Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra: Their Biographical Approaches.

Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra:

Their Biographical Approaches
Kim, Su-ah *

• Table of Contents •
I. Introduction
II. Biographical Accounts of Jñānaśrībhadra
III. Biographical Accounts of Jñānavajra
IV. Conclusion

․ Bibliography

I. Introduction

Although not well known by modern Buddhist scholars, Jñānaśrībhadra of Kashimir and Jñānavajra, born in India during the eleventh and twelfth centuries respectively, each wrote a commentary on the Laṅkāvatārasūtra (abb. LAS), which is currently included in the Tibetan canon. In addition to his commentary on the LAS, Jñānaśrībhadra also wrote a commentary entitled the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārapiṇḍārtha, which is based on Maitreyanātha’s Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, and another on Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇaviniścaya, which is called the Pramāṇaviniścayaṭīkā. Jñānaśrībhadra was an exponent to the Yogācāra school Maitreyanātha founded in the early third century in India, but also followed the school of Buddhist logic and epistemology, established in India during the sixth century by Dignāga and Dharmakīrti in the seventh century.

Furthermore, regarding Jñānavajra we can assume that he belonged to the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school during the twelfth century, due to the fact that the content of his commentary on the LAS relied on the philosophical methods of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school. The personal and philosophical backgrounds of Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra have yet to be thoroughly uncovered. Because of the lack of data on Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra’s life and scholarship, I will explore these by focusing on their connections not only with other Indian Buddhists, but also in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism by analyzing the contents of their commentaries on the LAS. Also I will explain the historical events of this period, which affected their lives and writings.

Due to the lack of traditional accounts of the history of Indian Buddhism, biographical information about later eminent Indian Buddhist scholars also needs to be investigated especially in relation to Tibetan historical materials. From the eighth through the twelfth centuries, Indian Buddhists were involved in the transmission of Buddhism into Tibet. Relying on the modern scholarship concerning Jñānaśrībhadra, we know that he was a famous Buddhist logician who was educated in Kashmir during the rule of King Harśadeva. While in Tibet he was connected to the so-called “Old Epistemology” school (tshad ma rnying ma), originally established by Rma Lo tsā ba Dge ba’i blo gros (ca. 1020~1080), in the middle of the eleventh century. Thus, Jñānaśrībhadra’s identity may be approached from two means: first, by his relationship with other eleventh century Buddhist logicians in India, and secondly, by his connections to early Tibetan Buddhists.

Unlike Jñānaśrībhadra, the identity of Jñānavajra is difficult to ascertain, because the details of his life have not been adequately established. H. Hadano focused primarily on Jñānaśrībhadra and his works, although he does briefly mention Jñānavajra’s philosophical position.

Based on his philosophical position, regarding ‘cognitive centrism’ (vijñaptimadhyama, rnam rig dbu ma), unique to the school of Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka in the late Indian Buddhism, I believe that Jñānavajra is one of the later Indian Buddhist philosophers of Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas. Therefore, in my clarification of Jñānavajra’s identity, I will focus mainly on the traditions of the Indian Buddhist school of Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka in addition to some schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Furthermore, Jñānavajra’s nationality has been uncertain because of a lack of biographical information and due to the fact that his commentary, preserved only in the Tibetan canon, does not contain the translator’s name on the colophon. His name has only come down to us in a Tibetan translaton: “Ye shes rdo rje.” In Sanskrit this name would read “Jñānavajra.” His only work known to us is Tathāgatahṛdayālaṃkāra, his commentary on the LAS found in the Tibetan canon. In all colophons, this work is ascribed to Ye shes rdo rje who, they say, was a “Chinese abbot” (rgya’i mkhan po). I believe there is plenty of evidence in the text itself to show that this colophone is incorrect. He was an Indian, and not a Chinese scholar. I hope to resolve the issue of Jñānavajra’s nationality utilizing the contents of his commentary, although the relationship between Jñānavajra and the Tibetan Buddhist schools of that period is obscure. Because Jñānavajra cites Jñānaśrībhadra in his commentary on the LAS. It can be assumed that Jñānavajra lived later than Jñānaśrībhadra. Based not only on the contents of his commentary on the LAS in relation t Jñānaśrībhadra’s commentary, both of which were translated into Tibetan, I believe that Jñānavajra’s work influenced twelfth century Tibetan Buddhism. However, here, I will attempt to clarify his biographical data.

