Stairway to Nirvāna

A Study of the Twenty Saṃghas Based on the Works of Tsong kha pa

By James B. Apple

Subjects: Tibetan Buddhism, Religion, Buddhism, Asian Studies, Asian Religion And Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791473764, 287 pages, January 2009
Hardcover : 9780791473757, 287 pages, March 2008

Table of contents

List of Figures and Tables

1. The Topic of the Twenty Saṃgha

        Methodological Considerations
        Tsong kha pa’s Hermeneutical Strategy
        Hermeneutical Strategies in Approaching the Twenty Saṃgha

2. Tsong kha pa and the Abhisamayālamkāra Commentarial Tradition

        Indian Predecessors in the Abhisamayālamkāra Tradition
        Tsong kha pa’s Tibetan Predecessors in the Abhisamayālamkāra Tradition
        The Abhisamayālamkāra and Twenty Saṃgha in Tsong kha pa’s Life and Works

3. Contextual and Doctrinal Presumptions

        Locating the Twenty Saṃgha in the Abhisamayālamkāra
        Saṃgha in Early Buddhism and in the Abhisamayālamkāra
        Avaivartika-Saṃgha as Refuge in the Abhisamayālamkāra
        Path and Yogic Systems of the Abhisamayālamkāra
        Cosmological Factors

4. Analysis of the Twenty Saṃgha

        An Introduction to the Topic from the Root Texts
        The Allegorical Saṃgha of Śrāvakas

5. An Assembly of Irreversible Bodhisattvas

        The Actual Saṃgha of Bodhisattvas
        Enumerating Bodhisattvas in the Prajñāpāramitā
        Relationship between the Actual Saṃgha and the Allegorical Saṃgha


Discusses an essential Tibetan Buddhist work that shows how Noble Beings progress toward enlightenment.


James B. Apple examines one of the formative subjects in traditional Buddhist studies, the Twenty Varieties of the Saṃgha. The Saṃgha (community) is one of the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Saṃgha) universally revered by all Buddhists. While the Saṃgha is generally understood as the community of Buddhist ordained monks and nuns, along with lay adherents, the Twenty Varieties of the Saṃgha concerns an exemplary community of the twenty types of Noble Beings (ārya-pudgala) who embody the Buddha's teachings. Focusing on the interpretation of the Saṃgha given by the fourteenth-century Tibetan scholar Tsong kha pa, Apple provides a comprehensive typology and analysis of the stages through which Noble Beings pass in their progress toward enlightenment through multiple lifetimes in various cosmological realms. He explains the cosmographic formations and complex structures of Buddhist spiritual cultivation, illustrating how Tibetan and Indian Buddhists conceptualize all possible states on the path to enlightenment.

James B. Apple is University Lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Religious Studies Program at the University of Alberta.


"Dealing with an interesting and understudied topic, Apple displays a thorough mastery of the Saṃgha in the Abhisamayālamkāra and its surrounding literature. " — Roger R. Jackson, translator of Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India