Rationality, Meditation and Liberation in Indian Buddhism: Kamalaśīla's Scriptural Commentaries in Context

This project involves the first comprehensive investigation of two scriptural commentaries by the historically influential Indian Buddhist scholar, philosopher and monastic dignitary Kamalaśīla (c. 740–795): the Avikalpapraveśadhāraṇīṭīkā and the Vajracchedikāṭīkā. It will also re-examine another closely related treatise by Kamalaśīla, the third Bhāvanākrama.

Based on different doctrinal backgrounds, the two commentaries contribute to the exposition and justification of Kamalaśīla's position that rational inquiry into the nature of reality and meditative practice are both indispensable soterial methods – that is, methods for attaining liberation and supreme awakening, the highest religious goals of Mahāyāna Buddhism. This position is also poignantly defended in the third Bhāvanākrama, which reflects Kamalaśīla's response to his encounter with exponents of a form of Chinese Buddhism (Northern Chan) in the Tibetan empire. According to a prominent, albeit problematic, Tibetan historiographical narrative, this encounter culminated in a historically momentous public debate held at the first Tibetan monastic foundation of Bsam yas, in which Kamalaśīla's position prevailed.


The evidence we have assembled thus far supports the working hypothesis that the two commentaries were composed in connection with this historically momentous controversy in Tibet; the third Bhāvanākrama has already been established to be linked with it. The project thus pursues the overarching intellectual goal of clarifying how these commentaries are related to the Bsam yas controversy, and, in doing so, exploring more broadly how they relate to Kamalaśīla overall philosophical-soteriological programme as it is expressed in others of the many works that he wrote.

To accomplish its goals and to take the first step towards a comprehensive study of all of Kamalaśīla's scriptural commentaries, the project will produce critical editions (both print and digital) and annotated scholarly translations of the Avikalpapraveśadhāraṇīṭīkā and the Vajracchedikāṭīkā, as well as a new critical edition and translation of the third Bhāvanākrama. These philologically oriented products will be accompanied by individual studies devoted to critical issues in the relationship between rationality, meditation and liberation that shed light on the historical context and background of these works.

Project news

  • The panel "Kamalaśīla in the intellectual history of Buddhism – explorations across his oeuvre," convened by Serena Saccone and Pei-Lin Chiou together with Sara McClintock (Emory University), has been accepted for the XIXth Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, to be held in Seoul on August 16-21, 2020.

Project publications

Publications resulting from preparatory work are included in this list.

  • Kellner, Birgit: "Buddhist Philosophy and the Neuroscientific Study of Meditation: Critical Reflections." (This article makes use of Kamalaśīla's approach to reasoning and meditative practice for developing a critical perspective on the contemporary study of Buddhist meditation.) American Philosophical Association, Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philsoophers and Philosophies 19/1 (fall 2019), 36-40. [Download entire newsletter]
  • Saccone, Margherita Serena: "On the Nature of Things – A Buddhist Debate on Cognitions and Their Object." Wien 2018: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien, pp. xvi + 377. [Order online]

Project Data