In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Yogācārabhūmi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and State of the Field Reports
  • Reference Works
  • Commentaries
  • Other Dependent Works
  • Debates on Literary History
  • Modern Scholarly Debates on Major Doctrines
  • Further Doctrinal Studies
  • The Prehistory of the Yogācārabhūmi

Buddhism Yogācārabhūmi
Martin Delhey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0248


The Yogācārabhūmi or Yogācārabhūmiśāstra is an extraordinarily large encyclopedia or summa of ancient Indian Buddhist scholasticism. The Sanskrit title can best be interpreted as meaning either “Treatise on the Levels of Spiritual Practice” or “Treatise on the Levels of Those Who Engage in Spiritual Practice.” The text owes its great historical importance to the fact that it is the basic work of the Yogācāra (or Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda) school of Mahayana philosophy. Central doctrines of this school seemingly make their first appearance here; others are only foreshadowed or entirely missing. This suggests that parts of this treatise even predate the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra, a text that lends scriptural authority to some of the new teachings. Based on an old legend of its origin, the authorship of the Yogācārabhūmi is either ascribed to Asaṅga (in the later Indian and Tibetan tradition) or to the celestial bodhisattva and Buddha-to-be Maitreya (in the East Asian tradition). However, nowadays most, though not all, scholars of Yogācāra Buddhism tend to the assumption that the Yogācārabhūmi is a heterogeneous compilation rather than the work of one or two authors. The terminus ad quem for the last major redaction is c. 400 CE. In terms of contents, the work seems not to be free from contradictions. Moreover, one can uncover the historical development of certain doctrines within the different strata of the work, though with varying degrees of certainty or probability. It is also notable that the Yogācārabhūmi contains text passages or whole chapters that are written from the viewpoint of conservative Buddhism as well as Mahayana parts. Sometimes, a “peaceful coexistence” between the two forms of Buddhism can be supposed; in some places there seems to exist a certain tension between them. Yet another contrast can be established between some parts that mainly deal with spiritual practice—a character well in line with the very title of the work—and many other parts that are entirely devoted to exegetical problems or dogmatic theory and systemization. The preceding lines already show that there is no lack of scholarship on the textual history, contents and thought of the Yogācārabhūmi. However, one must be aware that a large amount of much more basic research work—for instance, the production of reliable critical editions and annotated modern translations—is needed to provide further studies and interpretations of this intricate work with a more solid philological basis.

General Overviews

Ideally, for an important, complex, and voluminous text like the Yogācārabhūmi, a comprehensive and up-to-date reference work should be available, one that lists the relevant source materials, summarizes the contents of the whole work, and covers all topics important for pertinent research. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is no complete modern (as opposed to premodern or traditional) translation of the work available, either. Ui 1958 provides an early book-length study on the Yogācārabhūmi. It is no coincidence that this book is written in the Japanese language. Japan was, and still is, by far the most important stronghold of modern research on this topic. Recently, one extraordinarily large edited volume written in English has appeared in which many pertinent research problems are addressed and some of the basic requirements regarding a general orientation are fulfilled (Kragh 2013a). For brief up-to-date English-language overviews of this field of research, one can turn to the introductory sections of pertinent more specialized monographs, such as Kritzer 2005. Kragh 2013b provides a lengthy “Introductory Essay” that goes into much more detail. Frauwallner 2010 provides good sample reading for undergraduates interested in the philosophy of the Yogācārabhūmi.

  • Frauwallner, Erich. The Philosophy of Buddhism. Translated by Gelong Lodrö Sangpo with the assistance of Jigme Dheldrön under the supervision of Ernst Steinkellner. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1524/9783050088099

    Originally published in German as Die Philosophie des Buddhismus (first edition 1956; third revised edition 1969). On pp. 281–296 a commented translation of a philosophical chapter can be found. The next section (pp. 296–312) is also relevant, as it is taken from the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra, which is closely related in terms of textual history. Good for classroom use.

  • Kragh, Ulrich Timme, ed. The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet. Harvard Oriental Series 75. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013a.

    Dedicated to professor emeritus Dr. Lambert Schmithausen. Contains the quite long contributions of more than thirty scholars from around the world, most of whom are acknowledged specialists in Yogācārabhūmi studies and/or Yogācāra literature. In view of its scope, it is perhaps indispensable for any type of serious research on the work and its thought.

  • Kragh, Ulrich Timme. “The Yogācārabhūmi and Its Adaptation: Introductory Essay with a Summary of the Basic Section.” In The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet. Edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh, 22–288. Harvard Oriental Series 75. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013b.

    Not only an introduction to Kragh 2013a, but also a useful starting point for deepening one’s basic knowledge of the Yogācārabhūmi. In particular, note the table on the structure of the work (pp. 51–53) and the lengthy summary of the first 50 percent of the whole work, the so-called “Basic Section” (pp. 59–224).

  • Kritzer, Robert. Vasubandhu and the Yogācārabhūmi: Yogācāra Elements in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya. Studia Philologica Buddhica, Monograph Series 18. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies, 2005.

    Pp. xii–xx of this monograph are a good brief introduction into the field of research.

  • Ui Hakuju 宇井伯壽. Yuga ron kenkyū (瑜伽論硏究). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1958.

    Very influential monograph (A study of the Yogācārabhūmi) within Japanese Yogācārabhūmi research. Though partly dated, still useful for any specialist who has some Japanese reading proficiency.

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