Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 23, No 1 (2006)

Two Concepts of Meditation and Three Kinds of Wisdom in Kamalaśīla’s Bhāvanākramas: A Problem of Translation

Martin T. Adam
Issued Date: 1 Feb 2007


: A close reading of the three Bhāvanākramaḥ texts, written by Kamalaśīla (740–795 CE), reveals that their author was aware of two competing concepts of meditation prevalent in Tibet at the time of their composition. The two concepts of meditation,associated with the Sanskrit words bhāvanā and dhyāna, can be related respectively to the Indian and Chinese sides of the well-known debates at bSam yas. The account of the Mahāyāna path outlined in these texts implies an acceptance of the precedence of bhāvanā over dhyāna. In this paper I argue that Kamalaśīla advocated bhāvanā – a conception of meditation which encompasses non-conceptual dhyāna, but which also includes a discernment of reality (bhūta-pratyavekṣā) that is conceptual in nature. Such conceptual discernment should not be understood simply as a process of ordinary rational understanding (cintāmayī prajñā) but rather as constituting a special kind of meditative wisdom (bhāvanāmayī prajñā). A failure to recognize the subtle differences between Kamalaśīla’s employment of the terms dhyāna and bhāvanā, along with his advocacy of the latter, could easily lead to mistranslation and, with this, a basic misunderstanding of his position. In particular, it could lead to a conception of
insight (vipaśyanā) that is overly intellectual in nature. Given the historically important role that these texts played in the formation of Tibetan Buddhism, the implications of such a misconception could be far-reaching. This paper attempts to clarify the key meditation terminology found in the Bhāvanākramas as well as demonstrate the rationale for using ‘meditation’ as the default translation for bhāvanā.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v23i1.71


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