‘PROVING MIND-ONLY’ (成唯識論; Chéng Wéishì Lùn), XUANZANG’S TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY OF VASUBANDHU’S ‘THIRTY VERSES’ AND ITS TEN GREAT INDIAN COMMENTARIES: A CHINESE NEW YEAR OFFERING AND TRIBUTE. (17th Karmapa January 2023, Day One)

The mind is like an artist;
The mind makes the aggregates.
All these worlds that there are
In the universe are painted by mind.

–from the Avataṃsaka Sutra

“The purpose of my journey is not to obtain personal offerings. It is because I regretted, in my country, the Buddhist doctrine was imperfect and the scriptures were incomplete. Having many doubts, I wish to go and find out the truth, and so I decided to travel to the West at the risk of my life in order to seek for the teachings of which I have not yet heard, so that the Dew of the Mahayana sutras would have not only been sprinkled at Kapilavastu, but the sublime truth may also be known in the eastern country.”

—Xuanzang (Translator: Li Yung-hsi)

“Dharmapāla said: “After I have passed away, if anyone wants to read this text, then they first have to pay you two ounces of gold, if they can give you that, only then should you let them read the text.  One day if there happens to be someone of really superior ability and intelligence, then just give the commentary to them.” This is like a will he left. None long after that he passed away.”

“This commentary by Xuanzang, is like a text from the time when the Mind-Only was at its pinnacle, we can say that. Not only that, among all the commentaries on the Thirty Verses we have, it is the most important, complete and authoritative.”
—17th Karmapa (January 2023)

Introduction

For the Chinese New Year today, I offer this short article (and part transcript) on the legacy of one of the great Sanskrit-Chinese translator-scholar-writer, Xuanzang 玄奘, [i], translator of many great Indian Buddhist texts, including the Thirty Verses by Vasubandhu (the Triṃśikā-vijñaptimātratā) and the ten major Indian commentaries on the Thirty Verses, that he  combined into a single commentary on the text Proving Mind-Only (成唯識論; Chéng Wéishì Lùn, Tibetan: རྣམ་རིག་ཙམ་དུ་གྲུབ་པའི་བསྟན་བཅོས། Namrig Tsamdu Drubpai Tencho), as recently explained a few days ago by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje  in his ongoing online teachings on Vasubandhu’s text, for video see here.

This extraordinary teaching by a living Tibetan Buddhist master, on the origin of the Thirty Verses, the commentaries on it and the enormous and courageous efforts of both Xuanzang and his equally amazing student, Kuījī (窥基; 632–682), also known as Ji ( 基) to translate and preserve the main Indian commentaries on it, is unique in its depth and scholarship, and inspiring too. Without these Chinese commentaries, the Karmapa asserted that we would not know anything about the Indian commentaries, which are no longer extant. In addition, the Karmapa describes how Xuanzang came to receive the Vasubandhu root text himself, which had been handed down to a layperson student by Vasubandhu himself before he passed away and then how Xuanzang came to compose his own translation and compiled commentary on the text. The Karmapa also then later explains (in the following days) how the Chinese translators produced their translations.

Even to a contemporary observer, Xuanzang’s heroic efforts, courage, energy, intellect and intention are worthy of great praise, and this was how he came to be given Vasubandhu’s  text himself without the need for any payment for it.  Having recently visited Nalanda University ruins this year (more on that in another post), I was filled with a sense of awe at the Dharma activity that had taken place there but also at the importance of Xuanzang even for understanding Nalanda. The Indian guide explained that most of the information he was using had come from Xuanzang’s writings about it.

The fact that over 1500 years later, people still read and study his text, like the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, shows how such efforts can have great impact in the future for students and scholars of Buddha Dharma.   Thus, it is with that sense of awe and wonder, I offer this brief overview and part transcript of the Day One teaching on this topic for the Chinese New Year.

May we all feel inspired to study, write, translate and spread the Buddha Dharma as much as possible, to the highest possible standards whenever (and wherever) possible!

