Vijnaptimatrata and the Abhidharma
context of early Yogacara
by Richard King
8 No. 1 Mar.1998
Copyright by Asian Philosophy
Contemporary accounts of early Mahayana Buddhist schools like the Madhyamaka
and the Yogacara tend to portray them as generally antithetical to the Abhidharma
of non-Mahayana schools such as the Theravada and the Sarvastivada. This paper
attempts to locate early Yogacara philosophical speculation firmly within the
broader context of Abhidharma debates. Certain key Yogacara concepts such as alayavijnana,
vijnapti-matrata and citta-matra are discussed insofar as they relate to pre-existing
concepts and issues found in the Vaibhasika and Sautrantika schools, with specific
reference to the Abhidharmakosa and the corresponding bhasya of Vasubandhu. Finally,
some remarks are made about the benefits of approaching the history of religious
ideas without the benefits and distortions of hindsight, particularly as this
relates to the attribution of an idealistic position to the early Yogacara literature.
Contemporary accounts of Mahayana Buddhist schools
like the Madhyamaka and the Yogacara tend to portray them as generally antithetical
to the Abhidharma of non-Mahayana schools such as the Theravada and the Sarvastivada.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it often reflects the tendency
to conceive of internal Buddhist doctrinal controversies as the source of schisms
in a manner akin to the disputations of Christian history. As Heinz Bechert has
pointed out, the principle of schism (sanghabheda) in Indian Buddhism was based
upon disputes over monastic code (vinaya) and not differences in doctrinal position
. Secondly, increasing examination of Tibetan commentarial materials has allowed
Buddhist scholars to provide a much fuller account of the history of Mahayana
thought. However, one consequence of this has been the tendency to accept interpretations
of Buddhist scholastic thought which often derive from the work of authors with
allegiances to other perspectives. In the case of the Yogacara school, for instance,
scholars have generally tended to accept the accounts provided in Sankara's Brahmasutrabhasya
or in the commentarial works of Tibetan Madyamaka schools like the dGe lugs pa
without questioning the status of these accounts.
Working with the benefits
of hindsight, it is sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees and it often
proves fruitful to return to the early stages of a tradition and its literature
in order to gain a fresh perspective upon the material. Indeed it would seem that
the search for new conceptualisations and understandings of original teachings
is precisely what the history of religious doctrine has been about. In the case
of the Yogacara school it is easy to follow established commentarial traditions
in interpreting this school's distinctive philosophy. In most cases this would
seem to be both the most pertinent, fruitful and humble course of action to take.
However, the danger of hindsight and allegiance to specific hermeneutic traditions
is that they quickly tend to become institutionalized. As I have argued elsewhere,
we should avoid projecting later debates and controversies between Buddhist schools
of thought (for example between the Madyamaka and Yogacara trends of Mahayana
Buddhism) into the early literature of such movements .
One way to redress
the balance in the study of Buddhist thought in India is to make a simple point
that is so often overlooked. Buddhist philosophical debate in India took place
within an Abhidharmic context. After all, in what other theoretical and literary
context could such debate have occurred? Once one acknowledges that the differentiation
between Buddhist schools of thought was not a crucial factor in the schismatic
development of sanghas (sanghabbeda) one realises the sense in which this must
indeed be the case. When doctrinal disputations bring forth issues relating to
Buddhist monastic ethics and practice, schism, of course' may very well result.
However, in the history of Buddhist thought it seems that in most cases philosophical
disputations between rival schools left fundamental issues of religious practice
largely intact. For this reason, in India at least, Mahayana and non-Mahayana
adherents could remain members of the same sangha without any fundamental conflict
of interest or danger of schism.
It is clear that the portrayal of Mahayana
Buddhists as generally antithetical to the Abhidharma of non-Mahayana schools
such as the Theravada and the Sarvastivada remains something of an overstatement
in an Indian context. Abhidharma, broadly speaking, is Buddhist philosophy. Madhyamika
and Yogacara thinkers both established and contested their theories from within
a theoretical framework which was unquestionably Abhidharmic in style, content
and presentation . This should not be a surprise, particularly once one realises
the sense in which the group-identity of a given sangha is established by the
Pratimoksa and the rules of the Vinaya rather than any particular philosophical
doctrine or position.
Simplistically speaking, the history of religious ideas
can be approached from two basic directions: backwards and forwards. The former
approach involves interpreting a particular movement or school of thought utilising
subsequent elaborations and commentarial expositions of it. The latter approach
involves beginning before the movement has even arisen and examining the antecedent
conditions, movements and potential influences upon that movement as a way of
contextualising its earliest stages. This paper is a brief attempt to approach
early Yogacara philosophy from the latter perspective. In taking this approach
to the material I wish to place much greater emphasis upon the Abhidharma context
of Mahayana philosophy by suggesting a number of ways in which the Sautrantika
analysis of perception may have functioned as an important precursor of the Yogacara's
own position. I will attempt to demonstrate this by discussing certain Abhidharma
antecedents to the Yogacara notions of alayavijnana and vijnaptimatrata.
