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Survivability: Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra on the Continuity of the Life of a Sentient Being as Translated by Xuanzang

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Survivability: Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra on the Continuity of the Life of a Sentient Being as Translated by Xuanzang


Iona College, New Rochelle, New York


This paper presents the doctrinal argumentation on the continuity of the life of an individual sentient being found in the Abhidharma Buddhist texts translated by Xuanzang and his Tang Dynasty (618–907) collaborators. Vasubandhu, in the Treasury of the Abhidharma, and Saṅghabhadra, in his two commentaries on this text, the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic, and the Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets, enlist the doctrines of the continuum (Skt. saṃtāna蘊; Ch. xiangxu 相續) and the aggregates (Skt. skandha; Ch. yun ) to support the idea that the life of an individual sentient being does not end with the death of the body. The conceptualization of survivability, articulated by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra in these three Abhidharma masterworks, is that an individual sentient being continues in life, and survives death, the afterlife, and reincarnation, in the form of aggregates bundled together in the continuum. This paper enlists a source criticism methodology to compare the translations of the Abhidharma texts by Xuanzang and his coterie, with earlier recensions of the texts in Chinese, and received versions in Tibetan and Sanskrit, to describe the definitions, examples, and logic employed by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra in their argumentation in defense of the doctrine that the life of an individual sentient being persists throughout the four stages of the Buddhist life cyle: life, death, the afterlife, and reincarnation. Ultimately, for Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, as well Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies, 3.1 (2020): 000–000 1 as for Xuanzang, the individual life constituted by the continuum of a sentient being persists in the face of constant change and radical impermanence.

Keywords: Xuanzang, Vasubandhu, Saṅghabhadra, Abhidharma Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, *Abhidharmasamaya-pradīpikā śāstra理論阿毘達磨藏顯宗論, Apidamo zang xianzong lun, 阿毘達磨順正 , DOI Introduction I n their doctrinal works composed during the fifth century, the

Indian philosopher, Vasubandhu (fl. fifth century C.E.), and his prolific commentator and rival, Saṅghabhadra (fl. fifth century C.E.), address questions posed by Brāhmaṇical and Buddhist theorists regarding the survivability, or the continuity, of the life of a sentient being. How does a sentient being maintain continuity in a changing material world? What qualities of a sentient being survive death, transmigration, and reincarnation? In the face of constant change in the Buddhist cycle of death and rebirth, what aspects of a sentient being survive, if not an ātman, or a self? In their efforts to uphold the Buddhist tenets of impermanence and no-self in their doctrinal masterworks, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra engage in thematic questions regarding the survivability of a sentient being through four stages of the Buddhist life cycle: life, dying, the afterlife, and reincarnation. 奘 Two centuries after Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, Xuanzang玄

(602?–664 C.E.), the intrepid Silk Road traveler, scholar-monk, and polymath, with a team of researchers and scribes, undertakes a massive translation and exegesis of the Indic Brāhmaṇical and Buddhist texts on dying, death, transmigration, and reincarnation. While ensconced in a capacious and Imperially-financed translation studio in the capital City of Chang’an during the early years of the Tang dynasty (618–907 C.E.), Xuanzang and a legion of exegetes translate the works of the Indic Buddhist thinkers Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra from Sanskrit into Chinese. During this effort they render a comprehensive translation of the Treasury of the Abhidharma by Vasubandhu, into thirty fascicle rolls, and two lengthy translations of the criticism and exegesis on the Treasury of the Abhidharma, composed by Saṅghabhadra: the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic (Skt. Abhidharma Nyāyanusāra śāstra; Ch. Apidamo shun zhengli lun 阿毘達磨順正理論) into sixty fascicle rolls, and the

Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets (Skt. *Abhidharma-samaya- pradīpikā śāstra論 ; Ch. Apidamo zang xianzong lun 阿毘達磨藏顯宗

) into forty fascicle rolls.

In the process of translating the treatises of Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, Xuanzang and his team of exegetes examine the Abhidharma doctrine of survivability, the capacity of a sentient being to withstand the states of living, dying, transmigration, and rebirth. In their exegeses of the scriptures, Xuanzang and his coterie locate the doctrinal evidence and argumentation for the Abhidharma Buddhist explanation of survivability: how a sentient being survives the changing conditions of the material world, the dissolution and loss of the corporeal body, the process of transmigration into the afterlife, and reincarnation into a new living form. In the Treasury of the Abhidharma, and in the two commentarial works on this text, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra enlist the Buddhist theory of the skandhas to conceptualize the survivability of a sentient being.

They present examples and logical arguments to defend the idea that a sentient being withstands the continuous developmental changes of life, survives the demise of the corporeal body, continues into the afterlife, and is reincarnated, in the form of skandhas carried by saṃtāna. This study investigates the explanations, articulated by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra in three doctrinal masterworks, for how a sentient being maintains continuity, or survives, the four stages of the Abhidharma Buddhist life cycle. These stages include the previous life (Skt. pūrvabhava; Ch. benyou 本有死有), 中有 the time of be生有 coming deceased (Skt. maraṇabhava; Ch. siyou ), the afterlife or intermediate state (Skt. antarābhava; Ch. zhongyou ), and the time of reincarnation (Skt. upapattibhava; Ch. shengyou ).

Employing a source criticism research methodology, this study compares the arguments for survivability within the four stages of the Buddhist life cycle, preserved in the seventh-century Chinese translations of the Treasury of Abhidharma, the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic, and the Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets, by Xuanzang and his team of exegetes and scribes, with the received versions of the same texts in Sanskrit and Tibetan. Versions of the Treasury of the Abhidharma exist in Sanskrit, in Tibetan, and in Chinese translations from the sixth century. The full commentarial works by Saṅghabhadra, however, are extant only within the Chinese translation corpus of Xuanzang. While a work that has been catalogued as a Tibetan translation of Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets by Saṅghabhadra exists in the Derge canon (D no. 4091, 141), Mejor found that it appears to be ‘a simple abridgement of the Abhidharmakośa, without polemics’. Because the original doctrinal discussions on the topic of survivability by Saṅghabhadra survive only in the Chinese renditions put together by Xuanzang and his team, these discussions are deserving of close examination. This paper counterbalances Saṅghabhadra’s doctrinal discussions with those presented by Vasubandhu, as the two authors developed their respective doctrinal stances in continuous dialogue with one another. This research builds upon prior scholarship on the Abhidharma Buddhist conceptualization of the continuity and survival of the sentient being in terms of the skandhas and saṃtāna. Von Rospatt uses a doctrinal historical approach to describe how Vasubandhu employs the theory of the saṃtāna to explain how a sentient being maintains continuity, while undergoing growth and development, in the absence of an unchanging core, self, or ātman. Watson describes how Vasubandhu enlists the theory of the saṃtāna in his explication of how a sentient being survives death and persists into the afterlife without a self, soul, or ātman. Located within this body of scholarship, this paper describes the definitions, examples, and logic employed by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, and preserved in Chinese translations by Xuanzang and his collaborators, to formulate the survival of the sentient being in terms of the saṃtāna and the skandhas. Momentariness, Impermanence, Saṃtāna, and the Five Skandhas

The Buddhist doctrine of momentariness (Skt. kṣaṇabhaṅga; Ch. cha’na mie 刹那滅), as developed in Abhidharma philosophy, postulates that every conditioned dharma (Skt. saṃskṛta-dharma; Ch. youwei fa 有爲法) or factor comes to cease immediately upon arising. Each and every factor is conditioned by a myriad of causes and conditions (Skt. hetu-pratyaya; Ch. yin-yuan 因緣性 ) that precede its coming 無常 into being (Skt. bhāva; Ch. you , xing , ti ). All conditioned factors are impermanent (Skt. anitya; Ch. wuchang ) by nature. As one conditioned factor arises, it gives rise to the next, and then immediately perishes. The continuum, or the saṃtāna, as defined in the Abhidharma texts, is the series of discrete events that links one moment to the next in an uninterrupted flow. The theory of saṃtāna explains, for example, why a time-lapse video of the seed of a plant sprouting, emerging from the earth, and then flowering, appears to the viewer as the continuous movement of a singular entity. For the Abhidharma theorists, the concept of saṃtāna provides an explanation for the continuity of an entity or a living thing, that also embraces the Buddhist notions of momentariness and the impermanence of being. The earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha, found in the Āgamas, describe the sentient being as comprised of five skandhas, or aggregates, that arise, abide, and cease from one moment to the next. The doctrine of no-self (Skt. anātman; Ch. wuwo 無我), also attested in the Āgamas, asserts that there is no singular or permanent self to be found either inside, or outside, of the five skandhas. The five skandhas constitute the physical and mental existence of the sentient being and are comprised of one corporeal or bodily form (Skt. rūpa; Ch. se ) and four mental or psychological states: feeling and sensation (Skt. vedanā; Ch. shou ), perception (Skt. saṅjñā; Ch. xiang ), mental formations (Skt. saṃskāra; Ch. xing ), and consciousness (Skt. vijñāna; Ch. shi ). Watson, in describing the Buddhist positions on momentariness and impermanence that are implicit in the theory of the skandhas writes: ‘for Buddhism, we are not one thing but an association of five: a bodily state and four mental states’. He adds: ‘what we are in one moment is not what we are the next’. According to the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness, the continuous, moment-to-moment evanescence and dissolution of the five skandhas in the saṃtāna creates the continuity of the physical and mental existence of a sentient being.

In their translations of the works of Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, Xuanzang and his collaborators render the Abhidharma Buddhist description of the survival of a sentient being throughout the cycle of living, death, the intermediate state, and reincarnation, in terms of the skandhas and saṃtāna. Saṅghabhadra and Vasubandhu posit that a sentient being endures in life, survives in death, perseveres in the afterlife, and is reincarnated in a continuous saṃtāna of the skandhas, rather than in the form of a permanent or perduring self, soul, or ātman. On the position held by Vasubandhu on the five skandhas and rebirth, Stone writes:

Vasubandhu, who theorized the notion of interim being in explaining how the rebirth process continues in the absence of an unchanging soul or self, made quite clear that the intermediate being is decidedly not an ātman but a temporary karmically conditioned collection of the five aggregates (five skandhas). Essentially what survives death is not a unitary, permanent self, but rather a continuum made up up multiple, impermanent aggregates that once having arisen, are constantly abiding, changing, and ceasing during each present moment in time.