 Music?  Moving scene where after months of arduous travel, Xuanzang meets Indian master at Nalanda: Spoken Sanskrit from Chinese film “XUAN ZANG”| XUAN ZANG entry in Nalanda University.  Musical Tribute to Xuanzang, the monk of the Great Tang – [Journey to the West 1986 西遊記] and for Xuanzang’s astounding, heroic travels and efforts, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and Hero by Mariah Carey. For some Chinese New Year joy and laughter, and for the 17th Karmapa (who once said people told him he looked like Kung Fu Panda), Hero.

Compiled and written by Adele Tomlin, 22nd January 2023.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ORIGIN OF THE THIRTY VERSES AND ITS CHINESE COMMENTARIES
Indian Pandita, Vasubandhu (Yig-nyen in Tibetan)

Picking up from last year’s teaching (February-March 2022), the 17th Karmapa has been (and is currently) teaching again on the Mind-Only text the Thirty Verses by Vasubandhu. He first explained that as there was a Tibetan grammar text called the Thirty Verses, it would be better if it were called the Thirty Verses on Mind-Only like the Chinese translation of the text.

Karmapa then summarised last year’s teachings by talking about how he had already taught on the Mind-Only philosophy, the origin of Mind-Only and how it had spread from India into China, Tibet and so on. Then abot how the Tibetans translated the Mind-Only texts[ii], developed the Zhentong view later, and the differences between Mind-Only and Zhentong.

For example, last year, the Karmapa spoke about why the Mind-Only never really spread in Tibet, unlike in China. He asserted that this was because the Tibetans had not treated the view of these texts fairly and misrepresented their meaning.

“As we will see, there’s been study and interpretation of Mind Only texts in Tibet from early days. But—as just mentioned—no school developed based on these texts, nor did Mind Only masters propagate that philosophy. In particular, the influence of Candrakirti’s Consequentialist school during the period of the later transmission predisposed Tibetans to think that Mind Only was not in accord with the Middle Way view; rather, they believed that Mind Only was opposed to it. A rigid, dictatorial way of looking at Mind Only developed.

In sum, Tibetans have not treated the Mind Only school fairly. As in the tradition of debating between schools, Tibetans insistently point out others’ faults and don’t look at their own. Tibetans treat the Mind Only in this way. We need to be impartial and feel an appreciation and affinity for this school. Perhaps the Middle Way objections to this philosophy apply, or perhaps they don’t. We need a more open-minded attitude toward this school so that it can be properly understood.”

For a transcript of those teachings, see here and here.

OUTLINE OF THIS YEAR’S TEACHINGS

Picking up from last year’s teachings, where Karmapa spoke about some of the main texts and commentaries on Mind-Only (see here) [iii], on Day One the 17th Karmapa first outlined what he was going to teach, before getting to the actual text:

  • The way the root text, the Thirty Verses originated
  • The way the Commentaries on the Thirty Verses originated
  • The way the commentary Proving the Mind-Only and the Commentaries about it originated
  • Introduction to the teachings in those commentaries
  • Introduction to the main meaning of those commentaries and discussions of the Proving the Mind-Only commentary
  • Brief introduction to the ancient translation methods
  • Introduction to the Masters who gave commentaries on the Thirty Verses, Kuiji, Lenthai and Hentru.
  • Discussion of Kuiji’s commentary on The Difficult Points in Proving the Mind-Only
1. THE WAY THE ROOT TEXT, THE THIRTY VERSES ORIGINATED

The Karmapa first explained a little about the root text itself:

“Vasubandhu wrote many works, but the Thirty Verses is the most profound in its meaning and is also the last text he wrote.  In the Chinese version there are only 600 syllables per line, in the Tibetan version there are 700 syllables. In the Chinese there are 5 syllables per line, in the Tibetan there are 7 syllables.”

