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Asanga

Asanga

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Asaṅga was a major exponent of the Yogācāra
Yogacara
Yogācāra is an influential school of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing phenomenology and ontology through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It developed within Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism in about the 4th century CE...

 tradition in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, also called Vijñānavāda. Traditionally, he and his half-brother Vasubandhu
Vasubandhu
Vasubandhu was an Indian Buddhist monk, and along with his half-brother Asanga, one of the main founders of the Indian Yogācāra school. However, some scholars consider Vasubandhu to be two distinct people. Vasubandhu is one of the most influential figures in the entire history of Buddhism...

 are regarded as the founders of this school. The two half-brothers were also major exponents of Abhidharma
Abhidharma
Abhidharma or Abhidhamma are ancient Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic and scientific reworkings of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist Sutras, according to schematic classifications...

 teachings, which were highly technical and sophisticated hermeneutics as well.

Early life


Asaṅga was born as the son of a Kshatriya
Kshatriya
*For the Bollywood film of the same name see Kshatriya Kshatriya or Kashtriya, meaning warrior, is one of the four varnas in Hinduism...

 father and Brahmin mother in Purushapura (present day Peshawar
Peshawar
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the administrative center and central economic hub for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan....

 in Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

), which at that time was part of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra
Gandhara
Gandhāra , is the name of an ancient kingdom , located in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River...

. Current scholarship places him in in the fourth century CE. He was perhaps originally a member of the Mahīśāsaka
Mahisasaka
Mahīśāsaka is one of the early Buddhist schools according to some records. Its origins may go back to the dispute in the Second Buddhist Council...

 school or the Mūlasarvāstivāda
Mulasarvastivada
The Mūlasarvāstivāda was an early school of Buddhism, developed in India during the 2nd century AD and in decline by the 7th century. Its vinaya lineage has been preserved by Tibetans and Mongolians up to the present, although until recently, only Mulasarvastivadin monks existed - the lineage of...

 school but later converted to Mahāyāna
Mahayana
Mahāyāna is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice...

.

In the record of his journeys through the kingdoms of India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Xuanzang
Xuanzang
Xuanzang was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period...

 wrote that Asaṅga was initially a Mahīśāsaka monk, but soon turned toward the Mahāyāna teachings. Asaṅga had a half-brother, Vasubandhu, who was a monk from the Sarvāstivāda
Sarvastivada
The Sarvāstivāda were an early school of Buddhism that held to 'the existence of all dharmas in the past, present and future, the 'three times'. Vasubandhu's states:-Name:...

 school. Vasubandhu is said to have taken up Mahāyāna Buddhism after meeting with Asaṅga and one of Asaṅga's disciples.

Meditation and teachings


Asaṅga spent many years in intense meditation, during which time tradition says that he often visited Tuṣita
Tushita
' or Tusita is one of the six deva-worlds of the Kāmadhātu, located between the Yāma heaven and the heaven. Like the other heavens, is said to be reachable through meditation...

 Heaven to receive teachings from Maitreya
Maitreya
Maitreya , Metteyya , or Jampa , is foretold as a future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology. In some Buddhist literature, such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he or she is referred to as Ajita Bodhisattva.Maitreya is a bodhisattva who in the Buddhist tradition is to appear on...

 Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva
In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is either an enlightened existence or an enlightenment-being or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one for enlightenment ." The Pali term has sometimes been translated as "wisdom-being," although in modern publications, and...

. Heavens such as Tuṣita Heaven are said to be accessible through meditation
Meditation
Meditation is any form of a family of practices in which practitioners train their minds or self-induce a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit....

, and accounts of this are given in the writings of the Indian Buddhist monk Paramārtha
Paramartha
Paramārtha was an Indian monk from Ujjain in central India, who is best known for his prolific Chinese translations which include Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośa...

, who lived during the 6th century CE. Xuanzang tells a similar account of these events:
Asaṅga went on to write many of the key Yogācāra
Yogacara
Yogācāra is an influential school of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing phenomenology and ontology through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It developed within Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism in about the 4th century CE...

 treatises such as the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra
Yogacarabhumi-sastra
Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, also known as"Discourse on the Stages of Yogic Practice" is the encyclopaedic and definitive text of the Yogācāra school of Buddhism...

, the Mahāyāna-samgraha
Mahayana-samgraha
' is a key work of the Yogācāra school of Buddhist philosophy, attributed to Asanga. It introduces various Yogacārā concepts such as the ālaya-vijñāna, the three natures , the fivefold path , and the fruits of enlightenment...

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.

Abhidharma Samuccaya


According to Walpola Rahula
Walpola Rahula
The venerable Prof Walpola Sri Rahula Maha Thera was a Buddhist monk, scholar and writer. He is considered to be one of the top Sri Lankan intellectuals of the 20th century. In 1964, he became the Professor of History and Religions at Northwestern University, thus becoming the first bhikkhu to...

, the thought of the Abhidharma-samuccaya is invariably closer to that of the Pali Nikayas than is that of the Theravadin Abhidhamma.

Questions of authorship


The Tibetan tradition attributes authorship of the Ratnagotravibhaga to him, while the Chinese traditions attributes it to a certain Sthiramati
Sthiramati
Sthiramati or Sāramati was a 6th century Indian Buddhist scholar-monk. He was based primarily in Valābhi , although he is thought to have spent some time at Nālandā...

or Sāramati. Peter Harvey finds the Tibetan attribution less plausible.

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