Compiled by Ron Epstein

Copyright 1992 by Ron Epstein 

III. Vasubandhu (Bodhisattva) (fl. 4th cent. AD)

 The second of three sons, born in Purusapura (Peshwar), India, into the Kausika family of Indian Brahmins. All three sons were called Vasubandhu and all three became Buddhist Bhikshus.  His older brother was known as Asanga and his younger brother as Virincivatsa.  He is known simply as Vasubandhu.  In his youth he adhered to the Hinayana teachings of the Sautrantika School and wrote the Abhidharmakosa, perhaps the most well-known of all treatises on the Abhidharma.  He was converted to the Mahayana by his older brother the Bodhisattva Asanga.  After his conversion, he wrote many celebrated works on the Consciousness-Only School of the Mahayana, including the Twenty Verses on Consciousness-Only and the Thirty Verses on Consciousness-Only.


 "Asanga, teacher of the Law [Dharma], saw that his younger brother was endowed with an intelligence surpassing that of others, his knowledge being deep and wide, and himself well-versed in esoteric  and exoteric doctrines.  He was afraid that the latter might compose a sastra and crush the Mahayana.  He was living then in the land of the Hero (Purusa-pura) and sent a messenger to Vasubandhu in Ayodhya with the following message: "I am seriously ill at present.  You had better attend to me quickly."  Vasubandhu followed the messenger to his native land, saw his brother and inquired what was the cause of his illness.  He answered: "I have now a serious disease of the heart, which arose on account of you." Vasubandhu again asked: "Why do you say on account of me?"  He answered: "You dot no believe in the Mahayana and are always attacking and discrediting it.  For this wickedness you will be sure to sink forever in a miserable Life. I am now grieved and troubled for your sake to such an extent that my life will no long survive.  On hearing this Vasubandhu was surprised and alarmed and asked his brother to expound the Mahayana for him.  He then gave him a concise explanation of the essential principles of the Mahayana.  Thereupon the Teacher of the Law (Vasubandhu), who was possessed of clear intelligence and especially of deep insight, became at once convinced that the truth of the Mahayana  excelled even that of the Hinayana.
 "He then fully investigated, under his brother, the principles of the Mahayana. Soon after he became as thoroughly acquainted with the whole as his brother was.  When its meaning was already clear to him, he would meditate on it.  From the beginning to the end everything was perfectly in accordance with the truth, there being nothing contradictory to it.  For the first time he realized that the Hinayana was wrong and the Mahayana right.  If there were no Mahayana, then (he thought) there would be no path (marga) and no fruition (phala) of the Tri-yana [Three Vehicles]. Since he formerly did harm by speaking ill of the Mahayana, in which he then had no faith, he was now afraid that he might fall into a miserable life on account of that wickedness.  He deeply reproached himself and earnestly repented of his previous fault.  He approached his brother and confessed his error, saying: 'I now desire to make a confession.  I do not know by what means I can be pardoned for my former slander.'  He said (further): 'I formerly did harm speaking ill (of the truth) by means of my tongue.  I will now cut out my tongue in order to atone for my crime.'  His brother answered: 'Even if you cut out your tongue a thousand times, you cannot wipe out your crime.  If you really want to wipe out your crime, you must find some other means.'  Thereupon he asked his brother to explain the means of wiping out the offence.  The latter said: 'Your tongue was able to speak very skillfully and effectively against the Mahayana, and thus discredit it.  If you want to wipe out your offence, you must now propound the Mahayana equally skillfully and effectively.'" (The Life of Vasubandhu, J. Takakusu, tr., pp. 290-292)

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