VASUBANDHU and the problem of the external world in Mahayana Buddhist Philosophy (c. 300-400 CE)

Author: Gordon. F. Davis (Carleton University)

In a few short texts, assigned to a mature period following a famous ‘conversion’ to Mahayana Buddhism, Vasubandhu argues that reality consists of ‘impressions-only’ (Siderits 2007), or ‘only appearance’ (Gold 2015). This prima faciemetaphysical idealism came to be known, famously and more simply, as the ‘Cittamatra’ view, which means ‘mind-only’.

Taking ‘external world’ to mean a world in space and time that is putatively independent of the mind, Vasubandhu argues that this conception is a delusion, one that imposes a crude conceptual grid on the field of experience. As a critic of ‘naïve realism’, Vasubandhu sees unchecked mental projections as imposing a spatiotemporal structure on experience which, once purged of this, can also be liberated from other forms of ignorance. In his Twenty-Verse Treatise, Vasubandhu considers various objections to this irrealist account of belief in an external world, responding by invoking e.g. analogies of dream-experience (and other intriguing anticipations of modern philosophy).

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The Dhammapada and Virtue Ethics

Author: Christopher Ives (Stonehill College)

The most widely read Buddhist text is, in all likelihood, the Dhammapada, a collection of verses attributed to the historical Buddha, which includes a widely quoted statement:

Refraining from all that is detrimental,
attaining what is wholesome,
purifying one’s mind:
this is the instruction of Awakened Ones.[i]

By “detrimental” Buddha is referring to mental states that cause suffering, whereas the “wholesome” are the opposite mental states, the cultivation of which conduce to liberation from suffering. The Dhammapada is replete with lists of these mental states, the most prominent of which are the “three poisons,” ignorance, greed, and ill will, and their opposites, wisdom, generosity and loving-kindness. The Dhammapada also treats the “five hindrances” and the “ten fetters,” as well as the “five faculties” and the “seven factors of enlightenment.” In effect, these mental states are vices and virtues.

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Madhvācārya

Author: Deepak Sarma (Case Western Reserve University)

Madhvācārya is a 13th century Indian Hindu scholar who began the Dvaita or dualist (also known as Mādhva) tradition of Vedānta. He argues that the ultimate reality (brahman), identified with God as Viṣṇu, is distinct from the world and from each and every ātman (enduring, individual self). His primary opponent is the Advaita (non-dualist) School of Vedānta founded by Ṡaṃkarācārya in the 8th century which holds that ultimate reality is identical to each and every ātman. Madhvācārya argues that the universe is governed by pañcabheda (five types of differences) that are real and not illusory. Continue reading “Madhvācārya”

Cārvāka Critique of Inference

Author: Ethan Mills (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)

The irreligious Cārvāka school, which existed at least as far back as the time of the Buddha (c. 400 BCE), is often depicted as denying the validity of inference as a means of knowledge. There are virtually no extant texts written by members of the Cārvāka school, but the Sarvadarśanasagraha (Collection of All Philosophical Views), a doxography composed by the 14th century Advaita Vedāntin Mādhava, summarizes the Cārvāka argument against inference.

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Śāntideva on self-interest and altruism

Authors: Amod Lele (Boston University), and Anna Lännström (Stonehill College)

 

Śāntideva is an eighth century Indian Buddhist philosopher from the Mahāyāna tradition. His most famous work is the short and largely accessible Bodhicaryāvatāra (Undertaking the way to awakening). The work had an important influence on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The arguments for altruism (8.89 – 105) are perhaps the most famous parts of the work and can easily be excerpted. They occur in the context of the discussion of how to awaken the desire to become a bodhisattva (someone who wants to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of others). One of the steps he recommends for awakening that desire is meditating on the equality of oneself and others.

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Śāntideva on anger

Authors: Amod Lele (Boston University), and Anna Lännström (Stonehill College)

 

Śāntideva (Shantideva) is an eighth century Indian Buddhist philosopher from the Mahāyāna tradition. His most famous work is the short and largely accessible Bodhicaryāvatāra (Undertaking the way to awakening or Guide to the Bodhisattva way of life). This work was an important influence on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition generally and on the current Dalai Lama in particular.

