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Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun by Dan Lusthaus Curzon Critical Studies in Buddhism Series: RoutledgeCurzon) Yogacara as a Critique of Consciousness: "The 'given' loses its innocence and is exposed as the 'taken'." (p. 531)

There is still no consensus in the West as to how best to interpret, or even approach, the vast collection of Buddhist teachings and practices falling under the rubric "Yogacara." A recently completed annual seminar at the American Academy of Religion, for example, hosted an impressive array of papers on an extensive range of topics for five years running without finally addressing exactly "What is, or isn't, Yogacara?"[1]

Dan Lusthaus's recent volume, Buddhist Phenomenology, addresses precisely this question (and a great many others) with prodigious energy, acute philosophical insight, and unstinting polemic intent. Dan is a man with a mission and that mission is to set the record straight on Yogacara: classical Yogacara is not, Lusthaus reiterates, is not, a form of metaphysical or ontological idealism. It is, rather, a phenomenological and epistemological investigation of the classical Buddhist questions of suffering, no-self, impermanence, and liberation, as they came to be expressed in the sophisticated, post-Abhidharmic and post-Madhyamakan milieu of fourth- to seventh-century India . Seen in this light, Yogacara exhibits much more continuity than discontinuity with earlier forms of Indian Buddhism, and the main thrust of this book is to demonstrate this twinned thesis in considerable, if not painstaking, detail. The aims of the book are thus both hermeneutic, to provide an "appropriate" interpretation of the Yogacara project, and expository, to present the full range of materials necessary to persuasively make this case. This is by far the most sustained, and in my opinion successful, effort to do so in a Western language.

To accomplish these aims, the first half of the book sets forth the Indian Buddhist antecedents of basic Yogacara concepts, before focusing upon Vasubandhu's classic verse summary of Yogacara in the "Thirty Verses". The remainder of the book, a still hefty two hundred pages, examines these ideas as they are systematically espoused in the extensive commentary on the "Thirty Verses", the Ch'eng wei-shih lun(CWSL), composed in 659 C.E. by the great Chinese pilgrim and translator, Hsuan-tsang, after his return from India . The CWSL seems to substantiate Lusthaus's interpretations of Yogacara so well, one suspects, that it must have served as his originating inspiration.

All of this is preceded by two relatively short chapters, on Buddhism and phenomenology, that explain his unique approach to this project, an approach that indeed calls for explanation, for it--both in content and style--may be the most formidable aspect of this discursive, incisive, often brilliant, 600-page work.

Lusthaus's basic interpretive point is that, simply put, "Yogacara is Buddhist phenomenology". By citing phenomenology, he is calling upon parallels he finds with the twentieth-century movement in Western philosophy centered around such thinkers as Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty and characterized, in his words, by its "critical concern with epistemological issues, a recognition that knowledge comes through cognition, but without implying any metaphysical statement about the nature of reality as dependent upon or created by mind" (p. 11). What Lusthaus aims to do then, as promised by the subtitle, "A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism," is to "practice" philosophy in a Yogacara/phenomenological mode, "to offer a "philosophical translation" of Yogacara into the idiom of phenomenology" (p. 11). Such a "translation," he explains, must "eventually go beyond merely doing philology, in order to explore what a text 'means'" (p. ix), and it is this philosophical exploration, this attempt to express what Yogacara "means" in a phenomenological idiom, that makes this work so (potentially) impenetrable to the impatient yet, at the same time, so richly rewarding for the resolute. This book, in other words, cannot be used as a handy exposition of Yogacara "tenets"; it is not a doxography. It requires, rather, an active engagement at a number of levels in "thinking Yogaacaarically". That is both its challenge and, in the end, its achievement.

This is facilitated in part by the liberal use of Sanskrit terms throughout, terms which are quickly assimilated into the text, de-italicized and inflected as the occasion demands (_praj~napti_ becomes "praj~naptic" or "praj~naptically"). This requires us to think in terms of Sanskrit Buddhist categories, which is consistent with the philosophic aims of the book, but must, I imagine, make considerable demands on the uninitiated. (This is only exacerbated by the meager seven-page index, which is unfortunate for a book as richly diffuse as this, since it virtually precludes its use as a reference work.)