II. Biographical Accounts of Jñānaśrībhadra

Due to the lack of biographical information regarding Jñānaśrībhadra’s life, the earliest actual accounts available to date are Tāranātha’s (1575~1634) History of Buddhism in India and ‘Gos Lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal’s (1392~1482) The Blue Annals. However, although modern scholars also have been unable to ascertain Jñānaśrībhadra’s date of birth, they estimate Jñānaśrībhadra’s date of birth to have been during the eleventh century.

Hadano, after examining Tibetan historical materials, notes:

It would certainly be mistaken to place the period of his [Jñānaśrībhadra’s) activities somewhere in the middle to the late years of the eleventh century A.D., in view of the above-mentioned people, such as Sajjana, Rma Dge ba’i blo ‘gros, Khyung po Chos kyi brtson ‘grus, and Khyung po Grags seng, who surrounded him.

Hadano’s major criterion revolved around the Tibetan Buddhist religious council of 1076 A.D., which was sponsored by King Mnga’ bdag Rtse lde in Tibet. Hadano also mentions other council participants, some of whom included Jñānaśrībhadra’s name in their biographical works about the eleventh century Tibetan Buddhist scholars studying in northern India. Another possible date is proposed by J. Naudou, who places Jñānaśrībhadra’s birth during the eleventh century, sometime during the reign of king Kalaṣa and Harśadeva.

Even though the aforementioned date is useful, to some extent, it is, in my opinion, still unsatisfactory. In an effort to argument material centered on Jñānaśrībhadra’s biography, I will begin with his significance in the history of Indian Buddhism.

Steeped in the tradition of Indian Buddhist logic, Jñānaśrībhadra studied the extensive works of both Maitreyanātha’s five works and Dharmakīrti’s works, attaining eminence in Kashmir as a Buddhist logician. In fact, Tāranātha mentions Jñānaśrībhadra’s fame in Kashmir, noting that Jñānaśrībhadra was too busy to accept the many invitations offered by the Tibetan king. However, Jñānaśrībhadra finally did travel to Tibet, where he was regarded as a famous Buddhist logician, and called him Mahāpaṇḍita or Kashmirian paṇḍita by Tibetan Buddhists.

However, there is still a point of difficulty regarding the details of Jñānaśrībhadra’s life. Tāranātha has influenced the already controversial details of Jñānaśrībhadra’s biography by stating that Jñānaśrībhadra was one of the four major followers of Suvarṇadvīpa (Dharmakīrti or Dharmapāla). This observation presents further confusion in that Jñāśrīmitra was one of Dharmapāla’s disciples in the Vikramaśīla monastery in northern India while Jñānaśrībhadra was a Buddhist logician in Kashmir, as has been noted by the Buddhist scholar Naudou. Because of the discrepancies concerning this issue I will look more closely at Jñānaśrībhadra’s career as a Buddhist logician.

During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the cities of Kashmir and Magadha both located in northern India were appropriate places for the study of Buddhism, especially for the study of Buddhist logic and Madhyamaka thought. In The Religions of Tibet author G. Tucci writes:

Ye shes ‘od chose several youths and sent them to Kashmir to study the Buddhist teachings. One of these youths was later to become prominent under the name of Rin chen bzang po (958-1055). Kashmir was an appropriate place not only because of its nearness, but also because the last splendor of Buddhist schools then held sway there, and famous religious teachers preserved both the speculative and logical tradition, and the practice of tantra and ritual.

In addition, Naudou divides the relationship between Kashmirian Buddhist teachers and Tibetan Buddhists into two periods:

1. Buddhists in Kashmir and the activity of Kashmiri Buddhists in Tibet at the beginning of the seventh century until the persecution by Glang-Dar-ma.

