Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana

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A page of a Commentary on the Awakening of Faith

Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna (AF, Chinese: 大乘起信論; pinyin: Dàshéng Qǐxìn Lùn; Japanese: 大乗起信論, Daijōkishinron; Korean: 대승기신론, Daeseung-gisinron; Vietnamese: Đại thừa khởi tín luận, reconstructed Sanskrit title: *Mahāyāna-śraddhotpāda-śāstra[1]) is an influential Mahayana Buddhist treatise for East Asian Buddhism.

Though traditionally attributed to the 2nd century CE Indian master Aśvaghoṣa, no Sanskrit version is extant and it is widely regarded by many contemporary scholars as having been composed in China.[2][3] The main theories of the authorship of the Awakening of Faith among contemporary scholars now point to either the 6th century Indian monk translators Paramārtha and Bodhiruci, or alternatively to one of their Chinese students.[4]

Origin and authorship[edit]

While the text is traditionally attributed to Aśvaghoṣa, no Sanskrit version of the text is extant.[2] The two earliest existing versions are written in Chinese, and contemporary scholars widely accept the theory that the text was composed in China.[5][2][6][7][8][9]

As Alex Gardner notes, there is still scholarly debate on whether the work was composed in Sanskrit by an Indian, or whether it was composed in Chinese.[3] Some scholars point to Chinese theories in the text, while others (like Jikidō Takasaki) see it as mainly drawing on classic Indian ideas found in the Indic tathāgatagarbha texts like the Ratnagotravibhāga.[3]

Some scholars note that the AF could have an Indic precedent or at least be based on several Indian ideas. According to Christopher Callahan "the literary quality of the text suggests that its origins are not entirely Chinese". This is because:[10]

In comparison with other forged translations, the Qixinlun does not quote from known translations and has no known allusions to Taoist or Confucian texts. Moreover, the text is written in an extremely concise manner without literary embellishment, out of keeping with the ornate pianliti style that was popular in the sixth century. This evidence has led many scholars to conjecture that some form of the text was produced in either India or Central Asia and that the author or authors, perhaps even Paramārtha himself, rewrote the text in light of sixth-century Chinese intellectual concerns.

D.T. Suzuki accepted the Indian origin of the Awakening of Faith (though he did not think Aśvaghoṣa was the author). He saw the text as being "inspired by the same spirit" as the Lankavatara, Avatamsaka, and Mahayanamahaparanirvana Sutras, and regarded its identification as a Chinese text as "not well grounded".[11]

Paramārtha (Chinese: 真諦; 499–569) an Indian monk who became a translator in China, was traditionally thought to have translated the text in 553 CE.[2][12] However, some modern scholars opine it was composed by Paramārtha or one of his students.[13] This thesis was defended by Japanese scholars like Hiroo Kashiwagi [14] Sally B. King also writes that Paramārtha may have composed the Buddha-nature Treatise (Chinese: 佛性論) as well as the Awakening of Faith.[15][a]

Other experts dispute that it has anything to do at all with Paramārtha.[4] Keng Ching argues that the Awakening of Faith does not show any similarities with the other works of Paramārtha, and he notes the doctrinal differences between the works of Paramārtha's the Dilun school and the Awakening of Faith.[16] Keng Ching also argues that the attribution of the AF to Paramārtha was mainly due to the efforts of the Shelun scholar Tanqian (曇遷; 542–607).[17]

The authors of a recent translation of the AF (John Jorgensen, Dan Lusthaus, John Makeham, and Mark Strange) write that "there is now wide consensus that the author of the Treatise was strongly influenced by the terminology and language of Bodhiruci (d. ca. 535)."[18] The Awakening of Faith draws on much of the ideas and specific terms found in Bodhiruci's translations, such as his Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra and his translation of Vasubandhu's Commentary on the Ten Stages Sutra. As such "one theory is that the Treatise was written by someone in Bodhiruci’s circle."[18] According to these authors, one candidate for the authorship of the Awakening of Faith is Tanlin (曇 林), who was "an amanuensis of Bodhiruci and a scholar of Tathāgatagarbha material."[18]

A later translation or reedited version was attributed to the Khotanese monk Śikṣānanda (Chinese: 實叉難陀; active 695–700).[19] This version was edited and modified to make it more compatible with classic Yogacara doctrine of the school of Xuanzang which had been critical of the Awakening of Faith. But this new edition was never as popular as the earlier version of the Awakening of Faith, which was defended by the Huayan scholar and Sanskritist Fazang (643–712).[20] Fazang himself had worked with Śikṣānanda's translation team on other sutras, like the Lankavatara.

