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Wonhyo's Reliance on Huiyuan in his Exposition of the Two Hindrances

A. Charles Muller

(Published in Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism. Imre Hamar, ed., Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007, p. 281-295.)

Table of Contents

The Two Hindrances as Representative Buddhist Soteriological Paradigm
Wonhyo and the Ijangui
Huiyuan's Explication of the Hindrances

The Two Hindrances as Representative Buddhist Soteriological Paradigm

Precursory Models for the Hindrances in Early Indian Buddhism

When Yogācāra specialists take on the task of trying to introduce the tradition to newcomers and non-specialists, whether it be in a book-length project, or an article in a reference work, they inevitably choose different points of departure, depending on their particular approach to understanding Yogācāra, and Buddhism in general. Some will start with the explanation of the eight consciousnesses; some will start with the four parts of cognition; some will start with the three natures; others will start with the doctrine of no-self, and so on. There is no special need to try to assess whether one of these approaches is better than the other, for indeed, in the vast and complex system that is known as Yogācāra, all of these different approaches and categories are ultimately tied into each other, and thus, starting with any one of them, one can eventually enter into all of the rest.

Another approach, partially utilized in a recent introductory Yogācāra book by the Japanese Yogācāra specialist Yokoyama Kōitsu — Yasashii yuishiki ( "Easy Consciousness-Only" ), would be to take the two hindrances as a point of departure for an introduction to the Yogācāra soteriological system. This is also a viable approach, since there is nothing within the Yogācāra system that cannot be tied into or developed from the two basic categories of problems that Buddhist practitioners must work their way through: (1) afflictive/emotive disorders and (2) distorted apprehensions of reality.

The two hindrances 二障 are the afflictive hindrances (kleśa-āvaraṇa煩惱障; also rendered in English as "obscurations from defilement," "veils of the afflictions," etc.) and the cognitive hindrances (jñeya-āvaraṇa所知障, 智礙; "obstructions of the knowable," "obscurations of omniscience," etc.). These two broad categories are a way of articulating what Buddhism takes to be the two basic categories for the main problems of the human condition: (1) that we suffer from a wide range of emotive imbalances, such as anger, jealousy, pride, lust, dishonesty, and so forth, which come into existence based on the fact that (2) we live in a state of continuous misapprehension of reality, reifying and attaching to conceptual constructs that lead us to see our own existence as an autonomous "self," along with the assumed intrinsic, "as-is" reality of the objects that surround us.

Even though the two hindrances do not appear as expressly articulated doctrinal categories until fourth century Mahāyāna, one may argue that in retrospect, it is not only Yogācāra that may be explained through these two perspectives, but just about any form of Buddhism that places emphasis on the application of individual effort toward a path of moral discipline, meditation, and wisdom.1 This includes not only the Mahāyāna schools that are based on meditative practices, but early Indian Buddhism and modern forms of Theravāda.

For example, the remedies of the eightfold path can be analyzed in terms of their application to these two kinds of hindrances, with its components of moral discipline, concentration, and right thought being applicable to afflictive problems, and right view being applicable to cognitive problems. Within the twelve-linked chain of dependent arising, the first link, ignorance, can be seen as a cognitive problem, with the important eighth and ninth links of desiring and grasping being afflictive troubles. Or again, among the three poisons, ignorance can be seen as representing the core cognitive issue, with the pair of attraction/aversion being the ground of afflictive difficulties.

Development of Categories of Afflictions

As Indian Buddhism developed into its Abhidharmic stage, the meaning of the concept of "ignorance" became clearly associated with the errant mental function of imputing in our beings the existence of an isolable and enduring self, or ego. As this self is believed in, and attached to, it produces an identity (asmimāna), and then desires to accumulate things and create stability for itself. It then compares itself with other selves, which, being judged through this self's own colored view, are assessed as superior, inferior, or mistakenly equal. Name, profit, and comparative evaluation become a perpetual preoccupation of this self, and thus it cannot but continually suffer from desire, pride, jealousy, ill-will, resentment, and a whole gamut of troubling thoughts and emotions. In Abhidharma, this array of afflictions becomes precisely schematized within their chart of seventy-five mental factors.

Prioritizing the Cognitive in Mahāyāna: bodhi and śūnyatā

With the attachment to an imputed self understood as the source of all problems, there was in Abhidharma apparently not yet a perceived need to differentiate the types of obstructions to liberation into the pair of cognitive and afflictive. However, with the arrival of Mahāyāna, as part of the broadening of the discourse that occurred with the shift from early Indian scholasticism to the Mahāyāna-based Yogācāra 唯識 and Tathāgatagarbha 如來藏, the inclinations and character of the bodhisattva as Mahāyāna hero came to be defined in the context of the three intertwined concepts of emptiness, compassion, and bodhi (enlightenment), which supersede the Abhidharmic trio of no-self, indifference (upekṣā), and cessation (nirvāṇa). In defining the course of the bodhisattva's practice through the five stages,2 the Yogācāras took great pains to provide reference to the two lesser vehicle practitioners of the Abhidharmic arhat path — śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, mainly so that detailed distinctions could be made between their practices and progress in comparison with those of the bodhisattvas.3 A key element utilized in making this distinction was the newly introduced classification of all mental disturbances (kleśa, doṣa) into the two categories of afflictive hindrances and cognitive hindrances.