In the Abhidharma depiction of survival in the Buddhist cycle of life, immediately following corporeal death, the four psychological skandhas of a deceased sentient being are carried in the saṃtāna from the previous life, into an intermediate state, and then reincarnated into another life form. The psychological aspects of a sentient being, such as dispositions, memories, and states of consciousness, survive the death of the body, transmigration, and reincarnation bundled within the saṃtāna of the four skandhas. While the corporeal body is discarded at death, the mental constituents of a sentient being thus endure in the skandhas throughout life cycle of living, death, the intermediate state, and reincarnation. Hewing closely to the Abhidharma Buddhist doctrine, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra posit that the mental elements of a sentient being survive in the skandhas without a permanent self, soul, or ātman. The conceptualization of the survivability of a sentient being, in the treatises of Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, and preserved in the translations by Xuanzang and his collaborators, thereby demonstrates an adherence to the Buddhist concepts of momentariness, impermanence, and no-self.

Surviving the Pūrvabhava, the World of Fundamental Being

In the doctrinal treatises translated into Chinese by Xuanzang and his Tang cohort, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra posit the survival of the sentient being in the material world, the pūrvabhava, as contingent upon the continuous being of the skandhas. Drawing deeply from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma traditions of Buddhism, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra defend the position that the sentient being is comprised of momentary physical and mental states that are manifested by one corporeal (Skt. rūpaskandha), and four psychological skandhas collected together in saṃtāna. To Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, the theory of the skandhas in saṃtāna provides an explanation for how a sentient being survives in an impermanent and inconstant material world. The theory of the momentariness and impermanence of the skandhas is congruent to the Buddhist assertion that physical and mental events are not metaphysically real. In his study of the Buddhist explanations of continuity, Garfield responds to the question of why objects, and sentient beings, appear continuous and enduring in the face of constant change. He offers the Buddhist theory of the continuum of momentary events to explain the apparent continuity of an entity, a living thing, or a sentient being, over time. Garfield writes:

Given the obvious utility of discursive and other practices that take identity over time for granted, not only of persons, but of all middle-sized dry goods around us; and among these discursive practices are specifically Buddhist discourse about personal development, about the composite nature of entities, and even about gross impermanence, we need some account of why we can talk about continuants in our world. The Buddhist reply to this demand is to argue that what we usually take to be things that endure over time are in fact continua of momentary, causally interacting events.14 According to the theory of momentariness, the five skandhas of a sentient being arise, and then cease in one place, and then, arise and cease again, in a neighboring location. This gives the appearance of a sentient being moving, as a unitary and continuous entity, from one place to another. In his description of this phenomenon, Watson writes:

During life, each moment of consciousness (which is one of the four kinds of mental constituents of a person) is linked to the next moment of consciousness in that it causes it to arise. The same goes for the other three kinds of mental constituent, and the physical constituent. To Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, the linking of the momentary evanescence and dissolution of the skandhas, through the continuity of saṃtāna, provides the explanation for how the physical and psychological aspects of a sentient being appear continuous or enduring in the pūrvabhava. Continuity in the Pūrvabhava: Causal Efficacy, Causal Capacity, and Momentariness

In their doctrinal works, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra link the

Abhidharma theories of causal efficacy (Skt. 功能 kāritra; Ch. zuoyong 作

), the present energy of an entity, or dharma, and causal capability (Skt. sāmarthya; Ch. gongneng ), the potential energy of dharma over time, in their explanations for how a living entity maintains continuity in the pūrvabhava while undergoing development and change. The actions, or karma, that are performed in the past, present, and future by a dharma are determined by both causal efficacy and causal capability. Causal efficacy applies to an action taken by a dharma in the present moment, while causal capacity applies to actions taken in either the past, or the future, of a dharma. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra fundamentally agree that while causal efficacy and causal capability are distinctly different, together they comprise the essence of a dharma (Ch. fati 法體).17 For example, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra posit that the seed of a plant contains the causal efficacy to produce a sprout but does not possess the causal efficacy

ed in darkness. In the case of the pair of eyes in the dark room, it is due to the darkness impeding the inherent causal capability of the eyes to see things that the object shrouded in darkness remains unseen. Saṅghabhadra emphasizes that the situation of being unable to detect the object when the eyes are within a dark room is not due to the darkness impeding the exercise of causal efficacy necessary to detect the object. In order for an able-bodied pair of eyes to detect an object in a dark room, the causal efficacy in the eyes must be sufficient to draw forth an effect even under the conditions of darkness. Saṅghabhadra writes: ‘there are two kinds of power (Skt. śakti) in conditioned factors: firstly, causal efficacy; and secondly, causal capability. Causal efficacy denotes the causal capacity to draw forth an effect. But it is not the case that causal efficacy can be completely subsumed under causal capability. And causal capability is distinct from causal efficacy. For example, the capability of seeing something is impeded by darkness when the eye is within darkness. What is impeded is not the causal efficacy. That is to say that the impediment of darkness impedes the capability to see things. For this reason, when the eye in the darkness is able to draw forth the effect (of seeing an object), it means that in the present position the causal efficacy is not lacking’. 諸法勢力總有二種: 一、名作用; 二、謂功能. 引果功能, 名為作用. 非唯作用, 總攝功能, 功能異於作用. 且闇中眼見色功, 能為闇所違, 非違作用. 謂有闇障, 違見功能. 故眼闇中, 不能見色. 引果作用, 非闇所違. 故眼闇中, 亦能引果. 無現在位, 作用有闕.

See analysis of this passage in Cox, Disputed Dharmas, 142–3; also see Frauwallner, Studies in Abhidharma, 201. 17 Cox, Disputed Dharmas, 143: ‘Saṅghabhadra’s assertion that factors in the past and future have only intrinsic nature (svabhāva) is intended to suggest simply that they do not have activity, which characterizes factors only when they are present’. to produce a flower in the present moment. The seed, however, does possess the causal capability to engender the flower at a future time and place. Vasubandhu determines the Brāhmaṇical interpretation of causal efficacy, in terms of a static and permanent essence that ensures the identity of a living entity through change, to be incongruent with the Buddhist doctrine of the impermanence of all conditioned factors. According to the Abhidharma theorists, the intrinsic nature (Skt. svabhāva; Ch. zixing 自性) of a conditioned factor, has a causal efficacy that is exercised in one location, and at one point in time, within a living continuum. Saṅghabhadra elaborates on the momentary essence of conditioned factors in the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic. He writes:

The individual essences of the dharmas exist in a perpetual series, although they are not permanent by nature, as they undergo transformation. 法體恒有, 而非是常性變異故.

The Abhidharma theorists posit that the causal efficacy of a dharma provides the energy that enables an insentient or sentient entity to initiate an activity. The causal efficacy within a dharma initiates a sequence of causally interacting momentary events; each event is empowered by a causal capacity that is specific to a dharma. Together, the causal efficacy and the causal capacity within a dharma generate a series of linked moment-to-moment actions that form a continuum or saṃtāna. The continuum of linked momentary actions of the dharmas creates the appearance of the singular unity of an entity as it undergoes continuous material change in the pūrvabhava, the world of fundamental being.

In the Treasury of Abhidharma, Vasubandhu adduces the example of a seed maturing into a fully-leafed plant to demonstrate how a living entity retains continuity during the material transformations that occur during growth and development. Vasubandhu begins by positing that the seed of a plant contains the causal capacity, or the generative energy, to initiate the production of the sprouts and leaves of the plant. In fascicle ten of chapter three of the Treasury of Abhidharma, Vasubandhu states:

The sprout and leaves [of a plant] are generated from the seed.


Vasubandhu avers that the process of growth of the plant is initiated by the causal efficacy that is embedded within the seed. As the plant matures, each material alteration in the development in the plant is engendered by a specific causal capacity within the continuum of the plant.20 For example, the causal capacity that stimulates the germi-

19 Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, Apidamo jushe lun, T no. 1558, 29: 10.54c01.

20 Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 51.629c18–630a6: ‘The seed and the sprout, etc., form a single continuum (Skt: saṃtāna). Since the flower has the causal capacity of the seed, the sprout also has the causal capacity of flowering. There is no difference between their causal capabilities. There is no separate entity of the flower from these causal capacities. Since the flower contains the causal capacity [of being able to draw forth the fruit], the flower provides the contributory conditions that engender the fruit.

It is in this very way that the sprout, etc., grow. However, at that time, the flower

only engenders the fruit, and not the sprout, etc.’ 又種芽等是一相續. 既執花有種子功能. 芽等功能, 花亦應有. 此彼差別不可得故. 是則芽等、及種功能. 一切與花, 無別體故. 既從花內所有功能, 花為助緣, 能生於果. 即由此故, 芽等應生. 然於爾時, 唯能生果, 不生芽等.

But for what reason is there a not minute part of the seed that resides within the flower and has causal capacity [to be able to draw forth a fruit]? It is because at that time [that the flower and sprout has arisen], it is only that which a seed can draw forth. The flower provides the contributory conditions that draw forth and engender the fruit. A sprout, etc., is not something that a flower can draw

forth’. 此有何因非於花中, 可有細分種等所引功能別居? 由此爾時唯種所引. 花為緣助能引果生. 非於花中芽等所引.

nation of the seed initiates a series of causally-linked events that are empowered by the causal capacities that promote the generation of the sprout, the emergence of the stalk, the leafing of the plant, and the bearing of the flower and the fruit. Vasubandhu elaborates upon the specific stages in the continuum of the plant bearing fruit in the discussions located in fascicle thirty of chapter nine of the Treasury of Abhidharma. He writes:

The ordinary folk in the world say that the fruit arises from the seed, but the fruit does not follow immediately from the sprout, which has already ceased when it (i.e., the fruit) arises. Nor does the fruit arise without interruption from the seed. But if that is the case, then where does the fruit come from? The fruit arises from the specific transformations of the continuum of the seed—that is to say, it (i.e., the fruit) arises from the sequence of the sprout, the stalk, and the fully-leafed plant. The fruit is ultimately engendered by the flower. But in that case, why do they (the ordinary folk) say that the fruit arises from the seed? They say this since the operations of the sprout draw upon the causal capability (Skt. sāmarthya) of the flower to engender the fruit. 世間說果從種生, 然果不隨, 已壞種起. 亦非從種無間即生. 若爾從何? 從種相續轉變差別果方得生, 謂種次生芽莖葉等. 花為最後方引果生. 若爾, 何言從種生果? 由種展轉引起花中生果功能故作是 說.