Karmapa then showed a quote from Kuiji’s Chinese commentary that says that even though it is short, Vasubandhu explains the most profound and secret points of the Mahayana. Sadly, Vasubandhu did not have time to write a commentary on them before he passed away.

“It is very complicated and profound, so it is difficult for beginners to understand the profound meaning of the text. That is why many Indian scholars wrote commentaries on it later. In total, there were 34 authors who wrote commentaries on the Mind-Only.

Another tradition, says at that time there were 28 authors who wrote commentaries. There were a lot of commentaries but they were unable to teach the actual meaning of the Verses in its entirety. The ten great authors of commentaries appeared later, so they were able to explain the texts in accord with the meaning.  I mentioned these last year.  These were by

    • Bandhuśri,
    • Citrabhāṇa,
    • Guṇamati,
    • Dharmapāla,
    • Sthiramati,
    • Śudhacandra,
    • Jinaputra,
    • Jñānacandra,
    • Nanda, and
    • Viśeṣamitra (also known as Jinamitra)

 Each of their commentaries were 10 fascicles, so that means 100 volumes of commentaries by the ten commentators.”

Portrait of Kuiji (絹本著色慈恩大師像, kenpon chakushoku jion daishizō). Hanging scroll, 161.2 cm x 129.2 cm. Color on silk. Located at Yakushi-ji, Nara, Nara.

 

2. THE WAY THE COMMENTARIES ON THE THIRTY VERSES ORIGINATED

The Karmapa then showed this slide about the origin of the Indian commentaries on the Thirty Verses:

“Even among the ten commentators. We might ask which was the best? Most people might say the on written by Dharmapala is the best. This quote is in Chinese from Master Kuiji’s Commentary[iv] and explains why Dharmapala’s is so important and the best, and an explanation of its origin.

If I speak about the meaning in general, Dharmapala and the other Bodhisattvas and Acaryas who wrote the commentaries had read the Thirty Verses and then each of them wrote their own commentary. Among the ten, each has its own extraordinary features. According to Kuiji, the one that really stands out is the one by Dharmapala.

So how did Dharmapala write the commentary? When he reached 29, he developed renunciation for samsara and sat near the Bodhi Tree for three years meditating on samadhi/dhyana. In the breaks, he wrote this commentary on the Thirty Verses.

At this point, Kuiji really praises and elevated Dharmapala and is a really excellent person. I won’t got into detail. In brief, he says, when we look at the commentary in terms of the style of composition or the explanation of the topics, however we look at it, each word of the commentary reverses clinging, and even half a stanza can resolve a dispute between different schools previously in conflict. His commentary is superior to those by a thousand scholars and is one of the hundred finest works there are.

What is important here is that the actual text of this commentary is no longer extant and we cannot find it. So, if it has been lost, then how can we learn about it? How did we have the fortune to know about this commentary? It is because of the commentary by Xuanzang as it is based on Dharmapala’s commentary. It also combines all the main points of the ten different commentaries and explains them. The main one is Dharmapala’s commentary and it quotes many passages from that text. So, we can study that commentary via Xuanzang’s commentary.”

[Compiler’s Note: Dharmapāla ( 護法, Hùfǎ) (530–561 CE). A Buddhist scholar, was one of the main teachers of the Yogacara school in India. He was a contemporary of Bhavaviveka (清辯, c. 490-570 CE.), with whom he debated.]

3. THE WAY XUANZANG ‘S COMMENTARY ON IT ORIGINATED

In terms of how Xuanzang got that commentary and how he came across it, this is also described in the commentary by Master Kuiji.

“This quote is in Chinese, but explaining it roughly. After Dharmapāla had finished his commentary, there was a Buddhist layperson named Xuán Jiàn who had extremely great faith as well as great knowledge and intelligence. For those reasons, Dharmapala entrusted the commentary to this layperson. In addition, he said

“After I have passed away, if anyone wants to read this text, then they first have to pay you two ounces of gold, if they can give you that, then only then should you let them read the text.  One day if there happens to be someone of really superior intelligence, then just give the commentary to them.” This is like a will he left. None long after that Dharmapala passed away. It seems he was quite young, in his twenties or thirties when he passed away.

