Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

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Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby anon » Tue Feb 01, 2011 4:19 pm

For the practicing Buddhist, as well as for anyone who seeks to understand Buddhist views, it is paramount that one always considers how to understand what has been taught - in what way is such and such teaching true?

Yogācāra is a school of Buddhism that teaches a certain view of reality as a basis for practice. According to most, if not all, of the current Buddhist schools which reference Yogācāra, this view of reality, though useful and advanced, is not ultimate - it is not "highest" view, but a useful tenet along a graduated path of understanding. Nonetheless, the Yogācāra school, which is also called the "mind only" school has been categorized and dismissed by many intellectuals as a form of idealism. According to Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, who is well qualified to help the educated modern student understand and put into context these ancient teachings, it is neither accurate nor helpful to characterize Yogācāra as idealism in the western sense. Here is an extract from a talk he gave on the Abhidharmasamuccaya in 1983. The portion quoted is from a question and answer session:

Q: Was atman one of the two notions that the Yogacarins had?
A: Atma. In a Hindu context, atma normally means self or soul, something like
that. Here, atma is related to any kind of subjective experience. We don't have to
infer about our own subjective experiences, we directly experience them. Anything
that we have to infer, that we have to use inference for, is the objective side, which
is dharma.

Q: So the objective side is what actually happens?
A: What is experienced. We might have to use inference or we might not. It
depends on whether it's taking place in our own mind. If we experience a table,
then that is outside our experience, in some sense. We directly experience a
toothache or a headache, but it is experienced, so there is some kind of objective
side. It could be physical or mental, depending on the situation.

Q: I missed the point of why of you referred to atma and dharma.
A: The whole process of the three levels of consciousness is related to atma and
dharma, subject and object. The interaction between the three levels of
consciousness is related to subject and object, through and through.

Q: The person and their world.
A: That's right. The person and their world. At the same time, on the objective
level it includes a person's thought process as well. Thought and what thought is
about. Aggression and what a person is aggressive about. Aggression on the
subjective side, what one is aggressive about on the objective side. The person and
their view of the world. The world is on the objective side, the person is on the
subjective side. That's atma and dharma. The whole thing is explained as a
transformation of a conscious process.

Q: Atma and dharma come from the alayavijnana, so both are forms of
consciousness. They're basically the same thing.
A: That's right. We have to keep in mind that we're not talking about chairs and
tables as they are. We're talking about how we experience chairs and tables.
Sometimes people have interpreted Yogacara as saying that a chair is in your
mind, a table is in your mind, everything is in your mind. Yogacara is really
talking about how we experience these things. We're not talking about how they
exist in themselves.

Q: But there is the Yogacarin statement of cittamatra, that there is mind only.
A: Yogacarins put so much emphasis on the mind because they are concerned with
practice. Some people have thought they were saying that everything is in your
mind. Some of these people were influenced by certain Western philosophies.
When Berkeley said "Whatever you see or hear is in your own mind, it's all ideas",
they thought "This really makes sense." I think there's a problem there.

Q: When you're talking about everything coming from the mind, what you're
talking about is our reactions and perceptions of things?
A: That's right. We are not concerned about whether or not a chair exists. That's
secondary. Why spend so much time arguing about whether or not a chair exists,
instead of learning how we experience and relate to the chair, and what sort of
experience we've got?


source (PDF)
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby JohnJones » Tue Feb 01, 2011 11:16 pm

anon wrote:For the practicing Buddhist, as well as for anyone who seeks to understand Buddhist views, it is paramount that one always considers how to understand what has been taught - in what way is such and such teaching true?

Yogācāra is a school of Buddhism that teaches a certain view of reality as a basis for practice. According to most, if not all, of the current Buddhist schools which reference Yogācāra, this view of reality, though useful and advanced, is not ultimate - it is not "highest" view, but a useful tenet along a graduated path of understanding. Nonetheless, the Yogācāra school, which is also called the "mind only" school has been categorized and dismissed by many intellectuals as a form of idealism. According to Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, who is well qualified to help the educated modern student understand and put into context these ancient teachings, it is neither accurate nor helpful to characterize Yogācāra as idealism in the western sense. Here is an extract from a talk he gave on the Abhidharmasamuccaya in 1983. The portion quoted is from a question and answer session:

Q: Was atman one of the two notions that the Yogacarins had?
A: Atma. In a Hindu context, atma normally means self or soul, something like
that. Here, atma is related to any kind of subjective experience. We don't have to
infer about our own subjective experiences, we directly experience them. Anything
that we have to infer, that we have to use inference for, is the objective side, which
is dharma.