When it was discovered by Westerners at the beginning of the 20th century in 1907, Welsh missionnary Timothy Richard interpreted The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana Doctrine as a crypto-Christian text and new form of Buddhism.[21]


The term Mahayana points not to the Mahayana school, but to tathatā "suchness" or "the Absolute":[22]

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.[22]

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.[23]

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 or the "One Mind". If this is accurate then a more apt title would be The Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith.


The text is divided into five sections, and often summarized as “One Mind, Two Aspects, Three Greatnesses, Four Faiths, and Five Practices".[2] Following two introductory chapters dealing with the oneness of mind and motivations for the text's composition, part three focuses on two aspects of mind to clarify the relationship between enlightenment and ignorance, nirvana and samsara, or the absolute and the phenomenal. Part four describes five practices that aid in the growth of faith, emphasizing calmness and insight meditation. Part five describes the benefits that result from cultivating the five practices.[2]

According to the Awakening of Faith:

‘Consciousness has two aspects which embrace all states of existence and create all states of existence. They are: (1) the aspect of enlightenment, and (2) the aspect of nonenlightenment.’[24]

Written from the perspective of Essence-Function (simplified Chinese: 体用; traditional Chinese: 體用; pinyin: tǐyòng) philosophy, this text sought to harmonize the two soteriological philosophies of the Buddha-nature (tathagatagarbha) and the Eight Consciousnesses (or Yogacara) into a synthetic vision[25][2] based on the "One Mind in Two Aspects" doctrine. According to Whalen Lai, this doctrine holds that "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."[26] Paul Williams explains the main teaching of the Awakening of Faith thus:

The Awakening of Faith itself takes the tathagatagarbha as the substratum of samsara and nirvana. This Mind has two aspects – the Mind as Suchness or Thusness, that is, the Absolute Reality itself, and the Mind as phenomena. Between them these two aspects embrace all there is....The essential nature of the Mind is unborn, imperishable, beyond language. Differentiation (i.e. phenomena) arises through illusion, fundamental ignorance of one’s true nature...The Absolute Reality is empty, ‘Because from the beginning it has never been related to any defiled states of existence, it is free from all marks of individual distinction of things, and it has nothing to do with thoughts conceived by a deluded mind’. Nevertheless, to avoid misunderstandings, ‘the true Mind is eternal, permanent, immutable, pure, and self-sufficient; therefore it is called “nonempty.”’[24]

Influence and commentaries[edit]

Although often omitted from lists of canonical Buddhist texts, the Awakening of Faith strongly influenced subsequent Mahayana doctrine. It reflects an important stage in the synthesis of Indian and Chinese Buddhist thought, and the elevation of the tathagatagarbha doctrine to a central place in Chinese Buddhist soteriology.[2] Commentaries on the Awakening in Faith were composed in China, Japan, and Korea by numerous exegetes.[2]

Chinese Buddhism[edit]

The Awakening of Faith had a great influence on Chinese Buddhism.[27] It is particularly important for the Huayan school and Chan Buddhism. One of the reasons for this is the status of the influential commentator Fazang (法藏 ) as state preceptor (Guoshi) and third patriarch of the Huayan school.[28] Fazang wrote an extensive Commentary on the Awakening of Faith (Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1846 大乘起信論義記 Dasheng qixinlun yiji) and placed the treatise at the highest class of his doctrinal classification system.[29] Other figures like Guifeng Zongmi (probably written between 823 and 828) and Jingying Huiyuan (Taisho no. Vol. 44, No. 1843 大乘起信論義疏 Dasheng qixinlun yishu) also wrote commentaries on the Awakening of Faith.[30] The Awakening of Faith thus had an key role in the teachings of the Huayan school.[2]

The view of the mind in the Awakening of Faith also had a significant import on the doctrinal development of the East Mountain Teaching, an 8th century tradition of Chan Buddhism.[31] It is also considered to have strongly influenced the Chan doctrine of "seeing one's nature and attaining Buddhahood" (jianxing chengfo).[2]

Korean Buddhism[edit]

The great Korean scholar Wonhyo wrote two commentaries: Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1844 起信論疏 Gisillon so and Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1845 Daeseung gisillon byeolgi. In great part due to the commentaries by Wonhyo,[32] 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.

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.[33]

Modern Confucianism[edit]

Mou Zongsan (Chinese: 牟宗三) has used this and Tien Tai to develop his school of thought related to Confucianism, in particular about how to tie between two different aspects of the world.

English translations[edit]

The Awakening of Faith[edit]

The translations by Hakeda and Jorgensen et al. are 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).