This is like a will he left. None long after that Dharmapala passed away. It seems he was quite young, in his twenties or thirties when he passed away.

So how is it that Xuan Zang got the commentary? That time was the same period as when Xuanzang was travelling to India and studying there. He wrote about his travels to India and if he had not done that it would have been very difficult to identify the sacred sited in India. This is a topic we can discuss later when we speak about the life of Xuanzang.  After the layperson got the commentary, at the same time Xuanzang was travelling through India. There are said to be great four great authors in India and one of them is Tang Xuanzang. The story about the Monkey and the Pig is just a story, but the character. This is described by Master Kuiji, these Chinese words are the original Chinese of Kuijis’s commentary.

So, in this it describes how Xuanzang was an extraordinary being and he was able to immediately know who was a great being and who was not. Ordinary people cannot immediately know this. However, because of his great prajna and intelligence he could easily see that. If he knew someone was wise and learned he would go to that person to get Dharma teachings, and put a lot of effort into doing that. There were a lot of sacred sites in India and visited them all. Likewise, in terms of treatises, there were none he had not read. He also memorised them and worked very hard. If he heard that would be a great being in a place where there would be a teaching on Dharma, he would immediately go with great enthusiasm to listen to the Dharma.

So, for that reason, the layperson who had the commentary thought to himself that this is the person I should give the commentary to in accordance with Dharmapala’s last will, and that he was a suitable person. So, he gave Xuanzang the commentary as well as Dharmapala’s Commentary on the Five Aggregates.

“As he read these treatises, it felt exactly the same as seeing Dharmapala in person, like he was actually hearing the words. After that, he went to Nalanda and continued studying the Mind-Only with Acharya Shilabhadra. When he returned to China, he took this commentary as the primary one and combined it with the others, and that is how his commentary on Mind-Only came to be written.

There are not only ten commentaries, there were many different ones, but the ones that were well-known at that time in India were ten. Among these ten, are the manuscripts still available? Mostly not. Among them only one remains the one by Acharya Stiramathi.  This commentary we can get the Sanskrit manuscript for it and it has also been translated into Tibetan and is in the Tengyur.  The others are probably lost. What is fortunate is that Xuanzang translated them all in his commentary and because that is still extant, we can understand what it was like when these ten were written.

This commentary by Xuanzang, is like a text from the time when the Mind-Only was at its pinnacle/zenith, we can say that. Not only that, among all the commentaries on the Thirty Verses we have, it is the most important, complete and authoritative. We can say this fairly.”

3.3 HOW AND WHY DID THE XUANZANG COMMENTARY ARISE?

“As I was saying, this treatise Proving the Mind-Only (Cheng Weishi Lun (成唯識論; Chéng Wéishì Lùn) is extremely important and complete on the Thirty Verses. The main topic or basis for discussion on the Thirty Verses is this commentary by Xuanzang.

So, what is the origin of this text? When was this translated from the Sanskrit. Kuiji’s commentary does not say when that happened, the date or time. There was an old index or catalogue, the Kaiyuan Catalog of Buddhist Works, that was compiled during the time of the Tang dynasty. What is says is that, in the 4th year of the Emperor Zhongzhong’s reign, the latter tenth month of that year (there was a double tenth month that year), in 659 CE.  I have translated this in Tibetan here:

“Proving Mind Only, ten fascicles. Refers to 内典录. Written by Bodhisattva Dharmapāla et al. In the latter tenth month of the fourth year of Zhongzong’s reign at Light of Cloud Temple at Yuhua Monastery. The scribe was Dacheng Ji.”

The “et al” here indicates that the Treatise Proving the Mind Only is a compilation of ten different commentaries. The scribe’s name means ”Mahayana”, which is another name for Kuiji. When Master Kuiji mentioned his own name, he would use “Dacheng Ji” or simply “Ji”. The use of the name “Kuiji” became prevalent after the Song dynasty, remarked Karmapa.

