The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra (Chinese: 解深密經) or the Sutra of the Explanation of the Profound Secrets is a Buddhist scripture classified as belonging to the Yogācāra or Consciousness-only school of Buddhist thought. This sūtra was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese four times, the most complete and reliable of which is typically considered to be that of Xuanzang.
Nomenclature and etymology
The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra has numerous orthographic romanizations, such as "Sandhinirmocana Sutra" and "Samdhinirmocana Sutra".
Like many early Mahāyāna scriptures, precise dating for the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra is difficult to achieve. Etienne Lamotte believed that the text was assembled from earlier, independent fragments. Other scholars believe that the apparently fragmentary nature of the early versions of the scripture may represent piecemeal attempts at translation, rather than a composite origin for the text itself. The earliest forms of the text may date from as early as the 1st or 2nd Century CE. The final form of the text was probably assembled no earlier than the 3rd Century CE, and by the 4th Century significant commentaries on the text began to be composed by Buddhist scholars, most notably Asaṅga. The sūtra was likely composed in Sanskrit in India, but currently exists only in Chinese and Tibetan translations.
The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra is one of the most important texts of the Yogācāra tradition, and one of the earliest texts to expound the philosophy of Consciousness-only. Divided into ten sections, the sūtra presents itself as a series of dialogues between the Buddha and various bodhisattvas. During these dialogues, the Buddha attempts to clarify disputed meanings present in scriptures of the early Mahāyāna and the early Buddhist schools; thus, the title of the sūtra, which promises to expound a teaching that is "completely explicit" and requires no interpretation in order to be understood.
The first four chapters of the sūtra discuss the concept of ultimate truth. The fifth and sixth chapters discuss the concept of ālayavijñāna or "storehouse consciousness" and the three characteristics of phenomena (trilakṣana), which refer to the incomplete and absolute truth of various phenomena. Chapter seven outlines a theory of textual interpretation in light of the Buddha's various teachings, and chapter nine discusses meditation. The final chapter is devoted to a discussion of the Bodhisattva Path.
Within the sūtra, the Buddha describes the teaching that he is presenting as part of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. As such, the Sūtra is intended to clarify confusing or contradictory elements of earlier teachings, presenting a new teaching that resolves earlier inconsistencies. The Sūtra affirms that the earlier turnings of the wheel—the teachings of the Śrāvaka Vehicle (Śrāvakayāna) and the emptiness (Śūnyatā) doctrine adopted by the Mādhyamaka -- represented authentic teachings, but indicates that they were flawed because they required interpretation. The teachings of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra, on the other hand, require no interpretation and can be read literally according to the discourse delivered by the Buddha within the text. This reflects an ancient division in Buddhist hermeneutics, a topic to which the sūtra devotes an entire chapter.
The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra was adopted by the Yogācāra school as one of its primary scriptures. In addition, it inspired a great deal of additional writing, including discussions by Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Xuanzang, Woncheuk, and a large body of Tibetan literature founded on Je Tsongkhapa's writings concerning the scripture.
- Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho) by Dölpopa Sherap Gyaltsen (1292–1361)
- Woncheuk's commentary on the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra had a strong influence in Tibetan Buddhism
- (Williams 2004, p. 78)
- Warder, A.K. (2000), Indian Buddhism (Third revised ed.), New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, p. 407–11, ISBN 8120808185
- Powers, John (1993), Hermeneutics and tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, Brill Academic Publishers, p. 4–11, ISBN 9004098267
- (Powers 2004, pp. 737-38)
- (Powers 2004, p. 738)
- (Powers 2004, p. 78)
- (Powers 2004, p. 738)
- (Williams 2004, p. 79)
- Powers, John (2004), "Sandhinirmocana-Sūtra", in Buswell, Jr., Robert E., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, USA: Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 737–738, ISBN 0028659104
- Williams, Paul (2004), Mahayana Buddhism, Bury St. Edmunds, England: Routledge, pp. 78–81, ISBN 0415025370