Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana

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Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna (reconstructed Sanskrit title: Mahāyāna śraddhotpādaśāstra;[1] Chinese: 大乘起信論; pinyin: Dàshéng Qǐxìn Lùn; Japanese: 大乗起信論; Korean: 대승기신론; Vietnamese: Đại thừa khởi tín luận) is a text of Mahayana Buddhism. Though attributed to the Indian master Aśvaghoṣa, the text is now partly regarded[clarification needed] as a Chinese composition.[a]

The text[edit]

Origin and translations[edit]

While the text is attributed to Aśvaghoṣa, no Sanskrit version of the text is extant. The two earliest existing versions are written in Chinese, and contemporary scholars widely accept the theory that the text is a Chinese composition.[2][3][4][5][6] However, D.T. Suzuki accepted its Indian Sanskrit origin, while acknowledging that it was unlikely the first historical Aśvaghoṣa was the author, and it is more likely that the attribution to Aśvaghoṣa was an honorific appellation due to the profundity of the treatise.

There is no doubt that the Lanka is closely connected in time as well as in doctrine with The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana generally ascribed to Asvaghosha. While he may not have been the author of this most important treatise of Mahayana philosophy, there was surely a great Buddhist mind, who, inspired by the same spirit which pervades the Lanka, the Avatamsaka, the Parinirvana, etc., poured out his thoughts in The Awakening. Some scholars contend that The Awakening is a Chinese work, but this is not well grounded."[7]

Paramartha (499-569) is traditionally thought to have translated the text[8] in 553. However, many modern scholars now opine that it was actually composed by Paramartha or one of his students.[9] King remarks that, although Paramartha undoubtedly was among the most prolific translators of Sanskrit texts into Chinese, he may have originated, not translated, the East Asian Yogācāra text of the Buddha-nature Treatise (Chinese: 佛性論) as well as the Awakening of Faith.[10][b] Other experts dispute that it has anything to do at all with Paramartha.[11]

A later translation or reedited version was attributed to the Khotanese monk Śikṣānanda (active 695-700).[12]


The term Mahayana points not to the Mahayana school, but to tathatā "suchness" or "the Absolute":[13]

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.[13]

Charles Muller argues that the terminology "faith in" is misleading:

In rendering the title of the Dasheng qixin lun as Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, as opposed to Hakeda's "Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna" I am following the position put forth by Sung Bae Park in Chapter Four of his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. There he argues that the inner discourse of the text itself, along with the basic understanding of the meaning of mahāyāna in the East Asian Buddhist tradition does not work according to a Western theological "faith in..." subject-object construction, but according to an indigenous East Asian essence-function 體用 model. Thus, mahāyāna should not be interpreted as a noun-object, but as a modifier, which characterizes the type of faith.[14]

In other words, the treatise is not discussing "Faith in the Mahayana," rather it is presenting the Mahayana style of faith, which is faith in the true suchness of mind.


Written from the perspective of Essence-Function (simplified Chinese: 体用; traditional Chinese: 體用; pinyin: tǐyòng), this text sought to harmonize the two soteriological philosophies of the Buddha-nature and Eight Consciousnesses (or Yogacara) into a synthetic vision[15] 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?”[16]


Commentaries up to mid 9th century Chinese and Korean include those by Jingying Huiyuan 淨影慧遠 Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1843 大乘起信論義疏 Dasheng qixinlun yishu; two by Wonhyo 元曉 Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1844 起信論疏 Gisillon so and Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1845 Daeseung gisillon byeolgi; by Fazang 法藏 Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1846 大乘起信論義記 Dasheng qixinlun yiji; and by Zongmi 宗密, as well as others no longer extant. There are also commentaries from Japan.


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

Chinese Buddhism[edit]

The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana had a great influence on Chinese Buddhism[17]. One of the reasons for this is the status of the commentator Fazang 法藏 as state preceptor (Guoshi) and third patriarch of the Huayan school [18].

Korean Buddhism[edit]

In great part due to the commentaries by Wonhyo,[19] 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.