How was Xuanzang’s treatise compiled and translated? Kuiji wrote about that in his commentary The Difficult Points on the Treatise Proving Mind-Only.  I won’t read them all, but the basic meaning is that during the 4th year 659 CE, he began to translate and compile this commentary on Mind-Only.

So, Xuanzang wanted to translate all of the commentaries, and he had four main helpers. Shén Fǎng was to edit it for style, Jiā Shàng was the scribe, Pǔguāng was the proofreader, and Kuiji was to check the accuracy of the translation’s meaning. Among these four, Kuiji was the youngest, and the other three were senior scholars with a great deal of experience. For example, Shen Fang was the first scholar to participate in Xuanzang’s translation work. He was learned in all the scriptures and commentaries of the Mahayana and Foundation vehicles, so he was held in high esteem by all the students there at that time.

In a couple of days, I will speak about their translation methods. Jia Shang had been Xuanzang’s scribe three times, and Puguang had done so twenty-five times.  In any case, among these four scholars, the youngest was Kuiji, the other three were senior to him in experience and age. I will speak later about what being a scribe means. All the other scholars were senior and more experienced so why would he choose Kuiji to participate in this project? The way he acted showed his great confidence and regard for Kuiji. Something we should be surprised about is that once Kuiji began on it, he asked if he could resign from the project, because he did not feel he could do it. When he asked to resign, Xuanzang felt this was strange and said why do you want to resign? He asked him many times. Only after asking a few times, only then did Xuanzang understand that Kuiji had an idea about Xuanzang’s plan for the translation.

Kuiji felt that if all the commentaries were translated into Chinese it was not necessary. He raised an objection to it. His hope was that they could combine all the main points of all the works and make a single treatise on them all. Kuiji thought that there are many disagreements among the explanations, so if they were all translated, then if they were unable to combine all these differences and assertions in one text, then in the future, if students saw all these differences and so on. they would become confused and would not know which position to take and so on. The other thing is that human life is short, and our capacities are limited. So, if we need to master the interpretations of all the commentaries it is too difficult and no person could do that in their lifetime. That it would be better to take their essence and combine all the good parts of them, so there could be a single, authoritative text for the Chinese students.

Xuanzang thought about this for a long time, and though it would not be right to do that. Later, he accepted the idea as a good one.  He told the other helpers they did not need to help any more on the translation project and he put all the responsibility on Kuiji to help. So, it was mainly the two of them who translated it. That is the origin of Xuanzang’s commentary[v].”

OTHER COMMENTARIES ON THE THIRTY VERSES

“As I explained before, in India there were many commentaries on the Thirty Verses but most have been lost. We can only really count them now on our hand. They are rare and few.

So in terms of others, there is only one in Chinese, that written by the Ming dynasty master Trizhou, a single fascicle.  There are some old Japanese texts, someone called Jokei, he was a 12th Century master, and he wrote a commentary on the Thirty Verses, but this is very short. Other than that, there are two other outlines or summaries of the Thirty Verses, on is Hiroshi Shuichi and Sakai Daien.

Among modern Japanese texts, there is also one by the Japanese scholar by Genshin Inoue. Teachings on the Verses of the Mind-Only.

The Kasuga edition of the Buddhist scriptures was produced at the Kōfuku-ji Temple in Nara. These scrolls, from that edition, contain the text of Jōyuishikiron (Proving the Mind-Only), a commentary on the work by the Indian scholar Seshin (Vasubandhu in Sanskrit) known as Yuishiki sanjūju in Japanese. It was a canon of the Hossō school of Buddhism in Japan and is thought to have been published several times at the Kōfuku-ji Temple. The small but beautiful lettering imitating the style of hand-copied sutras and the pitch-black ink indicate that these scrolls were published at the end of the Kamakura period or the Nanbokuchō period (14th century). The red marks were added by hand to aid Japanese readers in deciphering the Chinese text.

