This essay compares the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra with the Visuddhimagga and delineates key concepts of meditative doctrines presented in both Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism. Although the two texts are both derived from the very same meditation teachings of the Buddha, a myriad of experiences and insights derived from the contemplation practices of past practitioners have been passed down within these two lineages. As a result of this, Mahāyāna Yogācāra and Theravāda traditions each developed and presented theoretical frameworks and key concepts in distinctive ways. These texts represent a “textbook on contemplative studies” or “handbook of meditation practice” formulated by generations of meditation teachers in each tradition for the purpose of instructing meditation practitioners.
In the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, the entire doctrine of meditation is based on the concept of ālambana (sense object or object of meditation), which leads to highly abstract philosophical induction, namely, “the four types of conditions and spheres”. The Visuddhimagga, on the other hand, provides detailed explanations, such as the “operational definitions” for practical (meditation) teachings based on the concepts of samatha-kammaṭṭhāna and vipassanā-kammaṭṭhāna.
It is worth mentioning that, although the two lineages each developed their theoretical system on meditation teaching separately, they both followed the four logical reasonings found in the Visuddhimagga: lakkhana (mark), rasa (function), paccupatthāna (manifestation) and padatthāna (a proximate cause). When exploring “the reasoning of all phenomena derived from causes and conditions”, it is realized that a result is generated because of a proximate cause, just as a statement is composed of words. To gain a precise understanding regarding the effects of these words or phenomena is known as “the reasoning of effects of all phenomena”. To examine the influences of these words or their causes and conditions through personal experience is “the reasoning of empirical evidence”. The manifestation of all dharmas, whether they possess their own characteristics or share universal characteristics, is known as “the reasoning of all dharmas”.
To illustrate “object of meditation” and “meditation subjects”, lakkhana (mark) refers to the “unique characteristic” of every meditative topic. The reason it is presented this way relates to “the reasoning of all dharmas”. Rasa (function) means the way of practices and its effect when practitioners contemplate certain meditative topics, and is hence called “the reasoning of effects (of all phenomena)”. Paccupatthāna (manifestation) means the benefit for meditators in different stages of the contemplative practice, the so-called “reasoning of empirical evidence”. Padatthāna (a proximate cause) refers to the direct causes and conditions that brings benefit when contemplating certain meditative topics, which is thought to be the major context for the “arising from causes and conditions” and “scrutinizing and analysis of causes and conditions” in “the reasoning of all phenomena derived from causes and conditions”.
ālambana, kammaṭṭhāna, Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, Visuddhimagga, Śamatha-Vipaśyanā