Parameters for the Cognitive Hindrances

The Mahāyāna teaching of śūnyatā had taken the earlier doctrine of no-self to a new level of subtlety by arguing that it was not only the individual self, or ego, that lacked an intrinsic and defining nature, but also all the objective dharmas ( "things" 法) that we perceive, whether these be physical objects, mental images, or linguistic constructs. It was understood by Mahāyānists that the uncritical acceptance of the reality of the phenomena that we cognize was a far subtler and more pervasive stumbling block than the imputation of an ego, and that if this was not overcome, the tendency to reify an ego-conception would be especially difficult to eradicate. To only eliminate the notion of an ego in the way of a lesser-vehicle arhat was a stage significantly removed from that of buddhahood, which implied the attainment of bodhi-enlightenment. Thus, the cognitive hindrances in the Yogācāra system were defined as attachment to dharmas — "phenomena" 法執.

The cognitive hindrances were understood to operate at a generally subtler level than the afflictive hindrances, serving as the causes for the generation of the afflictions (simply put, the various kinds of suffering that we experience are ultimately caused by our mistaken understandings of reality). Also, while the karmic moral quality of the afflictive hindrances was understood to almost always be of negative value, the cognitive hindrances were in most cases karmically indeterminate, or neutral (avyākṛta無記) — a characteristic that would also tend to make them less obvious to identify and treat. In other words, although the cognitive hindrances continually lead us to believe that we are seeing things as they actually are, they are usually not in themselves "bad." 4

For the purposes of getting a general grasp of the differences in character between the hindrances, the above characterization can be understood as being basically accurate. And on a very broad basis, the above model of the hindrances is used as the standard for distinguishing the content of the Mahāyāna path from the so-called Hīnayāna path. The general characterization is made that the practices of the adherents of the two vehicles (śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas) are limited in their focus and application of contemplation to the afflictive hindrances, while the practices of the bodhisattvas are can be applied to both. This means that the two-vehicle practitioners are limited in their enlightenment to their realization of selflessness to that of their recognition of anātman, and thus only attain the Hīnayāna nirvāṇa, whereas the bodhisattvas penetrate further, to the meaning of śūnyatā and can hence attain bodhi equal to the buddhas.

In this very basic and general Mahāyāna doctrinal device, the general understanding of the meaning of the two hindrances in juxtaposition with each other is relatively uniform throughout both the Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha corpora, as it is a seminal component to the explanation of the five-stage path of the bodhisattva in contradistinction to that of the two lesser vehicles in both the Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha systems. In making the general distinctions between the five stages in the path to perfect enlightenment laid out by the Yogācāras, one of the most oft-used set of criteria is that of the extent to which a practitioner has first quelled , and then permanently eliminated the various manifestations of each of the two categories of hindrances, with final elimination of the most subtle forms of the cognitive obscurations (their karmic-impression form) being the last treatment of mental imbalance, leading to the attainment of buddhahood.5

It should be kept in mind that each of the types of hindrances is really a rubric for a broad category of mental disturbances and imbalances, each one having a wide range of variations in its manifestations. For example, each type of hindrance has both subliminal/dormant and conscious/active aspects; and each can carry on to some extent in the form of karmic impressions (vāsanās) after the main dormant and active forms have been quelled or eliminated. And despite the general lesser vehicle/greater vehicle distinctions that are made between two, a little bit of understanding of the standard descriptions of both kinds of hindrances is going to lead the astute student to wonder if there are not some gray areas between the two. There are.

While the standard definition that one sees given to these two hindrances in shorter summaries inevitably explains the afflictive hindrances to be the object of the religious practice of the adherents of the two vehicles, and the cognitive hindrances to be the special domain of the bodhisattvas, finer analyses of the hindrances, in texts that give detailed treatments, explain the two hindrances as having a wide range of interpretations that defy easy compartmentalization. As Wonhyo says:

When it comes to the cognitive hindrances, there are some that the two-vehicle practitioners eliminate and some that they do not eliminate. The arhats who are liberated through wisdom-only do not eliminate any of the cognitive hindrances. Those who are liberated through the combined practice of meditation and wisdom are able to remove some of the cognitive hindrances. This means the undefiled ignorance that hinders the eight kinds of liberation is to be countered by the cultivation of the eight kinds of verification. As the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstrasays: "Furthermore, liberation is manifested through the liberation from the cognitive hindrances. Based on this, the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas attain liberation from the mental states of the cognitive hindrances." 6

It is furthermore usually the case that finer interpretations of the hindrances are contingent upon a given text's particular position regarding the constitution and operation of consciousness.

