Origin of Yogacara Buddhism
Yogacara was formulated by the Brahmin-born half brothers, Vasubandhu and Asanga. They are believed to have been influenced by the Divine Maitreya. The origins of the tradition of scholarly Indian Yogacara, is found in the tradition of the Nalanda University. Here, the doctrines of Vijnaptimatra and Cittamatra were extensively propagated. The doctrines teachings and tenets of this school have now become well established in Tibet, Japan, China and Mongolia as well as throughout the world. According to the first Yogacara text, 'Samdhinirmocana Sutra,' Lord Buddha set the wheel of doctrine, Dharmachakra, in motion three times. The Yogacara texts are considered to be part of the third turning, contained along with the relevant sutra. The Yogacara School has for long held a rather important position in the Indian Scholastic tradition for many centuries, mainly due to its famous proponents and its propagation at the University of Nalanda.
Philosophy of Yogacara Buddhism The entire discourse of yogacara is founded on the principle that though perceptions and the mind both exist, there is nothing external to them. This negates the subject-object duality as being false. It is believed by the Yogacara or mind-only school that the importance of meditation in transforming awareness is immense. Yogacara holds that everything that one experiences is only experienced in the mind. The entire plethora of human experiences is believed to be generated by the mind. This is done by the mind by three modes, referred to as the three natures of perception. These are - the parikalpita or imagined nature, which generates all perceptions as distinct from oneself; paratantra or dependant nature, which involves the outflow of perceptions from external objects to the perceiving mind; and the parinispanna or perfected nature, by which all things are rightly viewed as the projections of the mind. Basically, the belief here is that an object seems to be real because it depends on the mind for its seeming essence. When one has finally experienced awakening, the person will be able to see the objects for what they really are in their perfected form, and not just as images generated by the mind. The world, it is said, is no different from the mind that perceives it.
Yogacara holds that the only real thing is consciousness. Everything is of the nature of emptiness except the mind itself. The concept of Sunyata or emptiness is central in to yogacara philosophy. In keeping with this Yogacara identifies eight kinds of consciousness (vijnana). The term consciousness is interpreted in the text as something similar to awareness. These are essentially the different modes by way of which one can be aware, the eight different kinds of experiences generated by the mind. The first five modes of consciousness respond to the five essential senses- touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. The sixth consciousness is conceptualisation. In Indian thought has often been considered as sense. This is because and idea is perceived of as having a corresponding concept, which is seen as a thought or image in the mind. The sixth consciousness is that of impurity, or klesha. Stemming from this consciousness are the various vices according to Buddhism- greed, ignorance and passion. These are considered to be the causes of actions which generate mew attachments, new karma and continued rebirth. The eight consciousnesses is said to be the storehouse consciousness, alaya. It is at this level that all experiences are generated. The seed of new experiences are contained in the alaya, which have been sown there from past karma. On reaching the right time, the seeds of experience are said to ripen to lead to the experiences that one has and to which one reacts.
Meditation in Yogacara Buddhism
The philosophy of Yogacara is said to bear fruit when applied to meditation. Yogacara preaches that while meditating, one needs to draw inwards from the senses. The first six consciousnesses will have to be shut out. Exercises will also have to be performed to neutralize the effect of the hazards of then seven consciousnesses. It is believed that through meditation, one will understand how the alaya creates all experiences. It will be revealed how all experiences come from past karma, and that the alaya is empty. The basic tenet of Yogacara, that all experience comes from the mind is realised through yoga, and this leads to nirvana. The ultimate experience of Nirvana is said to be non-dual, and the alaya is seen as the generator of all experiences. True awakening, according to the Yogacara, is the perfected state of being where everything is seen as part of oneself.
Significance of Yogacara Buddhism
To the modern day scholars, the schemes of Yogacara are of special significance. The first is that almost all schools of Mahayana Buddhism have relied on these explanations and theories of Yogacara when in the process of creating their own denominations. This holds true even of then Zen schools. However, the reach of Yogacara has not been too profound in the West, mainly because of two reasons. On the one hand, the practice-oriented forms of Buddhism have been more popular and readily accepted in the west. Also, there are not many good translations of the complicated system of Yogacara in existence. However, within Tibetan Buddhism more and more Western students are becoming acquainted with this school. Later Yogacara teachings are especially important in Tantric Buddhism, which evolved within their development in India.
The philosophical school of Yogacara is one of the most complex and interesting phenomena among the various philosophical trends of traditional India. It exerted considerable influence not only on the formation of Buddhist philosophy in different regions, but on the native culture of these regions as well.
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