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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Modern Complete Translations
  • Modern Partial Translations
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographical Surveys
  • Indexes and Dictionaries
  • Philological and Historical Studies
  • Doctrinal Studies
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Buddhism Bodhisattvabhūmi
Florin Deleanu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0254


The Bodhisattvabhūmi is part of the Yogācārabhūmi, an encyclopedic treatise which laid the foundations of the Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda school of Mahayana Buddhism. Traditionally, it is attributed to Bodhisattva Maitreya and/or Asaṅga (4th or 5th century). The modern opinion is divided between those who accept the traditional attribution and those who hypothesize a gradual compilation spanning over decades and involving multiple authors/redactors. The proponents of the latter scenario surmise that the Bodhisattvabhūmi represents one of the earliest parts of the Yogācārabhūmi. Tentatively, I place the formation of the Bodhisattvabhūmi to the 3rd century CE. As intimated by its title, The Stage [/Foundation] of the Bodhisattva spells out the essence, qualities, practices, path, and philosophy of the ideal Mahayana standard-bearer. The Bodhisattvabhūmi is a compendium on what makes and what it takes to become a bodhisattva. There are, we are told, two types of bodhisattvas: those originally abiding in this spiritual lineage from times immemorial and those who attain it through practice and accumulation of good deeds. Regardless of the category, the defining quality of a bodhisattva is the firm resolution (cittotpāda) to attain the supreme Awakening and devote all lives-to-come to help other sentient beings reach the same goal. The bodhisattva must balance the practice for his/her own progression on the path with serving the needs of others. The altruistic qualities of a bodhisattva in his/her advanced stages of practice include such extraordinary virtues as love for all sentient beings without any particular reason, bearing the endless suffering of the cycle of rebirths for the sake of others, knowing and displaying the skillful means necessary to teach even the most corrupt and stubborn persons, and so on. The bodhisattva’s selfless devotion does not manifest itself only in guiding others on the path but also in such charitable actions as offering food and other necessities. The philosophic outlook of the Bodhisattvabhūmi reflects the middle phase in the history of Mahayana ideas. One of its major tasks is the need to disentangle the concept of emptiness from nihilist interpretations. The “rightly grasped emptiness” is the realization of the fact that a phenomenon is empty of wrong conceptual and linguistic attributions but not of “that which actually exists there.” The latter is understood to be the “thing-in-itself” (vastumātra), identified with the inexpressible Ultimate Reality (tathatā). The Bodhisattvabhūmi also offers concrete spiritual recipes for internalizing this philosophy such as contemplation methods (samādhi) aimed at having all ideations accompanying a meditative object eliminated in order to attain the thing-in-itself.

General Overviews

The Bodhisattvabhūmi is a long and complex text. Engle’s English translation (see Engle 2016, cited under Modern Complete Translations) amounts to 670 pages. Approaching the text through an overview is a highly recommendable strategy, but there are very few works of this kind in Western languages. Kragh 2013 is no doubt the most detailed and trustworthy one. For a synoptical overview, Engle’s “Outline and Summary Verses” (Engle 2016, pp. 671–691) is also useful.

  • Kragh, Ulrich Timme. “The Yogācārabhūmi and Its Adaptation: Introductory Essay with a Summary of the Basic Section.” In The Foundation for Yoga Practioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet. Edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh, 22–287. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2013.

    By far the best overview of the monumental Yogācārabhūmi, which includes the Bodhisattvabhūmi as Book 15 of its so-called “Basic Section” (*Maulyo bhūmayaḥ). Kragh offers not only a detailed and reliable presentation of the content of the text, complete with technical terminology in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese but also basic bibliographical information concerning the main editions, translations, and studies. The overview of the Bodhisattvabhūmi is found at pp. 147–221.

  • Potter, Karl H., Lambert Schmithausen, and Ronald Mark Davidson. “Yogācārabhūmi (Asaṅga).” In Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 8, Buddhist Philosophy from 100 to 350 A.D. Edited by Karl H. Potter, 398–433. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

    The only merit of Potter’s entry is its manageable size, which facilitates a quick grasp at the topics covered by the text. Otherwise, it is a very unsatisfactory and patchy overview based on the analysis found in Dutt’s Preface to his edition (see Dutt 1978, pp. 8–46, cited under Complete Editions). The latter is actually more reliable and detailed, also providing the technical terminology in Sanskrit. The Bodhisattvabhūmi summarized is found at pp. 415–426.

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