Vasubandhu Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Vasubandhu (vah-sew-BAHN-dew), Brahman by birth, was a great Buddhist scholar and native of Purusapura (Peshāwar), capital of Gandhāra in northwest India. A leading authority on Sarvāstivāda, the realist school of Theravāda Buddhism, he was persuaded by his brother Asanga to espouse Yogācāra, the metaphysical idealist school of Mahāyāna. He served as minister to the Gupta monarch Samudragupta, whose patronage he enjoyed. He lived in various parts of India, most notably in Ayodhyā, where he died at age eighty. According to his biographer, Paramārtha, Vasubandhu had a distinguished career as abbot of Nālandā with numerous disciples as his followers, the most notable being Dināga. He and Asanga were allotted the status of bodhisattvas, or potential buddhas, by Mahāyānists.

Vasubandhu’s writings earned him great respect in both Buddhist schools. His greatest work, Abhidharmakośa (fourth or fifth century c.e.; The Abhidharmakosa of Vasubandhu, 1983), is a learned treatise on ethics, psychology, and metaphysics. As the quintessence of all Abhidharma texts and most important compendium of Sarvāstivāda tenets, it is treated as an authoritative work by all Buddhist sects. He also wrote Paramārthasaptati, a refutation of Sāmkhya philosophy; Vijñāptimatratasiddhi (fourth or fifth century c.e.; Vasubandhu’s Vijñapti-matrata-siddhi, 1980), the most important document of Yogāchāra; Dashabhūmikashastra (fourth or fifth century c.e.; English translation in A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience, 1982), a treatise on rebirth in...

(The entire section is 670 words.)