Śāntideva’s discussion of anger is in chapter 6, where, arguing against anger, he praises the virtue of patient endurance (kṣānti). He treats anger as equivalent to hatred and singles it out as the most troublesome of the three root poisons (hatred, delusion, and craving) because, more than the others, it prevents us from developing compassion.

Śāntideva makes a psychological argument against anger, pointing out that it disturbs our relationships and our peace of mind. It makes us suffer, preventing us from being happy.

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Rasa – Indian Aesthetic Theory

AuthorKathleen Higgins (University of Texas at Austin)

Rasa is a central concept in Indian aesthetic theory. The term has a variety of meanings (among them “flavor,” “taste,” “juice,” and “essence”), but in aesthetics it is understood to refer to a distinctive type of emotional experience that can be experienced in connection with an artwork. The concept is presented in the Nāṭyaśāstra (200-500 C.E.), traditionally attributed to Bharata, a work that amounts to a compendium of knowledge on dramatic performance (including music and dancing). That Nāṭyaśāstra itemizes eight rasas that can be aroused in audience members through skillful performances. These include the erotic (śṛṅgāra), the comic (hāsya), the pathetic or sorrowful (karuṇa), the furious (raudra), the heroic (vīra), the terrible (bhayānaka), the odious (bībhatsa), and the marvelous (adbhuta). Continue reading “Rasa – Indian Aesthetic Theory”

The Bhagavad Gītā

Author: Amod Lele (Boston University)

The Bhagavad Gītā is an episode from the Mahābhārata (the long Indian epic poem) in which the god Krishna offers advice to the hero Arjuna, in response to Arjuna’s despair at the need to kill his cousins in battle. It is one of the most loved texts in Indian tradition – enough that some modern thinkers, including Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi have taken it to be the central text of Hindu tradition. When one wants to identify the ethical teachings of the great philosophers in the Vedānta tradition (such as Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja), those philosophers’ commentaries on the Gītā, while difficult for a novice reader, are often the clearest guide to their ideas.

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Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra

Author: Amod Lele (Boston University)

The Bodhicaryāvatāra is an Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist text from approximately the eighth century CE, whose author is referred to as Śāntideva. It is very popular among Tibetan Buddhists; the present Dalai Lama has referred to it as his favourite book. It instructs its readers how to live up to the ideal of the bodhisattva, the Buddhist hero who swears to free all living beings from suffering.  Continue reading “Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra”

Anekantavada or Multisidedness

Author: Ashwani Peetush (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Anekantavada (Sk. lit.: theory of not-one-sidedness) is a Jaina epistemological view that requires that the truth of any claim must consider the context and standpoint (naya) from which it is made.  The theory has had an enormous impact and influence on the logic, epistemology, and ethics of Buddhist and Upanisadic schools as well as on Mohandas Gandhi’s activism and philosophy of nonviolence. Anekantavada grows out of a commitment to the Jaina principle of ahimsa or non-harm to others (including their intellectual perspectives). It requires one not simply to tolerate and put up with others’ perspectives, but to see them as on par with one’s own views; it also emphasizes that one’s own views may themselves be wrong. This theory is used to understand religious and philosophical differences to this day in India and is popularized in the Jaina metaphor of the elephant and the blind men.

The theory is grounded in a pluralistic metaphysical realism that argues that reality is composed of an infinite number of entities that are modified in innumerable variation. The meaning of any particular claim to truth must therefore take into consideration and be indexed to substance/subject, time, space, and mode/quality. Statements may thus be asserted only conditionally (syadvada or the theory of conditional predication). What may at first appear as contradictory may actually be complementary (e.g., “the pot exists” and “the pot does not exist” are not necessarily contradictory if indexed to different times of assertion, spatial location of the pot, or the modality of the clay of which it is made).

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