Tattvasiddhi Śāstra

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The *Tattvasiddhi Śāstra (C. Chengshi lun; J. Jōjitsu ron; K. Sǒngsil non 成實論), aka "The Treatise that Accomplishes Reality", is a treatise on the Abhidharma by the Indian scholar Harivarman (250-350).[1][2]

Contemporary scholar Qian Lin states:

The [*Tattvasiddhi] is an encyclopedic Abhidharma text that was intended to cover all major teachings and doctrines that were discussed and debated among Buddhist teachers of its time, and the nature of mind is one of the central topics discussed in that work."[3]

This text was translated into Chinese in 411 by Kumārajīva, and "it was studied widely in China during fifth and sixth centuries."[1]

The Chinese translation (Chengshi lun) is the only extant version.[4][5][6]

The Sanskrit title *Tattvasiddhi Śāstra is a reconstruction from the Chinese title. (The Sanskrit title has also been reconstructed as *Satyasiddhi-Śāstra, though this rendering is considered outmoded.[1])

About the author

Contemporary scholar Qian Lin states:

The *Tattvasiddhi is only extant in Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation, and no Indic manuscript of this treatise has been found, and there is no record of the author Harivarman in any extant Indic source. What little information there is about the author and the text comes from Chinese sources. Only one short biography of Harivarman survives, supplemented by a number of references to him and to the [*Tattvasiddhi] scattered in Chinese materials dated from the fifth to seventh centuries CE. Most of the Chinese accounts do not identify their Indic sources, and they sometimes contradict each other. As a result, the information given in these accounts is questionable.[7]

Based on multiple Chinese sources, "Harivarman likely lived between 250 and 350 CE."[8]

According to Xuanzang's biography, Harivarman was born a Brahmin, ordained with the Sarvāstivāda, and became a student of the Sarvāstivāda teacher *Kumāralāta (possibly the same as the original teacher of Sautrantika) who taught him the "great Abhidharma of Kātyāyana (迦旃延) with thousands of gāthās" (presumably the Jnanaprasthana).[8]

Having fully learned this work, Harivarman was unsatisfied and disillusioned with Abhidharma. He then spent several years studying the entire Tripiṭaka and traced all the different teachings of the “five sects” (五部) and “nine branches” (九流 *srotas)[9] back to their common origin. Thereafter, he engaged in debates with other Buddhist teachers and tried to persuade them to return to the original Buddhist teachings. Those teachers were reluctant to abandon their sectarian doctrines. As a result, Harivarman became unpopular among them. However, the Mahāsāṅghikas (僧祇部) in the city Pāṭaliputra (巴連弗邑), who also claimed that their doctrines were the origin of the “five sects,” heard about Harivarman and invited him to live with them. There Harivarman studied Mahāyāna (方等 vaipulya) and the teachings of all traditions. He wrote the *Tattvasiddhi, in which he investigated and criticized the different doctrines from various traditions, especially Kātyāyana’s Abhidharma system. Harivarman’s stated purpose in writing this work was to “eliminate confusion and abandon the later developments, with the hope of returning to the origin” (除繁棄末慕存歸本). The biography concludes with a record of Harivarman’s victorious debate with a Vaiśeṣika teacher, from which he earned a great reputation.[10]

The school affiliation of the author and his text has been debated for hundreds of years, with disagreement among the early Chinese sources. The Japanese scholars Katsura Shōryu and Fukuhara Ryōgon, in analyzing the doctrinal content, maintain that Harivarman is closest to the Bahuśrutīya school.[11] This position is shared by other scholars, including A.K. Warder, Buswell and Lopez, etc.[12][13]

Qian Lin notes the difficulty of using doctrinal analysis to pin down a specific school affiliation due to the fluidity of said schools and the terms used to refer to them.[14]


Qian Lin states:[15]

The *Tattvasiddhi is a Buddhist Abhidharma, or philosophical treatise, composed around the third or fourth centuries CE. Its composition comes in the middle of one of the most prolific periods of intellectual innovations in Buddhist history, a period when the Sarvāstivāda and the Pāli Theravāda Abhidharma systems had become well established and influential, the Mahāyāna movement(s) were becoming more and more popular, and the new Yogācāra movement was beginning to coalesce but had not yet come to maturity as it would a few decades later in the works of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu (both ca. the 5th century CE), the two most important early Yogācāra philosophers and commentators. Many Buddhist teachers from different groups and geographical regions were debating concerning different understandings of sūtras, and were also arguing with each other for or against newly established philosophical doctrines. The author of the TatSid, Harivarman, is very knowledgeable about, and very critical of, the Abhidharma systems of his period, and records extensively in the TatSid both arguments and rejoinders from teachers with different opinions regarding the issues disputed. The texts quoted and mentioned in the TatSid include early sūtra materials as well as references to positions that can be traced in various Abhidharma treatises of different teachers and schools. These records make the TatSid a rich source of early Buddhist textual materials, and hence make it a good candidate for textual and philological investigations. Furthermore, this treatise was translated into Chinese around 411-412 CE, which is significantly earlier than the translations of the two other Chinese translators of Abhidharma texts: about 150 years earlier than Paramārtha (真諦), and more than 200 years earlier than the translations by Xuanzang (玄奘). As we know the transmission of such texts is usually accompanied by constant revision and expansion. Because of its relatively earlier translation date, the TatSid provides a special “snapshot” of the period when many textual and doctrinal issues were still being debated among Abhidharma teachers, and the records of textual inconsistencies and doctrinal controversies are preserved and not yet filtered and revised as they are in later texts and even in early texts preserved today, such as the Pāli texts, which have been heavily edited. Thus, the textual materials preserved in the TatSid, together with the texts that precede and follow it, provide an extremely valuable historical frame of reference for the history and development of Buddhist texts and doctrines.[16]