In the above passage, Vasubandhu relies upon the distinction between causal efficacy and causal capacity to explain the bearing of the fruit of a plant in terms of a continuum of discrete and separate events that begin with the existence of a seed. In the picture laid out by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, the causal capacity of the seed determines the future causal efficacies to be exerted in subsequent moments during the life of the plant. As one moment comes into being and then dissolves, another moment comes into being and ends, thus creating an uninterrupted chain of causally-linked events that form the continuum of the fruit bearing plant.

In stanza eleven of chapter three of the Treasury of Abhidharma, Vasubandhu notes that the dharmas of the seed and the sprout occupy successive locations in space. He writes:

The continuum of the rice kernel (Skt. vrīhi) arises and continues in successive places without interruption. 如穀等相續, 處無間續生. In this example Vasubandhu avers that while the germination of the seed and the emergence of the sprout belong to the single living continuum of the plant, they are qualitatively distinct events, both temporally and spatially. Moment-to-moment temporal and spatial disruptions occur as the causal bases, the causal efficacy and capacity, in the seed potentiate the emergence, abiding, and cessation of the stages of the life of the plant. These momentary events comprise the saṃtāna of the seed that gives the appearance of the single entity of the plant continuing through time and space. Continuity in the Pūrvabhava: Material replacement and impermanence

In the Treasury of Abhidharma, Vasubandhu takes the example of the seed transforming into a plant to demonstrate that even as the causal efficacy within the seed engenders the parts of the seed to mature, decay, and ultimately, to be cast aside, the causal capacity in the seed survives in the plant. Through the processes of germination and the sprouting of the seedling, the seed undergoes a gradual replacement of its parts. While the seed is materially transformed through the process of growth and development, it perdures nonetheless. According to the Abhidharma principle of material replacement, the seed, while transformed into a fledgling sprout, survives the process of change. As the constituent parts of the plant are gradually transformed and replaced, the identity of the seed perseveres in the continuum of the saṃtāna.

In the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic, and the Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets, Saṅghabhadra uses the example of the seed of rice to illustrate how the identity of a living entity is retained through material transformation (Skt. parināṃa; Ch. zhuanbian 轉變) in the pūrvabhava. In his argument, Saṅghabhadra conceptualizes the life cycle of the seed of rice as consisting of five stages of material transformation: the rice seed germinates into the plant that produces the seeds; the seed is ground into flour; the seed is consumed by an animal; the seed is digested by an animal; and the seed is scattered back into the terrain. The cycle restarts as the causal bases, embedded within the seed of rice, initiate a series of events, beginning with the germination of the seed and terminating with the maturation and dissemination of the seeds of the new plant. The seed that initiates the five stages of material transformation survives as it provides the causal bases necessary to renew the cycle of growth and development of a new plant. In his commentarial works, Saṅghabhadra is at pains to disabuse his Brāhmaṇical interlocutor (Skt. pūrvapakṣin; Ch. lundi 論敵) of the idea that the continuity of the plant through changes in the life cycle is due to a permanent quality (Skt. guṇa; Ch. de ) that is inherent to the seed. The theorists of the Brāhmaṇical Sāṅkhya tradition hold that, although parts of the seed are altered during growth, the plant retains a continuous identity throughout all stages of development because the guṇa of the seed remains unchanged.26

this way, the continuum of a sentient being possesses five causal bases. Thus, we avoid the error of the person (Skt. pudgala), having ceased, only gives rise to its

own kind of thing (i.e., another human).’ 如一稻種, 為芽麨飯灰散五因. 如是有情一趣相續, 為五因故. 謂一稻種, 能為五因. 若遇順緣, 便生自果. 如是一趣有情相續, 具為五因. 若遇如是順緣和合, 便生自果. 故無人等滅, 唯生自類過.

By speaking of things able to become a certain type of thing, only in meeting with conditions congenial to it becomes that sort of thing, Saṅghabhadra attempts to avoid the error of things only being able to bear sui generis effects. For example, humans can be reincarnated as animals, and vice versa. Thus, having ceased, one thing does not necessarily arise as the same type of thing.

26 The modern scholar-monk, Yinshun, describes the Sāṅkhya theory of cause-and-effect in his Lecture Notes on the Stanzas of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna (Yinshun, Zhongguan lun song jiang ji, 360): ‘The Sāṅkhya masters postulate that the effect pre-exists in the cause. For instance, they say that there is oil in the vegetable dish. The oil is the effect and the vegetable dish is the cause. If there is no effect already pre-existing in the cause, then why does oil come from the cooked vegetable? Supposing that where there is no oil, oil can emerge, then the stone does not contain oil, so why does oil not emerge from

it? Hence, we can see that the effect pre-exists in the cause’. 一、數論師主張因中有果, 如說菜子中有油, 油是果, 菜子是因. 如因中沒有果, 菜子中為什麼會出油? 假使無油可以出油, 石頭中沒有油, 為什麼不出油? 可見因中是有果的.

Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra endorse the Abhidharma tenet that the casual bases in the dharmas potentiate the developmental changes in the plant. They contend that the continuity of the plant can be explained by the causal efficacy and the causal capability of the seed rather than by a permanent or enduring quality within the seed. The temporal and spatial discontinuities that result from the material transformations of development are contained within the saṃtāna of the plant, and thereby produce the appearance of the ongoing being of the living entity.

Saṅghabhadra recognizes the spatial and temporal aspects of the dharmas of the seed and the sprout, and notes that when the dharma of a seed perishes, the dharma of the sprout emerges in a different location and time. In his analysis of the example of the seed becoming the sprout, Saṅghabhadra invokes the Abhidharma principle that two dharmas, such as a seed and a sprout, cannot occupy the same place at the same time. In the Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic of Abhidharma Saṅghabhadra writes:

It is a mistake to say that the seed and the sprout grow and terminate in the same locus. The continuum of the seed engenders the sprout. Although the seed and sprout are in an uninterrupted continuum, the seed and the sprout do not occupy the same location. 種芽同處生滅失, 以種相續生芽等時. 雖無間斷, 非無處異.

Vasubandhu uses the idea that the seed and sprout occupy different spatial loci to articulate the relationship between a dead body and the intermediate being that survives death. He avers that the saṃtānas of a dead body, and the saṃtānas that form the intermediate being that arise from a dead body and continue after death, arise in two places and times, and are therefore temporally and spatially separate. Like the seed and the sprout, the body that decays after death, and the intermediate being that arises in the moment after death, are distinct from one another.

Surviving Maraṇabhava, the Time of Becoming Deceased

Throughout their doctrinal masterworks, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra maintain the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma tenet that a sentient being survives corporeal death, or maraṇabhava, the time of becoming deceased, and continues into the afterlife. In their discourses on maraṇabhava, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra posit that the demise of the material skandha, or the rūpaskandha, of a sentient being results in the death of the material body. Corporeal death, however, does not mark the end of the continuum of a sentient being.

In the Treasury of the Abhidharma, and in the commentarial works on this text, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra define the death of the body as the moment when the skandha of the material corporeal body (Skt. rūpaskandha; Ch. seyun 色蘊) becomes disaggregated from the four mental skandhas of sensation, perception, impulse, and consciousness. Saṅghabhadra, in the Chinese translation of the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic, employs the doctrine of momentariness to articulate how a sentient being survives maraṇabhava in terms of the continuous arising and ceasing of the skandhas. He defines the ‘moment of death’ (Skt. maraṇakṣanam; Ch. si chana 死刹那), as the specific time when the 死識 skandhas of the ‘final dying consciousness’ (Ch. si shi ) of the deceased being cease, and the skandhas of the ‘new living consciousness’ (Ch. sheng shi 生識) of the intermediate being arise.31

Surviving Maraṇabhava: The Transformation of the FruitBearing Plant

In the Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets, Saṅghabhadra employs the example of the transformation of a seed into the sprout, the flower, and the fruit of a plant, to illustrate the Buddhist teaching of how a sentient being survives maraṇabhava by assuming different forms.32 Within this analogy Saṅghabhadra depicts the transforma-

forth by conditions. In the realm of sensory desire (Skt. kāmadhātu) and the form realm (rūpadhātu) it (the saṃtāna) causes the [four psychological] skandhas to arise simultaneously with the corporeal skandha (rūpa)’. 四無色蘊. 無間無斷, 為緣引發. 欲色界中, 與色俱生. 諸蘊令起, 故彼色起.

31 Saṅghabhadra, Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 24.474a23–25: ‘Thus, in the state of becoming deceased (Skt. maraṇabhava), consciousness ceases in the very same place that consciousness arises anew in the intermediate being. Each moment of consciousness arises, one after another, in one place ahead of another, up until the point that the intermediate being ceases, and is reborn into the state of becoming reincarnated (Skt. upapattibhava). At that point, there is nothing that further becomes reborn as an intermediate being’. 如是死有於此處滅, 即於此處中有復生. 後後念生, 即前前處, 乃至中有滅, 即此生有生, 是則應無往餘生義.

