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The Awakening of Faith in the Mahyna


Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
Staff member
Premium Member
The Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna is the name of a fascinating treatise that was traditionally attributed to Aśvaghoṣa (first - second century CE) but which is now regarded by modern scholars having been composed in China (there are no known Sanskrit versions).

I have been reading portions from it, recently, as part of my foray into the Mahayana Sutras and other texts.

My questions are: Have you read this treatise? What do you think of it? Why is it not seen as a "canonical" text in most Mahayana schools, despite its important influence on doctrine?


I haven't read the text myself yet, but it has had a huge impact on Zen Buddhism, where the text sought to harmonize the teachings of the Yogacara school and the Tathagatagarbha school. These are the two primary philosophical schools represented in the Lankavatara Sutra, the foundational sutra of Zen.


It is probably the most influential teaching in all of East Asia. Never mind the fussing over authorship or canonical status. It is profound and true. I suggest this 2004 translation by Vorenkamp of the best commentary by Fa-tsang. Mellen Press did it and it is too expensive for most - $160. But search about or find a university library copy - it is sublime and inspirational.


Here is how Fa-tsang begins:

Nevertheless, though multitudes of phenomena repeatedly arise,
rousing and popping about, (such activity) has never yet moved the Mind’s Origin.

Still and quiet, empty yet formed it does not stand in opposition
to karmic results. So, utilizing an unchanging nature it nevertheless
dependently arises so that the pure and the impure are constantly differentiated.
Yet, in not abandoning conditions as Thusness, the sage and the common man
become one.

It is just like waves which because they are not different than the
water’s movement, are just the water differentiated into waves. Furthermore,
because the water itself is not different than the stream of flowing waves, it is just
the waves manifest on the water. Because of this, movement and quiescence
interpenetrate, the ultimate and the conventional interfuse, and samsara and
nirvana uniformly pervade one another.


Aura of atheification
Premium Member
It took a while for Chan (a precursor of sorts to Zen) and Pure Land to fully develop into distinct schools in China, didn't it? I take it that it happened long after "Awakening" was written.


It took a while for Chan (a precursor of sorts to Zen) and Pure Land to fully develop into distinct schools in China, didn't it? I take it that it happened long after "Awakening" was written.

Chan and Pure Land never really separated in China. Nor in Vietnam or Korea, for that matter. It wasn't until Mahayana Buddhism entered Japan that it began to separate into different, often competing schools.


Dirk Vorenkamp's Introduction has this to say about the Awakening:

"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Awakening of Faith
to the history of East Asian Buddhist thought. Virtually all the major schools of
East Asian Buddhism have esteemed it and been influenced by its views.

The primary doctrine of the text is that everything is One Mind. It details
the various modes of the expression of One Mind and in the process, explains the
nature of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and various means
to that end.

Amongst other things the text simultaneously presents an
epistemology and an ontology centered on the nature and role of
conceptualization. Its presentation of ideas regarding conceptualizations
progresses in such a way that the careful reader comes to realize the doctrines
enfold themselves through and as the relationship between subjects and objects. In
this sense the text’s words become a reflexive expression of its doctrine of
skillful means and suggest something further about the reader’s relationship with
the text. In a sense then, as the text’s scope broadens to explain aspects of the One
Mind, it also becomes particular to the reader. Even though one might say the
Awakening of Faith is an easy read, it is certainly not a simple work."