It only takes a bit of clear-minded thinking to guess that it could not be the case that two vehicle practitioners do not deal at all with cognitive problems, or, conversely, that bodhisattvas necessarily have some kind of handicap when dealing with afflictive problems. The point is, though, that while bodhisattvas must of course overcome their own afflicted karmic conditioning, they must also be able, at a fairly early juncture, to begin coping with the correction of cognitive obscurations that hamper their work of teaching unenlightened sentient beings. Śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas tend to be concerned with extinguishing their own afflictions, rather than the removal of the suffering of others, and are thus, relatively speaking, lacking in motivation to develop the wisdom of expedient means necessary to teach others.

At a commonsense level, it is obvious that emotional imbalance is going to have an effect on cognitive clarity. For instance, as the Cheng weishi lun says:

The cognitive hindrances also obstruct nirvāṇa. Why is it said that they only obstruct bodhi? And it is said that the afflictions only obstruct nirvāṇa. How could they not be capable of obstructing bodhi? You should know that the holy teaching relies on the most prominent function in explaining the principle. In fact, both are able to pervasively obstruct the two realizations.7

Furthermore, at the level of the individual mental factors themselves, there are afflictions listed in the Yogācāra table of dharmas that are obviously both cognitive and afflictive in character, such as the four afflictions of the manas, the most insidious being the conceit "I am" (asmimāna). There are also problems in the effort of trying to strictly define the means and potential for eliminating different sorts of hindrances of both categories, depending upon at how deep a layer of consciousness they are thought to reside.

What has been related above represents nothing more than the barest outline of hindrance theory, only hinting at the wide range of complexities involved in setting forth a comprehensive and coherent system. Furthermore, what is outlined thus far only scratches the surface of one type of system — that which can be extrapolated from the Yogācāra texts of the Asaṅga-Vasubandhu stream, which influenced the East Asian Faxiang school of Xuanzang and Kuiji. There are other systems of the hindrances that vary from this one significantly, which we have not yet touched upon, and which in fact ended up holding greater influence in East Asian Buddhism. But before I move to the introduction of these (actually, we will only discuss one other system in significant detail in this paper), I would like to digress briefly to provide some peripheral background as to how I this particular paper fits in to my larger research project on the hindrances.

Wonhyo and the Ijangui

I have already cited Wonhyo (元曉, 617-686) once above, but before proceeding further I would like to clarify the extent which I am indebted to this eminent Korean scholar-monk for the understanding I have gained of the hindrances and their associated problems thus far. This is because the bulk of the basic framework for my acquisition of a modicum of understanding of this topic was initially gained from my work with Wonhyo's remarkable treatise, the Ijangui ( "System of the Two Hindrances" ). The Ijangui represents the culmination of the results of a research project that Wonhyo undertook in between the writing of his two famous commentaries on the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith [AMF]8 As I have explained in detail in a recent article,9 Wonhyo began to delve into hindrance theory in the course of his attempts to properly deal with the brief, but pivotal discussion of the hindrances contained in the AMF. Taking note of the radical difference in connotation to be seen with the hindrances as they are described in the AMF as compared with that found in the Yogācāra texts recently made available to him via the translations of Xuanzang (玄奘, 600-664) and his team, Wonhyo was spurred to undertake a full-length study of the hindrances, to clarify the range and categories of their implications.

The Ijangui is an incredibly thorough work in the degree to which the problems related to affliction and delusion are examined, compared, sifted, and reconciled. First working exclusively within the Yogācāra interpretation of the hindrances (introduced above), Wonhyo uncovers and treats a broad range of problems, mostly concerned with differences in the way that various thinkers understood the constitution of the eight regions of consciousness, and the degree to which each of the hindrances affected and/or resided in each of these regions. He also analyzes the hindrances into a dizzying array of strength, subtlety and coarseness, after which he moves on to examine the complexities of their removal by different types of practitioners, through the various Yogācāra paths and practices. He does this work through citations from such basic Yogācāra classics as the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, the Yogācārabhūmi [YBh], Madhyānta-vibhāga, along with a couple of dozen other texts.

Having extensively clarified the structure of the hindrances within the Yogācāra system, he then turns to the significantly different explanation of the hindrances set forth in the AMF. The AMF's articulation of the hindrances works from its basic structure of intrinsic enlightenment 本覺 vs. activated enlightenment 始覺, beginningless ignorance, and the treatise's description of the fall into suffering and the production of karma through nine progressive stages that are initiated by the first movement of mind. The afflictive obstructions of the AMF, rather than being grounded in the six fundamental afflictions that arise from the view of an ego (as in standard Yogācāra texts), are instead defined as this first movement of mind, termed as "intrinsic ignorance," or "non-enlightenment." The sentient being does not cognize the quiescent and unitary nature of suchness that is the one mind, and thus (1) the mind karmically moves due this ignorance 無明業, initiating, in a downward spiral: the perception of the (2) subjective perceiver 能見 and (3) objective world 境界, (4) mental discriminations , (5) continuity 相續, (6) attachment 執取, (7) definition of names 計名字, (8) production of karma 起業, and finally, (9) suffering and transmigration 業繫苦. Thus the starting point of the afflictive hindrances, rather than being the mistaken reification of an ego as in Yogācāra, is defined as the inability to perceive suchness, which means that it is actually, in the framework of the prior explained Yogācāra system, much more like a cognitive obscuration than an emotive affliction.

