The History and Significance of the Tibetan Concept of the Five Treatises of Maitreya

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The History and Significance of the Tibetan Concept of the Five Treatises of Maitreya
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Citation: Turenne, Philippe. "The History and Significance of the Tibetan Concept of the Five Treatises of Maitreya." The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies 16 (2015): 215–33.

Abstract

Tibetans use the concept of the “Five Treatises of Maitreya” (Byams chos sde lnga) to refer to a group of texts that they attribute to Maitreya through Asaṅga, including the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan, AA), the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (Theg pa chen po’i mdo sde rgyan, MSA), the Madhyāntavibhāga (Dbus dang mtha’ rnam par ’byed pa, MV), the Dharmadharmatāvibhaṅga (Chos dang chos nyid rnam par dbye ba, DDV), and the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV), which Tibetans most often refer to as the Mahāyāna-Uttaratantra (Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma). Some of the Five Treatises were present at the time of the first dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet (snga dar), and some were discovered or brought later to Tibet. The first set comprises the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the Sūtrālaṃkāra, and the Madhyāntavibhāga, while the texts that were later discovered and translated are the Ratnagotravibhāga and the Dharmadharmatāvibhaṅga. Although the Five Treatises cover a variety of topics and seem to defend several philosophical positions about these topics, the Tibetan tradition still takes very seriously the idea that they form a unit, and share to some extent a single intent.
      Modern scholarship on the Five Treatises has so far privileged studying the texts of the Five Treatises individually, not giving much importance to the concept of the Five Treatises per se and its consequences on the interpretation of the texts that form it. In the following pages I argue that, on the contrary, the notion of the Five Treatises and the idea that they form a unit is crucial enough for Tibetan interpreters that we cannot fully understand Tibetan interpretations of those texts without taking this into consideration. If we look at the way Tibetan interpreters define the category and how they form their interpretations around it, we come to the conclusion that a study of Tibetan interpretations of individual treatises cannot represent fully the influence of those texts on Tibetan Buddhist literature and thought
      In order to establish that claim, having explained the concept of the Five Treatises as a unit and where that unit fits among Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, I will trace its origin and development from the recognition of Maitreya’s authorship of the Treatises to the notion that the Five Treatises form a single work. I will conclude by explaining how the study of the Five Treatises as a whole and of that concept itself allows us to understand things that the study of the texts individually cannot provide. (Turenne, introduction, 215–16)