Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana

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Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna (Reconstructed Sanskrit: Mahāyāna Śraddhotpāda Śāstra;[1] traditional Chinese: 大乘起信論; simplified Chinese: 大乘起信论; pinyin: Dàshéng Qǐxìn Lùn; Japanese: 大乗起信論; Korean: 대승기신론; Vietnamese: Đại thừa khởi tín luận) is a text of the Mahāyāna branch of Buddhism.

The text[edit]

Origin and translations[edit]

While the text is attributed by the faithful to Aśvaghoṣa, no Sanskrit version of the text is extant. The earliest known versions are written in Chinese, and contemporary scholars believe that the text is a Chinese composition.[2][3]

Paramartha (499-569) is traditionally thought to have translated the text in 553. However, many modern scholars now opine that it was actually composed by Paramartha or one of his students.[4] King remarks that, although Paramartha undoubtedly was among the most prolific translators of Sanskrit texts into Chinese, he may have originated, not translated, the Buddha Nature Treatise as well as the Awakening of Faith.[5][a] Other experts dispute that it has anything to do at all with Paramartha.[6]

Śikṣānanda translated or re-edited another version, perhaps during 695-700.


The term Mahayana points not to the Mahayana school, but to suchness or "the Absolute":[7]

The title of the text, the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, should therefore be understood as the "Awakening of Faith in the Absolute", not in Mahayana Buddhism as distinguished from Hinayana Buddhism.[7]


Written from the perspective of Essence-Function (tiyong) 體用, this text sought to harmonize the two soteriological philosophies of the tathāgatagarbha (or Buddha nature) and ālayavijñāna (or yogacara) into a synthetic vision based on the One Mind in Two Aspects:

In the words of the Awakening of Faith — which summarizes the essentials of Mahayana — self and world, mind and suchness, are integrally one. Everything is a carrier of that a priori enlightenment; all incipient enlightenment is predicated on it. The mystery of existence is, then, not, “How may we overcome alienation?” The challenge is, rather, “Why do we think we are lost in the first place?”[8]


Commentaries include those by Jingying Huiyuan 淨影慧遠, Wonhyo 元曉, Fazang 法藏 and Zongmi 宗密, as well as others no longer extant.


Although often omitted from lists of canonical Buddhist texts, the Awakening of Faith strongly influenced subsequent Mahayana doctrine.

Chan (Zen)[edit]

The view of the mind in the Awakening of Faith had a significant import on the doctrinal development of the East Mountain Teaching.[9]


In great part due to the commentaries by Wonhyo, the Awakening of Faith ended up having an unusually powerful influence in Korea, where it may be the most oft-cited text in the entire tradition. It also provided much of the doctrinal basis for the original enlightenment thought found in the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment.

English translations[edit]

The Awakening of Faith[edit]


  • Vorenkamp, Dirck, trans. (2004), An English Translation of Fa-Tsang’s Commentary on the Awakening of Faith, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, ISBN 0773463739 


  1. ^ On these points, King cites Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China: Paramartha's 'Evolution of Consciousness' , Diana Y. Paul, 1984, Stanford University Press.



  1. ^ Hubbard, Jamie (1994, 2008). Original Purity and the Arising of Delusion. Smith College, p.1. Internet Archive
  2. ^ Nattier, Jan. 'The Heart Sūtra: A Chinese Apocryphal Text?'. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Vol. 15 (2), 180-81, 1992. PDF
  3. ^ Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha by Robert E. Buswell. University of Hawaii Press: 1990. ISBN 0-8248-1253-0. pgs 1-29
  4. ^ Grosnick, William, H. The Categories of T'i, Hsiang, and Yung: Evidence that Paramārtha Composed the Awakening of Faith. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 12 (1), 65-92, 1989. Internet Archive
  5. ^ King 1991, p. 22.
  6. ^ Keng Ching, "Yogacara Buddhism Transmitted or Transformed? Paramartha (499-569 C.E.) and His Chinese Interpreters," Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2009
  7. ^ a b Hakeda 1967, p. 28.
  8. ^ Whalen Lai, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey
  9. ^ Zeuschner, Robert B. (1978). "The Understanding of Mind in the Northern Line of Ch'an (Zen)", Philosophy East and West, Volume 28, Number 1 (January 1978). Hawaii, USA: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 69-79


  • Hakeda, Yoshito S., trans. (1967), Awakening of Faith—Attributed to Aśvaghoṣa, with commentary by Yoshito S. Hakeda, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-08336-X 
  • King, Sally B. (1991), Buddha nature, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0585068313 

External links[edit]