32 In the Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 24.474b13–15, Saṅghabhadra states that the seed survives the ‘time of cessation’ by transforming into the seedling and sprout: ‘When it [the seed] is destroyed and perishes, the conditions of the water, etc., which blend and assimilate to- tion of a plant during the four stages in the life of the fruit-bearing plant: the seed, the sprout, the flower, and ultimately, the fruit, as equivalent to the transformation of a sentient being during the Buddhist cycle of: pūrvabhava, maraṇabhava, antarābhava, and upapattibhava. Saṅghabhadra avers that a sentient being, like a plant, survives the stages of life, albeit in different forms, within the continuous arising and ceasing of the skandhas in saṃtāna. According to Saṅghabhadra, insentient life forms, including plants, and sentient life forms, including animals and humans, are composed of skandhas. Insentient life forms bear only one type of skandha—the rūpaskandha—while sentient beings bear all five types of skandhas. Although the Abhidharma Buddhist tradition does not consider a plant to be a fully-fledged sentient being with a mind and sensory faculties, the fundamental principle of growth and development gether [with the material of the seed], enable the capacity [for the seed] to serve as the generative cause for the much bigger sprout-aggregation. So, at the time that the seed has perished, it has already emerged as the sprout in a distinct location’. 於滅壞時, 由水等緣和合攝助, 能為麁大芽聚生因. 於種滅時, 芽異處起. through material transformation in the continuum, holds true for sentient beings as well as for insentient living things.

For Saṅghabhadra, the remarkable transformation of a seed into a fruit-bearing plant illustrates the discernable and discrete stages of a continuum of a living entity. Each stage in the life cycle of the plant is distinct and impermanent: beginning with the initial seed, to the germination of the sprout, to the blossoming of the flower, to the fructification, and then to the dispersal of the seeds as the process of germination of the sprout begins anew. The causal efficacies and capacities that are inherent in the initial seed sustain and potentiate each moment of transformation and change. The survival of the seed in the form of the sprout, the leafy plant, the flower, and the fruit illustrates the broader principle of the continuation of life of through dramatic material transformations.

In his example of the continuity of the seed in the development of a plant in the Clarification of Abhidharma Tenets, Saṅghabhadra illustrates how the theories of momentariness and the continuum explain the survival of a living entity throughout all stages of a life cycle. During each stage of the development of the plant, the rūpaskandhas that make up the continuum of the plant arise, abide, and cease from moment to moment. Each of the bundles of rūpaskandhas that comprise the seed exist for a moment in a specific location, cease in the same location, and then arise in an immediately neighboring place. The continuity of rūpaskandhas in saṃtāna provides a rationale for why a time-lapsed video of the transformation of the seed into a fruit-bearing plant appears seamless to the viewer, without temporal or spatial gaps. The discontinuities between the stages of the seed taking sprout, the stem leafing out, the leafy-plant forming pedals, and the flower bearing fruit are not discernable because of the continuous flow of the saṃtāna. The Abhidharma theorists employ this evocative metaphor to prove that a sentient being survives the material deprivation of the body of maraṇabhava and continues into the afterlife, albeit in other forms. Surviving the Antarābhava, the Intermediate State

Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra uphold the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma tenet that a sentient being survives the moment of dying, the maraṇabhava, and transitions into an intermediate state of being, the antarābhava, prior to becoming reincarnated into a new corporeal form. In their exegeses on the nature of the continuum located in chapter three, ‘On the Discrimination of Worldly Things’ (Skt. Lokanirdeśa) in the Treasury of Abhidharma, and in their commentaries on this text, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra stipulate that after corporeal death, a saṃtāna of five skandhas exists in an intermediate state. Vasubandhu defines the intermediate state of the antarābhava as the spatial-temporal location of the skandhas between bodily incarnations. In the Chinese translation of chapter three, verse ten of the Treasury of Abhidharma by Xuanzang and his coterie, Vasubandhu states:

死生二有中 There is an interval between the states of becoming deceased and of becoming reborn; 五蘊名中有 The five skandhas describe this intermediate state. 未至應至處 The future location of the skandhas of the deceased being is called the intermediate state. 故中有非生 This is the location where the 37 skandhas of the deceased being have not become reincarnated.

In the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic, Saṅghabhadra explains that, following the demise of the rūpaskandha that results in the death of the corporeal body, the remaining skandhas, carrying the mental constituents of the deceased being in a saṃtāna, arise in a location apart from the dead body. In a process described by the Abhidharma theorists as a ‘spontaneous rebirth’ (Skt. upa √pad; Ch. huasheng 化生), the four psychological skandhas of the deceased being latch onto an intangible or ‘extremely subtle’ (Skt. accha; Ch. ji weixi 極微細) rūpaskandha. The four skandhas of the 37 Xuanzang, trans., Abhidharmakośa, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 13.468a27. The corresponding Sanskrit text reads: gamya-deśa-anupetattvān-na-upapanno’ntarābhavaḥ|| 3.10. See Pradhan, Abhidharmakośa, 120.

deceased being, and the ephemeral rūpaskandha, are collected together in a saṃtāna to form an upapāduka, an intermediate being.41 Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra describe an upapāduka, as the evanescent being that abides in the intermediate state between death and reincarnation. In the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic Saṅghabhadra writes:

We grant that the intermediate being arises in a neighboring location from the dead body. The intermediate being does not overlap with the dead body, nor is it at a distance from the dead body. It continues in a series of arising and ceasing moments until it is associated with a new body (Skt. pratisaṁdhi). The saṃtāna of the reincarnated being arises in a continuous series.

許隣死處中有生故, 謂許中有於前死處非隔•非即, 隣次而起. 如是後後, 乃至結生, 恒隣次起.42

The spontaneous rebirth of an upapāduka differs markedly from the births of beings who gestate in an egg (Skt. aṇḍaja; Ch. luansheng 卵 ) or in a womb (Skt. jarāyuja; Ch. taisheng 胎生). The Abhidharma theorists posit that the body of upapāduka is composed of transparent bhautika (Ch. suozao se 所造色) matter, rather than the 麤色 tangible, crude (Skt. audārika-rūpa; Ch. cuse ) matter of a body in the pūrvabhava.43 Because an upapāduka comes into being with-

ty’. 以中有身極微細故. Ji weixi 極微細 is the Chinese term that Xuanzang also uses to render the Sanskrit word sūkṣma—see his translation of Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya on chapter 2, verse 22 (T no. 1558, 29: 4.18b22) of Abhidharmakośa. For the Sanskrit text of this auto-commentary, see Pradhan, Abhidharmakośa, 52.

41 Under upapāduka, Sir. Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary gives: ‘a superhuman being, a god, demon’. Xuanzang’s Chinese designation for this class of beings is huasheng 化生—transitional beings. This is the same word that Xuanzang uses for the fourth kind of mortal rebirth—via karmic transformation. 42 Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 23.468c23–25.

43 For a discussion of the intangible bhautika matter making up the body of the intermediate being, see Kritzer, ‘An Ātman by Any Other Name’, 8. out a rūpaskandha comprised of tangible matter, it does not bear the fleshy viscera associated with other forms of life.

While the attenuated form of an intermediate being is fragile, an upapāduka survives in the antarābhava for a minimum of seven, and a maximum of forty-nine,

days.44 An upapāduka in the intermediate state can take the form of: a winged 天女神 apsarā (Ch. feitian-nüshen 飛揭路荼), a 乾闥婆kavalinka揵闥婆 (Ch. 45jialingpiqie那伽 迦陵頻伽), a gandharva迦楼羅 (Ch. qiantapo ; ), a garuḍa (Ch. qielouluo ; jielucha

), or a nāga (Ch. naqie ). According to the estimates provided by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, upapādukas are the most populous form of life in the great trichiliocosm (Skt. trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra-loka-dhātu; Ch. sanqian daqian shijie 三千大千世

44 Xuanzang’s translation of the *Mahāvibhāṣā gives two diverging opinions on the duration of the antarābhava. Vasumitra 世友 says that it lasts for a maximum of only seven days, while Śarmadatta 設摩達多 says that it lasts for a full period of forty-nine days or ‘seven weeks’ (Ch. qiqi 七七). The editors of the *Mahāvibhāṣā are agnostic on the question of the full duration of the antarābhava, although they endorse Vasumitra’s view that there is no determinate duration for the intermediate state within the timeline of either one, or seven, weeks. They cite the view: ‘Bhadanta (Vasumitra) is of the opinion that there is no determinate limit [to the duration of the intermediate state]. This means that if the conditions of life converge swiftly, then the body of the intermediate being abides for only a short time. If the conditions of life take a longer time to coalesce, then only until those conditions have converged, does the being become reincarnated (pratisaṃdhi). Thus, there is no determinate limit [to the duration of the antarābhava]’. 大德說曰, 此無定限. 謂彼生緣, 速和合者. 此中有身, 即少時住. 若彼生緣, 多時未合. 此中有身, 即多時住. 乃至緣合, 方得結生. 故中有身,

住無定限. (Apidamo da piposha lun, T no. 1545, 27: 70.361b14–17).

45 Bhikku Anālayo writes: ‘The Buddhist conception of a gandhabba appears to have its roots in the Vedic gandharva, which had the particular function of transmitting things from one world to another’. See his article, ‘Rebirth and the Gandhabba’, p. 96. Lamotte, La Traité de la grande vertu de sagesse, 614, writes: ‘Les Gandharva sont des artistes divins qui jouissent D’un Bonheur égal à celui des dieux; ils possèdent la sagesse (prajñā) et savent distinguer le beau du laid’.

), the entirety of the known universe. This view holds that upapādukas are even more numerous than insects.