Abhidharmakosabhasya and Early Yogacara
The Sautrantika and Yogacara epistemologies
are similar despite the through-going realism of the former and the apparent idealism
of the latter. The Sautrantika accept that it is only the form (akara) or representation
(vijnapti) of an object which is perceived. Where the schools differ is in the
Yogacara refusal to accept the validity of discussing external objects as causes
(nimitta) given that an external object is never (directly) perceived.
thesis of the similarity between the two schools can be illustrated if we examine
the views of the two Vasubandhus, the author of the Abhidharmakosa and its commentary
(Abhidharmakosa-bhasya), and the author of various early Yogacara works such as
the Twenty Verses (Vimsatika) and the Thirty Verses (Trimsika). These two thinkers
may or may not be one and the same person as tradition suggests , but given
the similarity between the Sautrantika and Yogacara epistemologies, movement from
the former position to the latter is not totally incomprehensible. In discussing
the doctrinal position of the author of the Abhidharmakosa-bhasya, Thomas Dowling
Vasubandhu occupies a unique doctrinal position vis a vis the
question of what constitutes a dharma. On the one hand, he is unwilling to accept
the over inflated dharma list of the Vaibhasikas, and on the other, he is not
committed to the radical perspective of the ultimate voidness of all dharmas (in
the Kosa, at any rate.) His lack of recourse to such terms as paramartha satya/samvrti
satya in their specifically Mahayana sense is evidence that the Kosa is a straightforward
text grounded in the tacit assumption that in some sense there 'are' dharmas .
In the Abhidharmakosa-bhasya Vasubandhu criticises the Sarvastivada notion
of `possession' (prapti) arguing that the difference between possession and non-possession
(aprapti) is merely the state of having destroyed or not destroyed the defilements.
This is a classic example of the Sautrantika critique of the Vaibhasika position,
curtailing the Vaibhasika tendency to postulate theoretical and unexperienced
entities (this is seen for example in the Sautrantika denial of the category of
citta-rupa-viprayukta-samskaras, that is `formations neither associated with consciousness
The Sautrantikas criticised the postulation of such entities as
prapti and avijnaptirupa, replacing this scheme with a causal model based upon
the notions of karmic seeds (bija) and the transformation of particular streams
of consciousness (samrana-parinamavisesa) . This suggests another strand of
continuity between Vasubandhu qua Sautrantika and Vasubandhu qua Yogacarin in
the emphasis both place upon the transformation of consciousness as a means of
explaining the fluctuating nature of samsara. Again, such notions as shape (samsthana),
taken to be substantial and real (dravya-sat) by the Vaibhasikas, are purely mental
conceptions (parikalpam kurvanti) arising from visual perception according to
Vasubandhu in the Abbidharmakosa-bhasya . This account may prove to be a precursor
of the attack upon the notion of a six-sided atom in Vasubandhu's Twenty Verses
(Vimsatika), verses 12-14.
In the critique of 'possession' (prapti) in the
Abhidharmakosa-bhasya Vasubandhu qua Sautrantika seems to utilise a notion which
becomes of crucial importance in the subsequent Yogacara elaboration of the path
to liberation, viz. asraya-paravrtti, the conversion of the basis. He states that
Verily, the physical basis of the Noble One has undergone transformation by
virtue of the path of vision and the path of cultivation such that those defilements
that are allayed no longer have the ability to shoot forth. As rice seeds that
are in a non-germinal (or impotent) state, just so one is called a 'destroyer
of the defilements' with reference to the defilements of the physical basis (bhutasaraydh).
(my italics) 
Thus, through the 'conversion of the basis' one may be called
a `destroyer of defilements' (prahinaklesa). Vasubandhu also goes on to argue
that upon realisation of the supreme goal of yogic attainment (nirodha-samapatti),
an untainted stream of consciousness (nirmala santati) is produced:
one who has returned from the Path of Vision (darsana-marga), as a result of destroying
all of the defilements that can be destroyed by Vision, without remainder, there
occurs a fresh stream [of consciousness] that is without blemish and characterized
by revulsion of the physical basis .
The idea of a `conversion of the basis'
asraya-paravrtti), that is a purification of consciousness through the eradication
of all defilement (klesa), becomes an important theme in the subsequent development
of the Yogacara school. The classical formulations of Asanga and Vasubandhu tend
to portray this conversion as a destruction of an essentially phenomenal store-consciousness
(alayavijnana), the repository of karmic seeds (bija). However, later interpretations
within the Yogacara (for example the work of Paramartha) envisaged this transformation
as an eradication of defilements which leaves behind an essentially undefiled
consciousness (amala-vijnana). This pure consciousness was seen as the foundation
or support (asraya) which originally formed the basis for the activities of the
now defunct defilements. On this view, the conversion of the basis no longer means
the cessation of the store-consciousness, but rather its transformation and re-turn
(paravrtti) to its former pristine condition. This 'pure mind' tradition within
Yogacara Buddhism has clear antecedents in early Buddhism  and is perhaps
best represented in the early Yogacara literature by such texts as the Mahayanasutralamkara.
