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Vasubandhu, from a Tibetan illustration.

The Abhidharma-kośa (T. chos mngon pa'i mdzod; C. Apidamo jushe lun) or Treasury of Abhidharma, refers to a set of texts (root text and commentary) on the Abhidharma written by the Indian scholar Vasubandhu in the 4th or 5th century.[1] The original texts were written in Sanskrit, and then translated into Chinese and Tibetan. The Abhidharmakośa texts are widely studied at Tibetan Buddhist monastic universities to the present day.

Contemporary Tibetan scholar Thupten Jinpa states:

In terms of stature and authority, the Treasury of Abhidharma rivals Buddhaghosa’s contemporaneous Theravada classic, The Path of Purification, and deals with such central themes as the nature and causal dynamics of emotions, the typology of mind and mental factors, different heightened meditative states, and karma and its diverse manifestations. Vasubandhu’s work also covers the Buddhist theory of evolution of both the cosmos and the life within.[2]

Root text and commentary

Vasubandu composed both a root text (in verse) and an auto-commentary:

  • The root text is called Abhidharma-kośa-kārikā (Verses on the Treasury of Abhidharma) - presented in eight chapters with a total of around 600 verses.
  • The commentary is called ''Abhidharma-kośa-bhāsya (Auto-commentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma) - presented in nine chapters

These two texts present the views of two different Early Buddhist schools. In the root text (Abhidharma-kośa-kārikā), Vasubandhu summarizes the tenents of the Vaibhāṣika school. In the commentary (Abhidharma-kośa-bhāsya), Vasubandhu critiques the interpretations of the Vaibhāṣikas that are presented in root text from a Sautrāntika perspective.[3]

The commentary includes an additional chapter in prose refuting the idea of the "person" (pudgala) favoured by some Buddhists of the Pudgalavada school. However, later Sarvāstivādin master Samghabhadra considered that he misrepresented their school in the process, and at this point designated Vasubandhu as a Sautrāntika (upholder of the sutras) rather than as an upholder of the Abhidharma.


The following chapters are included in both the root text and the auto-comentary:

1: The elements (dhātus) - "outlines the Abhidharma analysis of the factors of existence and offers its basic view of the nature of reality."[4] The chapter analyzes reality using the framework of the five skandhas.
2: The faculties (indriya) - "examines the faculties by which sentient beings ensnare themselves ever tighter within the cycle of unenlightened existence as well as those faculties that help beings seek freedom from it."[4]
3: Cosmology (loka) - presents two topics: the twelve links of dependent origination and Abhidharma cosmology. (Hence, this chapter presents the truth of suffering.)[4]
4: Karma - "one of the most comprehensive presentations of karma in classical Buddhist sources."[4]
5: Negative tendencies (anuśaya) - "examines the root afflictions (kleśa) -- attachment, anger, conceit, ignorance, false view and afflictive doubt -- and their derivatives."[4]
6: Paths and beings (pudgala-marga) - "is structured around four topics: (1) the object of the path, the four noble truths, (2) stages on mental development on the path, (3) the eight types of persons on the path, (4) the path itself by way of the presentation of the thirty-seven factors conducive to enlightenment."[4]
7: Types of knowledge (jñāna) - differentiates "key aspects, or dimensions of the path, such as perserverance, knowledge and view."[4]
8: Meditative attainment (samāpatti) - "provides a detailed explanation of the dhyānas, or concentrations, and their various levels, which together constitute the basis for the attainment of the forms of knowledge outlined in chapter 7."[4]

A ninth chapter is included in the auto-commentary only:

9: Refutation of the Pudgala - a refution of the view of "self" that is posited by the Pudgalavāda school

Key topics


The original texts were written in Sanskrit by Vasubandhu.

Translations of the Abhidharma-kosha were made into Chinese by Paramārtha (564-567) and by Xuanzang (651-654). Other translations and commentaries exist in Tibetan, Chinese, Classical Mongolian and Old Uyghur; modern translations have been made into English, French and Russian.

English translations include:


There are many commentaries written on this text, including an autocommentary by Master Vasubandhu entitled Abhidharmakoshabhasya. Vasubandhu's student Sthiramati wrote the Tattvartha-tika (6th c. CE). The Nalanda scholar Yasomitra (6th c. CE), also wrote a sub-commentary on the Abhidharmakoshabhasya, the Sputarth-abhidharmakosa-vyakhya.

Other scholars wrote commentaries on the Kosa to defend the Sarvastivadin tenets that Vasubandhu refutes in the text, these include the Nyayanusara (“In Accordance with the Truth”, by Samghabhadra, 5th c) and the Abhidharma-dipa (“Lamp of Abhidharma”, anonymous).

Dignaga's commentary, the Abhidharmakosa Vrtti Marmadipa also includes many sutra quotations.

Śamathadeva’s Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā, (The Essential Companion to the ‘Treasury of the Abhidharma, Tib. Chos mngon paʼi mdzod kyi ʼgrel bshad nye bar mkho ba zhes bya ba, Derge no. 4094 / Peking no. 5595), is a handbook of the Abhidarmakosa that quotes passages from the Mūlasarvāstivāda Tripitaka.[5]

The First Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Gendun Drup (1391-1474) composed a commentary titled Illumination of the Path to Freedom.

Mikyö Dorje, 8th Karmapa Lama (1507-1554) also wrote a two volume commentary on this text.


  1. Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abhidharmakosa". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8. 
  2. Chim Jampaiyang 2019, p. 3.
  3. Gold, Jonathan C., "Vasubandhu", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/vasubandhu/>.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Chim Jampaiyang 2019, General Editor's Preface.
  5. http://agamaresearch.ddbc.edu.tw/samathadeva-2


  • Book icoline.svg Chim Jampaiyang (2019), Jinpa, Thupten, ed., Ornament of Abhidharma: A Commentary on Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa, translated by Coghlan, Ian James (Apple Books ed.), Library of Tibetan Classics 
  • Lamotte, Etienne (2001), Karmasiddhi Prakarana: The Treatise on Action by Vasubandhu, English translation by Leo M. Pruden, Asian Humanities Press 
  • Ronkin, Noa (2005), Early Buddhist Metaphysics: the Making of a Philosophical Tradition, Routledge, ISBN 0-203-53706-8 
  • Vallée Poussin, Louis de la, trad. (1923-1931). L’Abhidharmakosa de Vasubandhu, Paris: Paul Geuthner, Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6.
  • Pruden, Leo M. (1991), Abhidharmakosabhasyam, translated from the French translation by Louis de la Vallée Puossin, Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley.

External links

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