The Body of the Upapāduka

The *Mahāvibhāṣā, the Great Abhidharma Commentary, a touchstone work of Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, and a key source for the doctrinal masterworks composed by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, defines the intermediate saṃtāna as the continuum of skandhas that perseveres from the moment after maraṇabhava, to the moment of reincarnation (Skt. pratisaṃdhikṣaṇa 結生剎那). Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra agree that the saṃtāna of the ephemeral upapāduka is comprised of five skandhas: the four psychological skandhas of the deceased being, and the subtle rūpaskandha that is acquired in the moment after death. In their translation of verse eleven in chapter three of the Treasury of Abhidharma by Vasubandhu, Xuanzang and his team of trans-  lators interpolate the phrase, ‘body of the intermediate being’ (Ch. zhongyou shen 中有身), to underline the point that an intermediate being, because it possesses a subtle rūpaskandha, maintains the semblance of a bodily form. The upapādukas who abide in the liminal state between corporeal incarnations are considered by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra to be ‘barely alive’49 in that they exist in extremely attenuated apparitional forms.

mo jushe lun, T no. 1558, 29: 9.46a24, reads: ‘the intermediate body being of a generic type is visible (in the intermediate state)’. 此中有身同類相見. The corresponding Sanskrit text (Pradhan, Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, 124) reads: samānajātīyair eva antarābhavair dṛśyate. Paramārtha’s (T no. 1559, 29: 6.202c29) Chinese contains no mention of the ‘intermediate body’: ‘intermediate beings in the same transmigratory track can are visible to one another’. 若同生道中陰. 定互相見.

49 In his ‘Refutation of the Theory of the Ātman (Ātmavāda)’ (Ātmavādapratiṣedha), Vasubandhu classifies the view that upapādukas represent fully-fledged ‘sentient beings’, as heterodox and lacking scriptural corroboration (T no. 1558, 29: 30.155b6–14). He writes: ‘The foregoing words from the cited scripture are meant to induce understanding that the pudgala can be described as impermanent and not real in nature. Rather, it is identified with the five appropriating skandhas that beset one with heavy burdens. The bearer [of this heavy burden] what draws forth the skandhas from preceding to subsequent moments. Thus, the pudgala does not really exist. The pudgala does not really exist since the sūtras reject it, just as they reject the heterodox view that upapādukas are fully-fledged sentient beings. Who says that the upapādukas are fully-fledged sentient beings? If the Buddha spoke about it, then I will proclaim it to be real. To negate the upapāduka, so defined, would be classified as a heterodox view, because the skandhas of the upapāduka are real’. 如上所引人經文句. 為令了此補特伽羅可說無常非實有性. 即五取蘊自相逼害得重擔名. 前前剎那引後後故名為荷者. 故非實有補特伽羅. 補特伽羅定應實有. 以契經說諸有撥無, 化生有情邪見攝故. 誰言無有化生有情? 如佛所言, 我說有故. 謂蘊相續能往後世不由胎卵濕名化生有情. 撥此為無故邪見攝. 化生諸蘊理實有故. For corresponding Sanskrit text, see Pradhan, Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, 468. Reference has been made to the English translation of Pruden, Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, vol. 4, 1330.

Although an upapāduka persists in an attenuated bodily state, without the viscera associated with a fleshy body, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra are adamant that the sensory and vital functions of the upapāduka are sustained by a collection of indriyas that are clustered within the saṃtāna of the five skandhas. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra determine that an intermediate being bears the faculties (Skt. indriya; Ch. gen 根), the sensory, physical, psychological, and spiritual capacities, that sustain all sentient beings. To undergird their theoretical position regarding the bodily composition of upapādukas, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra enumerate the precise number of faculties that are possessed by an upapāduka to maintain the state of being ‘barely alive’ in the antarābhava. In their translation of the ancient Abhidharma Treatise on the Basis of Gnosis (Skt. Abhidharma Jñānaprasthāna śāstra; Ch. Apidamo Fazhi lun 阿毘達磨發智論), a primary source for the later Abhidharma work of Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, Xuanzang and his collaborators postulate that ‘the intermediate beings possess a minimum of thirteen, and a maximum of nineteen, faculties’. The thirteen faculties enumerated in the Jñānaprasthāna śāstra are the five ordinary senses of vision: (1), audition (2), olfaction (3), gustation (4), tactition (5), a coordinative mind to direct the senses (6), the two embodied faculties of male or female procreation (7), vitality (8), together with the five hedonic faculties of joy (9), suffering (10), pain (11), pleasure (12), and aversion (13). The nineteen faculties also include the five spiritual faculties of faith (15), vigor (16), recollection (17), concentration (18), and wisdom (19). While supporting the theory that the ‘barely alive’ upapādukas possess indriyas, located within the Jñānaprasthāna śāstra, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra agree with more attenuated assignment of faculties of the upapādukas found in the *Samyuktâbhidharma-hṛdaya (Ch. Za apitan xin lun 雜阿毘曇心論僧伽跋摩) rendered into Chinese by Saṅghavarman (Ch. Sengqiebaluo ) during the fifth century.53 In the *Samyuktâbhidharma-hṛdaya, the upapādukas are depicted as possessing a minimum of three faculties: mind, vitality, and tactition (Skt. kāyêndriya), and a maximum of eight faculties:

53 Saṃghavarman, trans., Saṃyutkâbhidharma-hṛdaya, Za Apidamo xin lun, T no. 1552, 28: 8.940c21–22 reads: ‘The androgynic upapāduka contains six [[[faculties]]], namely the five physical faculties [[[vision]], hearing, taste, touch, and smell] and vitality. The monadically gendered [upapāduka] contains seven; the bimodally gendered, eight. This description applies uniformly across the kāmadhātu’. 化生無形六, 謂五色根、及命根. 一形七, 二形八. 此一向說欲界. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra come to accept these specific figures as well, with only minor modifications. In summary, the upapāduka necessarily possesses at least one three vital faculties of mind, vitality, and tactition (kāyêndriya). Their continued existence ranges from a minimum of three to a maximum of eight. The maximum of eight includes all five ordinary senses. *Mahāvibhāṣā, Amidamo fazhi lun, T no. 1545, 27: 147.751c22–24, gives slightly different figures: ‘upapādukas have either six, seven, or eight, faculties. The androgynic upapādukas have six faculties: namely, vitality, hearing, smell, and taste. The bimodally-gendered have seven: namely, the six previous, including one of the gendered procreative faculties. The hermaphroditic upapādukas have eight: namely, the aforementioned six along with both male and female gendered procreative faculties’.

化生得六, 或七或八. 無形者六, 謂眼耳鼻舌身命根. 一形者七, 謂前六及男女根隨一. 二形者, 八謂前六、及男女根. the female and male procreative faculties, five physical senses, and vitality.54 This enumeration of faculties is congruent with the conceptualization by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra of the upapādukas as living, but apparitional, beings.

54 Earlier works of Abhidharma prior to Xuanzang had stated at least two, but it is not clear that Xuanzang endorses this doctrine. In the Jñānaprasthāna śāstra, Apidamo fazhi lun, T no. 1544, 26: 15.994b11–2, forming the most ancient stratum of the Abhidharma literature transmitted by Xuanzang, the view is found that ‘in the realm of sensory desire, how many faculties are born within the continuum at the outset of its life? Reply: those born vivipariously, ovipariously, or born by spawning in moisture, obtain the two (namely, tactition and vitality)’. 欲有相續, 最初得幾業所生根? 答:卵生、胎生、濕生得二. A quatrain enumerating the numbers of faculties born by upapādukas in the *Saṃyuktâbhidharma-hṛdaya śāstra (Ch. Za apitan xin lun 雜阿毘曇心論), T no. 1552, 28: 8.940c15–16, attributed to the Sarvāstivādin council member Dharmatrāta. The forth hemistich of this quatrain reads that ‘[when the upapādukas are initially born]...they have six [[[faculties]]] in the rūpadhātu and one [[[Wikipedia:faculty|faculty]]] in the arūpadhātu’. 色六無色一. The six faculties pertaining to upapādukas in the rūpadhātu are the ‘five physical [sensory] faculties, vitality, and one faculty of procreation, if bimodally gendered; if hemaphroditic, eight’. 五色根及命根; 一形七二形八. This treatise also says in the previous line of verse that non-human animals and upapādukas in the kāmadhātu can survive while bearing only the two faculties of kāyêndriya and jīvitendriya (T no. 1552, 28: 940. c15). The Abhidharma Heart Treatise (Skt. *Abhidharmahṛdaya śāstra; Ch. Apitan xin lun 阿毗曇心論), T no. 1550, 28: 4.829c16, of Saṅghadeva characterizes certain upapādukas in the arūpadhātu as ‘solely bearing the one (i.e., the faculty of vitality)’. The Treatise Containing the Essential Juice of the Abhidharma (Skt. *Abhidharmâmṛta-rasa śāstra, *Abhidharmâmṛta śāstra; Ch. Apitan ganluwei lun 阿毘曇甘露味論), T no. 1553, 28: 1.972a1, a text in two fascicle rolls translated into Chinese during the Northern-Wei Dynasty, attributed to the Sarvāstivādin Master Ghoṣaka 瞿沙, one of the members of the Great Sarvastivadin Council of 318 C.E., posits that the most attenuated form of upapāduka can survive between bodies with ‘solely the one’. *Abhidharmâmṛta-rasa-śāstra reads: ‘in the immaterial realm (arūpadhātu) initially it [the upapāduka] obtains a single faculty of vitality’. 無色界最初得一命根. In short, the idea that some

The Karma of the Intermediate Being

The physical and mental faculties that are required for the survival of the upapāduka, are contained within the saṃtāna of the five skandhas: subtle material form, sensation, perception, impulse, and consciousness. While fragile and evanescent, the saṃtāna of the upapāduka carries psychological traces of the deceased sentient being, including the states of consciousness and the karma accumulated in the pūrvabhava by a sentient being, into the next life. Karma is defined as the latent effects of the good and the bad actions taken by a sentient being in prior incarnations. After a course of up to forty-nine days in the intermediate state, the saṃtāna imparts the mental constituents, including the karma of the previous sentient being, into a new body at the time of reincarnation.