His larger interpretive point, however, is that Buddhism itself was "a type of phenomenology" (p. viii) from the beginning and we can therefore understand Yogacara better, that is, more appropriately, if we interpret it in terms of this historical and philosophical context. But, he explains, since this "pre-Yogacara phenomenological basis" has "nowhere else ... been spelled out, I devote a major portion of this book to providing this necessary context" (p. ix). This entails re-examining most of the major "models" of Indian Buddhist thought: the skandhas, pratiitya-samutpaada, tridhaatu, and `siila-samaadhi-praj~naa, from this phenomenological perspective, a re-examination that, depending upon the concept, involves greater or lesser reinterpretation of our own "received tradition." This re-presentation of basic Buddhist models supports Lusthaus's interpretation of Yogacara as fundamentally an epistemological rather than ontological project that is fully "in line with basic Buddhist thinking" (p. 535), while at the same time it furnishes the foundation for the eventual reformulation of these models within Yogacara in general and the CWSL in particular, as presented in considerable detail in the second half of the book. In this way, Buddhist Phenomenology is not unlike Lusthaus's description of the CWSL: "It contains, organizes and evaluates a vast range of Buddhist doctrinal minutia ... rehearsing and re-rehearsing terms and models in one permutational aggregation after another" (p. 352).

Such an interpretation, that Yogacara indicts rather than idealizes consciousness (vijnaana, vijnapti), has some serious explaining to do and Lusthaus does so with seemingly endless, if somewhat uneven, erudition. Term after term, model after model, chapter after chapter, Lusthaus takes on the core issues--consciousness only (vijnapti-matra), the critique of externality, the constructed nature of experience, the attainment of higher meditative states, and the possibility of nonconceptual awareness--and contextualizes each one by examining its canonical antecedents and their continuing development within Abhidhamma and early Madhyamaka, before turning to its characteristic expression within the Yogacara traditions of India and, eventually, China.

Such an encyclopedic project, however, in which one can readily lose sight of the forest for the trees, cannot be easily recapitulated in a few paragraphs, nor can a conventional review--with its usual bromides about which reader will think what about this work when--do justice to the depth, the complexity, the sheer quantity of supporting materials Lusthaus brings to his case. I have been persuaded, therefore, for various reasons and from various quarters, to provide at a different website a synopsis of each chapter, a summary of its contents and its relation to his larger argument--in effect an outline of its organizational logic--while allowing as much as possible for Lusthaus's points to speak for themselves. I will only comment here and there on a few points of controversy or for clarification. Perhaps this precis will encourage others to appreciate, and--dare I say it?--appropriate, the depth of insight and the dogged intellectual effort that has informed this massive work. The interested reader is therefore directed to the following website, for the precis: http://www.acmuller.net/reviews/waldron-review1.html.


[1]. See website for Studies in Yogacara Buddhism, A Seminar of the American Academy of Religion, http://www.acmuller.net/yoga-sem/, as well as the site with Lusthaus's article addressing this issue, entitled "What is and isn't Yogacara":


Emptiness in the Mind-Only School of Buddhism: Dynamic Responses to Dzong-Ka-Bas the Essence of Eloquence by Jeffrey Hopkins, Tson-Kha-Pa Blo-Bzan-Grags-Pa Legs Bsad Snin Po (University of California Press) Dzong-ka-ba's (1357-1419) The Essence of Eloquence is the one book on wisdom that the Dalai Lama carries with him wherever he goes. Composed by Tibets great yogi-scholar and founder of the Ge-luk-ba school, it stands as a landmark in Buddhist philosophy. In this first of a three-volume series, Jeffrey Hopkins focuses on how the conflict between appearance and reality is presented in the Mind-Only, or Yogic Practice, School. This critical analysis and translation of the Cittamatra portion of Dzong-ka-ba's Essence of Elloquence is an astonishing work both for its depth and the skill with which Professor Hopkins negotiates this extremely difficult material. The material, while difficult, repays the effort of engagement richly. The root text is reknown in the Ge-lug school of Tibetan Buddhism as the most important text for understanding the key doctrine of emptiness as well as being crucial to understanding the interpretation of sutra and Ge-lug presentations of tenets. Yet few can master it for its cryptic brevity and the multitude of interpretive dilemas it poses.

The Essence of Eloquence is so rich that for the last six centuries numerous Tibetan and Mongolian scholars have been drawn into a dynamic process of both finding and creating consistency in Dzong-ka-ba's often terse and cryptic tract. Hopkins makes extensive use of these commentaries to annotate the translation. Included are historical and doctrinal introductions and a critical edition of the text, as well as a lengthy synopsis to aid the general reader. Specialists and nonspecialists alike will find this important book indispensable.