  • 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{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Jorgensen, John; Lusthaus, Dan; Makeham, John; Strange, Mark, trans. (2019), Treatise on Awakening Mahāyāna Faith, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780190297718
  • Richard, Timothy (1907), The Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna Doctrine—the New Buddhism, Shanghai: Christian Literature Society, hdl:2027/coo1.ark:/13960/t9r21hd6n, OCLC 464637047[b]
  • Suzuki, Daisetsu Teitaro (1900), Aśvaghoṣa's Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, Chicago, Ill.: Open Court Publishing Company, hdl:2027/uva.x030116828, OCLC 4975000


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{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


  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.
  2. ^ A Christian-influenced translation by a Baptist missionary, Tarocco (2008, p. 325)



  1. ^ Hubbard, Jamie (1994, 2008). Original Purity and the Arising of Delusion. Smith College, p.1. Internet Archive
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hsieh, Ding-Hwa (2004). "Awakening Of Faith (Dasheng Qixin Lun)". MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. New York: MacMillan Reference USA. pp. 38–9. ISBN 0-02-865719-5.
  3. ^ a b c Gardner, Alex. "On the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna." Buddha-Nature: A Tsadra Foundation Initiative, October 9, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Keng Ching, "Yogacara Buddhism Transmitted or Transformed? Paramartha (499–569 C.E.) and His Chinese Interpreters," Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2009
  5. ^ Buswell & Lopez 2013, p. 76.
  6. ^ Nattier, Jan. 'The Heart Sūtra: A Chinese Apocryphal Text?'. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Vol. 15 (2), 180–81, 1992. PDF Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha by Robert E. Buswell. University of Hawaii Press: 1990. ISBN 0-8248-1253-0. pgs 1–29
  8. ^ Tarocco 2008, p. 323.
  9. ^ Muller 1998, p. 64.
  10. ^ Callahan, Christopher. "Awakening Faith in the Pure Land Section of the Qixinlun." PACIFIC WORLD: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Third Series Number 13 Fall 2011.
  11. ^ From p. xxxix of the Introduction to The Lankavatara Sutra, by D. T. Suzuki, Routledge & Kegan Paul, LTD. London 1932, reprinted 1966.
  12. ^ Tarocco 2008, p. 324-325. (T. 1666, pp. 576).
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Kashiwagi, Hiroo (1981). Daijō kishinron no kenkyū : Daijō kishinron no seiritsu ni kansuru shiryōronteki kenkyū, p. 181
  15. ^ King 1991, p. 22.
  16. ^ Ching Keng. "A Re-examination of the Relationship between the Awakening of Faith and Dilun School Thought, Focusing on the Works of Huiyuan", pp. 183–215 in: Chen-kuo Lin / Michael Radich (eds.) A Distant Mirror Articulating Indic Ideas in Sixth and Seventh Century Chinese Buddhism. Hamburg Buddhist Studies, 3 Hamburg: Hamburg University Press 2014.
  17. ^ Keng Ching and Michael Radich. "Paramārtha." Brill's Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Volume II: Lives, edited by Jonathan A. Silk (editor-in chief), Richard Bowring, Vincent Eltschinger, and Michael Radich, 752-758. Leiden, Brill, 2019.
  18. ^ a b c Jorgensen, John; Lusthaus, Dan; Makeham, John; Strange, Mark, trans. (2019), Treatise on Awakening Mahāyāna Faith, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, in Introduction (pp. 1–10).
  19. ^ Tarocco 2008, p. 328. (T. 1667, pp. 583bc-584a).
  20. ^ Lai, Whalen W. "A Clue to the Authorship of the. Awakening of Faith: "Siksananda's". Redaction of the Word "Nien"*". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Volume 3 1980 Number 1.
  21. ^ Pittman, Don A. (2001-02-01). Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's Reforms. University of Hawaii Press. p. 305. ISBN 978-0-8248-6526-9.
  22. ^ a b Hakeda 1967, p. 28.
  23. ^ 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)
  24. ^ a b Williams, Paul (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, p. 116. Routledge.
  25. ^ Lusthaus, Dan (1998). Buddhist philosophy, Chinese Archived July 16, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. pp. 221–222. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Tarocco, Francesca. "Lost in translation? The Treatise on the Mahayana Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun) and its modern readings". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71(02) 2008 DOI:10.1017/S0041977X08000566.
  30. ^ Gregory, Peter N. (2002), Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism, p. 316. University of Hawai’i Press, Kuroda Institute, (originally published Princeton University Press, 1991, Princeton, N.J.), ISBN 0-8248-2623-X
  31. ^ Zeuschner, Robert B. (1978). "The Understanding of Mind in the Northern Line of Ch'an (Zen)", Philosophy East and West 28 (1), 69–79
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ 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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