Vasubandhu writes in his auto-commentary to chapter three, verse fifteen of the Treasury of Abhidharma: the movement of the saṃtāna from one life to the next is motivated by karma, kleśas, and force of habit, which cause the skandhas of the intermediate being to continue onto [the next life] entering a womb.55

spectral upāpādukas are ‘singularly endowed with vitality’ is found in some earlier Abhidharma works transmitted into China, but Xuanzang eschews it. 55 Xuanzang, trans., Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya 3.18, Apidamo jushe lun, T no. 1558, 29: 47.c07–11: ‘This arises, and then that arises (Saṃyuktâgama 262) And so it is said, etcetera, with respect to dependent arising (pratītya-samutpāda). But if that were the case, is there an ātman that you do not reject? There are only the skandhas. That is to say that we do not reject the ātman that exists in name only as a provisional designation for the skandhas. Granted that is the case, it should be granted that the skandhas move from one life to another. But the skandhas are momentary, and thus incapable of transmigrating amidst this cycle. It is because the intermediate being is made up of afflictions (kleśa) and actions of the force of prior habit, that the intermediate being continues on to enter into

the womb’. 此生故彼生, 廣說緣起. 若爾何等我非所遮. 唯有諸蘊. 謂唯於蘊假立我名非所遮遣. 若爾應許諸蘊即能從此世間轉至餘世. 蘊剎那滅於輪轉無能. Here, kleśas refers to the negative psychological aspects of the sentient being, such as mental disturbances, afflictions, attachments, negative emotions such as greed and anger, and unwholesome cravings that trap a sentient being in saṃsāra. Saṃsāra, the endless cycle of birth and death, results in suffering. Vasubandhu avers that karma, kleśas, and force of habit propel the saṃtāna of the sentient being through the intermediate state, and into a new reincarnation, thereby sustaining the cycle of death and rebirth.

Proofs of the Existence of an Intermediate State

According to Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, there is a distinct temporal and spatial interval between the loss of the rūpaskandha of the dead body and the arising of the five skandhas that constitute an intermediate being. The presence of a spatial interstice and temporal interval between the place and time of the death of the body, and the ‘rebirth’ (Ch. sheng ) of an intermediate being, provides the Abhidharma theorists with a rationale for the existence of a transitional space and time between life in the pūrvabhava, survival of maraṇabhava, and the locus (Skt. deśa; Ch. chu ) of the intermediate state, or antarābhava.56

數習煩惱業所為故. 令中有蘊相續入胎. Reference has been made to Pruden’s

English translation, Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, 399, and to the French translation of La Vallée Poussin, L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, 57. 56 Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 23. 468b20–25, contains the objection that if the rūpaskandha of the dead body arises in the same place as the living skandhas of the intermediate continuum, there should be no interstice between death and life, and hence, no intermediate state: ‘If the previous set of aggregates ceases in a different place, then, the subsequent set of aggregates should arise in a different place, and there should be no intermediate state. But how can one grant that the subsequent set of aggregates arise in a different place, and yet that there is no gap between the state of being dead and the state of being alive? It should be granted that what is subsequently born in this very same place from which the previous set of aggregates terminated,

In their Chinese translations of the Treasury of Abhidharma, the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to Correct Logic, and the Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets, Xuanzang and his team dedicate one and one-half folio rolls to a discussion regarding the existence of a distinct spatial and temporal state between the death of a living corporeal entity and the reincarnation of an entity into corporeal form. In their extensive treatises affirming the existence of an intermediate state, Saṅghabhadra and Vasubandhu adduce the example of the image of the moon on the surface of a mirror.57 In this metaphor the Abhidharma scholars aver that the ‘interstice’ (Ch. zhongjian

) of space between the surface of the mirror, and the image of the moon that is reflected onto the surface of the mirror, is analogous to the interstice of space that exists between a dead being and a reincarnated being. This space is conceptualized as the temporal and spatial location during which the saṃtāna of four skandhas abide between bodily incarnations. It is within this interstitial space that the intermediate being, or the upapāduka, abides. In making their case for the existence of an intermediate state, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra draw upon the Abhidharma principle that two saṃtānas cannot occupy the same space. As the image of the sun reflected on the water and the surface of the mirror are composed of different materials, they are, by definition, two separate saṃtānas. Therefore, the image of the sun that is reflected on the surface of the mirror and the surface of the mirror itself do not occupy the same spatial or temporal locus. The Chinese translation by Xuanzang and his cohort of the auto-commentary by Vasubandhu on chapter three, verse eleven of the Treasury of Abhidharma reads:

lacks an intermediate state because whether or not it is reborn, it would always lack causal efficacy’. 若異處前蘊滅已. 異處後生, 則無中有. 如何不許死有無間, 即於異處生有蘊生. 若於此處, 前蘊滅已, 此處後生, 亦無中有, 是則應許. 若生不生, 皆無用故.

57 Xuanzang’s translation of Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya 3.11, Apidamo jushe lun, T no. 1558, 29: 8.44c08–9, reads: ‘The reflection of the moon and the surface of the mirror are two separate saṃtānas’. 鏡面月像, 謂之為二. For the corresponding Sanskrit text see Pradhan, Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, 120. Again, shade and sunlight never occupy the same locus. Now, if one hangs a mirror in the shade [in a shed situated close to a pond lit by the sun], one would vividly see in the surface of the mirror the reflection [of the sun on the surface of the water]. There should not be two [saṃtānas of the surface of the mirror and the reflection] coinciding with one another when they arise.

又影與光未嘗同處. 然曾見鏡懸置影中, 光像顯然, 現於鏡面. 不應於此, 謂二並生.

Like the image that occupies a different space from the surface of the mirror, the saṃtāna of a dead body occupies a different space from the saṃtāna of a reincarnated being. The conclusion that a dead body and a reincarnated being cannot occupy the same space at the same time is taken by Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra as support for an interstitial afterlife, or an intermediate state.

The rival Abhidharma traditions of Sthāviravāda (Ch. Shangzuo bu 上座部) and Vibhajyavāda (Ch. fenbie lun zhe 分別論者) deny the existence of an intermediate state between death and rebirth. In the discourses on the antarābhava, found in the Treasury of Abhidharma and commentarial works on this text, Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra construct lengthy defenses of the venerable Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma doctrine of the intermediate state. In his Clarification of Abhidharma Tenets, Saṅghabhadra mounts a spirited defense against the Sthāviravādin and Vibhajyavādin denial of the existence of an intermediate state between the moment of death and time of reincarnation. He begins by describing the interpretation of metaphor of the caterpillar enlisted by his rivals in their rejection of the intermediate state between. Saṅghabhadra writes:

We liken [the continuity of the saṃtāna] to the continuous movement of the caterpillar. To move forward the caterpillar first moves its front legs and then moves its back legs. In this very way, the state of becoming deceased (Skt. maraṇabhava) is separate from the state of becoming reincarnated (Skt. upapattibhava). The caterpillar initially uses the front legs, and then retracts them as it reaches other locations. So why should an intermediate state exist? 猶如尺蠖, 前安前足, 後足後移. 如是死生, 方所雖隔. 先取後捨, 得至餘方, 中有何用?61

The Vibhajyavādins argue that when viewed from above, the movement of caterpillar appears continuous, even though the forward

body before s/he obtains the new rūpaskandha of the rebirth destiny in hell. However, if there were no hiatus between the state of becoming deceased and the state of becoming reincarnated, then a sentient being becoming reborn into the Avīci Hell would simultaneously belong to two transmigratory realms (gati) at once—the realm of the human and the realm of the hellish beings. This is granted to be an impossibility, for such a sentient being, not yet having abandoned the dead body, would possess a mind simultaneously belonging to two transmigratory realms at once. The editors of *Mahāvibhāṣā regard this unwarranted consequence of a hell borne being belonging to two transmigratory realms at once, as grounds to reject the view that there is no interval between maraṇabhava and upapattibhava. In their words: ‘it is impossible that two sentient minds [belonging to different realms] could simultaneously arise within one body’. 一身內二心俱生 (Apidamo da piposha lun, T no. 1545, 27: 69. 358a16).

61 Apidamo zang xianzong lun, T no. 1563, 29: 13.837a04; argument also found in Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Za Apidamo xin lun, T no. 1552, 29: 24.474c08–10. movement of the caterpillar is initiated by the front legs and followed by the back legs.62 If one were not to notice the legs rapidly moving and exchanging the burden of the weight of the creature, the slithering of the caterpillar across the ground would appear as a seamless vector of forward movement. The Vibhajyavādin argue that the unbroken movements of the caterpillar are analogous to the continuous movement of a sentient being transitioning from death to rebirth.63 The Sthāviravādin and Vibhajyavādin theorists state that, just as the back legs of the caterpillar follow the front legs, rebirth, or upapattibhava, follows immediately after corporeal death or maraṇabhava.64 The existence of an intermediate stage, or antarābhava, is not evident in the movement of the caterpillar. In his analysis of the metaphor employed by the Sthāviravādin and Vibhajyavādin, Kritzer writes: ‘just as a caterpillar moves along by placing its front foot down

62 *Saṃyuktâbhidharma-hṛdaya śāstra, Za Apidamo xin lun, T no. 1552, 28: 11.963a18–20: ‘If one initially takes up the living skandhas, and then abandons the dead skandhas, then the example of the twists and turns of the caterpillar is not logically appropriate. Why? Because there is the error that the transmigratory realms (gati) [of living and being dead] are not separate and the two consciousnesses [of the time of living and the time of being dead] would be combined. For this reason, we should say that there exists an intermediate state [between death

and rebirth]’. 若先取生陰, 而捨死陰. 如折樓虫者不然. 何以故? 趣不別及二識合過故. 是故說有中陰.

63 Xuanzang’s translation of the *Mahāvibhāṣā reports the Vibhajyavāda interpretation of the simile of the caterpillar as follows: ‘Whenever a sentient being moves from maraṇabhava to upapattibhava, it must abandon maraṇabhava before entering upapattibhava. We liken it to a caterpillar climbing up a blade of grass or a tree, etc. First the caterpillar places its front legs forward, and only then does it move forward on the back legs. By this reasoning, there is no error of the interruption between maraṇabhava and upapattibhava’. 諸從死有至生有時, 要得生有, 方捨死有. 如折路迦緣草木等, 先安前足, 方移後足. 是故死生中無斷過. (Apidamo da piposha lun, T no. 1545, 27: 69. 358a10–13)

64 For the Sthāviravāda arguments against the intermediate state, see Cuevas, ‘Predecessors and prototypes’, 282–3. For the Vibhajyavādins against the intermediate state, see Kritzer, ‘Rūpa and the Antarābhava’, 237–9.

and then immediately moving its rear foot, so does a person give up the maraṇabhava immediately upon obtaining upapattibhava’.

