Asanga (ah-SAHN-gah), the eldest of three Brahman brothers, was the son of the court priest of Purusapura (Peshāwar), the capital of Gandhāra in northwest India. A Sarvāstivāda Hināyānist, he became dissatisfied with its teaching and became a disciple of Maitreyanātha (270-c. 350 c.e.), the founder of the Mahāyānist Yogācara or Vijñanavāda school. He induced his brother Vasubandhu to espouse Yogācara, and both emerged as important fathers of the Mahāyānist school.
Asanga lived in Ayodhyā, where he systematized Maitreyanātha’s teachings into Yogācara philosophy and witnessed the emergence of Mahāyāna as a prominent school. Yogācara, or Vijñanavāda, Buddhist metaphysical idealism, stresses that only thought exists and that the external world is an illusion. The only reality is śūnyatā, or emptiness, which is without origin or decay and beyond all description and is pure consciousness and the essence of phenomena. Only through meditation (yogācara) are wisdom (bodhi) and conscious union with absolute reality realized. Around 700 c.e., Yogācara was referred to as Mantrayāna for its incorporation of mantras and magic circles into the meditative regimen.
Asanga’s most influential works are Mahāyānasamgraha (fourth century c.e.; The Summary of the Great Vehicle, 1992), a treatise on the Sambhoga-kāya or Enjoyment Body of Buddha;...
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