Emptiness in the Mind-Only School of Buddhism includes a translation of the Cittamatra section of the Essence of Eloquence along with a commentary by Professor Hopkins, reflecting the opinions of western scholars and nearly two-dozen Tibetan commentaries. Also included is an emmended edition of the translated portion of the text. The portion translated presents Dzong-ka-ba's view of the Mind-Only school, based on a careful reading of the seventh chapter of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra. Dzong-ka-ba also considers other interpretations of the same sutra, especially those of the Indian proponent of Cittamatra, Asanga, and the Tibetan founder of the Jo-nang sect, Shey-rap-gyel-tsen. Dzong-ka-ba's text thus becomes the doorway to a lively, complex, and compelling debate with voices speaking from Sutra, the Indian and Tibetan commentarial traditions, the current Tibetan scholarship, and western scholarship. Professor Hopkins begins to make sense of the complex material, which will be examined in further detail in the forthcoming two volumes of this series. For those who wish to find a technical discussion of the philosophical issues raised by this text, this translation will be of greater service than that published already by Robert Thurman in the now out-of-print, The Central Philosophy of Tibet. Due to the difficulty involved in reading this material, a comparison of both translations is quite useful and welcome.

Reflections on Reality: The Three Natures and Non-Natures in the Mind-Only School by Jeffrey Hopkins (University of California Press) This is the second volume in Jeffrey Hopkins's valuable series on the Mind-Only School of Buddhism. Dzong-ka-ba (1357-1419) is generally regarded as one of the greatest Tibetan philosophers, and his "Mind-Only" discourse on emptiness is considered a landmark in Buddhist philosophy. In Volume 2, Emptiness in the Mind-Only School of Buddhism, Hopkins provided a translation of the introduction and section on the Mind-Only School in The Essence of Eloquence. The present volume places this enigmatic and influential exposition in its historical and philosophical contexts. Reflections on Reality conveys the intellectual vibrancy of the different cultural interpretations of this text and expands the key philosophical issues it addresses.

Absorption in No External World: 170 Issues in Mind Only Buddhism by Jeffrey Hopkins (Dynamic Responses to Dzong-Ka-Ba's the Essence of Eloquence: Snow Lion Publications) "This is without question the finest and most complete discussion of the renowned Mind-Only School and its Tibetan context."           Anne C. Klein, author of Knowledge & Liberation

"An exceptionally clear and detailed account of a central debate in Tibetan Buddhist scholastic philosophy."

          Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago

This book examines a surfeit of intriguing issues raised in six centuries of Tibetan and Mongolian scholastic debate and commentary concerning the first two sections of Dzong-ka-ba's (usually transliterated; Tsong-kha-pa) The Essence of Eloquence, the Prologue and the section on the Mind-Only School. By providing vivid detail, Jeffrey Hopkins reveals the liveliness of Tibetan scholastic controversies, showing the dynamism of thoughtful commentary and stimulating the reader's metaphysical imagination. In the process of examining 170 issues, this volume treats many engaging points on Great Vehicle presentations of the three natures and the three non-natures, including how to apply these to all phenomena, the selflessness of persons, and the emptiness of emptiness. It concludes with a delineation of the approaches through which the Mind-Only School interprets scriptures.

This stand-alone book is the final volume of a trilogy on Mind-Only that Hopkins composed over the last twenty-two years. His heavily annotated translation of these sections in Dzongka-ba's text is contained in the first volume, Emptiness in the Mind-Only School of Buddhism, along with a historical and doctrinal introduction, a detailed synopsis of the text, and a critical edition. The second volume, Reflections on Reality: The Three Natures and Non-Natures in the Mind-Only School, provides historical and social context, a basic presentation of the three natures, the two types of emptiness in the Mind-Only School, and the contrasting of Shay-rap-gyel-tsen of the Jo-nang-ba order of Tibetan Buddhism.

