The aim of this paper is to make clear what is meant by the word alaṃkāra ‘ornament’ in the title Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra given to a treatise of Yogācāra Buddhism belonging to its formative period.
The first verse of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra says: arthajño ’rthavibhāvanāṃ prakurute ‘One who knows the meaning [of the dharma] performs arthavibhāvanā’. This shows that the word arthavibhāvanā is used in place of the word alaṃkāra, which is corroborated by the Bhāṣya passage: kam alaṃkāraṃ karoti / arthavibhāvanāṃ prakurute. It is important to note that the word vibhaktārtha is used to refer to the dharma in the third verse of the work in close connection with the word arthavibhāvanā. This suggests that the word arthavibhāvanā is synonymous with the word arthavibhāga ‘the division of a meaning into meanings’. Thus the word arthavibhāvanā means ‘the analysis of one meaning into plural meanings’.
The first verse also says that arthavibhāvanā is performed in order to show (pradarśayan) five meanings integrated with the dharma, which is defined as uttamayānadeśitavidhi ‘that in which vidhi (the word and meaning) of the Supreme Vehicle (uttamayāna) is preached’. Accordingly, it follows that the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra is the treatise to ornament the Mahāyānasūtras, that is, to analyze the meaning of the dharma into the five meanings.