Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi

By David Reigle on October 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

The Yogācārabhūmi is a massive sourcebook of the Buddhist Yogācāra school. In the second section of this book, titled manobhūmi, occurs an account of cosmology that includes cosmogony. It is similar to, but more detailed than, the standard Buddhist Abhidharma account of cosmology given in the Abhidharmakośa (chapter 3). The Sanskrit original of the Yogācārabhūmi was discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by the indefatigable Rahula Sankrityayana, and was both transcribed and photographed by him. Its first five sections were edited from this transcript and these photographs by Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, in comparison with the Tibetan translation (Narthang edition), and published in 1957 (I have posted this here: yogacarabhumi_chapters_1-5_1957.pdf). Very little of the Yogācārabhūmi has so far been published in English translation. We are fortunate to have a translation of its account of cosmology, made by the late Yūichi Kajiyama and published in 2000 (posted here: Buddhist cosmology, Yogacarabhumi, Eng. 2000). This translation was competently made from the Sanskrit in comparison with the Chinese and Tibetan translations. Paragraphs pertaining to cosmogony have been selected from this account of cosmology and given below, the Sanskrit from Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition, and the English from Yūichi Kajiyama’s translation. The brackets are theirs. Also given below for comparison are page references to the Tibetan translation found in the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, vol. 72, 2001.

When the world is regenerated after its periodic destruction by wind (more extensive than by fire or by water), beings from the fourth or highest dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the third dhyāna heaven. Then beings from the third dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the second dhyāna heaven; and beings from the second dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the first or lowest dhyāna heaven. At this point our account continues (Sanskrit, p. 37, line 12; Tibetan, p. 712, line 18; English, p. 191):

tataḥ paścād iha tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra-[loka-dhātu]-pramāṇaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvartate tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasrasya [lokasya] pratiṣṭhā-bhūtam avaimānikānāṃ sattvānāṃ [ca] | tat punar dvi-vidham | uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca | yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?) | tatas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyena kāñcana-garbhā meghāḥ sambhavanti | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpo vāyu-maṇḍale santiṣṭhante | tato vāyavaḥ sambhūyāpaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti | sā bhavati kāñcanamayī pṛthivy ūrdhvañ cādhaś codaka-vimarda-kṣamatvāt || tasyāṃ vivṛttāyāṃ punas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyād eva nānā-dhātu-garbho meghaḥ sambhavati | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpaḥ kāñcanamayyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ santiṣṭhante | tathaiva ca punar vāyavaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti |

“Thereafter a whirlwind as large as the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] arises here and becomes the support of the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] as well as of sentient beings having no palaces [i.e., gods of the two lowest worlds of desire and sentient beings on and under the earth]. It is of two kinds: the whirlwind stretching itself upwards and that stretching itself on the flank of the world, which prevent water [on the wind] from leaking out downwards and sideways. And then clouds containing gold appear above these [whirlwinds] by the influence of [sentient beings’] karma. Rains fall from the [clouds]. The water [of the rains] is sustained on the whirlwind. Then, wind blows and condenses and hardens the water. It is called the earth made of gold as it withstands upward and downward agitations of water. When the [earth] is regenerated, clouds containing various kinds of elements are produced above the earth by virtue of the influence of karma [made by sentient beings]. Rains fall from the clouds, and the water stays on the golden earth. Again, in the same way [as above] wind condenses and hardens [the water].”

The account goes on to say that the best elements produce Mount Sumeru, the middle class elements produce the seven mountain ranges that surround Mount Sumeru, and the inferior elements produce the four great continents, the eight mid-islands, and the surrounding Cakravāḍa Mountain. So we see that the wind hardens the water containing the various elements. Compare Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, śloka 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” The so far unidentified fohat is described in stanza 6, śloka 1, as “the breath of their progeny,” and stanza 5, śloka 1, tells us that: “The primordial seven, the first seven breaths of the dragon of wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating breaths the fiery whirlwind,” i.e., fohat. So in the Book of Dzyan it is fohat, the breath, the fiery whirlwind, that hardens the atoms. It should be noted that Kajiyama’s “whirlwind” translates vāyu-maṇḍala, which is often translated elsewhere as “wind circle,” or “wind disk.”