2. The contribution of Kashmir to the second propagation of the doctrine and, in particular, her role in diffusion of logic and of the Vajrayana.

Based on the information presented above, and the strength of Buddhist study in Kashmir, I believe that Jñānaśrībhadra was a well versed scholar of Buddhist logic.

On the other hand, during the tenth and the eleventh centuries in the Vikramaśīla monastery, there were three Buddhist logicians: Ratnākaraśānti, Jñānaśrīmitra, and Ratnakīrti. It is from the biography of Atiśa (ca. 982~1054), the most famous Buddhist scholar of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism that the identities of these three logicians are known.

According to Kajiyama’s work, when Atiśa stayed in Vikramaśīla monastery, he studied Buddhist logic with Dharmapāla’s disciples, among whom were included Ratnākaraśānti, Jñānaśrīmitra, and Ratnakīrti. Around 1041, when Atiśa left Vikramaśīla monastery and traveled to Tibet, Ratnākaraśānti was the chief abbot in Vikramaśīla monastery. Kajiyama suggests that these three above Buddhist logicians were active in the early and middle eleventh century. He also notes that, in their texts of logic, they frequently mention the ideas of contemporary Buddhist and non-Buddhist logicians. To date, Jñānaśrībhadra’s name is not mentioned in the works of any of these logicians. I believe that this strongly indicates that Jñānaśrībhadra was not their contemporary, but instead wrote later in the eleventh century.

Jñānaśrībhadra’s move to Tibet was a popular story in the history of Indian Buddhism, mainly because it is described in the Tāranātha’s History and in the The Blue Annals the details of Jñānaśrībhadra’s life initially appeared in the historical sources of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the texts of the “Old Epistemology” school, established by Rma Lo tsā ba. While living in Tibet, Jñānaśrībhadra translated his own commentaries, the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārapiṇḍārtha (Toh. 4031) and the Pramāṇaviniścayaṭīkā (Toh. 4211), into Tibetan with the assistance of the translator Khyung po Chos kyi brtson ‘grus, and he also translated Dharmakīrti’s Vādanyāya with the help of the famous Tibetan Buddhist Rma Lo tsā ba. Because of these translations, I think that Jñānaśrībhadra worked in Tibet with some Tibetan logicians and as a result, was called “Mahāpaṇḍita” or “Kashmirian paṇḍita” by Tibetan Buddhists.

Unlike Atiśa, whose biography indicates that he traveled to Tibet in 1042, there are no traditional accounts which date Jñānaśrībhadra’s move to Tibet. At this point I must clarify some of the dates which I have already discussed. While studying Buddhist logic and Madhyamaka ideas Rngog Lo tsā ba Blo lden ses rab (1059~1109) resided in Kashmir from 1076 until 1092; and Pa tshab Nyi ma grags, born in 1055, lived and studied in Kashmir for 23 years sometime between the late eleventh and early twelfth century. Both of the Tibetan Buddhist scholars mentioned above, did not cite Jñānaśrībhadra’s activities in their own time spent in Kashmir. In addition, Naodou suggests that Jñānaśrībhadra’s career preceded the arrival of Rngog Lo tsā ba and Nyi ma grags.

Based on Rngog Lo tsā ba’s biography, the most plausible theory is that Jñānaśrībhadra left Kashmir for Tibet just after Rngog Lo tsā ba had arrived in Kashmir in 1076; and, by the time Rngog Lo tsā ba returned to Tibet in 1092, after 17 years of study in Kashmir, Jñānaśrībhadra had already passed away. In Tibetan Buddhism, the “New Epistemology” (tshad ma gsar ma) was founded after Rngog Lo tsā ba returned to Tibet in 1092. Therefore, since Jñānaśrībhadra’s translations contributed to the “Old Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism, he obviously lived in Tibet between 1076 and 1090. Taking into account all the currently existing historical materials found in both Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, I can say with a large degree of certainty that Jñānaśrībhadra’s date of birth is some time between 1020~1080.

