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A Study of Haribhadra's Abhisamayālaṁkārālokā Prajñāpāramitā-vyākhyā Sparham, Gareth

Abstract

Haribhadra was an Indian Buddhist writing in about the year 800 during the reign of Dharma-pala, the greatest of the Pala kings who held sway over northeast India from the 8th to the 12th centuries. His works have been largely ignored, up until this point, by Western scholarship, even though they had a great influence on the course of later Indian and Tibetan scholastic Buddhism. Haribhadra's major work is the Abhisamayalamkaraloka Prajha-paramita-vyakhya, Commentary on the "Perfection of Wisdom" With the Light [Provided by Maitreya's] "Ornament for Clear Realization" (abbreviated title AAA). It is not so much a single book as a composite of three: (a) the Asta-sahasrika-prajna-paramita, Perfection of Wisdom in 8.000 Lines (A), considered to be a revelation, (b) the Abhisamayalamkara, Ornament for Clear Realization (AA), an aphoristic codification, at least according to Haribhadra's point of view, of the topics in the revelation, and (c) the AAA itself, Haribhadra's explanatory sentences or commentary which links the A and AA together. The A can be characterized as a mystic-religious work. It sets forth the doctrine of emptiness (gunyata) or no-self (anatman), also called lack of own-being, absence of sva-bhava, a perfect wisdom which consists in complete detachment from all phenomena, such that all phenomena are seen to be illusory (maya). Directed towards people who have an intuitive understanding of the value of altruistic endeavor the A says, paradoxically, that there ultimately are no living beings to be helped, no motivation to help them, and no state of perfection by means of which their needs are met. The AA is a highly scholastic systematization concerned, first and foremost, with the delineation of the path (marga = inner spiritual development) particularly at its higher levels. There is a striking contrast between the complete lack of systematization in the A and the detailed, step by step, delineation of the stages of the path, levels (bhumi) and Buddha bodies (kaya) which one meets with in the AA. The difference in the general tenor of the two texts is carried over into the AAA, which seeks to explain the former with the help of the latter. Those sections in the AAA directly explaining the sutra which have no parallel in the A A are more religious in tone, more faith-oriented. Those sections in the AAA detailing a topic of the AA, and explaining how that topic is found in the sutra, are more scholastic and difficult to penetrate. These latter sections presuppose considerable familiarity with terminology and theories about the path and its structure. When the topic of the AA naturally corresponds with a division in the A the structural tension that comes from trying to combine two different books together in a single unit is not apparent. Sometimes, however, there is no apparent correspondence. At such points in the text there is a structural tension and the thread, which Haribhadra, at least, felt kept the different parts of his work together as a coherent whole, may slip from the reader's hand. To place this thread firmly in the reader's hand the dissertation clarifies (a) the different layers of text which are embodied in the AAA and (b) issues concerning the path which Haribhadra's comments are indirectly or directly addressing. In regard to the latter, the language of discourse has two different vocabularies: (a) the terminology of Vasubandhu's Abhidharma-kote and (b) the terminology found in the AA. There are considerable difficulties involved in attempting to systematically present the AAA, for the first time, in a Western language. These difficulties are mostly the result of the many layers of historical material merged together into the single text of the AAA, as well as of loss of some information and Haribhadra's Sanskrit style. To overcome the difficulty that results from the need to retain in a translation (a) the integrity of the book as a religious text, and (b) the historical reality that words, and particularly technical terms, often mean different things at different periods, the following strategies are employed: (i) The Sanskrit text of the translated portion (two-thirds of the first chapter or a little over 80 of the AAA's nearly 1000 pages) has been presented in Devanagari based on a comparison of the earlier editions and the Tibetan translations, (ii) The text itself is presented, as far as possible, in an unbroken literal translation that lets Haribhadra speak for himself, (iii) By using modern technology the different layers of the text are consistently identified and separated by use of bold, italic, underline and quotation marks, (iv) The important historical issues the text raises, and the central concepts discussed in the three texts, are identified and discussed in a sufficiently detailed introduction.

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