The cognitive obstructions of the AMF are defined in the context of their ability to obscure the function of activated enlightenment 始覺, as the inability to accurately discriminate the things of the world. Although the framework of the AMF's pair of hindrances cannot be said to be bereft of any connection whatsoever to the original Yogācāra set, the basic explanation provided in regard to the makeup and activity of the unenlightened vs. enlightened mind is significantly different in its approach.

After clearly distinguishing these two different approaches, Wonhyo labels the former (Yogācāra) approach as the "exoteric" explanation, and the latter (AMF) approach as the "esoteric" explanation, since, as he notes, the latter subsumes the former. This is because all of both kinds of hindrances in the Yogācāra system can be included within the category of the afflictive hindrances of the AMF, while the cognitive obstructions of the AMF form a whole new category of interpretation.

Wonhyo extensively cited the YBh and other standard Yogācāra works to elucidate and analyze the first set of hindrances, and uses a completely different set of texts to define a coherent body of discourse for his explanation of the AMF's pair of obstructions. Here, he builds his arguments from the classical texts of the Tathāgatagarbha tradition: the Śrīmālā-sūtra, the Benye jing, Ratnagotravibhāga and so forth. As it turns out, these texts are tied together by more than simply being of the same Tathāgatagarbha pedigree: they also each contain sections that define the relationship between ignorance and affliction in terms of the four and five "entrenchments" (vāsabhūmi, 住地 — latent bases, or seeds, of various kinds of delusion and affliction). Wonhyo's investigation and analysis of these abstruse and complex categories is, as usual, exasperatingly detailed and thorough, and is eventually brought around to interface with the Yogācāra model.

The Ijangui is an unusually difficult text, the difficulties being compounded by the extent of its corruption, and thus working through it, along with all of the citations from his source texts was in itself a formidable task. Because of this, at the time I was engaged in the translation itself I did not do that much comparative study with other commentarial treatments of the hindrances as described in the AMF. I had read Fazang's (法藏, 643-712) commentary on the AMF in the past, and hence knew that in his treatment of the hindrances, Fazang gives little more than a summary of Wonhyo's analysis. Since Wonhyo does not mention Huiyuan (慧遠, 523-592), and I had never seen special mention accorded to Huiyuan elsewhere in my studies of the two hindrances, I was not motivated to check his commentary on the AMF to see how he treated the section on the hindrances, and thus only began to look at it recently. Having now done so, I can only say that I am delighted to have found a whole new treasure trove of two hindrances discourse — one which is fascinating in itself, and pulls together so many loose ends, that in itself it could well serve as the subject of a much longer article. It is to Huiyuan's work that we now turn.

Huiyuan's Explication of the Hindrances

Wonhyo and Huiyuan

We modern scholars have mixed feelings when comparing the character of our work with that of our classical counterparts. Certainly the best of our early predecessors possessed an internalized mastery of the canonical corpus far superior to our own, coupled with sharp analytical skills and insight developed over years of deep study. One of their scholarly practices that many of us find annoying, however, is the lack of a tradition of peer citation equivalent to our own. Admittedly, they were usually good at accurately citing their scriptural sources, but most of them didn't care much about identifying or accrediting their contemporary or near-contemporary colleagues. At least Wonhyo didn't. If he had, I would have been onto Huiyuan's track several years ago, and I would have known that Wonhyo's entire systematic explanation of the esoteric/AMF hindrances, being grounded in the scheme of the five entrenchments found in the Śrīmālā-sūtra, Ratnagotravibhāga, etc., was most likely inspired, to some extent or another, from Huiyuan's essay on the hindrances contained in his commentary to the AMF. This is not to say that Wonhyo plagiarized Huiyuan. For although it is clear that Huiyuan's work represents a definite point of orientation for Wonhyo, Wonhyo goes so far beyond his predecessor in working these relationships out, that we really cannot voice any complaint of dishonesty.

This being said, we still must acknowledge Huiyuan's treatment of the hindrances as being formidable, and in my own research on the hindrances thus far, I see it as being second in terms of thoroughness in treatment only to Wonhyo. Of course, Wonhyo had a major historical advantage, in coming along roughly a century after Huiyuan, since in the century between came Xuanzang, with all of his new translations of the Yogācāra texts, most importantly, the Yogācārabhūmi.

