Yogācāra: Modeling the Meaning of the Mahāyāna

Thurs., Aug. 21st, 09:00-12:30

“Mind-Only” as a Strategy for Yogic Practice

Eckel, Malcolm David (Boston University, USA)

In the introduction to his commentary on the Triṃśikā, Sthiramati draws a direct connection between “mind-only” and the removal of “obstructions” (āvaraṇa) that prevent the attainment of liberation and the development of omniscience. This paper will explore the practical connections between “mind-only” and the goals of the bodhisattva path in the two major Indian commentaries on the Triṃśikā (by Sthiramati and Vinītadeva) and in the “Analysis of External Objects” (bahirarthaparīkṣā) by Śāntarakṣita. The purpose will be to understand the fundamental epistemological and ontological commitments of the Yogācāra tradition through its distinctive strategy of yogic practice.


Yogācāra Metaphysics as a Model for the Interpretation of Scripture

Gold, Jonathan (Brooklyn, USA)

This paper argues that Yogācāra’s characteristic metaphysics (trisvabhāva, vijñãptimātra, etc.) must be understood in the light of its primary concern, which is to integrate the totality of Buddhist scripture into a comprehensive view of the path to liberation (nirvāṇa). I begin by rooting the Three Natures doctrine in its originary context of the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel in the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra. It is clear from this passage that the Three Natures are initially proposed as three kinds of “lack of own being” (ngo bo nyid ma mchis pa nyid) or emptiness, each associated with one set of teachings of the Buddha and one stage of his students’ intellectual and moral development. The Three Natures doctrine itself is the final set of teachings (the Third Turning), which explains the “good distinctions” that allow one both to differentiate the doctrinal levels and to inoculate oneself against a mistaken reification of emptiness.

In the second half of the paper, I apply this reading of the Three Natures doctrine to Vasubandhu’s Three Natures Exposition (Trisvabhāvanirdeśa), arguing that Vasubandhu’s purpose in these verses is to express the “deep” (gaṃbhīra) unity in the Buddha’s teachings. He does this through two methods. One method is to foreground the “emptiness” resonant within the teaching of Dependent Origination (the First Turning), as expressed through the analogy of the magical illusion. The point that emptiness is implicit in the early Buddhist teachings is also made in the Twenty Verses (Viṃśatikā). The other method is to display how the Three Natures are themselves “non-dual,” since each relies upon the others for its proper elucidation. Yogācāra, under this view, integrates Buddhist scripture into a single, conceptual whole. 


The Mahāyāna of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: Śamatha-Vipaśyanā and Philosophy in the Mahāyāna

Iwamoto, Akemi (D. T. Suzuki Museum, Kanazawa-shi, JPN)

In this paper, I investigate the relationship between Mahāyānistic śamatha-vipaśyanā practices and the central philosophical theories of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (MSA, circa 4th c. CE). I aim to clarify the meaning of the Mahāyāna of the MSA, and to show how the MSA's unique writing style and structure are related to its Mahāyāna.

Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions both designate the MSA as one of the so-called “Five Treatises of Maitreya.” The MSA is an innovative work: unconstrained by old traditions and structured on a highly elaborate design. Its first chapter includes one of the earliest detailed arguments against the conservative Buddhists of the time, who denied that the Mahāyāna was the legitimate teaching of the Buddha. Even though scholars have carefully examined this argument (or defense) for a decade, the meaning of the Mahāyāna of the MSA remains unclear.

In modern Buddhist Studies, the MSA has been classified as belonging to the early Yogācāra school. The way of Mahāyānization of the early Yogācāra texts is not the same. What version of the Mahāyāna does the MSA advocate? In order to answer this question, we need to thoroughly analyze the whole text of the MSA from various perspectives. Here, I will explore the MSA’s version of the Mahāyāna by focusing on the praxis system of the MSA.

The MSA constructed an innovative praxis system of the Bodhisattva path. The central practices of this system are a wide variety of yogic practices consisting of śamatha and vipaśyanā; there are both newly created Mahāyānistic śamatha-vipaśyanā practices, and traditional practices, such as the nine types of mental stabilization. Furthermore, in order to grade or categorize its practices, the MSA uses the Mahāyāna theory of the ten stages of a Bodhisattva and traditional frameworks.

In previous articles, I have pointed out that the MSA presents the whole process of its new praxis system in Chapters 13 and 14. Citta-mātra—a key term in Yogācāra idealism—appears in one stage of the MSA’s praxis system. However, as I will demonstrate in this paper, the citta-mātra concept does not play a central role in the MSA.


