Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 565–601 | Cite as

Three Senses of Atomic Accumulation—An Interpretation of Vasubandhu’s Viṃśikā Stanzas 12–13 in Light of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya and Dharmapāla’s Dasheng Guangbailun Shilun

  • Ching KengEmail author


Vasubandhu’s Twenty Stanzas (Viṃśikā) is among the most influential anti-Realist philosophical treatises in the history of Indian Buddhism. In particular, his refutation of the theories about the accumulation of atoms (paramāṇu) in stanza 12 if often regarded as compelling or even conclusive. But if this is the case, then the transition from stanza 12 to 13 would seem very odd, because in stanza 13 Vasubandhu bothers himself with yet another version of atomic accumulation. In this paper, I give an interpretation of stanzas 12–13 by drawing clues from the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya and Dharmapāla’s Dasheng guangbailun shilun (Taishō 1571). I argue that Vasubandhu’s refutation in stanza 12 is valid only if we assume that the only possible way atoms can accumulate is by means of physical contacts with neighboring atoms. Conversely, if the opponents do not accept this assumption, then Vasubandhu’s refutation would miss its target. Given that stanza 13 cites the theory of the Kāśmīravaibhāṣikas and seeks to refute it, we must interpret that the Kāśmīravaibhāṣikas hold that atoms can form an accumulation in which atoms do not come into physical contact with each other, because this would be the only way to deal with the challenge previously posed in stanza 12. Dharmapāla provides more details about this theory and seeks to refute it again. Assuming the same Vasubandhu to be the author of Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, in which the author deals with the same issue, we must judge that Vasubandhu himself is quite aware of the limitations of his refutation in stanza 12, and this explains why he feels the need to devote stanza 13 to further refuting the theory of the Kāśmīravaibhāṣikas. However, I also argue that Vasubandhu’s refutation of this theory fails. If my argument holds, then we must conclude that the refutation of the accumulation of atoms in the Twenty Stanzas may not be successful. This explains, at least in part, why Dignāga feels the need to find new arguments in his Ālambanaparīkṣā.


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This work was supported by the Academy of Korean Studies (KSPS) Grant funded by the Korean Government (MOE) (AKS-2012-AAZ-2102) and by Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST 106-2410-H-004-169-MY3). My special thanks are due to Professor Jeson Woo for involving me in the very prestigious project. I would like to thank the following scholars for their insightful comments and suggestions: Eli Franco, Shōryū Katsura, Tōru Funayama, Ven. K.L. Dhammajoti, Jeson Woo, Dan Lusthaus, Achim Bayer and Michael Radich. Thanks also to Michel Radich and Ernest Brewster for their generous help with editing my manuscript.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Chengchi UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

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