As such it reflects not only the open-endedness (ambivalence?) of many Yogacara
terms, but also the assimilation of ideas usually associated with the Mahayana
notion of tathagatagarbha . The Abbidharmakosa-bhasya thus provides interesting
source-material for all of these subsequent Yogacara developments.
the argument one step further one might wish to argue that the notion of the alayavijnana,
as utilised by Vasubandhu the Yogacarin, is little more than an elaboration of
concepts already expounded in the Abhidharmakosa-bhasya, which of course expounds
the Dharma from a Sautrantika perspective. This view, in fact, is propounded by
Asanga in Mahayanasamgraha I. 11 where he argues that the notion of the alayavijnana
far from being a Mahayana innovation 'is mentioned in the sravakayana by means
of various synonyms (paryaya)'. It is tempting to point to the Theravada notion
of bhavanga-citta as influential in this regard, though Lambert Schmithausen argues
that this is unlikely precisely because it is not mentioned by Asanga at this
point . Nevertheless, Rupert Gethin is surely right to suggest that 'these
two concepts are to be understood as having a certain affinity and that they belong
to the same complex of ideas within the history of Buddhist thought' .
the Abbidharmakosabhasya Vasubandhu asks,
ko 'yam bijabhavo nama atmabhavasya
And what is called the seed state? It is the power
to originate defilement, produced by the defilement of one who has attained existence
This characterisation conforms to the early Yogacara conception of the
alayavijnana as sarva-bijaka-vijnana, the store of (defiled) karmic seeds. Schmithausen
offers a list of twenty uses which the concept of alayavijnana provided (14 'philosophical'
and 6 exegetical) for the early Yogacarins . Most of these cluster around
the explanation of personal continuity given the absence of an abiding-self, and
providing a link between karmic action and subsequent fruition. The Sautrantika
metaphor of the seed (bija) became central in the case of the latter issue once
the Vaibhasika conception of the existence of dharmas in past, present and future
(the sarvastivada position) was rejected. However, as Schmithausen points out,
although the Sautrantika postulated the notion of a karmic seed to establish causal
continuity over time, the Yogacara seems to have felt that this required the further
postulation of a store (alaya) consciousness as the repository of these seeds.
Nevertheless, it is important to note at this point that the store-consciousness
is by no means considered to be an ultimate reality in the works of either Vasubandhu
the Yogacarin or Asanga, as has sometimes been suggested. In the Viniscayasamgrahani
section of the Yogacarabhumi, Asanga describes the alayavijnana as the root of
defilements (samklesamula) which ceases through the cultivation of wholesome dharmas
. Equally, in Trimsika v.18 Vasubandhu suggests that the alayavijnana is nothing
more than a collective term for the seeds themselves. For the Sautrantika author
of the Abhidharmakosa-bhasya the notion of the seed (bija) is equally nothing
more than a power (sakti) within the five aggregates--specifically it is a designation
(prajnapti) for an uncognised process (asamjnayamanah) within the skandhas .
This also appears to be the view put forward in Vasubandhu the Yogacarin's other
major works . For the Sautrantika author of the Abhidharmakosa-bhasya, this
means that the adoption of conceptual categories other than the analysis of the
pudgala in terms of the five skandhas is both scripturally and logically questionable.
This is pure Sautrantika (the name 'Sautrantika' itself designating those who
believe that the Sutra-pitaka alone contains the actual words of the Buddha).
Thus, upon closer examination we find that many of the most important 'new' Yogacara
concepts (such as vijnana-parinama and alaya-vijnana) as utilised in the various
Mahayana sastras attributed to Vasubandhu, seem to be philosophical elaborations
or extensions of concepts and themes already found in the Abbidharmakosa-bhasya.
Abhidharma Antecedents of Vijnaptimatrata
Let us consider, for instance,
another notion which is central to the Yogacara school--that of Vijnaptimatrata
or `Cognitive-Representation Only'. It is no surprise, given our previous discussion,
to note that the term `vijnapti' also has a historical background in Abhidharma
scholasticism. Vijnapti is a technical term of Abhidharma Buddhist philosophy,
often translated as `intimation' or `information'. `Avijnapti', as its negation,
would therefore be rendered as `non-intimation' or `non-indication'. The Vaibhasika
Abhidharma distinguishes between two forms of 'intimation' (vijnapti) .
vagvijnapti (or vacika-vijnapti)--verbal intimation or expression, and
kayavijnapti (or kayikavijnapti)--corporeal intimation or gesticulation.
early Mahayana literature `vijnapti' came to designate any cognitive act which
is carried out by the mind (manas). In the Yogacara school all experience is claimed
to be fundamentally 'mental' in nature. More specifically, an individual's experience
is constituted by a series of projections externally intimated from the store-consciousness
(alayavijnana) of karmic impressions (vasana). There appears to be no explicit
distinction here between types of vinapti as we find in the Vaibhasika texts.