In his defense of the existence of the antarābhava, Saṅghabhadra poses a rhetorical question to his Vibhajyavādin interlocutor: If the front and back legs of the caterpillar succeed one another in enabling the caterpillar to move forward, how can the gap between the front and back legs serve as an example supporting the non-existence of the intermediate state? In his interpretation of the simile comparing the movement of caterpillar to the relationship between maraṇabhava and upapattibhava, Saṅghabhadra understands the gradual movement of the caterpillar along the ground as involving the smooth movement through the spatial interstice and temporal interval between where and when the maraṇabhava ends, and upapattibhava begins. For Saṅghabhadra, the non-interruption in the movement of the caterpillar, even within the time that the front legs have ceased moving, and back leg have not yet set into movement, is an example of this smooth transition from one life to another through the intermediate state. Based upon this reasoning, Saṅghabhadra concludes   that the Vibhajyavādin interpretation of the metaphor of the caterpillar is flawed. Like the caterpillar moving forward along the ground, first, by engaging its front legs, and then, by engaging its back legs, the distinct stages in the lifecycle of the sentient being succeed one another without hiatus or interruption.

Surviving Reincarnation: The Pratisaṃdhikāla

In their argumentation for the survival of the sentient being Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra describe reincarnation (Skt. pratisaṃdhikāla; Ch. jiesheng shi 結生時) as the time when a new corporeal rūpaskandha is bundled with the four skandhas carried within the saṃtāna of the upapāduka. The event of the merging of the four skandhas of the intermediate being with the rūpaskandha of an embryo, marks the beginning of the initial kalala stage (Ch. jieluolan 羯羅藍) of embryogenesis. When the rūpaskandha of an embryo becomes associated with the skandhas of the intermediate being from a past life, the process of reincarnation begins.

Saṅghabhadra writes that the cessation of the subtle rūpaskandha of an intermediate being leads to the arising of the four aggregates of sensation, perception, impulses, and consciousness into a newly sentient embryo. The ceasing of the consciousness and the psycho-physical basis (Skt. āśraya; Ch. suoyi 所依) of the skandhas of the intermediate being provides the generative conditions (Ch. shengyuan 生緣) for the arising of a new set of skandhas in the embryo. Saṅghabhadra writes that the consciousness of the first moment of the new life form is informed by both the consciousness of the Other masters say: the mahābhūtas of the [uterine] blood and semen in the state of transformation, form the faculties and their physical bases. The previous faculties of the intermediate being cease and the later faculties [of the reincarnated being] arise without interruption. The principle is the same as the seed ceasing

when the sprout arises’. 父母不淨, 生羯剌藍, 依不淨生, 無違經失. 有餘師說: 精血大種, 於轉變位, 即作根依. 謂前無根, 中有俱滅. 後有根者, 無間續生. 如種與芽, 滅生道理. intermediate being and the innate (Skt. sahabhū; Ch. jusheng 俱生) consciousness of the new embryo.70 In the kalala stage, the embryo is a droplet, yet possesses five skandhas. The living rūpaskandha of the kalala embryo nurtures the ‘seeds’ (Skt. bījas, aṅkula; Ch. zhongzi 種子) of the seven physical faculties.71 Although it does not possess fully-fledged sensory indriyas, the kalala embryo is endowed with the capabilities required for a sentient being to survive and thrive.

The Exposition of the Example of the Flame of a Candle

Vasubandhu invokes the metaphor of the wick of a burning candle to describe how the saṃtāna of an intermediate being survives reincarnation. In this metaphor, the flame of an existing candle is used to light the wick of another candle. The transfer of the flame from

70 Apidamo zang xianzong lun, T no. 1563, 29: 13.838b15–17: ‘when the skandhas of the intermediate being cease, the skandhas of the reincarnated being arise. The rūpaskandha of the reincarnated being are engendered by the proper cause in the intermediate being. The blood and semen of the mother and father only serve as the generative condition. We liken it to the fertilizer, etc., that serves

as the supporting basis for the growth of the sprout from the seed’. 中有蘊滅, 生有蘊生. 生有色生, 正因中有. 父母精血, 但作生緣. 如種生芽, 依地糞等.

71 The explanation that the seeds of the seven physical faculties is found in *Mahāvibhāṣā, Apidamo fazhi lun, T no. 1545, 27: 147.751b26–c6: ‘Question, for what reason do the loci of those [i.e., physical faculties of procreation] only come to be during the stage of infancy?’ 問: 如何於少時,頃便得爾所根耶? ‘Reply: at that time (in the prenatal stage), although there are none of the salient features of the physical faculties, although the seed is already there. We liken it to mixing distilled saline-water, ghee, sweet honey, and rum, etc., together and then storing them in a single vessel. If you pick up a single drop with a blade of grass, all of the variegated flavours are present within that [single drop]. We should understand the kalala stage in this way, since the seeds of the physical faculties are already all present’. 答: 爾時雖無諸色根相, 而已具得彼根種子. 如清鹽水酥• 蜜•沙糖酒等, 和合貯在一器. 若以草端, 霑取一渧, 於中具有鹽等諸味. 羯邏藍位應知亦爾, 一切色根種子皆具.

one candle to another is analogous to the transfer of the saṃtāna of the five skandhas the intermediate being, to a new embryo. In his description of the process of reincarnation, the skandhas transfer the information from the previous life, carried by the intermediate being, into a new embryo. This includes the genetic information imparted to the embryo by the biological father and mother, as well as the karma imparted to it by the intermediate being with which it merges during the moment of reincarnation. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra maintain that the transfer of the mental constituents and karma from one life to the next occurs within the moment to moment action of the saṃtāna, and without the presence of an ātman.

In the Treasury of Abhidharma chapter three, verse eighteen, Vasubandhu illustrates that the process of the transference of the saṃtāna of the intermediate being into an incarnated form occurs without an ātman. In his Chinese translation, Xuanzang renders the śloka verse written by Vasubandhu as follows: The saṃtāna is made up of the previous karma and affl ictions (Skt. kleśas) and is only skandhas. It is not an ātman. The intermediate being, existing in the form of the saṃtāna, enters the womb. The saṃtāna is like the [[[arising]] and ceasing] of the flames of a candle. 無我唯諸蘊, 煩惱業所為. 由中有相續, 入胎如燈焰.

Saṅghabhadra elaborates on the analogy of the flame of the candle in his explanation of the saṃtāna that survives biological death: We liken the saṃtāna to the flame of a candle. Although the saṃtāna is constituted in the momentary arising and ceasing stream of karmic causes and effects, without interruption, the saṃtāna is capable of transferring karma from one life into the next life. Therefore, although there is no ātman, and the skandhas cease from moment to moment, it is established that the skandhas transmit karma into the next life.

譬如燈焰, 雖剎那滅, 而能前後因果無間展轉相續, 得至餘方. 故雖無我剎那滅, 而能往趣後世義成, 即此諸蘊.

Within the Brāhmaṇical Sāṅkhya and Vaiśeṣika traditions of doctrinal thought, the teachings on the survival of death require the existence of an enduring and substantial ātman that works invisibly within the body to animate a sentient being and survives death and reincarnation. To Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra however, the Buddhist conceptions of momentariness and the saṃtāna provides a robust and plausible explanation for continuing physical and cognitive actions of a sentient being throughout the Buddhist life cycle. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra endorse the conceptualization of the survivability of the sentient being in the skandhas without the presence of a Brāhmaṇical ātman or self.

Saṅghabhadra Contends That the Brāhmaṇical Ātman Is Not the Locus of Transmigration

Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra take the example of the flickering of a candlewick to dispute the claims of the rival Brāhmaṇical theorists that the locus of transmigration is a singular and enduring entity. The flickering glow of a candle appears as a continuous and unitary flame. The flame, however, consists of multiple small units of flame that follow one another in a quick succession of moments. The metaphor of the flame draws a stark contrast between the Buddhist view of no-self (Skt. anātman) and the Brāhmaṇical view that a substantial self (Skt. 士夫ātman; Ch. shiwo 實我) or psychic person (Skt. puruṣa; Ch. shifu , shenwo 神我) constitutes the locus of transmigration.

Based upon the hallowed verses of the classical Sāṅkhya tradition, the Sāṅkhyakārikās of Kāpila, the puruṣa, or psychic person, comprises the essence of the ātman. In the sixty-eighth stanza of the seminal Sāṅkhyakārikās, the biological death of a sentient being is depicted as when the puruṣa is liberated from its bodily fetters.77 In this process, the puruṣa is extricated from the body and released into space within the cocoon of an ‘ethereal body’ (Skt. guhyaśarīra; Ch. xishen 細神). Concealed in life, the guhyaśarīra emerges during process of dying and provides the puruṣa with a container by which it transmigrates into the ether (Skt. ākāśa) for reincarnation into another corporeal body.

Saṅghabhadra rejects the idea that a puruṣa or an ātman is required to explain the process of transmigration and reincarnation. To disabuse his Brāhmaṇical antagonist of the postulate that a puruṣa, or spiritual core of the ātman, survives death, Saṅghabhadra targets the doctrine of the substantial ātman. He writes:

Why do you posit that there exists an internally-functioning person (Skt. puruṣa)? The World-Honored One (Skt. Bhāgavan) has already excluded the substantial ātman posited by you—this is both the agent and patient of actions and is reborn into the next life (Skt. paralokam). It is for this reason that when Bhāgavan said: ‘There exists karma and there exist the effects of matured karma (Skt. vipāka)’,78

embodied psycho-physical organism. See Bryant, ‘Agency in Sāṃkhya and Yoga’, 21, for an investigation of the nature of agency in Sāṅkhya teaching. 77 Reference has been made to the Sanskrit edition of Dutt, Sāṅkhyakārikā, 79, who translates the entire stanza as follows: ‘After having deserted the body and after the cessation of the Nature, the Spirit (i.e., puruṣa) acquires the salvation which is both certain and final’.

