Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (Treasury of Metaphysics with Self-Commentary)

Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion (2021)
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Abstract
The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (Treasury of Metaphysics with Self-Commentary) is a pivotal treatise on early Buddhist thought composed around the fourth or fifth century by the Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu. This work elucidates the Buddha’s teachings as synthesized and interpreted by the early Buddhist Sarvāstivāda school (“the theory that all [factors] exist”), while recording the major doctrinal polemics that developed around them, primarily those points of contention with the Sautrāntika system of thought (“followers of the scriptures”). Employing the methodology and terminology of the Buddhist Abhidharma system, the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya offers a detailed analysis of fundamental doctrines, such as early Buddhist theories of mind, cosmology, the workings of karman, meditative states and practices, and the metaphysics of the self. One of its unique features is the way it presents the opinions of a variety of Buddhist and Brahminical schools that were active in classical India in Vasubandhu’s time. The work contains nine chapters (the last of which is considered to have been appended to the first eight), which proceed from a description of the unawakened world via the path and practices that are conducive to awakening and ultimately to the final spiritual attainments which constitute the state of awakening. In its analysis of the unawakened situation, it thus covers the elements which make up the material and mental world of sentient beings, the wholesome and unwholesome mental states that arise in their minds, the structure of the cosmos, the metaphysics of action (karman) and the way it comes into being, and the nature of dispositional attitudes and dormant mental afflictions. In its treatment of the path and practices that lead to awakening, the treatise outlines the Sarvāstivāda understanding of the methods of removing defilements through the realization of the four noble truths and the stages of spiritual cultivation. With respect to the awakened state, the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya gives a detailed description of the different types of knowledge and meditational states attained by practitioners who reach the highest stages of the path.
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