Based on L. W. J. van der Kuijp’s periodicization of the Tibetan Epistemology school, both of the old and the new belong to the pre-classical period. Although Jñānaśrībhadra is connected to the “Old Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism, his educational lineage is continuously connected to the “New Epistemology” school. In the same context, Onoda points out that, during the time of Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge (1109~1169), there existed both old and new epistemology schools in the gSang phu ne’u thog monastery. After returning from Kashmir in 1092, this is the monastery where Rngog Lo tsā ba wrote many Buddhist commentaries.

At this point, I will concentrate on the relationships that existed between Jñānaśrībhadra and the Tibetan Buddhist school, rather than detailing the history of the Tibetan Epistemology school. A parallel to Jñānaśrībhadra’s educational background appears in Gser mdog Pan chen’s brief biography of Rngog Lo tsā ba, considered to be the founder of the “New Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism. During his 17 years in India, Rngog Lo tsā ba studied the seven works of Dharmakīrti and the five works of Maitreyanātha. The Blue Annals also contains a short biography of Rngog Lo tsā ba, but there is no detailed information regarding his studies. Only mention is made that while in Kashmir, he was the attendant of six teachers, including the paṇḍita Sajjana and Parāhitabhadra. However, after returning to Tibet, he composed commentaries, taught logic (tshad ma), the Five Treatises of Maitreyanātha (byams chos sde lña), the Mādhyamika doctrine, and extensive other texts. I think that we can infer the focus of his studies while in Kashmir by noting his activities in Tibet.

III. On Jñānavajra

I now turn to the question of the identity of Jñānavajra, which can be inferred from his LAS commentary and his relation to Jñānaśrībhadra. Jñānavajra was a commentator on the LAS who came from India. Jñānavajra’s commentary contains quotations from Jñānaśrībhadra’s commentary. For example:

Furthermore, since the learned Ācarya Jñānaśrībhadra has stated the connectedness of this very sutra, do not doubt (this).

This quote serves as an evidence that Jñānavajra wrote his work after Jñānaśrībhadra. There is not, however, any information about his date of birth. Based on my previous assumption in the second section, namely that Jñānaśrībhadra probably lived between 1020 and 1080, I conclude that Jñānavajra’s date of birth or the period in which he lived was during the late eleventh and the early twelfth century, or 1050~1110.

Despite the lack of biographical data, we can assume that Jñānavajra belongs to the Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school’s philosophical lineage. Especially, he belongs to the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school since he relies heavily on Kamalaśīla’s ideas. When Jñānavajra explains the argument of one and many in his work, he states that it is said like what was taught from the master Kamalaśīla. In addition, in his commentary, he applies the probative syllogism (*svatantra hetu) to his argument:

Therefore, if by means of a probative syllogism (*svatantra hetu), the cessation [of a belief in things] is made understood for oneself or others, in this case, the subject is the subject when it appears commonly to the opponent and proponent for denying the external object such as form etc. The mere appearance established by the valid cognition of the direct perception etc. is liberated the fault of it being a non-established subject.

Hadano has also observed:

The Tathāgatahṛdayālaṃkāra corresponds completely to the Tibetan translation of the Āryalaṅkāvatārasūtra (Toh. 107), and it takes the standpoint that the myriad pure and defiled dharmas are all manifestations of mind (citta), that they are not different to mind, and that they are mind-itself, in other words, the standpoint of the Rnam par rig pa tsam gyi dbu ma (vijñapti-mātrika-mādhyamika) which considers saṃvṛtti and paramārtha as two sides of the same coin, and discards duality.

Let us examine the term rnam par rig pa tsam gyi dbu ma (vijñapti-mātrika-mādhyamika) in the above quotation. In Jñānavajra’s first chapter, as mentioned above, he refers to himself as one who practices ‘cognitive centrism’ (rnam rig dbu ma, vijñaptimadhyama), thereby revealing his philosophical identity with the notion of mind-only. Ruegg and Kajiyama reveal that throughout the history of Indian Buddhism, to date, the word *vijñaptimadhyama appears only in Ratnākaraśānti’s works. Ratnākaraśānti, in the eleventh century, wrote several Buddhist commentaries from the perspective of *vijñaptimadhyama. In later Indian Buddhism, the above word is considered to be an epithet for the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school.