Huiyuan's Treatment of the Hindrances

It is evident that Huiyuan took the matter of the explication of the hindrances to be something of relatively great importance within the context of his work on the AMF. His full commentary to the AMF is twenty-five pages in the Taishō, and despite the fact that the AMF's discussion of the hindrances constitutes only a few lines, he devotes three full pages of discussion to the hindrances ( (T 1843.44.188c1-191c1) ) . Given the disproportionately large treatment of this topic accorded by both Huiyuan and Wonhyo, we must assume that at least one of three possible factors motivated this detailed inquiry into the matter: (1) a felt need to straighten out confusion generated from the discussion found of the hindrances in the AMF; (2) a sense of a more general situation of vagueness and confusion due to the fact of varying interpretations of the hindrances in prior literature, and (3) a sense of the unique vantage point provided by hindrance theory in shedding light on the soteriological positions of the emerging Tathāgatagarbha tradition.

Huiyuan classifies the hindrances according to three levels of profundity, all of which are explained through the framework of the four/five entrenchments. The first level, which is the most straightforward and readily apprehensible, is (1) the one that takes the four afflictive entrenchments 四住煩惱 to be directly equivalent to the afflictive hindrances, and the nescience entrenchments 無明住地 to be directly equivalent to the cognitive hindrances. (2) In the second approach, the natures of all five entrenchments 五住 are collectively understood to constitute the afflictive hindrances, while the inability to properly cognize distinct phenomena 事中無知 constitutes the cognitive hindrances. In this approach, ignorance is distinguished into two types: confusion in regard to principle, and confusion in regard to distinct phenomena. (3) In the third approach, the essence of the five entrenchments, as well as obscuration of cognition in regard to distinctions in phenomena are taken to be the afflictive hindrances, leaving only the function of discriminating wisdom itself as the cognitive hindrances. Rendered graphically, the scheme looks like this:

煩惱障 智障
1 四住煩惱 無明住地
2 五住性緖 + 迷理無明 事中無知
3 五住性 + 事無知 + 迷理無明 分別緣智

As one might well expect in an East Asian commentarial work of this sort, each of these three categories is in turn distinguished into sub-categories for the purposes of hermeneutical analysis, with these sub-categories again branching out to as much as three or four further levels. The four main, top-level categories that are applied throughout are (1) the ascertainment of the distinguishing characteristics of the hindrances (within the given hermeneutic framework) 定障相; (2) the explanation of the rationale for their naming 釋障名; (3) the clarification of the levels of practice at which they are eliminated 明斷處, and (4) the explanation of the counteractive measures (pratipakṣa; "antidotes" ) that are applied in the removal of specific types of hindrances 對障辨脫.11

Even before we delve into the details of Huiyuan's two hindrances commentary there are a number of interesting points that present themselves, related to Huiyuan's distinctive interpretive approach, his historical situation, and his lineage affiliations. Most noticeable in Huiyuan's explication of the hindrances is a lack of any reference to what would become known as the orthodox Yogācāra scheme of the hindrances, as is found in the YBh and related texts. In other words, there is no trace of an explanation that clearly defines the afflictive hindrances as being derived from the cognitive hindrances, with the afflictive hindrances being grounded in the mistaken imputation of a person and the cognitive hindrances being derived from the mistaken imputation of phenomena (dharmas). Instead, Huiyuan develops his argument solely on the doctrine of the five entrenchments 五住 as found in the Śrīmālā-sūtra, Dilun, Benye jing, and so forth.

The five entrenchments as taught in these Tathāgatagarbha texts can be understood as five underlying bases from which manifestly active afflictions are generated — in other words, the latent aspects of the hindrances — comparable in connotation to such concepts as bīja (seeds) in Yogācāra. In texts such as the Śrīmālā-sūtra they are contrasted with active, or "arisen" afflictions 起煩惱 — (usually expressed in Yogācāra as or 現行). This teaching first starts with a basic set of four entrenchments 四住地. They are:

  1. 見一切住地 entrenchment of mistaken view in regard to all things in the three realms. (also interpreted by Wonhyo as "entrenchment of seeing a single basis." ).
  2. 欲愛住地 entrenchment of attachment to objects in the desire realm.
  3. 色愛住地 entrenchment of attachment to things in the form realm.
  4. 有愛住地 entrenchment of attachment to objects in the formless realm.

The fifth entrenchment is entrenched ignorance 無明住地 (avidyā-vāsabhūmi), referring to ignorance in its latent aspect as something innate and deeply embedded in the consciousness, which is extremely difficult to remove, and which serves as the basis for the other four entrenchments, and thus as the basis for the production of afflictions. When entrenched ignorance is added as a separate entity to the previous four, they are spoken of as the five entrenchments 五住地.