In terms of Tibetan commentaries, there are only a few. There are probably some I have not read, the 15th Century master by Panchen Shakya Chogden, Differentiating the Main Points of the Thirty Verses. There is also a 19th Century, annotated commentary by Je Mipham Rinpoche. I have not seen any others.  There are some modern commentaries but these are the only ones I have seen by earlier masters.

Panchen Shakya Chogden, 15th Century Tibetan master who wrote a commentary on the Thirty Verses.
THE REASONS FOR USING THE COMMENTARY PROVING MIND-ONLY AS THE MAIN BASIS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. When Vasubandhu wrote the Thirty Verses of the Mind-Only, he established in simple verses a general presentation of the Mind Only philosophy, which is extremely complicated. The two main texts Vasubandhu wrote about the Mind Only are the Thirty Verses and the Twenty Verses, the latter being primarily a text that refutes other traditions, whereas the Thirty Verses presents his own position. After writing root verses it was customary to write commentaries on them. Although Vasubandhu wrote a commentary on his Twenty Verses, he did not have time to complete a commentary for the Thirty Verses before passing away.

During the two hundred years after Vasubandhu’s death, the Thirty Verses of the Mind-Only was recognized as a main focus for study in Indian Buddhism, and, as mentioned earlier, many masters must have written commentaries on this text. Unfortunately, most of these are no longer extant. The only ones that we can read in Tibetan are the text by Sthiramati, and a sub commentary on it. In Chinese, there are no texts available other than the Treatise Proving Mind Only. As the text contains such complex ideas, it is difficult for us to understand the full meaning based on the root verses alone. The Commentary Proving Mind-Only  is different from the other commentaries in that it is very complete and authoritative, and thus quite indispensable for those wanting to study the meaning of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only.

2. The main aim of our Winter Teachings is to study the Thirty Verses of the Mind-Only. The main purpose or aim of this study is to understand the entire philosophy and nature of the Mind-Only school in a systematic fashion. However, Mind-Only is a very large school. Karmapa explained, “If you think about it in terms of the Mahayana, we talk about the Middle Way and the Mind-Only, the two largest philosophical schools. Within the Mind-Only school, there are many profound assertions, so we might wonder, where should we begin our studies?”

In order to prepare a complete framework for the study of the Mind-Only school, we would need to look for sources in the six sutras and eleven treatises. The eleven treatises are often referred to as the “one trunk and ten limbs.” Generally, there are many sutras and treatises related to Mind Only philosophy, but the most important for establishing the Mind Only view are the two foundational texts the Sutra Unraveling the Intent and the Yogacara Levels. The commentary Proving Mind-Only teaches the entire framework of these two texts, so if we want to study Mind-Only philosophy in a complete and systematic manner, there is no choice but to study Xuanzang’s translation of the commentary Proving Mind-Only. There is no other way to do it.”

Commentaries on Proving Mind-Only

“The commentary Proving Mind-Only is a Sanskrit commentary that compiled all the best points of several authors. Tibetan scholars have commentaries in Tibetan to help them better understand the Sanskrit commentary. Similarly, Chinese commentaries were also required for this Sanskrit text.

Beginning from Kuiji in the Tang dynasty, many sub-commentaries were written on the Commentary Proving Mind-Only. The most important among them is the Explanation of the Commentary Proving Mind-Only in ten fascicles by Kuiji. It became the basic textbook for study of the Mind Only in China; in Japan as well, it was highly regarded by many schools, including the School of Phenomenal Appearances. In China, however, the text was lost during the Yuan or Mongol dynasty. At the end of the Qing dynasty, the lay master Yang Wenhui (Yang Renshan) found a manuscript in Japan and brought it back to China once more.