In direct contrast to the notion of vijnapti is the Vaibhasika notion of avijnapti-rupa
. avijnapti-rupa, or 'matter which is not-manifested in consciousness', is
matter (rupa) of the highest subtlety . It offers no resistance to the sense
organs and does not even allow itself to be `touched' (sparsariyate) by consciousness
(vijnana-dharma). Thus the postulation of its existence remains purely inferential.
It is the subtle residue left over by the physical vijnaptis. avijnapti-rupa retains
the moral quality of the vijnaptis from which it originates in terms of the passively
accumulated seeds (bijas) or perfumes (vasana) which later reach fruition in the
form of future karmic retribution. This residue is described as material since
it is compounded by the four basic elements (mahabhuta) . Takakusu thus describes
the avijnapti-rupa in the following terms:
Of the eleven [rupa dharmas], the
first five are sense-organs and the next five are sense-objects. The four gross
elements--Earth, Water, Fire, Air--are represented by the sense-objects. In addition
to these, there is a peculiar one. That is the 'form-element not manifested' outwardly
(avijnapti-rupa). When we will to act the mental function itself is called will
(cetana). Inis called will-action. This is usually expressed in words or in body,
and is called word-action or body-action respectively. These two actions manifested
outwardly, whether they are good or bad, present a corresponding and similar action
in mind, and form an abiding impression or image. They are then called unmanifested
action (avijnapti-karma). These actions being taken as form-elements are considered
to be sense-objects though not manifested (avijnapti-rupa) .
as a category therefore represents the result of (karmic) actions which has yet
to manifest. As such it is the notion of a latent impression caused by karmic
activity. For the Vaibhasikas this 'entity' was postulated to account for the
temporal discrepancy between an action and its subsequent (karmic) fruition. Here
again we see that vijnapti denotes the manifested result of karman. One hardly
need point out that this is also a fundamental aspect of the Yogacara usage of
the term and may be said to illustrate further the continuity of thought between
the Vaihasika/Sautrantika complex of Abhidharma notions under discussion in the
Abhidharmakosa-bhasya of Vasubandhu and the Yogacara philosophy expounded by the
author of the same name in various Mahayana sastras.
Vijnapti in the Yogacara
context is the manifested fruition (vipaka) of traces of past karmic activity
(vasana) in the constructed form (parikalpita) of an apparently new experience.
Thus our entire network of perceptions is perpetually conditioned by our own past
choices and actions. The responses that we make to these 'new' experiences themselves
condition the nature of future experiences through the establishment of karmic
traits (vasana) deposited in the store-consciousness (alayavijnana). Vijnapti
for the Yogacara then is not simply the `cognitive-representation of sense-objects'
(vijnaptir visayasya, Trimsika v.2), as is usually understood by the term, but
is more fundamentally a representation of the agent's own subliminal karmic predispositions
(anusaya). In other words, in the Yogacara system vijnapti comes to be seen as
a direct reflection of one's own state of mind .
This point can be further
illustrated by an examination of the cognitive process as outlined in Asanga's
Bodhisttva-bhumi. Asanga attempts to explain in this text the manner in which
our cognition of samsara is perpetuated. Accordingly, Asanga argues that the 'pure
given-ness' (vastu-matra) of perception is conceptualised (vikaltyate) in sensory
apprehension resulting in the construction of an objective-support (alambana)
for consciousness. Attachment to these objective-supports (as independently existing
entities) perpetuates our experience of samsara through the appropriation of karman
in the form of habitual, subconscious forces (samskaras). This position is not
as unique doctrinally as some have suggested. In a Buddhist context the doctrine
of karman necessitates an acceptance of the view that experience is conditioned
in some fundamental sense by the seeds of past actions. What is distinctive about
the Yogacara account of the dynamics of karman is the refusal to extend the discussion
beyond a purely phenomenological account of karmic appropriation.
Asanga's explanation of the processes of cognition leads to a form of idealism
is certainly an interesting question. However, for the Buddhist, as for the believer
in karman in general, the important point is the realisation that the objective
world which confronts us is, or at least was at some stage in its manifestation,
a product of our own intentional actions (karman). This is a central Buddhist
idea, expounded for instance in Abhidharmakosa-bhasya IV.1:
It is said that
the world in its variety arises from action (karma). It is because of the latent
dispositions (anusaya) that actions accumulate (upacita), but without the latent
dispositions [they] are not capable of giving rise to a new existence. Thus, the
latent dispositions should be known as the root of existence (mulam bhava) .
The Yogacara notion of vijnaptimatrata is an attempt to reformulate this basic
Buddhist insight through a comprehensive phenomenological analysis of the activities
of the mind. Vijnapti therefore refers, not just to the immediate cognitive-representation
of an object in one's mind, but also, more fundamentally, to the representation
of those subliminal forces (samskara) which have caused such an object to be presented
to consciousness in the first place. In taking this stance the Yogacarin is not
thereby committed to a form of subjective idealism since it is abundantly clear
that we do not simply imagine the world of external objects that confronts us
here and now. Nevertheless, the Yogacarin argues, our experiences are still causally
dependent upon the traces (vasana) of past karmic activity.
