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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Trikâya : a study of the Buddhology of the early Vijñânavâda school of Indian Buddhism Hanson, Mervin Viggo


This is a study of the trikâya (the so-called "three bodies of the Buddha") doctrine whereby the early Indian Vijnânavâda Buddhists harmonized various beliefs about the Buddha. The most important twentieth-century studies are reviewed, but are found to contain no reliable interpretation of the early doctrine. Therefore, I have undertaken this study to clarify and interpret the trikâya. The main textual source is Asanga's Mahâyânasamgraha, which contains the earliest systematic outline of the Vihnânavâda system. The Buddhological passages have first been translated (from Tibetan and Chinese) in light of the commentaries by Vasubandhu and Asvabhâva. They have then been compared and arranged to expose the general structure of Asanga's trikâya. Why did Asanga introduce the trikâya when other integrative Buddhologies (especially the rupakâya/dharmakâya of the prajnâpâramitâ) were already at hand? A comparison of his application.of the trikâya with the prajnâpâramitâ treatment of similar concerns reveals that the former integrates one idea that the latter does not—that of the Buddhafield. The necessity to include this nascent doctrine appears to have been the main reason for the introduction of the trikâya. In the conclusion, the trikâya has been analyzed further to obtain an abstract Structuralist model exhibiting Asanga's Buddhology in terms acceptable to the non-believer. It is a useful framework within which to study the concept of Buddhahood itself, and its relation to other Vijnanavada dogma. It is also a convenient way to compare the results of modern "".investigations. This model, derived by an extension of Asanga's own search for the implicit pattern behind diverse scriptural statements about Buddhahood, is similar to those used by the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Therefore, various hypotheses were suggested by his writings. The model is a two-dimensional diagram which represents the encounter between Buddha (Svabhâvikakâya—at the top) and Man (Prthagjana—at the bottom). They are, simultaneously, poles of a dialectical tension and uninhabited existential categories. The inhabited region in-.the middle of the diagram is composed of a continuum of three situations along the horizontal axis. Each contains three elements: Buddha, Aspirant and Environment. The actual encounters between Buddha and Aspirant occur in these situations. "They include that of the Neophyte in the world, for whom the Buddha is merely a message; the Sravaka who is approached by a Nirmânakâya ("historical Buddha") who teaches him by pain, and the Bodhisattva who approaches the Sambhogakâya (the god-like figure in a Buddhafield) who matures him through pleasure. In the course of these three, the aspirant undergoes "reorientation," i.e., moves up the vertical axis to become a Buddha who, in turn, reaches out to another aspirant. The remainder "of the Buddhological ideas from the text are placed within this diagram. Finally, the applicability of this model to other Buddhological questions is examined.

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