In addition, Kuiji also wrote the Difficult Points of the Commentary Proving Mind-Only . Later Huìzhǎo wrote the Lamp on the Definitive Meaning of the Commentary Proving Mind-Only , and Zhìzhōu wrote The Secrets of the Commentary Proving Mind-Only. These three are recognized as the source for the Chinese Mind Only school, and they are known collectively as the “Mind-Only commentaries.”

VIDEO SOURCES

Retracing Bodhisattva Xuanzang (Traditional Chinese) – YouTube

XUAN ZANG: Chinese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film|Huang Xiaoming, Xu Zheng 大唐玄奘【Huashi TV】 – YouTube

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lusthaus, Dan (2003). Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch’eng Wei-shih Lun, Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism, ISBN 0415406102

Schmithausen, Lambert (2015). On the Problem of the External World in the Ch’eng wei shih lun, International Institute for Buddhist Studies

Sharf, Robert (2016). Is Yogacara Phenomenology? Some Evidence from the Cheng Weishi Lun. Journal of Indian Philosophy 44 (4), 777–807

Jiang, Tao (2005). “Alayavijnana” and the problematic of continuity in the “Cheng Wei-shih Lun”, Journal of Indian Philosophy 33 (3), 243-284  – via JSTOR (subscription required)

Sharf, Robert H. “Is Yogācāra Phenomenology? Some Evidence from the Cheng weishi lun.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 44, no. 4 (2016): 777–807. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8tt564hz

Endnotes

[i] According to one biographer of Xuanzang:

“Xuanzang玄奘, the peripatetic Chinese Buddhist scholar-monk of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), was born into a literati family in Henan province in 600 or 602 CE. He is known by the sobriquet “Master of the Three Baskets [comprising the Buddhist Canon] .” (Skt.: Trepiṭaka; Ch.: Sanzang三藏) Xuanzang is regarded as the most prolific translator of Indic Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese—as well as the most historically significant, given that his comprehensive translations of Indic abhidharma and Yogācāra sutras and treatises (śāstras) revolutionized the study of Buddhism in East Asia.

Attesting to his lasting influence on the tradition of East Asian Buddhism, all Buddhist Indic texts translated prior to Xuanzang are known as either the “ancient translations” (guyi 古譯) or “the old translations” (jiuyi 舊譯), while Xuanzang’s translations are termed “the new translations” (xinyi 新譯). By retrieving the unalloyed teachings of abhidharma and Yogācāra Buddhist traditions from India and rendering them into fluid and readable classical Chinese, Xuanzang has left a legacy in the study of Buddhism in East Asia. Many of Xuanzang’s translations, such as the Heart Sūtra (Xinjing心經), remain the most widely used and circulated versions of these texts. Xuanzang’s long and arduous trek across the Silk Road to India is famously recorded in his travelogue entitled the Da Tang Xiyu ji (Great Tang records of the western regions).

During his fourteen years in India (629–643 CE), Xuanzang collected Indic Buddhist texts hitherto not translated, studied with Buddhist masters, engaged in various religious debates, and acquired and mastered a vast and comprehensive knowledge of the Indic Buddhist texts in their original Sanskrit forms. Xuanzang returned to his native China in 645 CE to much acclaim and fanfare.

Turning down a prestigious civil service appointment offered by Emperor Taizong, Xuanzang engaged in massive translation projects to render the texts he had gathered during his travels in India into Chinese. Under the lavish patronage of the second and third Tang emperors, Taizong and Gaozong, Xuanzang rose in status to become the preeminent East Asian Buddhist scholar and translator of his generation. Attracting students from Korea, Japan, and China, Xuanzang engaged the finest minds of East Asia in his translation and exegetical projects. Xuanzang has lived on in Chinese popular literary imaginary as the basis for the character Tang Sanzang 唐三藏 (Trepiṭaka of the Tang Dynasty) in the Xiyou ji 西游記 (Journey to the west), one of the four great novels of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).”

