[Buddha-l] Realism, anti-realism and Buddhism

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri May 23 19:57:32 MDT 2008


> > John Dunne, Dan Arnold and others today are comfortable thinking of him
as a
> > Yogacara (in fact, they insist on that).
> Yes, I know they take that position. So does John Taber. I am not at all
> convinced by their claims.

That's ok. I don't like arguments from authority either. I only mentioned
them to indicate that unlike 20 years ago when I felt (rightly or wrongly)
like a lone voice pointing this out, today it's not so lonely anymore.

> Or are you saying
> that there are definite criteria that make it unambiguously decidable
> what counts as Yogacara and that Hayes has somewhat never managed to
> learn what those criteria are?

Not exactly. This is a huge topic on which the buddha-l server would keep
bouncing my messages if I tried to discuss this in full. I'll try to be

Yogacara encompasses a vast and complex literature, with intricate
examinations and reexaminations of countless minutia. Its founding thinkers,
Asanga and Vasubandhu, were creative and thorough, which means their ideas
changed and developed over time. There are also significant fundamental
differences between them on a range of issues. In short, there is no
simplistic doxographic list that spells out the "definite" criteria.
Recently I have been working on two texts only available in Chinese -- Cheng
weishilun (the subject of Buddhist Phenomenology, but I keep at it) and
Buddhabhumyupadesa (Fodijing lun) -- paying particular attention to the
*differences* of opinion amongst the Indian Yogacaras on the full spectrum
of Yogacara and Buddhist thought, and they are rich and complex differences.
Both texts provide a survey of differing Yogacara opinions -- with their
arguments -- for the period between Asanga and Vasubandhu and Dharmakirti.
Both texts also afford a view of the contrasting interpretations of Dignaga
by Yogacaras of the period.

Xuanzang, responsible for both Chinese texts, left India just before
Dharmakirti came to prominence; Xuanzang and Dharmakirti lived at virtually
the same time, e.g., 600-664 CE. He never mentions Dharmakirti, but Yijing,
who as I mentioned came to India some decades later, informs us that
Dharmakirti had become a pivotal part of the Nalanda curriculum in the

Whether one decides ultimately to agree with them or not, it is clear that
Buddhists at least into the early 8th c. all considered Dignaga and
Dharmakirti to be Yogacaras. Not only do Xuanzang and Yijing explicitly say
so, but we find critiques of Dignaga, for instance, by other Buddhists such
as Bhavaviveka (in his Madhyamakah.rdayam 5) and Candrakirti (in
Madhyamakaavatara 6) explicitly treating Dignaga as a Yogacara. If one
disagrees with their classification, one has to at least account for why
*they* thought so.

But, like you, not only do I fail to find arguments from authority
compelling, I also consider doxographic labeling to be a major distraction
and no substitute for figuring out what various thinkers and texts
themselves say (not to mention that doxographers commonly distort things in
order to make their systems neat or to reinforce doctrinal allegiances). So,
for me, the "criteria" for what counts as Yogacara is what one finds texts
by Asanga, Vasubandhu, etc., arguing for. By that standard, the continuities
and, what I have come to consider "obvious" influences on Dignaga by Asanga,
are what I consider his "Yogacara" leanings. Vasubandhu's hetuvidya works,
with the exception of a portion of the Vadavidhi preserved in Tibetan, are
no longer extant, so it is harder to pin down with exactitude his influence
on Dignaga (and therefore, for the time being, I have been skipping over
that in my research, and working only with Asanga vis-a-vis Dignaga). I
would even suggest that the pivotal distinction between pratyaksa and
anumana, with all their entailments for Dignaga and Dharmakirti, derive from
how each understood Asanga.

Asanga also helps us solve some of the scholarly disputes about Dignaga that
have occupied (for better or worse) scholarly attention in the 20th-21st c.
For instance, does Dignaga's description of perception involve three or four
components in PS I.6-7 and Nyayamukha 16 and vrtti? Zhihua Yao in his book
on Svasamvitti said four. Eli Franco and some others attacked him, insisting
there are only three. In Asanga we find virtually the same list as in
Dignaga, and lo and behold it is a list of four. Yao was right (it is also
much clearer in the Nyayamukha -- which is extant in Chinese only -- than in
the Tibetan versions of PS). Similarly the move to exclude kalpanaa from
pratyak.sa also derives from Asanga, who does so with an interesting
precursor to apoha (not yet entailing that pratyaksa is momentary; that is
something Dharmakirti added to the mix). Similarly, Asanga provides
important information on the controversy over Dharmakirti's "addition" of
abhraanta to the definition of pratyaksa, since a key component of Asanga's
definition of pratyaksa-pramana is avibhraanta. Dharmakirti merely brings
that back in. Dignaga, in fact, did include it, but in too concise a
fashion, when he states in Nyayamukha: "That's why I say that memory,
inference, desire, doubt, confused knowledge, mirages, etc. cannot be called
pratyaksa-pramana, since what derives from previous experiences is the
operation of conceptualization." (Cf. PS 1.7cd-8ab and vrtti). Those are
part of how Asanga explains avibhranta.

 [to be continued]

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