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Bhavana-krama (Skt. Bhāvanā-krama; Tib. སྒོམ་རིམ་, Wyl. sgom rim) or Stages of Meditation, is a set of three texts written in the late eigth century by the Indian scholar-yogi Kamalashila.[1][2]

These texts present the "gradual path" to enlightenment as taught in the Indo-Tibetan tradition, in contrast to the teaching on the "sudden path" to enlightenment, as taught by the Northern Chan school of this time period.

According to the Tibetan tradition, the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen arranged for a debate between representatives of these two competing views ("gradual" vs. "sudden" enlightenment) at Samye monastery in Tibet. In this debate, the Indian scholar Kamalashila represented the view of the "gradual path," and the Chinese master Moheyan represented the view of the "sudden path."

The king declared Kamalashila the winner of the debate, and subsequently the king asked Kamalishila to write a text that presented his views on the gradual path. In response to this request, Kamalashila wrote the three books of the Bhavana-krama.[2]

The Bhavana-krama has been "enormously influential" within Tibetan Buddhism.[1] The three books of the Bhavana-krama are the principal texts for the practice of shamatha and vipashyana in this tradition.[1]

The texts survive in full Tibetan translation. The first and third book also survive in Sanskrit.[1]

The Bhavana-krama is also one of the favorite texts of the 14th Dalai Lama, who has translated and written a commentary on the middle text of the collection.[3]


According to Martin T. Adam "taken as a whole the Bhāvanākramas appear to constitute a kind of apology or justification for a gradualist approach to the Mahayana Buddhist goal of Awakening."[1] In the Tibetan tradition they are seen as outlining Kamalashila's refutation of the Chinese Chan doctrine of sudden enlightenment which is said to have occurred during a series of debates at Samye (C. 792-794), Tibet's first Buddhist monastery.[4] Kamalashila's main argument is that one must gradually cultivate the causes and conditions which make the arrival of awakening possible. Two aspects of the path are necessary, moral cultivation of the paramitas and "the discernment of reality" (bhutapratyaveksa) through the practice of tranquility and insight meditation.[1] In Kamalashila's arguments against his opponents, he tries to show their approach is lacking elements of these two key aspects of cultivation.

The first book consists of a summary of Mahayana doctrine and teachings and the three kinds of wisdom (associated with study, thinking and meditation), the second book focuses on cultivation (bhavana) and method (upaya) and the third book explains the fruit of the meditative path - wisdom (prajña).[1] Kamalashila opens the first book by stating: "The Bhāvanākramas is briefly set forth with regard to the regulation of conduct of a beginner in the Mahayana sutras."[1] Other important topics include compassion, bodhicitta, and the Bodhisattva stages.

An overview of the path outlined by Kamalashila is as follows:[5]

  1. Meditation on great compassion
  2. Generation of bodhicitta
  3. Importance of practice
  4. Practicing samatha
  5. Practicing vipassana
  6. Accumulation of merit
  7. Practice of skillful means
  8. Attainment of perfect enlightenment as a result by integrated practice of wisdom and compassion.

English Translations

  • Stephen Beyer (1974), Bhk 1.
  • Yen. Geshe Sopa (1998, with Yen. Elvin Jones and John Newman), Bhk 2.
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2001, trans. Yen. Geshe Lobsang Jorhen, Losang Choephel Ganchenpa, and Jeremy Russell), Bhk 2.
  • Thrangu Rinpoche, Essential Practice: Lectures on Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (2002), Bhk 2.
  • Robert F. Olson and Masao Ichishima (1979), Bhk 2.
  • Pannananda Shanna (1997), all 3 books.

See also



External links

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