Q: So the objective side is what actually happens?
A: What is experienced. We might have to use inference or we might not. It
depends on whether it's taking place in our own mind. If we experience a table,
then that is outside our experience, in some sense. We directly experience a
toothache or a headache, but it is experienced, so there is some kind of objective
side. It could be physical or mental, depending on the situation.

Q: I missed the point of why of you referred to atma and dharma.
A: The whole process of the three levels of consciousness is related to atma and
dharma, subject and object. The interaction between the three levels of
consciousness is related to subject and object, through and through.

Q: The person and their world.
A: That's right. The person and their world. At the same time, on the objective
level it includes a person's thought process as well. Thought and what thought is
about. Aggression and what a person is aggressive about. Aggression on the
subjective side, what one is aggressive about on the objective side. The person and
their view of the world. The world is on the objective side, the person is on the
subjective side. That's atma and dharma. The whole thing is explained as a
transformation of a conscious process.

Q: Atma and dharma come from the alayavijnana, so both are forms of
consciousness. They're basically the same thing.
A: That's right. We have to keep in mind that we're not talking about chairs and
tables as they are. We're talking about how we experience chairs and tables.
Sometimes people have interpreted Yogacara as saying that a chair is in your
mind, a table is in your mind, everything is in your mind. Yogacara is really
talking about how we experience these things. We're not talking about how they
exist in themselves.

Q: But there is the Yogacarin statement of cittamatra, that there is mind only.
A: Yogacarins put so much emphasis on the mind because they are concerned with
practice. Some people have thought they were saying that everything is in your
mind. Some of these people were influenced by certain Western philosophies.
When Berkeley said "Whatever you see or hear is in your own mind, it's all ideas",
they thought "This really makes sense." I think there's a problem there.

Q: When you're talking about everything coming from the mind, what you're
talking about is our reactions and perceptions of things?
A: That's right. We are not concerned about whether or not a chair exists. That's
secondary. Why spend so much time arguing about whether or not a chair exists,
instead of learning how we experience and relate to the chair, and what sort of
experience we've got?


source (PDF)



In this race Wittgenstein and Kant may be level, if not overtaking. I too could inform Mr. Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche.
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby anon » Wed Feb 02, 2011 1:24 am

What race are you referring to, JJ?
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby without-music » Tue Aug 16, 2011 12:55 pm

anon wrote:A: That's right. We are not concerned about whether or not a chair exists. That's
secondary. Why spend so much time arguing about whether or not a chair exists,
instead of learning how we experience and relate to the chair, and what sort of
experience we've got?

This is brilliant. It seems phenomenological, in direct opposition to the metaphysical. I wonder at the similarities between an Eastern phenomenology of this type and a Western philosophy like Husserl's.
...how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature.
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby anon » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:02 pm

without-music wrote:
anon wrote:A: That's right. We are not concerned about whether or not a chair exists. That's
secondary. Why spend so much time arguing about whether or not a chair exists,
instead of learning how we experience and relate to the chair, and what sort of
experience we've got?

This is brilliant. It seems phenomenological, in direct opposition to the metaphysical. I wonder at the similarities between an Eastern phenomenology of this type and a Western philosophy like Husserl's.

It's definitely in opposition to metaphysical dabbling. I've wondered about Husserl, but I never got very far in trying to figure Husserl out.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby without-music » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:05 pm

anon wrote:It's definitely in opposition to metaphysical dabbling.

I like that.

anon wrote:I've wondered about Husserl, but I never got very far in trying to figure Husserl out.

I think it might be rather productive to draw out the parallels and differences between the two approaches. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about the phenomenological tradition.
...how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature.
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby anon » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:08 pm

without-music wrote:I think it might be rather productive to draw out the parallels and differences between the two approaches.

Very true. Now you've got me thinking about studying Husserl a bit... :-k
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby without-music » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:12 pm

anon wrote:Very true. Now you've got me thinking about studying Husserl a bit... :-k

The graduate school I'm hoping to attend next year specializes in a comparative approach between Eastern and Western philosophies. This might be something for me to keep in mind. Thanks!
...how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature.
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Re: Clarifying Yogācāra "Idealism"

Postby anon » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:13 pm

without-music wrote:
anon wrote:Very true. Now you've got me thinking about studying Husserl a bit... :-k

The graduate school I'm hoping to attend next year specializes in a comparative approach between Eastern and Western philosophies. This might be something for me to keep in mind. Thanks!

Damn, perfect for you then! I'm jealous.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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