In this volume Hopkins presents opinions on crucial issues from twenty-two commentaries on Dzong-ka-ba's The Essence of Eloquence, considered by his followers to be so challenging that it is called his steel bow and steel arrow, hard to pull but powerful when one succeeds. The careful analysis with which these scholar-yogis probe the issues provides an avenue into patterns of thought that constitute the environment of the text over this long period of intense interest to the present day. Hopkins' lively style draws the reader into the drama, revealing horizons of transformative meaning,

This book identifies the teachings in the first wheel of doctrine and probes the meaning of "own-character" and "established by way of its own character." It untangles the implications of Dzong-ka-ba's criticisms of the Korean scholar Wonch'uk and

treats many engaging points on the three natures and the three non-natures, including (1) how to apply these two grids to uncompounded space; (2) whether the selflessness of persons is a thoroughly established nature; (3) how to consider the emptiness of emptiness; and (4) the ways the Great Vehicle schools delineate the three natures and the three non-natures and presents the approaches through which the Mind-Only School interprets scriptures.

The aim of this study is to bring to life scholastic controversies in order both to stimulate the metaphysical imagination and to show the non-monolithic excess of examination by the followers of a seminal figure in the Tibetan cultural region.

Hopkins annotated translation of these sections in Dzong-ka-ba's text are in the first volume of this series, Emptiness in the Mind-Only School of Buddhism. It is in four parts:

  1. a historical and doctrinal introduction
  2. a translation of the General Explanation and the Section on the Mind-Only School in The Essence of Eloquence with frequent annotations in brackets, footnotes, and backnotes
  3. a detailed synopsis of the translation that re-renders the text, with additional information, in more free-flowing English
  4. a critical edition in Tibetan script of these sections in The Essence of Eloquence.

The second volume of this series, Reflections on Reality: The Three Natures and Non-Natures in the Mind-Only School, presents an introduction to and analysis of many facets of volume one. It places reactions to Dzong-ka-ba's text in historical and social context by examining the tension between allegiance and rational inquiry in monastic colleges and the inter-relationships between faith, reason, and mystical insight. Hopkins develops the religious significance of the central doctrine of the Mind-Only School, the three natures of phenomena by examining in detail the exchange between the Bodhisattva Paramarthasamudgata and Buddha in the seventh chapter of the Sutra Unraveling the Thought concerning the three wheels of doctrine and the three natures documents the markedly different view on the status of reality presented by the fourteenth-century scholar-yogi Shay-rap-gyel-tsen of the Jo-nang-ba order as well as criticisms by Dzong-ka-ba and his Ge-luk-ba` followers. Hopkins fleshes out Tibetan presentations of the provocative issue of the relationship between two types of emptiness in the Mind-Only School and how the topic of two emptinesses is debated today in America, Europe, and Japan, thereby demonstrating how the two forms of scholarship refine and enhance each other (these discussions continue in the three Appendices in this volume). Hopkins demonstrates the types of reasonings established by mind-only practitioners as means to overcome a basic dread of reality. 

Dzong-ka-ba was a genius at creating consistency in systems of thought, but sometimes he provided only brief expositions and at other times only suggested his views. Scholars of the Ge-luk-ba sectlike others following a founder's wordshave been drawn into the complex problems of extending his thought into those areas that he did not clearly explicate and into re-thinking what was clear but did not manifest the presumed consistency. The working premise is that Dzong-ka-ba's The Essence of Eloquence, though carefully crafted, is subject to the highly creative strategy of "positing his thought as long as consonance with the corpus of his work is maintained. The attempt at resolving apparent contradictions itself fuels increasing interest in the topics, this being a central reason why the Ge-luk-ba system of education, centered around scholastic debate, has been so influential throughout Inner Asia.

Although the superfluity of issues raised in The Essence of Eloquence is susceptible to being laid out in a linear run like a table of contents, (this being shown in the analytical outline after the table of contents in this volume) the only way a reader can react to the multi-sided style of confronting these points is to be within the perspective of the system being considered. Juxtaposing different parts of a treatise and examining their cross-implications, Tibetan monastic textbooks manifest a basic procedure of bringing the whole treatise to bear on a single part, thereby coaxing the participant into developing the worldview of the system. In this way, the overriding context of exposition involves the ramifications of every part (or at least many parts) of a text; the only way for the reader to adjust to this environment is to form the worldview.

Because the exposition moves from issue to issue in a format of confrontational challenges that are episodic, it can at times seem even disjointed, but monastic students learn to live from within a system by being ledin twice-daily debatesto react inside its viewpoint to a plethora of problems. The center of the process, never communicable in words, is the wholeness of the world-view from within which the student learns to live. Like debaters in a monastic college, we also can experience this only by confronting issue after issue, major and minor, in lively embroilment and with hope that the larger perspective will dawn. With this in mind, Hopkins addresses 170 such focal issues in this book.