The Chinese translation of the *Tattvasiddhi has 202 chapters divided into five sections, where the first section is an introduction, and the remaining sections correspond to the four noble truths.[17]

Qian Lin presents the following overview of the five sections:[17]

I. Introduction (發聚) (chapters 1-35)

  1. The three treasures of Buddhism (三寶) (1-12)
  2. Introduction to the treatise and its content (13-18)
  3. Ten points of controversy (19-35)

II. The truth of suffering (苦諦聚) (36-94)

  1. Form (rūpa 色) (36-59)
  2. Consciousness (vijñāna 識) (60-76)
  3. Apperception (saṃjñā 想) (77)
  4. Feeling (vedanā 受) (78-83)
  5. Volitional formations (saṃskāra 行) (84-94)

III. The truth of origin (集諦聚) (95-140)

  1. Karma (業) (95-120)
  2. Defilements (煩惱 kleśa) (121-140)

IV. The truth of cessation (滅諦聚) (141-154)

V. The truth of the path (道諦聚) (155-202)

  1. Concentration (定 samādhi) (155-188)
  2. Insight (慧 prajñā) (189-202)


According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, the positions advocated by this text "are closest to those of the Sthaviranikāya and Sautrāntika schools."[4] However, the text is not in complete agreement with either of these schools. For example, the treatise:[4]

  • accepts the existence of imperceptible forms (avijñaptirūpa), in contrast to the Sthaviranikāya, and
  • rejects the notion of an "intermediate state" (Skt. antarābhava; T. bardo), in contrast to the Sautrāntika

The treatise also rejects the following positions from other schools:[4]

According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, the treatise advocates a middle way between the extremes of "everything exists" and "everything does not exist." This position is referred to as "voidness of everything" (sarvaśūnya).[4] For this reason, the text is sometimes view as representing a transitional stage between the Early Buddhist schools and the Mahayana.[4]

One Teacher, Many Traditions states:

Some say [this treatise] represents the Sravaka Vehicle, and others say it represents a bridge between the Sravaka Vehicle and the Bodhisattva Vehicle.[18]

In East Asia

Chinese translation (Chengshi lun)

This Tattvasiddhi Śāstra was translated into Chinese in 411 by Kumārajīva, and given the title Chengshi lun. The Chinese translation (Chengshi lun) is the only extant version of this text.[4][5][6]

Tattvasiddhi school (Chengshi zong)

The Chengshi lun "was studied widely in China during fifth and sixth centuries."[4] The prominence of this text gave rise to references to a "Tattvasiddhi school" (C. Chengshi zong) to refer to the lineage of scholars who studied this text.

The Chengshi lun was initially promoted by three of Kumarajiva's students, Sengrui (僧叡 or 僧睿, ca. 4th-5th c. CE), Sengdao (僧導 362-457 CE) and Sengsong (僧嵩 date unknown).[19] Sengdao wrote a commentary on the text and his lineage was centered in Shouchun while the lineage of Sengson was centered in Pengcheng.[19]

Other major expounders of the Chengshi lun in China include the group named "Three Great Masters of the Liang dynasty": Sengmin (僧旻, 467–527), Zhizang (智蔵) (458–522) and Fayun (法雲, 467–529), who initially interpreted the sect as Mahayana in outlook.[5] The three of them in turn received instructions in this treatise from the monk Huici (慧次, 434–490). The three of them also possibly influenced the writing of the Sangyō Gisho, a sutra commentary supposedly authored by Prince Shōtoku.

The tradition of the Chengshi lun remained strong up until the Tang Dynasty; up to 24 commentaries were written on the text, all of which are now lost.[19] The Madhyamaka teacher Jizang (549–623) strongly criticized the work as "Hinayana" (lesser vehicle) and possibly due to the rise of new more influential schools such as the Huayan and Tiantai schools, the Chinese tradition of the Chengshi lun died out.[19]

Transmission to Japan

The Chengshi zong was introduced to Japan as Jōjitsushū in 625 by the monk Ekwan of Goryeo. In Japan, it was classified as one of the three approaches of East Asian Mādhyamaka instead of a separate lineage.[20]

English translation

The following English language translation is available:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. *Tattvasiddhi.
  2. Takakusu 2002, p. 74.
  3. Lin 2015, p. 1.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Chengshi lun.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Takakusu 2002, p. 75.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lin 2015, p. 2.
  7. Lin 2015, p. 14.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lin 2015, p. 15.
  9. Lin states: "The “five sects” are likely the five Buddhist sects with their own vinayas and monastic orders. The “nine branches” is likely a non-specific term referring to multiple groups."
  10. Lin 2015, pp. 15-16.
  11. Lin 2015, pp. 19-20.
  12. Warder 2000, p. 398.
  13. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Harivarman.
  14. Lin 2015, pp. 23.
  15. Lin refers to the *Tattvasiddhi as Tatsid after the first mention.
  16. Lin 2015, pp. 3-4.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lin 2015, pp. 32-33.
  18. Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron 2014, s.v. Buddhism in China.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Lin 2015, p. 29.
  20. Takakusu 2002, p. 76.


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