One should note
then that the early Yogacara position at least seems to involve an acceptance
that our experience has a certain pre-determined aspect to it. The world that
we perceive is not simply `imagined' since we can neither wish it away arbitrarily
nor transform it into something else at the slightest whim. Nevertheless, for
the Yogacarin the world that we experience is fundamentally the product of our
past karmic actions and our reactions to it will determine whether future circumstances
will continue to confront us in a similar manner. The world then is not `real'
in the sense of containing objective and independent entities (parikalpita), but
is real in the limited sense of being a really existing (though causally inter-dependent)
flow of perceptions (paratantrastita). This realm is `dependent' insofar as our
experiences are dependent upon past karman.
So, the Yogacarin might wish to
say something like the following. The world of our experience is actually `there,'
if not in the form of a subject-object dichotomy which exists independently of
our experience of it. We experience a certain pre-given reality (vastu-matra)
in sensory experiences but these are in actual fact a stream of interdependent
sensory impressions dependent for their appearance upon the consciousness which
is perceiving them. The manifestation of these sensory impressions is ultimately
dependent upon the defiled nature of the mind (klista manas). As a result of this
we tend to attribute independent existence (parikalpita-svabhava) to what we believe
to be the subjective and objective correlates of our experience. The stream of
perceptions that we actually perceive, however, is `just mind' (citta-matra),
being the conceptualisation (vikalpa/vijnapti) of the pre-given (vastu) into an
objective support of consciousness (alambana). Despite this, it must be stressed
that for the Yogacarin there is `something' there (viz. the paratantric flow of
dharmas) which constitutes the `raw material' of our experience, although in the
final analysis this is merely a fruition of seeds caused by past conscious activity
Thus, it is possible to interpret the Yogacara discussion of the
perpetuation of samsara through the appropriation of karman not so much as a denial
of the external world but rather as a restriction upon the parameters of legitimate
discourse to a phenomenological context (that is a context which does not attempt
to postulate entities beyond the pure givenness (vastu-matra) of experience).
It is important to bear in mind that the Yogacara conception of citta/vijnana
denotes a whole complex of events and processes which cannot be adequately rendered
by English terms such as `consciousness' or `mind'. The `citta' of cittamatra
includes within it the conscious apprehension of sensory objects (six in all including
the mano-vijnana). This is a crucial point to acknowledge since, for the Yogacara
school, the sensory apprehension of objects cannot be divorced from one's consciousness
of it (though it is possible to make a purely abstract and theoretical distinction
between vedana on the one hand and vijnana, samjna and samskara on the other when
discussing the skandhas). In a sense the Yogacara position offers the flipside
to the standard Abhidharma position that citta is intentional, that is, that to
be conscious is to be conscious of an object. For the Yogacara, to postulate an
object requires that it is first apprehended by a citta. The emphasis here is
no longer on the suggestion that citta is intentional but rather on the fact that
objects of consciousness are just that. Thus, the thesis of the intentionality
of citta becomes displaced in the emerging Yogicara philosophy by an emphasis
upon the `phenomenalistic' nature of objects. Objects are really dharma-constructs
and representations (vijnapti), dependent upon the complex processes of citta
for their appearance. Thus, one can talk of apprehending a sensory object only
after one has become conscious of it. Sensory apprehension is thereby subsumed
by the Yogacara analysis under the broader domain of `citta,' which, now more
clearly than ever, remains too rich and all-embracing a term to be rendered by
`mind' or `consciousness'. As well as an awareness of sensory objects, citta also
denotes the organising faculty of the manas, the affective distortion of that
process by the defiled mind (klista manas) as well as the subliminal karmic seeds
(samskaras) and latent dispositions (anusaya) that are collectively known as the
alayavijnana. The complexity of terms like citta, therefore, when combined with
the Yogacara endorsement of the category of rupa-dharma and the acknowledgment
that vijnana remains only one of five skandhas suggests that it is problematic
to interpret the early Yogacara literature as propounding a form of idealism at
least in the sense in which this has commonly been understood in the West.
the Yogacara school any discussion which transgresses the experiential boundaries
of citta leads to the utilisation of conceptual distinctions (vikalpa), idle speculation
and conceptual-proliferation (prapanca). It should be noted, however, that this
view of the limitations of language and appropriate dialogue is again not without
its precedent. The Sautrantika analysis of perception denied that external objects
were given in perception; only the images (akara) of the external world are actually
perceived by consciousness. The Sautrantika of course did not take this to mean
that one could not thereby make veridical statements about an external world.
Indeed, by stating that external objects (nimitta) can be inferred from the experience
of mental images (akara), the Sautrantika were explicitly accepting that such
discussion was appropriate. Although clearly in conflict with the Yogacara position
one can see that Sautrantika epistemology is only one step away (albeit a significant
one!) from the more radical `phenomenalism' of the Yogacara school. As we have
seen, for the early Yogacara of Asanga and Vasubandhu discourse about the nature
of an external world is inappropriate precisely insofar as it goes beyond the
realm of that which is empirically (in this context experientially) given.
the risk of labouring the point, we should note that for the Yogacarin it is not
the case that we simply `imagine' our experiences. They are `real' to the extent
that they are `given' without our conscious intervention. The pure given-ness
(vastu-matra) of our experiences is thus beyond our conscious control. The question
of `externality,' however, is prevented from entering the Yogacara account since
it is a quality which cannot be a veridical aspect of our experience (since if
x is really external to our consciousness then it cannot be within its perceptive
range). There may or may not be an external world beyond our perception, but this
will have nothing to do with our actual experience which can only be `internal'
and subjective. Such, according to the Yogacarin, is the nature of conscious experience.
