The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for clear realization) is an instructional treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfect Wisdom, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Maitreyanātha (c. 350 ce). As a technical treatise, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra outlines within its 273 verses the instructions, practices, paths, and stages of realization to omniscient buddhahood mentioned in Prajñāpāramitā scriptures. In its abridged description, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra furnishes a detailed summary of the path that is regarded as bringing out the “concealed meaning” (sbas don, garbhyārtha) of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains eight chapters of subject matter, with a summary of them as the ninth chapter. The eight subjects (padārtha) of the eight chapters (adhikāra) correspond to eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) that represent the knowledges, practices, and result of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s eight clear realizations are types of knowledge and practices for bodhisattvas (“buddhas-in-training”) to achieve buddhahood set forth within the system of the five paths (lam lnga, *pañcamārga) common to Indian abhidharma and Yogācāra literature. The first three clear realizations are types of knowledge that comprise Perfect Wisdom. Total Omniscience, or the wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārajñatā, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid), is regarded as the fundamental wisdom and the central concept of Prajñāpāramitā. Total Omniscience is direct, unmediated knowledge that exactly understands the manner of reality to its fullest possible extent in all its aspects. Path-omniscience (mārgajñatā, lam shes nyid) comprises the Buddhist path systems of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas mastered by bodhisattvas. Empirical Omniscience (vastujñāna, gzhi shes) cognizes empirical objects in conditioned existence that are to be abandoned. It correlates to knowledge that is comprehended by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. The path to buddhahood itself and the detailed means of its application are covered in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra by the fourth through seventh clear realizations. The fourth chapter is devoted to the realization of wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārābhisaṃbodha, rnam rdzogs sbyor ba), a yogic practice that enables a bodhisattva to gain a cognition of all the aspects of the three types of omniscience. The fifth realization is the summit of full understanding (mūrdhābhisamaya, rtse sbyor), whereby yogic practices reach the culmination of cognizing emptiness. The sixth chapter defines the gradual full understanding (anupūrvābhisamaya, mthar gyis sbyor ba) of the three forms of omniscience. The seventh abhisamaya clarifies the “instantaneous realization” (ekakṣaṇābhisamaya) that occurs at the final moment right before buddhahood. Abhisamayas four through seven are known as “the four methods of realization” of the three types of knowledge. The eighth realization, and last subject in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, is the realization of the dharma body (dharmakāyābhisamaya). In this way, the first three realizations describe the cognitive attainments of buddhas, the middle four realizations discuss the methods that take the cognitive attainments as their object, and the eighth realization describes the qualities and attainments of the dharma body, the resultant body of buddhas. The treatise was extensively commented upon in Indian Buddhism and has been widely studied in Tibetan forms of Buddhism up to the present day.
James B. Apple
Prajñāpāramitā, the Perfection of Insight or Wisdom, designates the vast and complex corpus of texts in Mahāyāna Buddhism, which is commonly called Prajñāpāramitā literature. The earliest known text is the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 verses), which was assembled during the first two centuries of the Common Era and became the focus of study of Mahāyāna Buddhism. During the next two centuries, the Aṣṭasāhasrikā was expanded in varying lengths, up to one hundred thousand verses that scholars call the “Larger Prajñāpāramitā” texts. Crystallization of ideas made shorter Prajñāpāramitā texts possible during the subsequent two hundred years lasting up to the 5th century. The final development took place from 600 to 1200 ce and coincided with the emergence of Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism that emphasized the ritual use of Prajñāpāramitā texts. This final phase also saw the representation of the Perfection of Wisdom in anthropomorphic form as a goddess with various colors and ritual gestures, holding various attributes in statuary, manuscript illuminations, and in literary sources. By the 8th century, Prajñāpāramitā visualization practices developed in deity yoga stimulated image production and various epiphanies. Texts, such as the Prajñāpāramitā-nāma-aṣṭaśataka, describe achieving epiphanies of the goddess and cite the mantras that invoke her presence. Manuals, such as the 11th- to 12th-century Sādhanamāla and Niṣpannayogāvalī, include instructions on the ways of achieving visualization practices. The earliest surviving identifiable image of Prajñāpāramitā is an early-7th-century bronze from Gilgit, Kashmir. Her cult became very important during the Pāla period (8th to 12th century) in the area of modern Bihar and West Bengal. She was accorded a significant place in Pāla-period Buddhism. Many illustrated manuscripts were prepared during this time and have survived in Nepal and Tibet, carried by monks who visited the north Indian monasteries. The literature, ritual, and visualization practices associated with Prajñāpāramitā reached China and influenced the development of Buddhist thought. Her cult was popular in Java from the 10th to the 14th century. In Japan, Prajñāpāramitā texts were ceremoniously recited under royal patronage to avert calamities. Ritual and meditational practices that focus on Prajñāpāramitā continue today at Kwā Bāhā in Nepal, and further, all Tibetan schools and orders study Prajñāpāramitā along with cultivating the visualization practices in some form. In Cambodia, Prajñāpāramitā as a goddess achieved exceptional prominence in the 12th through 13th centuries, especially under the king Jayavarman VII. Some of her Khmer iconographic forms had no Indian prototypes and are not recorded in ritual manuals anywhere in the Buddhist world. The emergence of distinct Khmer forms of Prajñāpāramitā in Cambodia under the Esoteric Buddhism of Jayavarman VII necessitates re-evaluating scholars’ understanding of the goddess.