After further descriptions of the continents, the mountain ranges, the oceans, etc., the Yogācārabhūmi account proceeds to the topic of the origin of humanity, or anthropogenesis (Sanskrit, p. 41, line 17; Tibetan, p. 717, line 11; English, p. 196):

evam abhinirvṛtte bhājana-loka ābhāsvarād deva-nikāyāt sattvāś cyutvehotpadyante | pūrvavad eva prathama-kalpa-saṃvedanīyena karmaṇā | tac ca param agryaṃ śreṣṭhaṃ kāmāvacaraṃ karma | tadaiva ca tasya karmaṇaḥ phalābhinirvṛttir nānyadā | te ca sattvās tasmin samaye prathama-kalpakā ity ucyante | te ca bhavanti rūpiṇo manomayā ity anusūtram eva sarvaṃ |  

“When the material world (bhājanaloka) has been accomplished in this way, beings among the heavenly class of Ābhāsvara die there and are born here [in this world], as stated before, because of their karma which should be recognized as leading to (saṃvedanīya), the first kalpa [of the regeneration of the world]. It is the superior, first, excellent karma belonging to the world of desire (kāmāvacara), and the karma completes its effect only at this time [when the world is regenerated], and not at other times. And those sentient beings in this very time are called ‘belonging to the first kalpa’ (prathamakalpaka). They have beautiful forms and are ‘made of will’ (manomaya). All of this is described according to Buddhist sūtras.”

The beings of the first kalpa, or age, are given in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya by Vasubandhu (chapter 3, verses 8-9) as examples of humans (manuṣya) who are self-born or parentless or spontaneously generated (upapāduka). Buddhaghosa says the same in his Pali commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya, using Pali opapātika in place of Sanskrit upapāduka (Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, p. 82 fn. 1). This is the first root-race described in The Secret Doctrine. The Mahāvastu (see below) tells us that: “These beings are self-luminous, move through space, are made of mind [manomaya], feed on joy, abide in a state of bliss, and go wherever they wish.” (J. J. Jones translation, vol. 1, p. 285). In the next paragraph, the Yogācārabhūmi account shows the first appearance of food. We take up where the sentient beings of that time begin to eat it, by which they lose their spiritual powers and their bodies become more dense (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 5; Tibetan, p. 718, line 3; English, p. 196).

tatas te sattvās tat-parigrahe sandṛśyante | tatas teṣāṃ sattvānāṃ rasādi-paribhogād daurvarṇyaṃ prādurbhavati | prabhāvaś cāntardhīyate | yaś ca prabhūtataraṃ bhuṅkte sa durvarṇataro bhavati guruka-kāyataraḥ |

“Thereupon those sentient beings are seen seizing [these foods]. Then, due to their consumption of [earth] nectar and the rest, those sentient beings become ugly (daurvarṇya), and their supernatural powers disappear. The more one eats, the uglier he becomes, and the heavier his body gets.”

This brings us through the period of the second root-race described in The Secret Doctrine, and into the third root-race. In the middle of the third root-race occurs the separation of the sexes. The Yogācārabhūmi account now describes this (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 9; Tibetan, p. 718, line 10; English, p. 196).

tato ’nyonyaṃ cakṣuṣā cakṣur upanidhyāya prekṣante | tataḥ saṃrajyante | tataḥ strī-puruṣa- saṃvartanīyena karmaṇaikatyānāṃ strīndriyaṃ prādurbhavati ekatyānāṃ puruṣendriyaṃ | tato vipratipadyete dvaya-dvaya-samāpattitaḥ |

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

After this, says the Yogācārabhūmi account, the idea of possession or ownership arises, with the result that theft and fighting begin. Then arises the need to establish a king to help prevent these things, and the need to allot different tasks to different people, which results in the establishment of the four castes. This brings us up to the present. From the time of the separation of the sexes onward, the mode of birth for humans would be what we know today, birth from a womb. Of the four modes of birth for humans described in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya (chapter 3, verses 8-9), we have now seen two: the womb-born (jarāyuja) as at present, and the spontaneously generated (upapāduka) as in the first kalpa or age. For the sweat-born (sasvedaja) and the egg-born (aṇḍaja), Vasubandhu’s Bhāṣya gives examples from mythology. No extant Buddhist text that I know of places these in the earlier humanities, as does The Secret Doctrine, after the appearance of food when their bodies lose their spiritual powers and become denser.