Attachment to the objects of experience (alambana) as if they were independent
and external to the subject is the primary cause of the perpetuation of one's
cognition of samsara. Ignorance and attachment (based upon past karman) thereby
cause the bifurcation of consciousness into subjective and internal and objective
and external. This is the `myth of the transcendent object'--that is the fallacious
belief that one is having a veridical experience of an external world; the myth
(maya) under which all unenlightened beings are labouring.
In the final analysis
one can say that the main philosophical difference between Vasubandhu qua Sautrantika
(as exemplified in the Abhidharma-kosa-bhasya) and Vasubandhu qua Yogacarin (as
exemplified in many Mahayana works) is that in the former case the inference from
experience to external cause (nimitta) is accepted, whilst in the latter this
is seen to be logically unestablished (asiddha), a source of suffering (dukha)
and delusion, and philosophically superfluous.
The Yogacara Path and the Abhidharma
of Non-Mahayana Schools
As stated at the outset of this paper, the context
of Mahayana philosophy in India was provided by the Abhidharma conceptual framework
and modus operandi. This is not to say that the Mahayana had no critical responses
to make to established Abhidharma theories, only that the context remained unquestionably
Abhidharmic in both form and orientation .
Mahayana attitudes towards
the Abhidharma of the Hmayana schools can be determined if we consider Mahayana
conceptions of the Buddhist path (marga). The cultivation of the practice of yoga
in the emerging Yogacara school leads at its highest levels to the cessation of
the notions of `subject' and `object' (i.e. prapanca). The meditative path is
hierarchical and progressive and each new stage involves the renunciation or cessation
(nirodha) of what came before. From a Mahayana perspective this eventually came
to mean that the Abhidharma analysis of the Hmayana schools remains appropriate
for as long as one is proceeding along the mundane path (laukika) but that it
should be relinquished once one enters the supramundane (lokottara) stages of
the path. To rid oneself of the obscurations of knowledge (jneyavarana) as well
as the obscurations of afflictions (klesavarana) that are overcome on the mundane
(i.e. non-Mahayana) path, some of the techniques, doctrines and concepts of the
Hinayana Abhidharma must eventually be relinquished. Equally, progress in yogic
practice and the Mahayana path (marga) eventually leads to a cessation of notions
of an `objective' dimension to experience since this type of realism is deemed
inappropriate as soon as one realises `object-less concentrations' (niralambana
samadhi). Progression along the path leads to an increasingly analytical scrutiny
(prajna) of the images or representations (vijnapu) which occur in samadhi. This
is the realisation of vijnaptimatrata in the meditative sphere--namely that that
which is manifested (vijnapti) in perception is merely an image (akara) and not
an independently-existing object. Finally, even these images (akara) must be relinquished
as one realises the full import of sunyata and dharma-nairatyma. This final step
amounts to the realisation that all dharmas are the same (sama), quiescent (santa)
and indistinguishable from one another.
The notion of a progressively deconstructive
path would seem to be the import of such verses as Trisvabhavanirdesa 36:
the perception that there is mind-only (citta-matra), there arises the non-perception
of knowable things, through the non-perception of knowable things, there arise
the non-perception of mind also .
This may prove to be a brief allusion
to the progressive nature of the path and the gradual mastery and cessation of
different levels of yogic attainment (and their concomitant conceptual frameworks).
Note, for instance, that in the same way as the Madhyamaka interpretation of dependent-co-origination
subverts the notion of a substantially originated entity, the insight into the
fact that all perceptions are representations (vijnaptimatra/cittamatra) eventually
subverts the notion of `representation' itself, since one realises that no truly
external object can be presented to consciousness. Thus, Madhayanta-vibhaga I.6
Depending upon perception, there arises non-perception, and depending
upon non-perception, there arises non-perception .
To which Vasubandhu
Depending upon the apprehension that there are only cognitive-representations
(vijnaptimatra), there arises the non-apprehension of things. Depending upon the
non-apprehension of things, there arises the non-apprehension of cognitive-representation-only
So even the notion of vijnaptimatrata is to be relinquished at the
highest levels of attainment. This statement alone suggests that it would be extremely
misleading to take either `vijnapti' or `vijnana' as designations of an ultimate
reality in the early Yogacara literature (as enshrined in the doctrinal epithets
`Vijnaptimatrata' and `Vijnanavada' which are often used by scholars as alternative
nomenclatures for the Yogacara school) since both notions are relinquished in
nirvikalpa-jnana. One cannot even rely upon the notion of alayavijnana for solace
in this regard. In the Yogacarabhumisastra Asanga discusses the cessation of the
alayavijnana . Again in Mahayanasamgraha I.61.3, Asanga declares that the
alayavijnana is `like maya, like a mirage, like a dream and an optical illusion';
as such, it is `the seed for the imagination of the non-existent (abhutaparikalpa)'
. As we have already noted Vasubandhu (the Yogacarin) also seems to have accepted
that the alayavijnana is little more than a metaphorical concept (upacara) .
