Buddhism Āryadeva
Karen C. Lang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0065


Āryadeva (3rd century), a disciple of Nāgārjuna, is a central figure in the development of early Indian Madhyamaka philosophy. Āryadeva’s Hundred Verses Treatise (Bai lun) was one of the three basic texts of the Chinese Madhyamaka school founded by the central Asian monk Kumārajīva (b. 344–d. 413), which accordingly was called the Sanlun (Jpn. Sanron), or “three-treatise” school. According to the biography that Kumārajīva translated into Chinese, Āryadeva was born into a South Indian Brahmin family, became Nāgārjuna’s disciple, was renowned for his skill in debate, and was murdered by a student of a defeated teacher. Candrakīrti (b. c. 570–d. 650), in his commentary on Āryadeva’s major work, the Four Hundred Verses (Catuḥśataka), reports that Āryadeva was born on the island of Sinhala (Sri Lanka) as a king’s son, renounced his royal status, became a monk, and traveled to South India, where he studied with Nāgārjuna. Some scholars suggest that Āryadeva is the elder deva mentioned in the Mahāvaṃsa and Dīpavaṃsa chronicles of early Sri Lankan religious history. Āryadeva did not write commentaries on Nāgārjuna’s works but, rather, wrote autonomous treatises that defended Madhyamaka beliefs against its Buddhist and non-Buddhist critics. He devotes the first eight chapters to explaining ethical behavior and such practices as generosity, which form the basis for the bodhisattva’s accumulation of merit (puṇya). The latter eight chapters refute wrong views about the independent existence of external phenomena and the self, defending the Madhyamaka philosophy of emptiness and the dependently arisen nature of all things. The Catuḥśataka presents the path to the attainment of buddhahood as structured around these two requisites of merit and knowledge (jñāna). As an introduction to the practices of a bodhisattva, the Catuḥśataka prepares the ground for Śāntideva’s later (c. 8th-century) and more extensive treatment in Introduction to the Practices of a Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryāvatāra). Apart from some fragments of the Catuḥśataka, none of the works the Chinese and Tibetan canons attributed to Āryadeva survive in Sanskrit.

General Overviews

The encyclopedia articles Arnold 2005 and Hayes 2010 and the chapter “Mādhyamika” in Williams 2009 provide concise and philosophically interesting treatments of Madhyamaka ideas that help define Āryadeva’s place in the intellectual history of the Madhyamaka school. Ruegg 1981 provides a valuable discussion of Āryadeva’s works. Āryadeva’s Hundred Verses Treatise (Bai lun) and Nāgārjuna’s Middle Way Treatise (Zhong lun) and the Twelve Gate Treatise (Shi er men lun) form the three basic texts of the Chinese Madhyamaka (Sanlun) school. Robinson 1967 explores how Kumārajīva and the Chinese scholars who studied Āryadeva’s works with him interpreted Indian Madhyamaka texts. Berzin 2007 covers the main points of Āryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses, and Potter 2002 contains summaries of the Four Hundred Verses, the Hundred Verses Treatise, and the Hundred Syllables (Akṣaraśataka).

  • Arnold, Dan. “Madhyamaka Buddhism.” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2005.

    NNNA philosophically sophisticated treatment that explains how Madhyamaka arguments about the two truths, dependently originated existents, and emptiness work. It offers the best concise explanation of the historical development and epistemological concerns of Prāsaṅgika (consequentalist) and Svātantrika (autonomous) interpretations of Madhyamaka. Includes a brief discussion of Madhyamaka in East Asia and Tibet.

  • Berzin, Alexander. “Summary of Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses.” In Berzin Archives. 2007.

    NNNBerzin begins with a brief account of Āryadeva’s life, based on Tibetan sources, and discusses the key points in each of the Four Hundred Verses’ sixteen chapters. This is a good introduction for the nonspecialist, although the summaries of the last eight chapters assume some familiarity with Buddhist technical vocabulary.

  • Hayes, Richard. “Madhyamaka.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2010.

    NNNA thorough overview of Indian Madhyamaka intellectual history that examines how major thinkers from Buddhapālita (b. 470–d. 540) to Śāntarakśita (b. 725–d. 788) interpret the works of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva. Includes a short bibliography of relevant articles.

  • Potter, Karl, ed. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 8, Buddhist Philosophy from 100 to 350 A.D. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002.

    NNNThis reference work (pp. 197–228) includes synopses and analysis of Āryadeva’s major works.

  • Robinson, Richard H. Early Mādhyamika in India and China. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.

    NNNThis work is an excellent introduction to the Chinese understanding of Madhyamaka. Robinson explores how Kumārajīva translated the complex concepts of Nāgārjuna’s and Āryadeva’s treatises into Chinese. The chapters on Kumārajīva’s students Hui-yuan, Seng-rui, and Seng-zhao situate the study of Madhyamaka in 4th- and 5th-century Chinese scholarly circles.

  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Harrasowitz, 1981.

    NNNThis is an extensive and authoritative source on the history and texts of Indian Madhyamaka, with copious footnotes and bibliographical information. Ruegg discusses the philosophical framework of Āryadeva’s work and the issues surrounding the attribution of particular texts to Āryadeva and the Vajrayāna author of the same name. See pp. 50–56 and 105–106.

  • Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

    NNNChapters 2 and 3 of Williams’s book, “The Perfection of Wisdom” and “Mādhyamika,” provide useful background on the development of Madhyamaka thought. Williams credits Āryadeva along with Nāgārjuna as founding the Madhyamaka school and briefly discusses the importance of the Bai lun in the formation of Madhyamaka in China.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.