Even though Jñānavajra utilizes the term rnam rig dbu ma, he does not entirely follow Ratnākaraśānti’s idea. This is because in the beginning of his commentary he mentions his opponents:

So, also to say that those who claim specifically the color-form aggregates that derived from elements, the essence of the external (world) and those who speck of the mere cognition is false deal with what does not exist, is not correct; (this) will be shown below.

In fact, Ruegg indicates that Ratnākaraśānti is considered to hold the Alīkākāravada position. Although it is not clear that Jñānavajra held the Sākāravada position only from the above quotation, it can be assumed that he rejected the Alīkākāravada position in his work. Thus, I believe that he definitely follows the lineage of Kamalaśīla because he relies on Kamalaśīla’s Madhyamakāloka, and also he is one among the *vijñaptimadhyama‘s philosophers of late eleventh and early twelfth century Indian Buddhism.

Due to insufficient biographical materials, Jñānavajra’s nationality has been a subject of some dispute. It seems strange that Tāranātha would include Jñānavajra’a name in his History of Indian Buddhism because Tāranātha considers Jñānavajra to have been Chinese. This is based on the colophon on Jñānavajra’s commentary. However, based on Jñānavajra’s work, Hadano does not consider him to be Chinese. Interestingly, according to K. Mimaki’s research on Tibetan Grub mtha’ literature, the term, rnam par shes pa dbu ma, which we meet with in Jñānavajra’s work, cannot be found in either the early period or the later period of Tibetan Buddhism. Instead, Tibetan Buddhists prefer Mdo sde pa’i dbu ma and Rnal ‘byor spyod pa’i dbu ma to classify the Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school. Consequently, I assume that, unlike Mdo sde pa’i dbu ma and Rnal ‘byor spyod pa’i dbu ma, the word vijñaptimadhyama was created by later Indian Buddhists. Thus, Jñānavajra was neither Chinese nor Tibetan, but Indian.

Now, I will present three factors that are given as proof that Jñānavajra is not of Chinese origin. First, interspersed throughout the history of Chinese Buddhism, there are fifteen official commentaries on the LAS. Due to the tradition of Chinese Buddhism, most Chinese commentaries written on this sutra were based on the four-volume version of the LAS. Both Hadano and Yamaguchi note that the basic text of Jñānaśrībhadra’s and Jñānavajra’s commentaries on the LAS are the seven-volume-version of the LAS, which was translated into Chinese in 704 A.D. and into Tibetan during the first half of the ninth century. This means that Jñānavajra followed the Indian tradition as did Jñānaśrībhadra.

Secondly, as mentioned before, Jñānavajra is certainly one of the later Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas of the twelfth century. In later Indian Buddhism, from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, the tradition of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school held a strong position. Ruegg mentions that this school is not known to have been influential in China. This is further clarified by the famous Bsam yas debate in Tibet. This debate, held in the late eighth century, was between the Chan tradition of Chinese Buddhism and the tradition of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school of Indian Buddhism. If Jñānavajra had been Chinese, it would have been impossible for him to have adhered to Kamalaśīla’s Indian Buddhist position.

Finally, in the twelfth century, the Chinese had already created their own style of Chinese Buddhism and subsequently developed methods which were based on practice rather than the scholastic study of Buddhism. According to Takasaki, there are several twelfth-century Chinese Buddhist commentaries on the LAS written by Chan masters. Compared to the earlier works on the LAS from the Tang dynasty, which remain fragmentary, the later Chinese commentaries on the LAS lack sophisticated scholastic qualities. Jñānavajra’s commentary, on the other hand, is a highly academic work. His commentary does not belong to the twelfth-century Chinese Buddhist tradition.

