Samdhinirmochana Sutra

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search

The Samdhinirmochana Sutra (Skt. Saṃdhinirmocana sūtra; T. dgongs pa nges 'grel, དགོངས་པ་ངེས་འགྲེལ༏; C. Jiě Shēnmì Jīng 解深密經) is an important Mahayana sutra that is particularly associated with the Yogacara school.[1][2][3][4]

This sutra is known for its presentation of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of the Dharma, an important scheme for classifying the teachings of the Buddha.[5] It also contains explanations of key Yogacara concepts such as the eight consciousnesses, and the doctrine of cognition-only (vijñapti-mātra) and the three natures (trisvabhāva).

Étienne Lamotte considered this sutra "the link between the Prajñaparamita literature and the Yogacara Vijñanavada school".[6]

English translations for the title

The title has been variously translated as:

  • Scripture Unlocking the Mysteries (Cleary)
  • Scripture on the Explication of the Underlying Meaning (Keenan)
  • Elucidation of the Intention Sutra or Unravelling the Thought (Powers)
  • Sutra which Decisively Reveals the Intention (Rigpa wiki)
  • The explication of mysteries, L'explication des mystères (Lamotte)
  • Unfurling the real meaning (Buswell)
  • Explaining the thought (Buswell)
  • Unraveling the bonds (Buswell)[7]
  • Unraveling the Intent (84000 Translation group)

Translations of the text

Into Chinese

This sutra was also translated into Chinese by:

  • Guṇabhadra around 440,
  • Paramartha (499-569) and
  • Xuanzang (600-664).

Into Tibetan

This sutra was translated into Tibetan by Chokro Lüi Gyaltsen and can be found in the Tibetan Kangyur.

The fact that Xuanzang's Chinese version and Chokro Lüi Gyaltsen's Tibetan version are so similar suggests that they are both translations of the same Sanskrit version.[8]

Into English

From Chinese
  • Other translations:
    • Cleary, Thomas (1995), Buddhist Yoga : A Comprehensive Course, Boston: Shambhala
From Tibetan

Into French

Translations from the Tibetan language:

  • Lamotte, Etienne (1935), Samdhinirmocana Sutra: L'explication des Mysteres, Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve 
  • Cornu, Philippe (2005), Soûtra du Dévoilement du sens profond, Fayard 

Into German

  • Frauwallner, Erich (1969), Die Philosophie des Buddhismus, pp.284-295 (partial translation, chapters VI and VII), Frankfurt: Akademie Verlag 


Classical commentaries

There are two commentaries on this sutra attributed to Asanga:

  • Compendium of Ascertainments (Viniscaya-samgrahani) and
  • Commentary on the Superior Sutra Samdhinirmocana (Arya-samdhinirmocana-bhasya).[9]

There is another extant commentary, attributed to Jñānagarbha which is only on the eighth chapter of the sutra, the Maitreya chapter, titled the "Arya-samdhinirmocana-sutre-arya-maitreya-kevala-parivarta-bhasya".[10]

There is also a large Chinese commentary by Woncheuk, a Korean student of Xuanzang which cites many sources with differing opinions and a Tibetan commentary attributed to Byang chub rdzu 'phrul.[11]

Modern commentaries


According to contemporary scholar Jan Westerhoff, the text "probably appeared in the third century CE (its first Chinese translation was made around 440)."[12]

Étienne Lamotte believed that the text was assembled from earlier, independent fragments.[13] Other scholars believe that the apparently fragmentary nature of the early versions of the scripture may represent piecemeal attempts at translation, rather than a composite origin for the text itself.[14] According to Powers, the earliest forms of the text may date from as early as the 1st or 2nd Century CE.[14] The final form of the text was probably assembled no earlier than the 3rd Century CE, and by the 4th Century significant commentaries on the text began to be composed by Buddhist scholars, most notably Asanga.[14]


The sūtra presents itself as a series of dialogues between Gautama Buddha and various bodhisattvas.[15] During these dialogues, the Buddha attempts to clarify disputed meanings present in scriptures of the early Mahāyāna and the early Buddhist schools. Hence, the title of the sūtra indicates the intention to present a teaching that is "completely explicit" and requires no interpretation in order to be understood.[16]

In the presention in ten chapters:

  • The first four chapters of the sūtra discuss the concept of ultimate truth (paramartha) and its "ineffable and of a non-dual character".
  • The fifth chapter discusses the eight consciousnesses, including the "Storehouse Consciousnesses".
  • The sixth chapter presents the three natures.
  • Chapter seven presents the concept of the three vehicles.
  • Chapter eight and nine discusses the path to enlightenment and meditation.
  • The final chapter is a discussion on the nature of a Buddha.[15]

Within the sūtra, the Buddha describes the teaching that he is presenting as part of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.[16] As such, the Sūtra is intended to clarify confusing or contradictory elements of earlier teachings, presenting a new teaching that resolves earlier inconsistencies.[15] The Sūtra affirms that the earlier turnings of the wheel—the teachings of the Śrāvaka Vehicle (Śrāvakayāna) and the emptiness (Śūnyatā) doctrine of the Prajnaparamita Sutras—represented authentic teachings, but indicates that they were flawed because they required interpretation.[16] The teachings of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra, on the other hand, require no interpretation and can be read literally according to the discourse delivered by the Buddha within the text.[16] This reflects an ancient division in Buddhist hermeneutics, a topic to which the sūtra devotes an entire chapter.[15][16]

The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra was adopted by the Yogācāra as one of its primary scriptures. In addition, it inspired a great deal of additional writing, including discussions by Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Xuanzang, Woncheuk, and a large body of Tibetan literature founded on Je Tsongkhapa's writings concerning the scripture.[15]


In ten chapters

Translator John Powers identifies ten chapters based on the Tibetan version of the text. Buswell also identifies ten chapters.

The ten chapters (according to Powers are):[17]

  • The Setting and Chapter One: The Chapter of Gambhirarthasamdhinirmocana
  • Chapter Two: The Questions of Dharmodgata
  • Chapter Three: The Questions of Suvisuddhamati
  • Chapter Four: The Questions of Subhuti
  • Chapter Five: The Questions of Visalamati - presents the eight consciousnesses
  • Chapter Six: The Questions of Gunakara - presents the three natures
  • Chapter Seven: The Questions of Paramarthasamudgata - presents the concept of the three vehicles
  • Chapter Eight: The Questions of Maitreya
  • Chapter Nine: The Questions of Avalokiteshvara
  • Chapter Ten: The Questions of Manjushri

In eight chapters

Translators John Keenan and Thomas Cleary present the text in eight chapters. In this case, part of chapter 1 and chapters 2-4 of the previous outline are condensed into a single chapter.

The outline in eight chapters (from Keenan) is:[18]

  1. Introduction - the setting
  2. The Descriptive Marks of the Truth of Ultimate Meaning - discussion of ultimate reality
    • response of Gambhirarthasamdhinirmocana
    • questions of Dharmodgata
    • questions of Suvisuddhimati
    • questions of Subhuti
  3. The Descriptive Marks of Mind, Thought, and [Sense] Consciousness
  4. The Characteristic Patterns of All Things
  5. The Absence of Essence
    • questions of Paramarthasamudgata - presents the concept of the three vehicles
  6. The Analysis of Centering
    • questions of Maitreya
  7. The Stages and Perfections
    • questions of Avalokiteshvara
  8. The Duty Accomplishment of a Tathagata
    • questions of Manjushri

See also


  1. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Samdhinirmochana Sutra
  2. Harvey, Peter; An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, p. 104.
  3. Williams 2004, p. 78
  4. Chang-geun Hwang; A Korean Yogacara Monk in China: Won Cheuk (612-696) and His Commentary on the Heart Sutra, page 137.
  5. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Samdhinirmochana Sutra
  6. Lamotte, Etienne (1935), Samdhinirmocana Sutra: L'explication des Mysteres, page 24.
  7. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Samdhinirmochana Sutra
  8. Philippe Cornu, Soûtra du Dévoilement du sens profond.
  9. Powers, Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p 15
  10. Powers, Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p 16
  11. Powers, Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p 16
  12. Westerhoff, Jan. The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy (2018), Chapter on "Yogacara"
  13. Warder, A.K. (2000) [1970], Indian Buddhism (Third revised ed.), New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 407–11, ISBN 81-208-0818-5 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Powers, John (1993), Hermeneutics and tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, Brill Academic Publishers, pp. 4–11, ISBN 90-04-09826-7 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Powers 2004, p. 738
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 Williams 2004, p. 79
  17. Powers 2004.
  18. Keenan 2000.


External links

This article includes content from Sandhinirmocana Sutra on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo