Some Notes on Kamalasila’s Understanding of Insight Considered as the Discernment of Reality (bhuta-pratyaveksa)


  • Martin T. Adam University of Victoria



Meditation, Insight, Kamalaśīla, Bhāvanākrama


The present article aims to explain Kamalasila’s understanding of the nature of insight, specifically considering it as the ‘discernment of reality’ (bhuta-pratyaveksa) -- a technical term identified with insight (vipasyana) in the author’s well known Bhavanakramah texts. I approach my analysis of bhuta-pratyaveksa from three different angles. I begin by providing a rationale for its translation. This is followed by an account of Kamalasila’s reading of key passages in the Lankavatara Sutra describing the process to which the term refers. Here the aim is to illustrate Kamalasila’s understanding of bhuta-pratyaveksa as it is actually experienced in meditation. The final section examines bhuta-pratyaveksa in relation to other important technical terminology employed in the course of making arguments against his historical rival in debate, the Ch’an monk Mo ho yen. By providing these three different perspectives on the same process it is my hope that both scholars and practitioners will be able to more fully comprehend and benefit from the instructions provided by the ancient master Kamalasila.

Author Biography

Martin T. Adam, University of Victoria

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies Program, Department of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Victoria


Primary sources not cited from western style editions

Bsgom pa’i rim pa (bhavanakramah). sDe dGe Tibetan Tripitaka bsTan ‘gyur. No. 3915[22a1–41b7], No.3916 [42a1–55b5], No.3917 [55b6–68b7]. Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo, 1979.

Printed books and articles

Adam, Martin T. 2002. ‘Buddhism and Hermeneutics’. Focus Pragensis II: 95–113.

Adam, Martin T. 2006. ‘Two Concepts of Meditation and Three Kinds of Wisdom in Kamalasila’s Bhavanakramas’. Buddhist Studies Review 23(1): 71–92.

Balagangadhara, S. N. 2005. ‘How to Speak for the Indian Traditions: An Agenda for theFuture’. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73(4): 987–1013.

Conze, Edward. 1973. Buddhist Thought in India. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Conze, Edward. 1975. Further Buddhist Studies: Selected Essays. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer.

Crangle, Edward Fitzpatrick. 1994. The Origin and Development of Early Indian Contemplative Practice. Wiebadan: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Gethin, Rupert. 1992. The Buddhist Path To Awakening. Brill’s Indological Library, vol. 7. Leiden: Brill. Published in paperback (Oxford: One World, 2001).

Gomez, Louis O. 1983. ‘Indian Materials on the Doctrine of Sudden Enlightenment’. In Early Ch’an in China and Tibet, eds. Whalen Lai and Lewis R. Lancaster, 393–434. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press.

Gomez, Louis O. 1987. ‘Purifying Gold: The Metaphor of Eff ort and Intuition in Buddhist Thought and Practice’. In Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, ed. Peter N. Gregory, 167–165. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Goshima, Kiyotaka. 1983. The Tibetan Text of the Second Bhavanakramah. Kyoto: self-published.

Griffi ths, Paul J. 1983. ‘Indian Buddhist Meditation Theory: History, Development and Systematization’. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Griffi ths, Paul J. 1986. On Being Mindless. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications. Reprinted 1999.

Gunaratana, Henepola. 1985. The Path of Serenity and Insight. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Higgins, David. 2008 (forthcoming). ‘On the Development of the Non-Mentation (Amanasikara) Doctrine in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism’. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 29(2).

Ireland, John D., trans. 1991. Itivuttaka: The Buddha’s Sayings. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.

Kajiyama, Yuichi. 1991. ‘Later Madhyamikas on Epistemology and Meditation’. In Mahayana Buddhist Meditation: Theory and Practice, ed. Minoru Kiyota, 114–43. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Lopez, Jr., Donald S. 1987. A Study of Svatantrika. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Lopez, Jr., Donald S. 1993. ‘On the Interpretation of the Mahayana Sutras’. In Buddhist Hermeneutics, ed. D. Lopez Jr., 47–70. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Namdol, Gyaltsen. 1997. Bhavanakramah of Acarya Kamalasila (Tibetan Version, Sanskrit Restoration and Hindi Translation). Bibliotheca Indo-Tibetica Series, IX. Sarnath: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies.

Ñanamoli and Bodhi. 1995. Majjhima Nikaya: The Middle length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Olson, Robert F. and Masao Ichishima. 1979. The Third Process of Meditative Actualization. So Go Bukyo Kenkyu Jo, Taisho University.

Ruegg, David Seyfort. 1989. Buddha-Nature, Mind, and the Problem of Gradualism in a Comparative Perspective. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.

Ruegg, David Seyfort. 1992. ‘On the Tibetan Historiography and Doxography of the “Great Debate” at bSam yas’. In Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 5th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies 1989, 237–44. Narita: Naritasan Shinshoji.

Schmithausen, Lambert. 1976. ‘On the Problem of the Relationship of Spiritual Practice and Philosophical Theory in Buddhism’. In German Scholars on India Vol. II, 235–50. Bombay: Nachiketa Publications.

Schmithausen, Lambert. 1981. ‘On Some Aspects of Descriptions or theories of “Liberating Insight” and “Enlightenment” in Early Buddhism’. In Studien Zum Jainismus und Buddhismus, eds Klaus Bruhn and Albrecht Wezler, 199–250. Hamburg: Franz Steiner.

Sopa, Geshe. 1991. ‘Samathavipasyanayuganaddha: The Two Leading Principles of Buddhist Meditation’. In Mahayana Buddhist Meditation: Theory and Practice, ed. Minoru Kiyota, 46–55. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Thurman, Robert. 1978. ‘Buddhist Hermeneutics’. Journal of the American Academy of Religion XLVI: 19–39.

Tucci, Giuseppe. 1971. Minor Buddhist Texts, Part III, Third Bhavanakramh. Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente.

Tucci, Giuseppe. 1986. Minor Buddhist Texts, Part II, First Bhavanakrama. Rome: Serie Orientale Roma ix. 2, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. (Reprint)

Vetter, Tilmann. 1988. The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Wallace. B. Alan. 1998. The Bridge Of Quiescence: Experiencing Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. Chicago, IL: Open Court.

Williams, Paul. 1989. Mahayana Buddhism. London: Routledge.

Williams, Paul. 1991. ‘On the Interpretation of Madhyamaka Thought’. Journal of Indian Philosophy 19: 191–218.




How to Cite

Adam, M. T. (2008). Some Notes on Kamalasila’s Understanding of Insight Considered as the Discernment of Reality (bhuta-pratyaveksa). Buddhist Studies Review, 25(2), 194–209.