IV. Conclusion

Although biographical data for the two Indian commentators is insufficient, their identities can be determined by investigating not only their connections with other Indian and Tibetan Buddhists during the tenth and eleventh centuries, but also through the contents of their own commentaries on the LAS. As a result of my investigation, certain aspects of their biographical information have been clarified.

In Jñānaśrībhadra’s case, his date of birth has been approximated by comparing details of his life and works with those of other Indian Buddhist logicians. The main Indian Buddhist logicians are the late tenth and mid-eleventh centuries scholars, Ratnākaraśānti, Jñānaśrīmitra, and Ratnakīrti from the Vikramaśīla monastery, and, in addition the late eleventh century Tibetan Buddhist scholars, Rngog Lo tsā ba and Nyi ma grags, who studied in Kashmir. After making these comparisons, I have come to the conclusion that his date of birth was probably between 1020 and 1080, and that his time of life in Kashmir occurred between the former group of Indian Buddhist logicians in the Vikramaśīla monastery and the latter group of Tibetan Buddhists in Kashmir.

Moreover, I believe that he was educated under Sajjana and other Buddhist teachers in Kashmir, and that his basic philosophical viewpoint is based on both the works of Dharmakīrti and Maitreyanātha. And we know that Jñānaśrībhadra’s educational background is similar to Rngog Lo tsā ba’s educational background in Kashimir. Even though Jñānaśrībhadra’s translations of Dharmakīrti’s works seem to have been influenced by the “Old Epistemology” school, originally established by Rma Lo tsā ba, Jñānaśrībhadra’s educational lineage is also connected to the “New Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Rngog Lo tsā ba.

On the other hand, due to a lack of biographical detail pertaining to Jñānavajra, I investigated his date of birth in relation to Jñānaśrībhadra’s chronology and the contents of his commentary on the LAS. As a result of my investigation, I have concluded that Jñānavajra’s birth date was later than Jñānaśrībhadra’s. The reason is that, in his commentary on the LAS, there are a few quotations from Jñānaśrībhadra. Consequently, I assume that Jñānavajra’s time of life is in the twelfth century. In addition, Jñānavajra defines himself as a Vijñapti-Mādhyamika, a word established by Ratnākaraśānti in eleventh-century Indian Buddhism. From the early stage of Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhists classified the Indian Buddhist school utilizing their own criteria. The word, vijñaptimadhyamaka preferred by Indian Buddhists, however, does not appear in the early period or the late period of Tibetan Grub mtha’ literature. Instead, Mdo sde pa’i dbu ma (Sautrāntika-Madhyamaka) and Rnal ‘byor spyod pa’i dbu ma (Yogācāra-Madhyamaka) are the preferred words. It is understood that the Vijñapti-Mādhyamika was classified by later Indian Buddhists. Therefore, even though his date of birth and life active are uncertain, Jñānavajra was born later than Ratnākaraśānti and Jñānaśrībhadra. On this basis, I conclude that Jñānavajra lived between 1050~1110 and that he was a later Indian Buddhist who belonged to the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school.

Subsequently, the doubt concerning Jñānavajra’s possible Chinese origin is resolved from the fact that he belonged to the Vijñapti-Madhyamaka school of the twelfth century. This is because this school was not only an influence on Chinese Buddhism, but also twelfth century Chinese Buddhism lacked high scholarship in its Chinese commentaries on the LAS. I propose, however, that Jñānavajra’s work, Tathāgatahṛdayālaṃkāra (Toh. 4019), is discussed in the doctrine of mind-only by contrasting the positions of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools. Jñānavajra also mentions various different branches of his own Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school, which were developed in later Indian Buddhism.

Key word – Jñānaśrībhadra Jñānavajra H. Hadano

Rngog Lo tsā ba Blo lden ses rab Laṅkāvatārasūtra(楞伽經)

Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school(유가행중관학파)

Yogācāra school(유식학파) Āryalaṅkāvatāravṛtti(聖楞伽釋)


tshad ma rnying ma(古因明)

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