Tibetan and Mongolian commentators employ various strategies for getting at the meaning of a text by:

*      dividing the text into sections

*      providing a synopsis of the topics through an elaborate outline

*      exploring the range of meanings of particular words

*      placing an issue in a larger context

*      extracting issues for extended analysis

*      juxtaposing seemingly conflicting assertions

*      finding internal and external evidence to resolve contradictions manipulating meanings so as to create coherence

*      raising a parallel concern from another context

*      exposing terminology hardened over centuries of use to analysis of historical development.

These modes of analysis, like those employed by scholars throughout the world, expose knotty problems and resolve seeming or actual contradictions.

Texts are not viewed in isolation as if they live outside of the situation of their culture; they are related to a body of literature and knowledge in such a way that the study of a text is a study of the world. Also, the context provided is not just that of the culture contemporary to or preceding Dzong-ka-ba's text; often, views of scholars subsequent to the text are similarly juxtaposed because the aim is to provide a worldview relevant to the reader's present situation, a comprehensive perspective that makes use of whatever is available. Beyond this, points peripheral to central topics often take center stage such that they provide a wide cultural context for more important issuesthe context imbedding the reader in an all-encompassing worldview. These scholars, even when working on small issues, draw on a reserve of knowledge of larger issues, the basic principles of which are Dzong-ka-ba's. When they unravel his words, the exercise of exegesis imbeds the participants even more in the architecture of a living philosophy.  

Hopkins manages to provide a synopsis of the rich heritage of commentary and debate in the monastic tradition of Tibet and central Asia.  He is also opens up Dzong-ka-bas rich synthetic and scholastic insights into the whole of Buddhism to greater critical inquiry.  The reviewer wishes only that other portions of The Essence of Eloquence would be exposed to such a profuse descriptive and analytical treatment.  Students of Buddhism and scholars of religion will find the conceptual clarifications laboriously and intricately laid out point by point in this work a good corrective to facile misappropriations of the intention and import of Dzong-ka-bas remarkable insight into the nature of enlightenment and the human condition.  Hopkins work will be a treasure trove for students of Buddhism for years to come. 

THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA translated and edited by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki ($110.00, hardcover, 320 pages; Kegan Paul Library of Religion and Mysticism; Kegan Paul; ISBN: 0710306008) (Indian Edition)

STUDIES IN THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki ($110.00, hardcover, 403 pages, Kegan Paul; ISBN: 0710306016)

EXISTENCE AND ENLIGHTENMENT IN THE LANKAVATARA-SUTRALANKAVATARA-SUTRA: A Study in the Ontology and Epistemology of the Yogacara School of Mahayana Buddhism by Florin Giripescu Sutton ( hardcover, 371 pages, State University of New York Press, ISBN: 0791401723) PAPERBACK ISBN: 0791401731

THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA and STUDIES IN THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA are milestones of Buddhist scholarship.  Sutton's study offers the most systematic analysis of this important Sutra's central ideas that characterizes the Yogacara School of Buddhism as outlined and explained in one of its most authoritative and influential texts, Lankavatara-sutra. Compiled in the second half of the fourth-century C.E., this sutra not only represents a comprehensive synthesis of both early and late religio-philosophical ideas crucial to the understanding of Buddhism in India, but it also provides an insight into the very early roots of the Japanese Zen Buddhism in the heart of the South Asian esotericism and the esoteric bridge to Buddhist Tantric thought.

This study is an interpretation of the Mahayana Buddhist development of Yogacara ideology as it evolved toward the end of its Indian phase and before it expanded beyond India into Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. Its focus is the incipient form Yogacara philosophy, as reflected primarily in that fourth-century creative synthesis called The Visit to Lanka. Yogacara is perhaps the least explored, and certainly the most controversial, school of philosophical Buddhism, in spite of the enormously influential role it played in the subsequent development of Buddhism, especially in the Zen schools of China and Japan and in the polemics of Tibetan Scholasticism.

During the past 60 years, since the publication of Professor Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s outstanding translation of THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA (Indian Edition) and his companion volume, STUDIES IN THE LANKAVATARA SUTRA, "One of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism, in which almost all its principal tenets are presented, including the teaching of Zen", there have been only a few studies of this school, and a handful of scholarly articles. The first of these three books, Agok Kumar Chatterjee’s THE YOGACARA IDEALISM, made no attempt to reinterpret critically the groundwork laid by Professor Suzuki’s initial interpretation of the school as an "absolute idealistic monism." In three subsequent books, however, can be said to represent major steps away from this traditional interpretation, which was almost unanimously, and perhaps too uncritically, embraced by the students of this school, from both East and West, for an amazingly long time.

