Sandhinirmocana Sutra

The Ārya-saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra (Sanskrit; traditional Chinese: 解深密經; ; pinyin: Jiě Shēnmì Jīng; Tibetan: དགོངས་པ་ངེས་འགྲེལ༏, Wylie: dgongs pa nges 'grel Gongpa Ngédrel) or Noble sūtra of the Explanation of the Profound Secrets is a Mahāyāna Buddhist text and the most important sutra of the Yogācāra school.[1][2][3] It contains explanations of key Yogācāra concepts such as the basis-consciousness (ālaya-vijñāna), and the doctrine of cognition-only (vijñapti-mātra) and the "three natures" (trisvabhāva). Étienne Lamotte considered this sutra "the link between the Prajñaparamita literature and the Yogacara Vijñanavada school".[4]

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. It also was translated into Tibetan. The original Sanskrit text has not survived to the present day.

Nomenclature and etymologyEdit

The Ārya-saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra is variously romanized as Sandhinirmocana Sutra and Samdhinirmocana Sutra. The full Sanskrit title includes "Ārya" which means noble or excellent.[5]

The title has been variously translated as:

  • Unlocking the Mysteries (Cleary)
  • Explanation of the Profound Secrets (Keenan)
  • Elucidation of the Intention Sutra or Unravelling the Thought (Powers)
  • Sutra which Decisively Reveals the Intention
  • The explication of mysteries, L'explication des mystères (Lamotte)


Like many early Mahāyāna sūtras, precise dating for the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra is difficult to achieve. Étienne Lamotte believed that the text was assembled from earlier, independent fragments.[6] 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.[7] The earliest forms of the text may date from as early as the 1st or 2nd Century CE.[7] 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 Asanga.[7]


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.[8][9] Divided into ten sections, the sūtra presents itself as a series of dialogues between Gautama Buddha and various bodhisattvas.[10] 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.[11]

The first four chapters of the sūtra discuss the concept of ultimate truth (paramartha) and its "ineffable and of a non-dual character". The fifth chapter discusses the Eight Consciousnesses, including the "Storehouse Consciousnesses". The sixth chapter focuses on the three characteristics of phenomena (trilakṣana), or the "three natures" 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 eight and nine discusses the path to enlightenment and meditation. The final chapter is a discussion on the nature of a Buddha.[10]

Within the sūtra, the Buddha describes the teaching that he is presenting as part of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.[11] As such, the Sūtra is intended to clarify confusing or contradictory elements of earlier teachings, presenting a new teaching that resolves earlier inconsistencies.[10] 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.[11] 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.[11] This reflects an ancient division in Buddhist hermeneutics, a topic to which the sūtra devotes an entire chapter.[10][11]

The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra was adopted by the Yogācāra 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.[10]


There are two commentaries on this sutra attributed to Asanga, the Compendium of Ascertainments (Viniscaya-samgrahani) and the Commentary on the superior sutra samdhinirmocana (Arya-samdhinirmocana-bhasya).[12]

There is another extant commentary, attributed to Jñānagarbha which is only on the eighth chapter of the sutra, the Maitreya chapter, titled the "Arya-samdhinirmocana-sutre-arya-maitreya-kevala-parivarta-bhasya".[13]

There is also a large Chinese commentary by Woncheuk, a Korean student of Xuanzang which cites many sources with differing opinions and a Tibetan commentary attributed to Byang chub rdzu 'phrul.[14]


  • Cleary, Thomas (1995), Buddhist Yoga : A Comprehensive Course, Boston: Shambhala, ISBN 1570620180
  • Keenan, John (2000), Scripture on the Explication of the Underlying Meaning, Berkeley: Numata Center, ISBN 1886439109
  • Lamotte, Etienne (1935), Samdhinirmocana Sutra: L'explication des Mysteres, Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve
  • Powers, John (1995), Wisdom of Buddha : The Samdhinirmochana Sutra, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, ISBN 089800246X
  • Frauwallner, Erich (1969), Die Philosophie des Buddhismus, pp.284-295 (partial translation, chapters VI and VII), Frankfurt: Akademie Verlag
  • Tillemans, Tom J.F. (1997). "On a Recent Translation of the Samdhinirmocanasutra". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 20 (1): 153–164. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. (Review: Powers)


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Harvey, Peter; An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, p. 104.
  2. ^ Williams 2004, p. 78
  3. ^ Chang-geun Hwang; A Korean Yogacara Monk in China: Won Cheuk (612-696) and His Commentary on the Heart Sutra, page 137.
  4. ^ Lamotte, Etienne (1935), Samdhinirmocana Sutra: L'explication des Mysteres, page 24.
  5. ^ Powers; Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p. 28.
  6. ^ Warder, A.K. (2000) [1970], Indian Buddhism (Third revised ed.), New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 407–11, ISBN 81-208-0818-5
  7. ^ a b c Powers, John (1993), Hermeneutics and tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, Brill Academic Publishers, pp. 4–11, ISBN 90-04-09826-7
  8. ^ Powers 2004, p. 738
  9. ^ Powers 2004, p. 78
  10. ^ a b c d e Powers 2004, p. 738
  11. ^ a b c d e Williams 2004, p. 79
  12. ^ Powers, Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p 15
  13. ^ Powers, Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p 16
  14. ^ Powers, Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, p 16

Works citedEdit

  • Powers, John (2004), "Sandhinirmocana-Sūtra", in Buswell, Jr., Robert E. (ed.), Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, USA: Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 737–738, ISBN 0-02-865910-4
  • Williams, Paul (2004), Mahayana Buddhism, Bury St. Edmunds, England: Routledge, pp. 78–81, ISBN 0-415-02537-0

External linksEdit