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Tibetan depiction of Asaṅga (credited as the author of the Abhisamayalankara) and Maitreya

Abhisamayālaṃkāra (T. མངོན་རྟོགས་རྒྱན་, mngon rtogs rgyan), or Ornament of Clear Realization, is a treatise of the Sanskrit tradition on the Mahayana path.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the Abhisamayalankara is regarded as one of the five treatises that were directly revealed to Asanga by the future Buddha Maitreya. It is considered a commentary on the hidden meaning of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, describing the entire journey of the bodhisattva, from the generation of bodhichitta to the attainment of full omniscience.

This text is studied within the Tibetan monastic universities of all Tibetan lineages. Within the Gelug school, it is one of five principal works studied in the geshe curriculum. Within the Nyingma school, it is included among the so-called "thirteen great texts", which form the core of the curriculum of the Nyingma monastic universities. In the Karma Kagyü lineage, it is considered as one of the eight great treatises.


Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche states:

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra, or Ornament of Clear Realization, is one of the five treatises of Maitreya, which are all greatly renowned and thoroughly studied in all schools of mahāyāna Buddhism throughout the world. In particular, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra is one of the key texts emphasized in the curricula of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In the Karma Kagyü lineage it is considered as one of the eight great treatises. This text lays out the obstacles and antidotes with regard to the experiences and realizations of the paths and bhūmis of bodhisattvas in detail. If you want to check out the challenges and experiences of an individual’s journey to enlightenment, this is a perfect guide. It is an indispensable manual for any practitioner treading on the mahāyāna path.
In the Abhisamayālaṃkāra Maitreya explains the stages of the realizations reached through the five paths, which lead to the attainment of the three enlightened states of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. The basic structure of the text consists of eight main topics that are further expanded into seventy points. The first three topics are what are to be realized: (1) the knowledge of all aspects, (2) the knowledge of the path, and (3) the knowledge of entities. These are the realizations to be achieved by the three noble ones—completely awakened buddhas, bodhisattvas, and śrāvaka-pratyekabuddhas. The second four topics are the skillful applications toward that end: (4) the complete training in all aspects, (5) the culminating training, (6) the serial training, and (7) the instantaneous training. These are the paths of the realizations through which the minds of bodhisattvas are led to enlightenment. The final point is the fruition, (8) the dharmakāya, or buddhahood. This is the result of the mahāyāna path that encompasses the four kāyas of full enlightenment.[1]

The Eight Topics

The text is divided into eight topics. These eight topics are further divided into seventy points.

  1. knowledge of all aspects, omniscience (Skt. Sarvākārajñatā; Tib. རྣམ་ཀུན་མཁྱེན་ཉིད་, nam kun khyen nyi or རྣམ་མཁྱེན་, "namkhyen")
    (Wisdom attained by Buddhas; inclusive of categories two and three below)
  2. path-knowledge (Skt. Mārgākārajñatā; Tib. ལམ་ཤེས་ཉིད་, lamshe nyi or ལམ་ཤེས་, lamshe)
    (Wisdom attained by bodhisattvas; inclusive of category three below)
  3. base-knowledge, knowledge of the bases, knowledge of the foundation (Skt. vastujñāna; Tib. གཞི་ཤེས་, zhishe) but also all-knowledge (Skt. Sarvajñatā; Tib. ཐམས་ཅད་ཤེས་པ་ཉིད་, tamche shepa nyi)
    (Wisdom attained by sravakas and pratyekabuddhas, i.e., Hinayana practitioners)
  4. complete application of all aspects, application of the realization of all aspects (Skt. Sarvākārābhisambodha; Tib. རྣམ་ཀུན་མངོན་རྫོགས་རྟོགས་པ་ but also རྣམ་རྫོགས་སྦྱོར་བ་, namdzog jorwa)
  5. culminating application, application when reaching the peak (Skt. Murdhābhisamaya; Tib. རྩེ་མོར་སྦྱོར་བ་, tsemor jorwa)
  6. progressive application, gradual training, gradual application of the bodhisattva path (Skt. Anupurvābhisamaya; Tib. མཐར་གྱིས་པའི་སྦྱོར་བ་, thar gyi jorwa)
  7. instantaneous application, momentary training (Skt. Ekakṣanābhisamaya; Tib. སྐད་ཅིག་མའི་སྦྱོར་བ་, kechigme jorwa)
  8. dharmakaya (Skt. dharmakāya but also Dharmakāyābhisambodha; Wyl. chos sku; Tib. ཆོས་སྐུ་, chö ku)


Definition of Bodhichitta

སེམས་བསྐྱེད་པ་ནི་གཞན་དོན་ཕྱིར། །

ཡང་དག་རྫོགས་པའི་བྱང་ཆུབ་འདོད། །

Arousing bodhicitta is: For the sake of others,
Longing to attain complete enlightenment.
Abhisamayalankara, I, 18

Not a thing to be removed, nothing to be added

འདི་ལས་བསལ་བྱ་ཅི་ཡང་མེད། །

གཞག་པར་བྱ་བ་ཅུང་ཟད་མེད། །
ཡང་དག་ཉིད་ལ་ཡང་དག་ལྟ། །
ཡང་དག་མཐོང་ན་རྣམ་པར་གྲོལ། །

In this, there is not a thing to be removed,
Nor the slightest thing to be added.
It is looking perfectly into reality itself,
And when reality is seen, complete liberation.
Abhisamayalankara, V, 21 and Sublime Continuum, I, 154[2]


  • Abhisamayalankara, Edward Conze (Rome: Is.M.E.O., 1954).
  • Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyu Tradition, Volume One, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Ithaca: Snow Lion), Vol. One, July 2011
  • Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyu Tradition, Volume Two, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Ithaca: Snow Lion), Vol. Two, 2011
  • Groundless Paths: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Ithaca: Snow Lion), 2012
  • Ornament of Clear Realization: A Commentary on the Prajnaparamita of Maitreya, Thrangu Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal, 2004.
  • Abhisamayalankara (mngon rtogs rgyan), Maitreya – Asanga with commentary by Jamgön Mipham, Padmakara translation group, forthcoming


  1. Brunhozl (2011) vol 1, Preface
  2. This is also verse 7 of Nāgārjuna’s Heart of Dependent Origination.


  • Brunnhölzl, Karl (2011), Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyu Tradition, Volume One, Snow Lion 

Further Reading

  • John Makransky, Buddhahood embodied: sources of controversy in India and Tibet, New York: SUNY, 1997
  • James B. Apple, Stairway to Nirvana: A Study of the Twenty Samghas Based on the Works of Tsong kha pa, SUNY, 2008
  • James B. Apple, Contributions to the Development and Classification of Abhisamayālaṃkāra Literature in Tibet from the Ninth to Fourteenth Centuries, JIATS, no. 5 (December 2009), available online here

External Links

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