Janice Dean Willis’ study ON KNOWING REALITY: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi (ANOTHER INDIAN EDITION) contains a brief yet insightful introduction to her translation of the Tattvartha chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi. In this introduction she characterizes Yogacara as "a kind of nominalist philosophy" which underscores "the ordinary being’s chief delusion;" that is the error of confusing the naming of objects with the objects themselves. Although she attributes the "mistaken" interpretation of the Yogacara as absolute idealism to the misleading literal translation of the key notion of "Mind-only" (Citta-matra), Willis, makes a distinction between the early writings of the two masters of the school, Asanga and Vasubandhu, and the writings of the "later historical and philological period," particularly the Lankavatara-sutra where, she claims, the terms "Conceptualization-only" (Vijnapti-matra) and "Mind-only" (Citta-matra) are employed "in senses that seemingly deny the existence of external objects altogether" .To be fair, however, one should also note that she does not exclude the possibility (first suggested by the great medieval master Tibetan thinker, Tson-kha-pa) that most of the "idealistic" proclamations of the sutra were intended in a "provisional sense" only, in order "to divert sentient beings from their preoccupation with materialism".

Another book-length attempt to reinterpret the school of Yogacara is Thomas A. Kochumuttom’s A BUDDHIST DOCTRINE OF EXPERIENCE: A New Translation and Interpretation of the Works of Vasubandhu the Yogacarin (ANOTHER INDIAN EDITION) is, in author’s own words, "an invitation to a reevaluation of the traditional interpretation" (namely in terms of realistic pluralism), "rather than a categorical rejection of it" .Based upon his translations of Vasubandhu’s four essential works, Kochumuttom’s s invitation to reinterpret Yogacara as a return to the realistic pluralism of the early Thervadin Buddhism is, admittedly, a halfhearted one, neither convinced nor convincing. Although he acknowledges the fact that "Vasubandhu’s understanding of reality defies all descriptions, because for him reality is ineffable." Kochumuttom allows himself to fall too easily into a classical dualistic trap, that very trap that the Buddhists themselves were keen to avoid. For, just because there is no justification in the writings of Vasubandhu (and, one may add, of other Yogacara writers as well) for a belief in monism and in an "absolute mode of existence in terms of consciousness," as the author rightly observed, it does not necessarily follow that Vasubandhu believed in the opposite extreme, that of "realistic pluralism," as the author would like to conclude Sutton asserts on the rather weak and arbitrary ground that "an assumption of plurality of beings does not contradict any part of the texts" in Kochumuttom's study.

Sutton response to Kochmuttom’s s interpretation of the Yogacara is threefold. First, many Yogacara texts, and the Lankavatara-sutra in particular, repeatedly deny that a plurality, or multiplicity of beings can be admitted, in the ultimate sense. Second, and related to the first, all Buddhist schools agree that everything is temporary, nothing is permanent. All dharmas are transient. Therefore, pluralism can be admitted only in the immediate, not in the ultimate sense. Third, and most importantly, it is quite possible to consciously refuse to be hemmed in by any one-sided philosophical view and embrace, instead, a transcendental position to any and all conceptualizations about reality, as the Yogacaras (and the Madhyamikas before them) have done, on purely epistemological, but also on spiritual grounds, as Sutton attempts to demonstrate in his systematic study. This transcendental conclusion that Sutton arrived at from his reading of the Lankavatara-sutra the text that host authors have perceived to express the alleged idealistic monism of the Yogacaras in its strongest terms.

The first part of EXISTENCE AND ENLIGHTENMENT IN THE LANKAVATARA-SUTRA outlines the three-fold nature of Being, as conceptualized in Buddhist metaphysics. The author uses an interpretive framework borrowed from the existentialist philosophy of Heidegger, in order to separate the transcendental Essence of Being from its Temporal manifestation as Self, and from its Spatial or Cosmic dimension. The second part clarifies the Buddhist approach to knowledge in its religious, transcendental sense and it shows that the Buddhists were actually first in making use of dialectical reasoning for the purpose of transcending the contradictory dualities imbedded in the common ways of perceiving, thinking, and arguing about reality.