This in itself follows on from the Sautrantika designation of the `seed' (bija)
metaphor as a nominal existent (prajnapti-sat) . The Madhayanta-vibhaga also
seems to argue that consciousness is something which is eventually relinquished.
Thus, I.3 states that,
Consciousness arises with the appearance of objects,
sentient beings, self and Cognitive-Representations. Nothing exists as its object,
therefore that [object] being absent that [consciousness] too is non-existent
To which Vasubandhu adds in his commentary,
As material form etc.
[consciousness] appears as objects, and as the five sense-organs, it appears as
sentient beings. These five senses refer to one's own as well as other consciousness-streams.
The appearance as a self is the defiled mind (klistam manah), since it is associated
with self-delusion. Cognitive-representations (vijnapti) appear as the sixfold
consciousness. 'Nothing exists as its object' because the appearances of objects
and sentient beings are without a fixed image; and because the appearances of
self and cognitive-representations are false appearances. Thus, 'because of that
[object] being absent, that [consciousness] also is non-existent'. That is the
four kinds of graspables--form, etc., the five sense-organs, mind, and the sixfold
consciousness, are absent. On account of the graspables being absent, the grasping
consciousness also is non-existent .
Thus, upon closer analysis, there
is much evidence which questions some of the central assumptions of a straightforwardly
idealistic interpretation of Asanga and Vasubandhu. Certainly one cannot hope
to cling onto the concept of consciousness-only (citta-matra) or representation-only
(vijnapti-matra) as evidence of subjective idealism in the early Yogacara. In
the highest states of attainment both the mind and cognitive-representations (vijnapti)
are to be relinquished, 'external objects' being relinquished at a much earlier
Perhaps by drawing attention to the continuities of thought between
pre-Mahayana and early Mahayana Abhidharma thought in India one can gain a much
greater appreciation of the philosophical context of early Yogacara thought. Clearly,
interpreting early Yogacara through the eyes of later commentators can greatly
enhance the comprehension of Indian Mahayana thought. At times, however, ignoring
later controversies and focusing upon the philosophical and conceptual continuities
to be found in the incipient stages of a particular school of thought can bring
to light new insights in our understanding of that school. If we examine the early
literature of the Yogacara the possibility emerges that long established interpretations
of the school by Buddhist and non-Buddhist commentators and even subsequent developments
within the school itself do not exhaust the hermeneutical options, ambiguities
and alternate avenues that could have been followed as the school evolved. The
early Yogacara literature provides many interesting avenues for future exploration
and development and these have by no means been fully explored or exhausted by
contemporary western scholarship on the subject. It may yet prove to be the case
that many of the long cherished and well established interpretations of the Yogacara
school (for instance that it expounds an uncompromisingly idealistic position)
are founded upon more ambiguous philosophical beginnings than is generally acknowledged.
By approaching the history of ideas from the rear, as it were, a different picture
emerges of the early Yogacara position. It is a picture which suggests a great
deal more in the way of philosophical continuity between Yogacara and mainstream
Abhidharma thought than is often suggested and points to a doctrinal situation
which is decidedly more complex than the stereotypical representation of citta-matra
in the works of later Yogacarins and their opponents might at first suggest.
King, Department of Religious Studies, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA,
Scotland, UK; e-mail
 BECHERT, H. (1982) `The importance of Asokas
so-called schism edict in Indological and Buddhist Studies, Volume in honour of
Professor J. W. de Jong, Canberra, pp. 61-68.
 KING, R. (1994) Early Yogacara
and its relationship with the Madhyamaka school, Philosophy, East and West, 44(4),
 A recent example of the contextualisation of the Yogacara
concept of alayavijnana in terms of its prevailing Abhidharma background is WALDRON,
W. (1994, 1995) How Innovative is the Alayavijnana? The alayavijnana in the context
of canonical and Abhidharma vijnana theory, journal of Indian Philosophy, 22,
pp. 199-258 and 23, pp. 9-51.
 FRAUWALLNER, E. (1951) On the Date of the
Buddhist Master of the Law Vasubandhu (eerie Orientale Roma m). See also FRAUWALLNER,
E. (1961) Landmarks in the history of Indian logic in Wiener Zeitschrift fur die
Kunde Sud-Ostasiens, Vol. v, p. 131.
 DOWLING, T. (1976) Vasubandhu on
the Avijnapti-Rupa: a study in fifth-century Abhidharma Buddhism, unpublished
Ph.D thesis, Columbia University, p. 52.
