mahāyānasamgraha), Vol. 1: Version tibétaine et chinoise (Hiuan-tsang); Vol. 2: Traduction et commentaire. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 1938–39. Reprint, 1973.

Rahula, Walpola, ed. and trans. Le compendium de la super-doctrine (Abhidharmasamuccaya) d'Asaṅga. Paris: École Française d'Extrême-Orient, 1971. Reprint, 1980.

John P. Keenan