To summarize, the difficulty of placing the Yogacara school within the larger perspective of Buddhist doctrinal history revolves around two crucial issues: first, the paradoxical language of the texts belonging to this school (especially the Lankavatara-sutra which avoids expressing a definite philosophical position regarding Reality, on account of its transcendence of conceptual language; and second, the controversial interpretation of the central tenet of the school, Cit-mattra (or Mind-only). This concept has been taken to be either an outright denial of external Reality, or a formula indicating the essential role of subjective factors in cognition and the limitations of conceptual thinking, as well as a metaphor for the primacy of Yogic meditation over philosophical speculations about the nature of Reality itself. If interpreted ontologically, as a denial of an intrinsically objective Reality, the Mind-only doctrine would, indeed, place the Yogacara school alongside other idealistic orientations in Indian philosophical history. If interpreted epistemologically as Sutton does in his study, this doctrine represents a powerful critique against the objectification of language, the artificiality of dualistic logic, and the type of conventional knowledge derived from both.

This kind of knowledge, according to the Yogacara Buddhist, the philosophical meditator, is really no knowledge, since it can only provide the delusion of facticity, or the "Suchness" of things, tainted as it is by the subjective factors of perception and biased judgment. True knowledge, on the other hand, can only be attained within the context of the totality of human existence, that is to say in the direct experience of life, which transcends verbal categories, dualistic logic, and a pseudo-ontology based upon the reification of thoughts and ideas (including the idea of Mind-only itself!). This view seems consistent with Middle way thinking central to all Buddhist polemic.

Now, in order to reach the core of Yogacara thought, Sutton made use of the following methodological approaches: the text critical (philological), the Buddhist-hermeneutical (philosophical), the historical, the psychological, and the sociological methods. Structurally, the study is divided into two major sections; each with a general introduction and a final overview. Each of the two major sections contains several topical chapters organized in such way that, together, they afford the reader a systematic and comprehensive grasp of the Yogacaras’ metaphysical system, their epistemology and soteriology.

The ambition of Sutton’s project has to be admitted and admired, since even for more seasoned scholars the difficulties of interpreting such a text as the Lankavatara-sutra are enormous, especially when one takes into account the complex and unsystematic nature of this ancient and esoteric work.

One important factor not directly addressed by Sutton’s study but evident enough in his subtle analysis is how Yogacara set the stage for the development of Tantric stages of Buddhism. Though admittedly outside the scope of his inquiry this systematic account helps to lay the ground for a better appreciation of Tantric praxis and creativity.

Sutton’s study is the first systematic work on the Yogacara since D. T. Suzuki’s path breaking work on the Lankavatara Sutra. EXISTENCE AND ENLIGHTENMENT IN THE LANKAVATARA-SUTRA sets forth a radically different view from Suzuki’s: Sutton sees that the Yogacara was not a subjective form of idealism but rather in the dialectical-critical nature of Buddhism, these ideas are clarified so that the result of a systematic inquiry of the Lankavatara-sutra places it closer, for comparative purposes to some key Western philosophical and psychological ideas, such as the linguistic analysis of Wittgenstein, the dialectics of Hegel, the depth psychology of Freud and Jung, the Humean flux and Kant’s critical stance. But Sutton also emphasizes the unique soteriological flavor of Buddhist thought, a soteriology lost in much of academic study of religion and philosophy.

Sutton points out that the idea that Yogacara is "consciousness-only" refers to its spiritual practice, not to its metaphysics, which has room for a theoretical realism, not unlike Kant’s ideas of a world "out there" of things-in-themselves, inaccessible to perception and beyond narrow conceptualization. Sutton also emphasizes the closeness of Madhyamika and Yogacara approaches: for Yogacara too, he argues, rejects a specific philosophical point of view, grounded in either extreme of reification or nihilism, in favor of a dialectical relativism of living experience. Sutton concludes that the Yogacara wisdom may help to enlighten our planet and encourage tolerance. The study concludes with an attitude of amelioration about the possibility of transcendental and absolutist claims: That any such axiological statements are inherently empty of the ultimacy they claim. Sutton’s study suggests how to reinvigorate contemplative religion on any sort while not needlessly adhering to dogmatic formulations. As such this study sets the ground for an appreciation of Tantric developments and demonstrates the necessary agility of mind and heart needed to approach any esoteric system of religion.

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