Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 263–281 | Cite as

Some Remarks on the Genesis of Central Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda Concepts

  • Lambert Schmithausen


The present paper is a kind of selective summary of my book The Genesis of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda (2014). [1.–2.] It deals with questions of origin and early development of three basic concepts of this school, viz., the ‘idealist’ thesis that the whole world is mind only (cittamātra) or manifestation only (vijñaptimātra), the assumption of a subliminal layer of the mind (ālayavijñāna), and the analysis of phenomena in terms of the “Three Natures” (svabhāvatraya). [3.] It has been asserted (H. Buescher) that these three basic concepts are logically inseparable and therefore must have been introduced conjointly. [4.] Still, from Vasubandhu onward treatises have been written in which only one of the three concepts is advocated or demonstrated to be indispensable, without any reference to the other two being made. Likewise, in most of the earlier Yogācāra treatises, the three concepts occur in different sections or contexts, or are even entirely absent, as vijñaptimātra in the Yogācārabhūmi (except for the Saṁdhinirmocanasūtra quotation) and ālayavijñāna in the Mahāyānasūtrālaṁkāra and Madhyāntavibhāga. [5.] It is therefore probable that the three concepts were introduced separately and for different reasons. [5.1.] As regards the concept of the “Three Natures”, I very hypothetically suggest that it was stimulated by the Tattvārthapaṭala of the Bodhisatvabhūmi. [5.2.1.] In the case of ālayavijñāna, I still think that my hypothesis that the concept (term + idea) originated from a problem emerging in connection with the “attainment of cessation” (nirodhasamāpatti) holds good and has not been conclusively refuted, but I admit that Prof. Yamabe?s hypothesis is a serious alternative. [5.2.2.] An important point is that in the Yogācārabhūmi we come across two fundamentally different concepts of ālayavijñāna, the starting point for the change being, probably, the fifth chapter of the Saṁdhinirmocanasūtra. [5.3.] As for ‘idealism’, we may have to distinguish two strands, which, however, tend to merge. [5.3.1.] The earlier one uses the concept cittamātra and emerges as early as in the Pratyutpanna-buddha-saṁmukhāvasthita-samādhi-sūtra in connection with an interpretation of visions of the Buddha Amitāyus. [5.3.2.] The later strand introduces the concept vijñaptimātra and seems to have originated in the eighth chapter of the Saṁdhinirmocanasūtra in connection with a reflection on the images perceived in insight meditation. [5.3.3.] In texts like the Mahāyānasūtrālaṁkāra, concepts from other Mahāyānasūtra strands (like abhūtaparikalpa) become prominent in this connection, and it is only in the Mahāyānasaṁgraha that the use of vijñaptimātra is finally established.


Yogācāra/Vijñānavāda Cittamātra Vijñaptimātra ‘Idealism’ Ālayavijñāna Svabhāvatraya 



Abhidharmasamuccaya, ed. by Gokhale, V.V. (1947). Fragments from the Abhidharmasamuccaya of Asaṃga. Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 23, 13–68.


Abhidharmasamuccayabhāṣya, ed. by Tatia, N. (1976). Abhidharmasamuccayabhāṣya. Patna: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute.


Madhyāntavibhāga, ed. in MAVBh.


Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya, ed. by Nagao, G. M. (1964). Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya. Tokyo: Suzuki Research Foundation.


Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, ed. by Lévi, S. (1907). Mahāyāna-Sūtrālaṃkāra. Paris: Librairie Honoré Champion.


Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya, ed. in MSA.


Mahāyānasaṁgraha ed. by Lamotte, É. (1938). La somme du grand véhicule d’Asanga (Mahāyānasaṁgraha). Louvain: Bureaux du Muséon.

S 2014

Schmithausen (2014).


Saṁdhinirmocanasūtra ed. by Lamotte, É. (1935). Saṁdhinirmocanasūtra. L’explication des mystères. Louvain: Université de Louvain.


Śrāvakabhūmi, ed. by Shukla, K. (1973). Śrāvakabhūmi. Patna: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute.


Śrāvakabhūmi, ed. by Śrāvakabhūmi Study Group, Taishō University (2007). Śrāvakabhūmi. Vol. II. Tokyo: Sankibo.


Yogācārabhūmi, ed. by Bhattacharya, V. (1957). Yogācārabhūmi. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Indian and Tibetan StudiesUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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