Nearly 90 years ago, Katō Seishin 加藤精神, the Buddhist scholar, pointed out that many Japanese scholars had some misunderstandings about avijñapti or non-expression, one of the distinguishing doctrines of the Sarvāstivāda. The opinion he claimed as a misunderstanding is that “the avijñapti plays a karmic role as a medium force between cause and its future result,” while he suggested the correct interpretation to be “a continuous function to restrain good and evil karma, abandoned in death at the latest.” This suggestion caused some controversies at the time, but afterward many Japanese researchers re-examined and approved his view as correct in its conclusion.
In this paper, we elucidate the reason why those misunderstandings took place, considering the background of research in Japan. In Japanese traditional studies of the Abhidharmakośa, scholars handed down an explanation about avijñapti equal to Katō’s interpretation, and we cannot find any misunderstandings in the descriptions conforming to the tradition in those days. We find the misunderstandings mainly in many untraditional representations from the standpoint of the theory of the bīja or the function of seeds, identifying the avijñapti with the bīja of the Vijñānavāda or Sautrāntika. However, in the Abhidharmakośa, Vasubandhu actually rejects the avijñapti adopting the bīja theory, but he does not deal with the avijñapti as a substitute for the bīja, which is obviously confirmed from the context.
Many Buddhist scholars in Japan used to make light of the Sarvāstivāda doctrine labelling Hīnayāna from the stance of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Such prejudiced approaches prevented them from a rational critique of the Abhidharma texts.