[ii] In terms of how the Mind Only Texts Were Translated into Tibetan, the 17th Karmapa explained that:

There are two different periods of Mind Only translations, those done during the ancient transmission and those that appeared during the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet. Most of the scriptures in the sutra sections of the Kangyur and Tengyur were translated during the ancient transmission, including the majority of important Mind Only texts. Tibetan histories of that period indicate that a predominantly Middle Way view was adopted, but when we look at the ancient catalogues—the Pangtangma and Denkarma (the Chimpuma is no longer extant)—we see that the compilers gave equal importance to the Mind Only and the Middle Way texts[ii].

To sum it up, most of the Tibetan translations of Mind Only texts appeared before the time of Butön [1290–1364]. There are no additional Mind Only texts in the later catalogue of the Derge Kangyur and Tengyur, which is reputed to be the most complete. Nothing is found there that didn’t appear in Butön Rinpoche’s earlier catalogue.

Surveying all the works and writings by Mind Only scholars that were translated into Tibetan, there are:

  1. The “Dharmas of Maitreya”, by the Protector Maitreya, which teach either Mind Only or Middle Way views
  2. The works of Asanga and Vasubandhu that teach Mind Only philosophy
  3. The works on validity by Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and others that do not teach Mind Only philosophy at length but whose ultimate view is Mind Only, since they were written by Mind Only masters
  4. Texts on Secret Mantra by Mind Only scholars, such as Bhavabhadra, Santipa, etc.
  5. Commentaries on sutras by Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, etc.[ii].

[iii] In that teaching, the Karmapa explained that In the Chinese tradition, the School of Phenomenal Appearances, one of several Chinese Mind Only schools, is the most well-known. Later on, this was the only one remaining; the other schools had all disappeared. Six sutras and eleven treatizes form the basis of the School of Phenomenal Appearances. They are:

Sutras:

  1. Avataṃsaka Sutra
    2. The Sutra Unraveling the Intent
    3. The Sutra of the Array of the Tathāgata’s Qualities
    4. The Sutra of Mahayana Abhidharma
    5. The Sutra of the Travels to Lanka
    6. The Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra

Treatizes:

  1. The Yogacāra Levels
    2. The Treatise Clarifying the Teachings
    3. The Ornament of the Sutras
    4. The Compendium of Validity
    5. The Compendium of the Mahayana
    6. The Commentary on the Ten Levels
    7. The Exposition of Yoga
    8. The Examination of Objects
    9. The Twenty Verses
    10. The Commentary on Differentiating the Middle from Extremes
    11. The Compendium of Abhidharma

[iv] Kuījī (simplified Chinese: 窥基 632–682), also known as Ji (Chinese: 基), an exponent of Yogācāra, was a Chinese monk and a prominent disciple of Xuanzang. His posthumous name was Cí’ēn dàshī (慈恩大師; ‘Master Ci’en’), The Great Teacher of Cien Monastery, after the Daci’en Temple or Great Monastery of Compassionate Grace, which was located in Chang’an, the main capital of the Tang Dynasty. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was built in Daci’en Temple in 652. According to biographies, he was sent to the imperial translation bureau headed by Xuanzang, from whom he later would learn Sanskrit, Abhidharma, and Yogācāra.

Kuiji collaborated closely with Xuanzang on the Cheng weishi lun, a redacted translation of commentaries on Vasubandhu’s Triṃśikā-vijñaptimātratā.  Kuiji’s commentaries on the former text, the Cheng weishi lun shuji, along with his original treatise on Yogācāra, the Dasheng Fayuan yilin chang (大乘法苑義林章; “Essays on the Forest of Meanings in the Mahāyāna Dharma Garden”) became foundations of the Faxiang School, the dominant school of Yogācāra thought in East Asia. He is accordingly considered the founder of this school which differed notably from Paramārtha’s earlier Chinese Yogācāra system. Kuiji is also known for his commentaries on Dharmapāla’s Yogācāra philosophy.

[v] Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on this states that: He did so because his teacher Śīlabhadra was a student of Dharmapala, and thus Xuanzang believed Dharmapala’s interpretation to be the most accurate.

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