Vasubandhu through a Mahāyāna Looking Glass? Or, Why Vasubandhu Believes Ordinary Language Can and Does Take Care of Itself

Kachru, Sonam (University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA; Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin, GER)

Vasubandhu’s works are often cited by philosophers seeking to reconstruct a convincing target of the critique of philosophers like Nāgārjuna, whose own views are taken to have exposed presuppositions concerning language and truth fatal to a project of fundamental metaphysics often associated with Vasubandhu. But what were Vasubandhu's philosophical views concerning language and truth? No philosophically and exegetically self-evident answer is to hand. Using the Treasury of Metaphysics (Abhidharmakośabhāṣya), this essay offers a few signposts on the way to a re-consideration of Vasubandhu’s views. In particular, this essay asks: does it make sense to speak, as is frequently done on Vasubandhu’s behalf, of an “ultimate form of description”, wherein the word ‘description’ is taken resolutely? I seek here to follow concrete instances of Vasubandhu’s analysis: in addition to considering Vasubandhu’s practice of assigning truth-makers to ordinary language sentences, his apparent practice of re-casting ordinary language sentences to make perspicuous their referential commitments, and his arguments against the stringent correspondence principle of the Kashmirian scholars of the Sarvāstivāda tradition, this paper is centrally guided by the need to make sense of the following two aspects of Vasubandhu’s practice that any account must explain together: (a) Vasubandhu’s explicit statement (and arguments) to the effect that language, as used in ordinary contexts of communication, and understood to derive meaning from usage, does not deceive; and (b) Vasubandhu’s commitment to revising the referential commitments acquired by ordinary language as ordinarily used.

Mere Names – The Bodhisattvabhūmi’s Reinterpretation of nāmamātra

Lugli, Ligeia (Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages, Berkeley, CA, USA)

This paper identifies the Bodhisatvabhūmi as a turning point in the interpretation of scriptural claims that dharmas amount to mere names (nāmamātra). It proffers that the Bodhisatvabhūmi's discussion of nominalism can be seen as a pivot between the primarily ontological conception of nāmamātra that emerges from early Prajñāpāramitā and Madhyamaka literature, and the later Yogācāra interpretation of language as a trigger of epistemic distortion.

In order to highlight the doctrinal shift and the hermeneutical manoeuvre that characterize the Bodhisatvabhūmi’s take on ‘nominalism’, this paper focusses on the Tattvārthapaṭala's quotation of the second stanza of the Bhavasaṃkrāntisūtra. First, it analyses the different purposes that the stanza serves in its original context and in the Bodhisatvabhūmi. Second, it proposes an outline of the likely motives for this re-interpretation. Finally, it addresses the question of intentionality. While the Tattvārthapaṭala shows indications of a conscious hermeneutical effort to re-interpret the Bhavasaṃkrāntisūtra’s stanza, it is unclear to what extent this re-interpretation might also derive from a gradual shift in the Indic discourse on language that had taken place in the time between early formulation of ‘nominalism’ and the compilation of this chapter of the Bodhisatvabhūmi.


Does Early Yogācāra Have a Theory of Meaning? The Case of Vasubandhu’s Triṃśikā and Sthiramati’s bhāṣya

Tzohar, Roy (Tel Aviv University, Berlin, GER)

Can the early Yogācāra be said to present a systematic theory of meaning? In this paper I argue that Sthiramati’s bhāṣya on Vasubandu’s Triṃśikā, where it is stated that all language-use is metaphorical, indeed provides such a theory, both in light of the text’s adherence to the wider Indian philosophical conversation regarding reference and meaning and by virtue of the questions it addresses and its motivations. The paper briefly explores the main sources of influence on this understanding of language and meaning, tracing its relations to its immediate Buddhist textual context (that is, to texts such as the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, Bodhisattvabhūmi and the Viniścayasaṃgrahaṇī, among others) as well as to the theories of meaning put forward by its contemporaneous non-Buddhist schools. I then proceed to show how, in an attempt to link causal ontology and linguist meaning, Vasubandhu and especially Sthiramati made use of the Yogācāra understanding of the causal underpinning of language in the store-house consciousness to present something akin to a (non-realist) figurative causal theory of reference. This theory, I argue, sat well with the Yogācāra’s soteriological and theoretical needs, as it enabled the school to 1) maintain a notion of discourse in which highly diversified descriptions of reality, not all of them true in the ultimate sense, were considered meaningful under the same referential principle, and 2) to contend that some descriptions are more meaningful and true than others. This in turn allowed the Yogācāra to distinguish between different epistemic points of view correlating to different levels of discourse within the conventional realm, and by implication, to defend the meaningfulness of its discourse in the face of Madhyamaka’s radical conventionalism.


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