78 In the Ninth Chapter of his Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, Vasubandhu identifies this passage as coming from the Paramārtha-śunyatā-paryāya 勝義空契經 (T no. 1558, 29: 30.155b26, corresponding to Pradhan, Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, 468). The full passage cited in Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya 3.18a reads: ‘There exists karma and there exists the effects of matured karma, but there is no agent who abandons these skandhas here and take up those skandhas there, independently of the causal relationship of the dharmas. Namely, if this exists, then that exists;

he referred to the capability of deserting this corporeal aggregate (Skt. rūpaskandha) along with the capability of continuing the other [four] aggregates, and so forth in detail (Skt. iti vistareṇa).

Again, how do we know this? You posit the substantial ātman as the agent (Skt. kartṛ), etc. However, in fact, it is unobservable (Skt. anupalabdhi), since it does not exist as a [[[Wikipedia:tangible|tangible]]] entity.

Insofar as the ātman exists as a substantial entity, it possesses an unexperienced instrumental cause (Skt. karaṇa), because its causal basis is unobserved. 如何執有內用士夫? 世尊亦遮所執實我. 是作受者, 能往後世. 故世尊言: 說.復如何知? 所執實我, 是作者等, 實不可得, 為體無故.‘有業有異熟, 作者不可得.’謂能捨此蘊, 及能續餘蘊, 乃至廣為體實有, 有不得因, 無得因故.79

In this passage, Saṅghabhadra takes issue with the doctrines of the psychic person and the substantial ātman defended by the Brāhmaṇical theorists of the classical Sāṅkhya tradition. By the ‘substantial ātman’, Saṅghabhadra specifically refers to the Sāṅkhya doctrine of the spiritual core of the sentient being that is believed to depart the body at death, transmigrate through the ether, and eventually become reincarnated in a new corporeal body. However, Saṅghabhadra remains suspicious of the puruṣa, as it is described

through the arising of this, there is the arising of that, and so forth, etc.—[that is,] dependent arising’. This is Pruden’s (Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, 399) translation, with modifications, based on the French translation of La Vallée Poussin (L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, 57). The Sanskrit passage reads: Asti karmāsti vipākah kārakas tu, na upalabhyate ya imāmsʹ ca skandhān; niḳsipaty anyāṃsʹ ca skandhān; pratisaṃdadhāty anyatra dharmasaṃketāt. tatra ayaṃ dharmasaṃketo yad tasmin sati idaṃ bhavati iti vistareṇa pratītyasamutpādaḥ. See Pradhan, ed., Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, 129; Shastri, ed., Sphuṭārthā Abhidharmakośa-Vyākhyā of Yaśomitra, vol. 2, 432. The corresponding passage in the Tibetan translation is found at D no. 4090, 140: 122b.6. 79 Nyāyanusāra śāstra, Apidamo shun zhengli lun, T no. 1562, 29: 24.479c4–9.

negatively as ‘inactive’ (Skt. niṣkriya) and ‘detached’ (Skt. kaivalya) from material reality. According to the Sāṅkhyakārikā, the puruṣa alone exists in an inert, static state of pure sentience (Skt. caitanya). Hence, the puruṣa requires the dynamic powers of the embodied ātman in order to accomplish actions. According to the doctrinal schema laid out in the Sāṅkhyakārikā, although puruṣa cannot execute actions without the embodied ātman, a puruṣa constantly directs the physical and cognitive actions of the ātman in an executive capacity. While the puruṣa, simpliciter, is described as immutable and eternal, the puruṣa is said to play a provisory role in coordinating the ephemeral physical operations of the body, along with the cognitive operations of the mind such as walking and talking, thinking, and remembering.

The argument against the existence of the puruṣa presented by Saṅghabhadra hinges on the premise that if the puruṣa were the executive operator coordinating the actions of the body and mind, then the puruṣa would be directly observable in sense perception. The puruṣa, which is postulated by the Sāṅkhya theorists as the initiating cause of bodily and mental action, is described as imperceptible to the naked eye. Saṅghabhadra therefore concludes: Our tradition maintains that the ātman cannot exist as a real entity, because it is unobserved. It is not for any other reason (that the ātman does not exist).

The arisings of attachment to the ātman do not go beyond the following four possibilities.

我宗定許, 由我體無, 故不可得, 非餘因故.諸起我執, 無過四種.

At this point in his Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic of Abhidharma, Saṅghabhadra presents a catuṣkoṭi (Ch. siju 四句), or tetralemma:

Either the ātman you posit is, by nature, identical to [one of] the skandhas;

Or, secondly, the ātman you posit is distinct from the particular skandhas, while residing in the collection of skandhas;

Or, thirdly, the ātman you posit resides in the different skandhas and factors belonging the different skandhas;

Or, fourthly, the ātman you posit is different from the skandhas as it exists entirely independently of them. 一執有我, 即蘊為性.二執異蘊, 住在蘊中.三執異蘊, 住異蘊法. 四執異蘊, 都無所住.83

In the above quatrain, Saṅghabhadra lays out the four possible ways that the ātman can be related to the five skandhas. They are: firstly, that the ātman is identical to one of the individual skandhas; secondly, that the ātman is separate from the individual skandhas, while residing in the collection made up of more than one skandha; thirdly, that the ātman is distinct from the individual skandhas, while it is equivalent to the specific factors categorized under the taxonomy of five skandhas; and fourthly, that the ātman is entirely unrelated to any of the five skandhas or to their collection. The four possibilities are meant to express the full range of ways that the ātman could relate to the individual skandhas and to their collection in saṃtāna.

The argument summarized in the tetralemma sets up a basic dilemma for the opponent who proposes an enduring ātman that survives the process of reincarnation: Is the ātman fundamentally the same, or different, from the skandhas? If the ātman is the same as the skandhas, then, presumably, it is equivalent to one or more of the five skandhas. According to the Buddhist teaching, the five skandhas, are, by definition, momentary and impermanent. Hence, if the ātman is associated with one or more of the five skandhas, then the ātman must also be impermanent by nature. Thus, the first horn of the dilemma is meant to be unacceptable to the Brāhmaṇical antagonist who maintains the doctrine of the eternality of the ātman. If, however, the ātman is separate from the five skandhas, then, it would follow that the ātman has no observable effects, as the five skandhas make up the entire gamut of the personality that is perceptible to the five senses. Thus, the second horn of the dilemma is intended to be equally unpalatable to the Brāhmaṇical antagonist who maintains that the existence of the ātman can be inferred from its outward bodily activity and visible effects. In sum, Saṅghabhadra’s dilemma is meant to pose a thorny difficulty for the proponent of the ātman as the locus of reincarnation. Both horns of the dilemma—namely, that the ātman is equivalent to one or more of the skandhas, or, that the ātman is separate from the skandhas—pose unwarranted consequences for the ātmavādin or proponent of the ātman.

as ātmīya (“mine”), and all the other four skandhas as ātman. He [[[Sthiramati]]] thus claims that for the Sāṅkhyas the self is not ony identical to vijñāna but also consists of the factors accompanying the mind’.

In his Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic of Abhidharma, Saṅghabhadra adduces the example of the ‘whirling firebrand’ (Skt. alāta-cakra; Ch. xuan huolun 旋火輪) to illustrate the tenet of noself (Skt. anātman). The whirling firebrand consists of the moment to moment arising, abiding, and ceasing of flames that give the appearance of a continuous and enduring circle of fire. The image of the circle of fire is an optical illusion. Like the whirling firebrand, the enduring ātman is an illusion.


This paper finds that Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra, in their investigations into the survivability of life, death, the intermediate state, and reincarnation, deploy the Abhidharma theory of the saṃtāna to conceptualize the continuity of a sentient being without relying on the existence of enduring self, soul, or ātman. This study examines the Chinese translations by Xuanzang and his cohort, and the Sanskrit and Tibetan versions of the Treasury of the Abhidharma by Vasubandhu, and the two earliest commentaries on this text, the Abhidharma Treatise Conforming to the Correct Logic and the Treatise Clarifying Abhidharma Tenets, by Saṅghabhadra.

Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra conceptualize the survivability of a living entity in terms of the perseverance of saṃtāna. To the Abhidharma theorists, the saṃtāna is not an ātman, puruṣa, or enduring self, but a dynamic flow of causally-related dharmas. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra contend that the fundamental units of existence in Abhidharma Buddhism, the dharmas, are constantly arising, abiding, and ceasing from one moment to the next. Although each dharma perishes, the causal efficacy and causal capacity imparted by one dharma to the next creates the saṃtāna, the continuum of dharmas, that persists over time. Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra hold that the saṃtāna links the momentary dharmas together in a continuous flow, thus enabling a living entity to persevere in the face of radical momentariness.

This study finds that Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra remain deeply sensitive to the challenges posed by the rival Brāhmaṇical teachings on the survivability of death. The theory of the saṃtāna as the bearer of the skandhas represents a reasoned response to the problem of survivability that maintains fidelity to the core Buddhist tenets of momentariness and no-self. The causal efficacies and causal capacities of each dharma enable the saṃtāna of a sentient being to survive the vagaries of the changing environments of the pūrvabhava, maraṇabhava, antarābhava, and upapattibhava. The saṃtāna accounts for the continuous identity of a sentient being in a world of constant change.

A more detailed study of the Buddho-Brāhmaṇical polemics on the question of what constitutes the agent of karma and the locus of transmigration, preserved in Abhidharma corpora of Saṅghabhadra and Vasubandhu remains a matter for further research. While attention has been given to a critique of Sāṅkhya and views of karma and transmigration found in the ninth chapter of the Treasury of Abhidharma by Vasubandhu, the contents of the Abhidharma corpus of Saṅghabhadra remains unmined. The Chinese and Tibetan recensions of the Abhidharma masterworks of Saṅghabhadra contain rich discussions of the fifth-century Buddhist anti-Brāhmaṇical polemics on karma and transmigration and are deserving of further examination.



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