If one reads this family of texts, one will find no reference to the Yogācāra terminology of treating the hindrances, such as references to attachment to self 我執 and dharmas 法執, the production of the six primary and twenty secondary afflictions, etc. And conversely, the YBh and so forth never discuss the hindrances in terms of the five entrenchments. Thus, this topic in itself provides for an interesting study in the way that this form of soteriological discourse bifurcated between these two systems, considering that both are operating under some of the same basic paradigms, such as eight consciousness theory, perfumation, karmic maturation and so forth.

In Huiyuan's explanation, there is no hint whatsoever of the main components of the Yogācāra definition. It is quite possible that this absence can be attributed simply to the fact that the YBh and most of the other influential Yogācāra texts had not yet been carried back to China and translated by Xuanzang, and thus had not yet received summarial treatment by Xuanzang in the form of the Cheng weishi lun — all materials which were available to Wonhyo. We have to assume that that Bodhiruci's translation of the Saṃdhinirmocana was available to Huiyuan, but although the Saṃdhinirmocana does contain some discussion of the hindrances, the explanation of the hindrances in that text is not yet developed into what would become the standardly promulgated Yogācāra explanation, in terms of linking the cognitive and afflictive hindrances to the attachment to dharmas and attachment to self, respectively.

Returning to Huiyuan's three basic categories of the hindrances, the straightforward afflictive/cognitive distinction made in the first category makes it fairly clear that this approach can be pretty much correlated with the mainstream Yogācāra explanation, and thus, the "exoteric" classification laid out by Wonhyo.12 As for the second category, Huiyuan directly tells us (but only after we've worked our way through his entire explanation) that this is the one that fits the AMF. Hence, this is the category that Wonhyo will later label as the "esoteric" , mainly because it subsumes the prior category, showing awareness of a specific type of cognitive problem not treated in the first level — that of bodhisattvas lingering in meditative absorptions in suchness.

Interesting here is the third category, since it is one that, as far as I can tell, does not receive treatment from Wonhyo and is not readily extrapolated from any Yogācāra or Tathāgatagarbha text that I have yet read.13 This is the definition where all five of the entrenchments, plus original ignorance and inability to discriminate taught in the AMF, comprise the afflictive hindrances, with the cognitive hindrances consisting only of dependently-arisen wisdom. The stakes are again raised, it seems, to have it so that the cognitive hindrances are understood to be identified in their impedimentary effect with an even higher level of practice — even the correct wisdom exercised by advanced bodhisattvas. This is commensurate, nonetheless, with the basic view in the Tathāgatagarbha texts that any movement of the mind whatsoever is impedimentary to the perfect enlightenment of the Buddha. Huiyuan identifies it as a mode of the hindrances explained in the Śrīmālā-sūtra but the citation he gives to explain it in there doesn't seem to be in that text.14

What I have provided here is still little more than a basic introduction to the major issues presented in Huiyuan's explanation of the hindrances in the background of the much more thorough and detailed work done a century later by Wonhyo. As mentioned above, Huiyuan's explanation of the hindrances, is, even when only taken by itself, rich and sophisticated, taking into account a fairly exhaustive range of possible interpretations of the nuances of cognitive problems in their juxtaposition with the afflictive karmas that they enable and engender.

The relevance of Huiyuan's work for Wonhyo's later treatise is deep, and hence any truly exhaustive study of the Ijangui must begin with an adequate investigation of this portion of Huiyuan's commentary. On the other hand, once one has reached the point of sufficiently understanding both works, one cannot, I am sure, but come away with an even greater respect for Wonhyo's scholarship. Even within the area treated by Huiyuan, that of the relationship of the hindrances with the Tathāgatagarbha entrenchments, Wonhyo is far more thorough and painstaking, explaining in much more detail how the entrenchments are related to each other, the role they play in preserving afflictive tendencies and generating active disorders, and more precisely how they are related to the brief explanation of the hindrances delivered in the AMF. Beyond this, Wonhyo also conducts a "no-stone-left-unturned" study of hindrance theory in Yogācāra proper, throughout all of its regions of consciousness, and all of its paths of removal, and then even shows how the two systems match up to each other.

One significant new realization that I have arrived to through studying Huiyuan's treatment of the hindrances along with the additional Tathāgatagarbha texts that he cites, is in coming to see that my original understanding of the way hindrances doctrine originally developed was somewhat skewed. Due to earlier reliance on Yogacara-biased presentations in reference works and short classical summaries, I had come to understand hindrance theory as something that more or less started and developed to a level of fruition in Yogācāra, which was then later picked up and altered in Tathāgatagarbha. I now see it as being the case that the two lines of interpretation must have developed over a period of a couple of centuries pretty much in parallel, with some cross-fertilization, starting from a fairly early date.