The Yogācārabhūmi is attributed to Maitreya by Chinese tradition, and is attributed to Asaṅga by Tibetan tradition, although in both traditions Maitreya taught Asaṅga. Modern scholarship sees the Yogācārabhūmi as a composite text, having various strata, some of which are quite old. Other early Buddhist texts pertaining to cosmology and cosmogony and anthropogenesis may give some portions more briefly and some portions more extensively. The Loka-prajñapti, an early Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text, gives the appearance of food and what followed upon this more extensively. Although a number of leaves of the Lokaprajñapti in the original Sanskrit have been discovered, its cosmogony portion is not among these (see: Siglinde Dietz, “A Brief Survey on the Sanskrit Fragments of the Lokaprajñaptiśāstra,” attached as:Lokaprajnapti, Survey on Sanskrit Fragments, Dietz 1989). On the basis of the Tibetan translation (Peking edition attached: Lokaprajnapti, Tibetan, Peking edition), however, Siglinde Deitz found that the cosmogony and anthropogenesis account that begins the Saṅgha-bheda-vastu of the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya corresponds closely to that of the Lokaprajñapti. We have a good Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu prepared by Raniero Gnoli and T. Venkatacharya (2 vols., 1977, 1978; relevant portion, pp. 7-16, attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanghabhedavastu, Skt. 1977). Its description of the separation of the sexes, for example, is found on p. 11, line 5 ff., which I quote and translate literally:

tatas teṣām indriya-nānātvaṃ prādurbhūtam | ekeṣāṃ strīndriyam ekeṣāṃ puruṣendriyam |

“Then, for them, difference of organs appeared. For some, female organs; for some, male organs.”

The Lokaprajñapti account, like the Yogācārabhūmi account, is based on Buddhist sūtras. The Lokaprajñapti, unlike the Yogācārabhūmi, gives at the end of each section a quotation from one particular sūtra that it drew upon for this section, and names this sūtra. For the cosmogony section, it quotes the gNas ’jog dang ba ra dva dza lung bstan pa, which would be in Sanskrit, Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This sūtra, as stated by Siglinde Deitz, corresponds to the Pali Aggañña-sutta from the Dīgha Nikāya. The Aggañña-sutta has long been known as the Buddhist “Book of Genesis,” since its 1921 publication in English translation by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids with this title (Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, pp. 77-94, attached: Agganna sutta, Eng. 1921). Its rather brief account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in its paragraphs 10 and 11. In paragraphs 12 and 13 people begin to eat and consequently their bodies become dense. In paragraph 16 the separation of the sexes occurs. This text provides us with an account in Pali (attached: Agganna sutta, Pali, 1889). Besides this and the Yogācārabhūmi and Saṅghabhedavastu accounts in Sanskrit, we have also a parallel account in the Mahāvastu. This large text is the major representative still extant that is written fully in what Franklin Edgerton calls “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit,” including even the prose, and not just the verses. Its account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in É. Senart’s Sanskrit edition, vol. 1, 1882, pp. 338-348 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Skt. 1882). In the English translation of this by J. J. Jones, this account is found in vol. 1, 1949, pp. 285-293 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Eng. 1949). There is also a parallel account in the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Vibhaṅga. Its Sanskrit original has not yet been recovered. Its Tibetan translation (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Vinaya-vibhanga, Tib. Peking ed.) was used by Ernst Waldschmidt to restore a closely parallel fragment on cosmogony discovered in central Asia from an otherwise lost sūtra, possibly the Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This was published in Sanskrit and English in 1970 as, “Fragment of a Buddhist Sanskrit Text on Cosmogony” (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanskrit Fragment, Waldschmidt 1970).

As noted by Kajiyama (p. 183): “. . . the cosmology as presented in the Yogācārabhūmi shows a transmission different from that in the Abhidharmakośa. It gives many particular accounts which we do not find in the Abhidharmakośa, although the two are in general similar.” Likewise, the Yogācārabhūmi account differs from the account found in the Aggañña-sutta, the Saṅghabhedavastu, and the Mahāvastu. It gives a somewhat more detailed cosmogony, while those texts give a more detailed anthropogenesis. They have together preserved for us enough to form a skeleton view of what is given much more fully in the Book of Dzyan.


Grammatical notes:

First paragraph quoted above:

śayaṃ (in the sentence, uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca), in the Tibetan translation is gnas, and in Kajiyama’s English translation is “stretching itself.”

yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?), question mark by the editor, Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, for this whole phrase. In the Tibetan translation it is: des chu de dag thad kar yang mi ’bo la | thur du yang mi ’dzag go |

saṃmūrchayanti, second occurrence, is misprinted as saṃmūrchayāṃnta in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition. He notes that the manuscript has saṃkarchayanti, which he corrected to saṃmūrchayanti.

Please note that Kajiyama gives, preceding his translation, an important list of corrections to Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition of the Sanskrit text for this section. A major new study of the Yogācārabhūmi was published in 2013: The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet, edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh, Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 75. Martin Delhey in his contribution to this volume, p. 516 fn. 80, corrects one of Kajiyama’s corrections, saying that sa eca on p. 31, line 17, should be sa ca rather than sa eva as Kajiyama proposed.

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