Three Short Treatises by Vasubandhu, Sengzhao, and Zongmi
BDK America
Publish Date: 
Vasubandhu, Sengzhao, and Zongmi
John P. Keenan, Rafal Felbur, and Jan Yün-hua


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Three Short Treatises presents three texts:

  • A Mahayana Demonstration on the Theme of Action
  • Essays of Sengzhao
  • Treatise on the Origin of Humanity
Three important Mahayana texts


Three classics, each fascinating in its own right.

Taishō 1609

Volume Volume 31

A Mahayana Demonstration on the Theme of Action

Despite its brevity, A Mahayana Demonstration on the Theme of Action (Karmasiddhi-prakaraṇa), attributed to Vasubandhu and translated into Chinese by the scholar-monk Xuanzang, is a densely packed philosophical argumentation on the correct interpretation of scriptural references about the three kinds of actions of body, speech, and mind. The text reflects Yogācāra philosophy, including discussion of the storehouse consciousness (ālayavijñāna).


Skt. Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa, translated by Xuanzang into the Chinese as Dasheng chengye lun (大乘成業論). 1 fascicle.

Translator(s): John P. Keenan

Taishō 1858

Volume Volume 45

Essays of Sengzhao

Sengzhao’s Essays (Zhao lun) comprise an introductory chapter, four essays, and an exchange of letters. The work can be seen as an extended meditation on sagehood, a perennial theme in Chinese religio-philosophical thought. These writings offer an original response to a set of concerns unique to Sengzhao, his community, and his times, and are an important voice in the religious speculation of early medieval China. Includes Zongmi's annotations.


Ch. Zhao lun (肇論).1 fascicle. 

Translator(s): Rafal Felbur

Taishō 1886

Volume Volume 45

Treatise on the Origin of Humanity

The Treatise on the Origin of Humanity (Yuanren lun) by the Huayan patriarch Zongmi classifies various teachings of Buddhism on a scale of relative profundity, and specifically critiques the weaknesses of the teachings of Confucianism and Daoism, which he regards as inferior to Buddhism. This work formed the basis for some of the arguments in later East Asian history on the relationship of the three teachings.


Ch. Yuanren lun (原人論). 1 fascicle.

Translator(s): Jan Yün-hua

Table of Contents

A Message on the Publication of the English Tripiṭaka   NUMATA Yehan   v
Editorial Foreword    Kenneth K. Tanaka    vii
Publisher’s Foreword    A. Charles Muller    ix

A Mahayana Demonstration on the Theme of Action

Translator’s Introduction    5
     Part One. Erroneous Theories with Respect to the Nature of Action    11
          1. Theory of the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika: The Communicative Act as Shape    11
          2. Theory of the Vātsīputrīyas and Sāṃmitīya: The Communicative Act as Movement    14
          3. Theory of the Sauryodayika-Dārṣṭāntika: The Communicative Act as Wind    18
     Part Two. The Structure of the Maturation of the Action    23
          1. Theory of the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika: The Present Existence of Past Acts    23
          2. The Theory of the Early Sāṁmitīya: Special Realities—The Increase and the Imperishable    26
          3. Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika Theory: The Evolutions of Mental Continuity    27
     Part Three. The Continuity of Maturation    29
          1. On Emergence from the Concentration of Cessation    29
          2. The Storehouse Consciousness    35
     Part Four. Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika Theory on the Nature of Action    41
          1. The Three Actions in the Scripture    41
          2. The Body and Action    41
          3. The Meaning of the Term “Body”    42
          4. The Meaning of the Term “Action”    42
          5. The Meaning of the Phrase “Bodily Action”    42
          6. The Meaning of the Phrase “Verbal Action”    43
          7. The Meaning of the Phrase “Mental Action”    44
          8. The Principle of the Classification of Actions    45
Notes    46

Essays of Sengzhao

Translator’s Introduction    51
     I. Main Doctrine    63
     II. Things Do Not Shift    65
     III. Emptiness as Nonsubstantiality    71
     IV. Prajnā without Knowing    77
     V. Correspondence with Liu Yimin    87
     VI. Nirvana is Unnameable    101
Notes    123

Treatise on the Origin of Humanity

Translator’s Introduction    141
     Preface    147
     I. Critique of Deluded Clinging    149
     II. Critique of the Partial and Shallow Teachings    153
     III. The Direct Revelation of the True Source    163
     IV. The Merging of the Roots and the Branches    165
Notes    169

Glossary    171
Bibliography    183
Index    187
A List of the Volumes of the BDK English Tripiṭaka (First Series)    203