In East Asia, the Tathāgatagarbha approach actually predominates at first (along with Tathāgatagarbha-influenced views of Yogācāra categories), with the competing Yogācāra explanation only taking hold after the publication of Xuanzang's translations. In discussions of the hindrances in East Asia subsequent to the demise of the Chinese Faxiang school, a somewhat blurred model becomes the norm in China and Korea. For example the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment's scheme of the hindrances basically picks and chooses from aspects of both types of explanations, while placing de facto exclusive emphasis on the cognitive dimension to a degree not seen in either of the prior models. In eighteenth century Korea, when the monk Choenul (最訥, 1717-1790) composed his Sipbon gyeongnon ijang cheseol ("Explanation of the Two Hindrances through Ten Canonical Texts"), nine of the ten texts selected are Tathāgatagarbha/AMF/Huayan works, with the only Faxiang source being the Cheng weishi lun, with no citations whatsoever from original Indian texts. Within the Hossō school in Japan, which maintained a distinct Faxiang doctrinal identity, the Xuanzang/Kuiji view of the hindrances became standardized based primarily on the almost exclusive influence of the Cheng weishi lun and Japanese derivative texts such as the Kanjin kakumu shō.

I have merely scratched the surface here in terms of showing both the internal dimensions and the characteristics of the interface of these two systems of the hindrances, leaving a rather large amount of territory yet to be explored. This further exploration, when carried out, holds great potential for the development of a far more nuanced understanding of the symbiotic nature of the doctrinal developments of the two streams that we currently label as Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha.


East Asian Canonical Sources

Apitan piposha lun (阿毘曇毘婆沙論). by Kātyāyanīputra 迦多衍尼子.  60 fasc. T 1546.28.1-416. (Translated into Chinese in 437 by Futuo bamo 浮陀跋摩 and Daotai 道泰

Cheng weishi lun (成唯識論). Xuanzang 玄奘, ed.  10 fasc. T 1585.31.1a-59a.

Daeseung gisillon byeolgi (大乘起信論別記). By Wonhyo.  2 fasc. HBJ 1.677-697; T 1845.44.226a-240c.

Dafangguang yuanjue xiuduluo liaoyi jing (大方廣圓覺修多羅了義大般涅槃經 ) (Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment). One fasc. T 842.17.913a-922a.

Dashing qixinlun yishu (大乘起信論義疏). Two fasc. T 1843.44.175a-201c. (By Huiyuan 慧遠)

Dasheng qixinlun yiji (大乘起信論義記). 3 or 5 fasc. T 1846.44.240-287, by Fazang 法藏 .

Jieshenmi jing ( 解深密大般涅槃經) (Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra). Xuanzang 玄奘, ed.  5 fasc. T 676.16.688b-711b.

Ijangui (二障義 ) (System of the Two Hindrances). Wonhyo 元曉 .  HBJ 1.789c-814b

Kanjin kakumu shō (觀心覺夢鈔). 3 fasc. T 2312.71. by Ryōhen 良遍.

Pusa yingluo benye jing (菩薩瓔珞本業經). 2 fasc. T 1485.24.1010b-1023a. (attr. to Zhu Fonian 竺佛念 but later scholarship considers it to have been written in China during the fifth or sixth century)

Pusa dichi jing (菩薩地持經) (Bodhisattvabhūmi-sūtra). 10 fasc. T 1581.30.888-959.

Renwang huguo bore boluomi jing (仁王護國般若波羅蜜經). Fugong 不空, ed.  2 fasc. T 246.8.825a-846a.

Shengman shizi hu yisheng da fangbian fangguang jing (勝鬘師子吼一乘大方便方廣大般 涅槃經) (Śrīmālādevī-simhanāda-sūtra). Gunabhadra 求那跋陀羅, ed.  One fasc. T 353.12.217a-223b..

Shidi jinglun ( 十地經論) (Daśabhūmikasūtra-śāstra; Dasabhūmikabhāsya). By Vasubandhu.  by Bodhiruci 菩提流支 et. al., ed.  12 fasc T 1522.26.123b-203b.

Sipbon gyeongnon gyeongnon ijang cheseol (十本經論二障體説) (Explanation of the Constitution of the Two Hindrances Through the Texts of Ten Scriptures and Treatises). By Choenul 最訥 .  HBJ 10.46-47.

Yuqie shidi lun (瑜伽師地論) (Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra). Xuanzang 玄奘, ed.  100 fasc. T 1579.30.279-882.

Yuqieshidilun luezuan (瑜伽師地論略纂). By Kuiji.  16 fasc. T 1829.43.1a1-228b5.

Modern Works

Cook, Frances H.  Three Texts on Consciousness-only Berkeley:  Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research,  1999.

Keenan, John P., trans.  The Scripture on Explanation of the Underlying Meaning Berkeley:  Numata Center for Translation and Research,  2000.

Muller, A. Charles.  The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment: Korean Buddhism's Guide to Meditation (with the commentary by the Sŏn monk Kihwa) Albany, New York:  SUNY Press,  1999.