 Ibid., p. 73.
 asrayo hi sa aryanam darsanabhavanamargasamarthyat tatha paravrtto
bhavati yatha na punas tatpraheyanam klesanam prarohasamartho bhavati ato `gnidagdhavrivad
abijibhuta asrayah klesanam prahinklesa ityucyate. Ibid., p. 59, and esp. p. 94.
 darsana marga vyutthitasyavisesa darsana prahata vyaprahanat pratyagrasraya
parivrtti nirmala santati vartate. Translation by Dowling, ibid., p. 106.
HARVEY, PETER (1995) The Selfless Mind: personality, consciousness and Nirvana
in early Buddhism (London, Curzon Press) pp. 155-179, 217-226.
JOHN, P. (1982) Original purity and the focus of early Yogacara, journal of the
International Association of Buddhist Studies, 5, pp. 7-18.
L. (1987) Alayavijnana: on the origin and the early development of a central concept
of Yogacara philosophy (Tokyo, International Institute of Buddhist Studies) pp.
 GETHIN, RUPERT (1994), Bhavanga and rebirth according to the Abhidhamma,
in: The Buddhist Forum, Vol. III (London, School of Oriental and African Studies)
 DOWLING, T. op. cit., note 4, p. 64.
 SCHMITHAUSEN, op.
cit., note 11, pp. 4-7.
 For details and full references see WALDRON,
W. (1995), How Innovative is the Alayavijnana ? The alayavijnana in the context
of canonical and Abhidharma vijnana theory, journal of Indian Philosophy, 23,
pp. 38-39, notes 177 and 178.
 Glossed by Yasomitra as `duravabodha, 'difficult
to understand'. See Abhidharma-Kosa-bhasyavyakhya IV.4.
 ANACKER, S. (1984)
(Seven Works of Vasubhandhu, p. 159n) (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass) argues that
Vasubhandhu accepts the necessity of external stimuli in his Mahaydnasamgraha-bhasya
(Peking/Tokyo ed. Tibetan canon, vol. 112, p. 275,4,3). Anacker also suggests
that Vadavidhi 32 understands alaya to be little more than a metaphor for the
idea of karmic seeds as a collective (ibid., p. 183n). In Mahayanasamgraha-bhasya
(vol. 112. p. 277,5,1) 'seeds' are a metaphor for 'a special force within the
consciousness series'. See also ANAKER, ibid., p. 71, where he argues that in
the Pancaskandhaka-prakarana 'series' is nothing other than a metaphor for the
genetic relationship between aggregate moments.
 See AUNG DAVIDS &
RHYS-DAVIDS, trans., Points of Controversy, passim., Dowling, op. cit., note 4,
pp. 68-70. MCGOVERN (1923) Manual of Buddhist Philosophy, I, pp. 128-129, translates
avijnapti as 'not-manifested', and its opposite `vijnapti' as 'manifested'. Following
this one might want to render the Yogacara term `vijnaptimatra' as 'manifestation-only'
 See VERDU, A. (1985) Early Buddhist Philosophy
in the Light of the Four Noble Truths (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass), pp. 35-37.
 mid., p.36.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 TAKAKUSU, J. Essentials of
Buddhist Philosophy, p. 69.
 Note that Vasubhandhu places 'subject' before
'object' in the scheme of things in his Trimsika. Vasubhandu suggests that there
are three types of vijnana-parinama, which occur upon the fruition of karman.
They are: (i) vipaka--different fruition; (ii) manas--deliberating fruition; (iii)
visaya-vijnapti--object-manifestation see Yamada Isshi (1977) Vijnaptimctrata
of Vasubhandhu in Journal of Royal Asiatic Studies, pp. 162-163.
in Waldron, (1994), op. cit., note 2, p. 211.
 For a discussion of this
Abhidharma context, see for instance KING, R. (1995) Early Advaita Vedanta and
Buddhism: the Mahayana context of the Gaudapadiya-Karika (Albany, State University
Of New York Press), pp. 108-118.
 citta-matropalambbena jneyarthanupalambhata,
jneyarthanupalambbena syac cittanupalambhata.
 upalabdhim samastitya nopalabdhih
prajayate, nopalabdhim samasrit a nopalabdhih prajayate.
 See OSAKI, A.
(1977-1978) What is meant by destroying the alayavijnana?, Journal of Indian and
Buddhist Studies, 26, pp. 1064-1069. In Mahayana-samgraha III.9, Asanga points
put that one enters the perfected nature (parinispanna-svabhava) upon the complete
cessation (nirakarana) of the notion of 'Cognitive-Representation-Only' vijnaptimtrasamjna),
there being no object to be so represented.
 LAMOTTE, E. (1938) Mahayana-samgraha:
la Somme du Grand Vehicule d'Asanga (Louvain, Bibliotheque du Museon), tome II,
 See Anacker, (1984), ibid., p. 183n.
ad. II. 36c d. See Waldron, op. cit., note 2, p. 213 and p. 252, note 147.
artha-sattvatma-vinapti-pratibhasam prajayate, vijnanam nasti casyarthas tad abhavat
tad apy asat.
 For the basis of this view in the Pali canon see RAHULA,
W. (1974), p.28. For the Abhidharma version see Basubandhu's Abbidharmakosa-bhasya