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Japanese wood statue of Asaṅga from 1208 AD
Tibetan depiction of Asaṅga and Maitreya

Asaṅga (Tibetan: ཐོགས་མེད།Wylie: thogs med, traditional Chinese: 無著; ; pinyin: Wúzhuó; Romaji: Mujaku) was a major exponent of the Yogacara tradition in India, also called Vijñānavāda. Traditionally, he and his half-brother Vasubandhu are regarded as the founders of this school. The two half-brothers were also major exponents of Abhidharma teachings.

Early life

Asaṅga was born as the son of a Kṣatriya father and Brahmin mother[1] in Puruṣapura (present day Peshawar in Pakistan), which at that time was part of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra. Current scholarship places him in the fourth century AD. He was perhaps originally a member of the Mahīśāsaka school or the Mūlasarvāstivāda school but later converted to Mahāyāna.[2] According to some scholars, Asaṅga's frameworks for abhidharma writings retained many underlying Mahīśāsaka traits.[3] André Bareau writes:[4]

[It is] sufficiently obvious that Asaṅga had been a Mahīśāsaka when he was a young monk, and that he incorporated a large part of the doctrinal opinions proper to this school within his own work after he became a great master of the Mahāyāna, when he made up what can be considered as a new and Mahāyānist Abhidharma-piṭaka.

In the record of his journeys through the kingdoms of India, Xuanzang wrote that Asaṅga was initially a Mahīśāsaka monk, but soon turned toward the Mahāyāna teachings.[5] Asaṅga had a half-brother, Vasubandhu, who was a monk from the Sarvāstivāda school. Vasubandhu is said to have taken up Mahāyāna Buddhism after meeting with Asaṅga and one of Asaṅga's disciples.[6]

Meditation and teachings

Asaṅga spent many years in serious meditation, during which time tradition says that he often visited Tuṣita Heaven to receive teachings from Maitreya Bodhisattva. Heavens such as Tuṣita Heaven is said to be accessible through meditation, and accounts of this are given in the writings of the Indian Buddhist monk Paramārtha, who lived during the 6th century AD.[7] Xuanzang tells a similar account of these events:[5]

In the great mango grove five or six li to the southwest of the city (Ayodhya), there is an old monastery where Asaṅga Bodhisattva received instructions and guided the common people. At night he went up to the place of Maitreya Bodhisattva in Tuṣita Heaven to learn the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, the Mahāyāna-sūtra-alaṃkāra-śāstra, the Madhyānta-vibhāga-śāstra, etc.; in the daytime, he lectured on the marvelous principles to a great audience.

Asaṅga went on to write many of the key Yogācāra treatises such as the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, the Mahāyānasaṃgraha[8] and the Abhidharma-samuccaya as well as other works, although there are discrepancies between the Chinese and Tibetan traditions concerning which works are attributed to him and which to Maitreya.[9]

According to Walpola Rahula, the thought of the Abhidharma-samuccaya is invariably closer to that of the Pali Nikāyas than is that of the Theravadin Abhidhamma.[10]

Questions of authorship

The Tibetan tradition attributes authorship of the Ratnagotravibhaga to him, while the Chinese traditions attributes it to a certain Sthiramati or Sāramati. Peter Harvey finds the Tibetan attribution less plausible.[11]


  1. Tsoṅ-kha-pa Blo-bzaṅ-grags-pa, Robert A. F. Thurman (Page 28)[full citation needed]
  2. 'Doctrinal Affiliation of the Buddhist Master Asanga' - Alex Wayman in Untying the Knots in Buddhism, ISBN 81-208-1321-9
  3. Anacker, Stefan (1984). Seven Works Of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor. p. 58
  4. Rama Karana Sarma (1993). Researches in Indian and Buddhist Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Alex Wayman. p. 5
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rongxi, Li (1996). The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions., Numata Center, Berkeley, p. 153.
  6. Rongxi, Li (1996). The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions., Numata Center, Berkeley, pp. 154-155.
  7. Wayman, Alex (1997). Untying the Knots in Buddhism: Selected Essays. p. 213
  8. Keenan, John P. (2003). "The summary of the Great Vehicle by Bodhisattva Asaṅga", transl. from the Chinese of Paramārtha (Taishō vol. 31, number 1593). Berkeley, Calif: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. ISBN 1-886439-21-4
  9. Giuseppe Tucci (1930). On Some Aspects of the Doctrines of Maitreya (natha) and the Asanga, Calcutta.
  10. Dan Lusthaus (2002). Buddhist Phenomenology. Routledge, p. 44, note 5. Lusthaus draws attention to Rahula's Zen and the Taming of the Bull.
  11. Peter Harvey (1993). "An Introduction to Buddhism." Cambridge University Press, page 114.


External links