Five Treatises of Maitreya
The Five Treatises of Maitreya (T. བྱམས་ཆོས་སྡེ་ལྔ་, byams chos sde lnga) are a collection of five texts that are identfied within Tibetan Buddhism as having been presented to the to the Indian pandit Asanga by the bodhisattva Maitreya.
Contemporary translator Cortland Dahl writes:
- Along with the works of Nāgārjuna and other masters of the Middle Way School, the teachings of Maitreya occupy a unique position in Tibetan Buddhism. In all four of Tibet’s primary Buddhist lineages, the writings attributed to Maitreya, known popularly as Maitreya’s Five Teachings, are considered essential reading and are held up as masterpieces of Buddhist literature. Indeed, it is difficult to find a monastic college in Tibet where the teachings ascribed to Maitreya are not studied.
- One testament to the influence of these texts is the fact that many masters from disparate schools of Buddhist thought and practice have claimed these texts as representative of their own particular views. Countless commentaries have been written on these five texts over the centuries, each presenting a unique perspective and positioning Maitreya’s revelatory teachings within a broader context of Buddhist philosophy.
Traditional origin story
Mipham Rinpoche presents the traditional history as follows:
- After the noble bodhisattva Asanga performed the practice of Lord Maitreya for twelve human years, he met Maitreya face-to-face and was led to the heavenly realm of Tushita. Maitreya presented Asanga with five commentaries that comment upon the wisdom intent of all the words of the Victorious One. These five treatises are the Two Ornaments, the Two Treatises That Distinguish, and the Sublime Continuum.
The five treatises
The five texts are:
- 1. Abhisamayālaṃkāra (T. མངོན་པར་རྟོགས་པའི་རྒྱན་, mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan) - The Ornament of Clear Realization
- 2. Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (T. ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ་སྡེ་རྒྱན་, theg pa chen po'i mdo sde rgyan; C. Dasheng zhuangyan jing lun) - The Ornament of Mahayana Sutras
- 3. Madhyāntavibhāga (T. དབུས་དང་མཐའ་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ་, dbus dang mtha' rnam par 'byed pa; Trad. Chin. 辨中邊論頌) - Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes
- 4. Dharmadharmatāvibhāga (T. ཆོས་དང་ཆོས་ཉིད་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ་, chos dang chos nyid rnam par 'byed pa; Trad. Chin. 辨法法性論) - Distinguishing Dharma and Dharmata
- 5. Ratnagotravibhāga [alt. Uttaratantra Śāstra] (T. རྒྱུད་བླ་མ་, rgyud bla ma; Trad. Chin. 分別寶性大乘無上續論) - Explaining the Lineage of the Three Jewels
Links to Tibetan texts
- 1. Abhisamayālaṃkāra (T. མངོན་པར་རྟོགས་པའི་རྒྱན་, mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan)
- 2. Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (T. ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ་སྡེ་རྒྱན་, theg pa chen po'i mdo sde rgyan)
- 3. Madhyāntavibhāga (T. དབུས་དང་མཐའ་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ་, dbus dang mtha' rnam par 'byed pa)
- 4. Dharmadharmatāvibhāga (T. ཆོས་དང་ཆོས་ཉིད་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ་, chos dang chos nyid rnam par 'byed pa)
- 5. Ratnagotravibhāga [alt. Uttaratantra Śāstra] (T. རྒྱུད་བླ་མ་, rgyud bla ma)
Categorization of the texts by Khenpo Shenga
- [The five treatises] are:
- The Ornament of Clear Realization, which explains the intent of the sutras teaching profound emptiness;
- The Ornament of Sutras and the two Two Treatises That Distinguish, which explain the intent of the sutras teaching the aspect of extensive conduct; and
- The Sublime Continuum, which explains the intent of the sutras teaching the inconceivable nature of reality (dharmata).
- Moreover, these texts were given for the sake of guiding three types of individual:
- The three intermediate treatises of Maitreya were composed for those to be trained through the teachings of the Mahayana Mind Only system of philosophy;
- The Ornament of Clear Realization was composed for those to be trained through the teachings of the Mahayana Svatantrika system; and
- The Sublime Continuum was composed for those to be trained through the teachings on the Mahayana Prasangika system.
Within East Asian Buddhism
East Asian Buddhism also refers "five works of Maitreya", but this tradition identifies a different set of texts. Contemporary translator Karl Brunnholzl states:
- The Chinese Buddhist tradition also speaks of "the five works of Maitreya," but considers them as consisting of the Yogācārabhūmi, a *Yogavibhaga, the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, the Madhyāntavibhāga, and the Vajracchedikāvyākhyā. The Uttaratantra is ascribed to a certain *Saramati (whom modern scholars either consider as a person different from Maitreya or as just one of his epithets). The Abhisamayālaṃkāra was never translated into Chinese and seems to be completely unknown in the Chinese Buddhist tradition. As for the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga, there is only a single very late Chinese translation by Fa-tsun (1902-1980) in 1936.
- Mipham, Ju. Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature. Shambhala. Kindle Edition. 2013 (Introduction by Cortland Dahl)
- At the very beginning of his commentary on Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes.
- Prologue to Abhisamayalankara Commentary by Khenchen Shenga
- Karl Brunnholzl, Mining for Wisdom within Delusion (Snow Lion: 2012), 15
- Translating the Maitreya Treatises: An Interview with Thomas Doctor (Shambhala Publications)
- The Five Maitreya Texts: The "Zip Files" of the Mahāyāna (Shambhala Publications)
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