Understanding MAdhyamaka - 5

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 26 11:34:01 CDT 2000

I've made a brief presentation of the VijnAnavAda school too, as it is
relevant to our understanding the relation between Advaita and Buddhism.



The MahAyAna SUtras can roughly be divided into three categories : those
which teach devotion to the Buddha, those which teach the unreality of the
world (shUnyatA) and those which bring out the psychological implications of
shUnyatA. The LankAvatAra SUtra falls in the third category and it is the
source of the views of the VijnAnavAda school.

While NAgArjuna's attention is mainly on the first and second, the
VijnAnavAda undertakes the task to work on the third.

MaitreyanAtha is said to be the founder of the school which is also
called YogAchAra since it believes that yogic practices are essential
for attaining liberation. But it was MaireyanAtha's disciple Asanga
and Asanga's brother Vasubandhu, who fully develop the doctrines of
this school. While Asanga works on the religious implications of the
doctrine, VAsubandhu provides rigorous logical support.

Asanga puts forth the schools basic doctrines in his MahAyAna SUtra LamkAra
ShAstram :
1.  Reality is pure consciousness.
2.  The PHENOMENAL world is momentary - shUnya. But shUnya doesn't mean
    total negation. It is the negation of something in something. It is
    the negation of the illusory phenomenal world in its underlying
    support - pure consciousness.
3.  The individual ego - the "I" - doesn't really exist. It is neither
    real nor unreal, nor both, nor neither - it is an illusion.
4.  All suffering is due to clinging to the notions of "I" and "mine".
5.  Liberation is only the destruction of the illusion or ignorance.
    Individual existence is transcended on grasping the true meaning of
    nairAtmaya and shUnyatA and one realizes the pure soul and becomes
    one with the universal soul (mahAtman).
6.  The real is non-dual. It's neither existence nor non-existence, neither
affirmation nor negation, neither identity nor difference, neither one nor
many, neither pure nor impure, neither production nor destruction. All these
are only categories of the intellect and the Real is beyond these.

VAsubandhu :

VAsubandhu's main work is the VijnAptimAtratAsiddhi, which is divided into
two sections : the VimshatIka and the Trimshika.

In the VimshatIka, VAsubandhu asserts that mind, consciousness, thought,
knowledge are various words which refer to the same thing. He further says
that the world doesn't exist outside of thought and reality is pure

VAsubandu's arguments are so subtle that it has been commonly
misinterpreted as subjective idealism i.e, VAsubandhu has been accused of
saying that the physical world doesn't exist outside of thought and only the
consciousness which perceives objects is real. This couldn't be further from
what VAsubandhu has been trying to say.

What the VijnAnavAdin really means is that objects are only objects as
we *know* them to be. Like NAgArjuna, VAsubandhu's arguments are
epistemological and not ontological. What we call as a tree is basically a
conditioned concept - that it is a living thing, which grows on sunlight and
water, that it has leaves and it provides us with fruits to eat. VAsubandhu
is only pointing out that the object in its true nature is unknown to us and
what exists as the object in our consciousness is basically our conception
of it based on its attributes and its utility to us.

The distinction between the knower and the known, the subject and object is
made withing the field of consciousness itself. It is due to this
conceptualizing tendency of the mind - ignorance - that duality exists -
that we perceive objects as different from us. In truth, both the subject
and object are in their true nature - pure consciousness.

If the objective world doesn't in truth exist, then how do we see a
particular object in particular place and time? How do we explain the
fruitful activity which follows knowledge of the object? How is that
all people see the same object and not only the perceiver?

VAsubandhu says these arguments are not valid, for all these things are
true in the case of dreams too, which we know is unreal.

In dreams too, we see particular objects in particular places. In dreams
too, others beside us (who're part of the dream) view the objects. Fruitful
activity takes place in dreams also.

So the waking state is no different from the dream state - both are unreal.

But don't we know the dream state to be unreal when we're awake?

VAsubandhu answers that when one is in the dream state, one is not aware
of the unreality of the state. At that point in time it is as real as
the waking state to the experiencer.

ShUnyatA is not absolute negation. It is the negation of something in
something. It is the superimposed which is negated, but that which it
is superimposed on - the supporting ground of the superimposition -
the rope mistaken as a snake - is the real.

Reality is universal pure consciousness (vijnAptimAtratA). This reality
due to its inherent power undergoes threefold modification. First it
manifests itself as AlayavijnAna or the storehouse of consciousness
which contains the seeds of all phenomena. Then this universal
consciousness manifests itself into two forms - the individual subject
and the external objects. But underlying these three modifications is the
unchanging and eternal pure consciousness.

The real is atonce immanent in phenomena as well as transcendent to
them. Identified with its contents it is unreal, but viewed from its
own essence it is the real. Even "pure consciousness" is only an
expression of the intellect and is ultimately unreal. The real is beyond
the intellect and can be grasped only by spiritual experience. It is
pure undefiled existence, good, eternal, blissful and the Buddha's body
of pure existence.
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