----.  "The Yogācāra Two Hindrances and their Reinterpretations in East Asia" Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27 2004-1. 207-235

Powers, John.  Wisdom of Buddha: The Saṁdhinirmocana Sūtra Berkeley:  Dharma Publishing,  1994.

Takemura, Makio.  Yuishiki no kokoro: Kanjin kakumushō wo yomu (The Mind of Consciousness-only: A Reading of the Kanjin kakumushō) Tokyo:  Shunjusha,  2001.

Wayman, Alex, and Hideko Wayman, trans.  The Lion's Roar of Queen Śrīmālā New York:  Columbia University Press,  1974.

Yokoyama, Kōitsu. Yasashii YuishikiTokyo:  NHK Books,  2003.


HBJ = Hanguk bulgyo jeonseo [The Collected Texts of Korean Buddhism] (1984). Seoul: Dongguk University Press.

T = Taishō shinshū daizōkyō [Japanese Edition of the Buddhist Canon] (1924-35). Tokyo: Daizōkyōkai.


1. Thus, other-power oriented schools such as Pure Land, and chanting oriented schools such as Nichiren Buddhism really don't fit in here. It is not that practice and attainment within these schools could not also be explainable from the perspective of the hindrances. But since the practices in early Buddhism, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Chan, and so forth that are applied toward the removal of the hindrances cannot but fall under the "self-power" rubric, it would be hard to initiate a discussion of the hindrances in the context of other-power oriented systems.[back]

2. The five stages are:

  1. the stage of preparation 資糧位
  2. the stage of applied practices 加行位
  3. the stage of proficiency 通達位 (also known as the stage, or "path," of seeing 見道)
  4. the stage of practice 修習位 and
  5. the stage of completion 究竟位.

3. We often hear the reason for this inclusion of the "two vehicle" practitioners being described as "polemical" in purpose. In other words, as a means for disparaging the "Hīnayāna" system. There is probably a certain amount of validity to this, but I would tend to take this inclusion as simply a doctrinal practicality. Why reinvent the wheel (i.e. create an entirely new path structure) when you already have one that just needs a few modifications?[back]

4. Some descriptions of the cognitive hindrances in the works of commentators such as Huiyuan and Wonhyo will even mention such positive tendencies as love of the dharma to be cognitive hindrances. In the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, even extremely advanced realizations are included in the category of cognitive hindrances.[back]

5. For a detailed explanation of the role of the hindrances defining in this process, see the entry on the five paths 唯識修道五位 in the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism at [back]

6. The citation from the Yogācārabhūmi is from T 1579:30.645c10-11; the citation from Wonhyo is from the Ijangui at HBJ 1.809b13[back]

7. 所知障亦障涅槃。如何但說菩提障。說煩惱但障涅 槃。豈彼不能 障菩提。應知聖教依勝用說理。實倶能通障二果。T 1585.31.56a3-6. [back]

8. In rendering the title of the Dasheng qixin lun as Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, as opposed to Hakeda's "Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna" I am following the position put forth by Sung Bae Park in Chapter Four of his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. There he argues that the inner discourse of the text itself, along with the basic understanding of the meaning of mahāyāna in the East Asian Buddhist tradition does not work according to a Western theological "faith in..." subject-object construction, but according to an indigenous East Asian essence-function 體用 model. Thus, mahāyāna should not be interpreted as a noun-object, but as a modifier, which characterizes the type of faith.[back]

9. "The Yogācāra Two Hindrances and their East Asian Transformations,"Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 2004-1.[back]

10. T 1843.44.188c4-9[back]

11. By comparison, Wonhyo's treatise on the hindrances is structured in six sections: (1) an explanation of their naming 釋名義; (2) an explanation of their constitution and characteristics 出體相; (3) an elaboration of their various functions 辨功能; (4) an explanation of the rationales behind the various types of categorical arrangements of the hindrances 攝諸門; (5) an explanation of the antidotes and paths 明治斷; and (6) a final chapter that treats discrepancies in interpretation 惣決擇 between Mahāyāna/Hīnayāna paths, and between various Mahāyāna scriptures and commentators. We can see that there is much overlap between Huiyuan's and Wonhyo's categories, suggesting again, that Wonhyo may have picked up some hints from his predecessor, and then went a few steps further.[back]

12. The explanation given to this category, found both in the Śrīmālā-sūtra and in Huiyuan's commentary locates the two vehicle practitioners and the bodhisattvas in analogous positions to that found in the Yogācāra explanation, in terms of their ability to deal with the hindrances.[back]

13. There is much hindrances-related scriptural literature that I have not yet read carefully, so my suspicion is that if I keep looking, I will eventually turn up a source for this interpretation.[back]

14. I assume it must be derived from some text, but I haven't been able to locate it yet. Interestingly, it is a type of interpretation that can be seen in the much later Chinese apocryphon, the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment 圓覺經, which treats the most profound experience of enlightenment as cognitive hindrances, as long as they are attached to.[back]

Copyright © Charles Muller— 2005