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.[20]

Japanese Buddhism[edit]

In Tendai, it is often used to explain the original enlightenment thought (doctrine). Medieval Tendai Original Enlightenment Thought is established. It indirectly influenced the sects of the Kamakura period.[21]

English translations[edit]

The Awakening of Faith[edit]

Hakeda's translation is based on Paramārtha's version of the Chinese text (Taisho No. 1666) while Suzuki's translation is based on Śikṣānanda`s version (Taisho No. 1667).


Vorenkamp's translation of Fazang's commentary includes a translation of Paramārtha's version.

  • 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. ^ Buswell states: "East Asian tradition also attributes to Aśvaghosa the DASHENG QIXIN LUN (Awakening of Faith), a treatise on TATHĀGATAGARBHA thought that is somehow presumed to be an indigenous Chinese treatise (...)."[2]
  2. ^ On these points, King cites Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China: Paramartha's 'Evolution of Consciousness' , Diana Y. Paul, 1984, Stanford University Press.
  3. ^ A Christian-influenced translation by a Baptist missionary, Tarocco, Franceska (2008). Lost in Translation? The Treatise on the Mahāyāna Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun) and its modern readings, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71 (2), 335



  1. ^ Hubbard, Jamie (1994, 2008). Original Purity and the Arising of Delusion. Smith College, p.1. Internet Archive
  2. ^ a b Buswell 2013, p. 76.
  3. ^ Nattier, Jan. 'The Heart Sūtra: A Chinese Apocryphal Text?'. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Vol. 15 (2), 180-81, 1992. PDF
  4. ^ Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha by Robert E. Buswell. University of Hawaii Press: 1990. ISBN 0-8248-1253-0. pgs 1-29
  5. ^ Tarocco, Franceska (2008). Lost in Translation? The Treatise on the Mahāyāna Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun) and its modern readings, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71 (2), 323
  6. ^ Muller 1998, p. 64.
  7. ^ From p. xxxix of the Introduction to The Lankavatara Sutra, by D. T. Suzuki, Routledge & Kegan Paul, LTD. London 1932, reprinted 1966.
  8. ^ Tarocco, Franceska (2008). Lost in Translation? The Treatise on the Mahāyāna Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun) and its modern readings, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71 (2), 324-325. (T. 1666, pp. 576)
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ King 1991, p. 22.
  11. ^ Keng Ching, "Yogacara Buddhism Transmitted or Transformed? Paramartha (499-569 C.E.) and His Chinese Interpreters," Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2009
  12. ^ Tarocco, Franceska (2008). Lost in Translation? The Treatise on the Mahāyāna Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun) and its modern readings, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71 (2), 328. (T. 1667, pp. 583bc-584a)
  13. ^ a b Hakeda 1967, p. 28.
  14. ^ Muller, A. Charles (2007). "Wonhyo's Reliance on Huiyuan in his Exposition of the Two Hindrances". In: Imre Hamar, ed., Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism, Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 281-295(note 8)
  15. ^ Lusthaus, Dan (1998). Buddhist philosophy, Chinese Archived July 16, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.
  16. ^ Lai, Whalen (2003), Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey. In Antonio S. Cua (ed.): Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy (PDF), New York: Routledge, archived from the original (PDF) on November 12, 2014 
  17. ^ Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. p. 221-222. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3. 
  18. ^ Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3. 
  19. ^ Park, Sung-bae (2003). Wonhyo's Faith System, as seen in his Commentaries on the Awakening of Mahayana Faith, International Journal of Buddhist Thought and Culture 2 (2), 25-45
  20. ^ Zeuschner, Robert B. (1978). "The Understanding of Mind in the Northern Line of Ch'an (Zen)", Philosophy East and West 28 (1), 69-79
  21. ^ Stone, Jacqueline (1 May 1995). "Medieval Tendai hongaku thought and the new Kamakura Buddhism: A reconsideration". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 22 (1-2). doi:10.18874/jjrs.22.1-2.1995.17-48. 


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