Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Living Yogacara

If you're interested in learning about Yogacara Buddhism, pick up Living Yogacara by Shun'ei Tagawa (translated by Charles Muller). It's an accessible introduction to the "unwieldy" school of Yogacara, as Muller calls it. The book isn't as light as some reviewers make it sound, but plenty of repetition on Tagawa's part drives the dense Yogacarin theories home in a very practical way. Tagawa explores the alaya-vijnana and manas, along with the other six consciousness, in great detail, rendering Yogacara comprehensible.

Tagawa, himself a Hosso (the Japanese Yogacara school) priest, elucidates the "Mind-Only" doctrine, dispelling the long-held assumption that Yogacara is in fact a Buddhist form of Idealism--that phenomenal reality is merely a projection of our minds. Instead, he explains that Yogacara, like other branches of the Buddhist tree, acknowledges that reality exists; it's just that our delusion distorts our perception of it. So a revised Yogacarin statement of reality might be: The reality we ordinarily experience is a projection of our deluded minds. What we wind up experiencing is ideas, not the world itself. This perspective is fairly consummate with Zen, and so the book is useful for Zen practitioners. In the words of Sallie B. King, Buddhist scholar, interpreting Yogacara as idealism is interpreting the latter based upon Western philosophical assumptions. It's like calling a raccoon a cat simply because it's hairy, has four legs, and climbs trees. It's more accurate to call Yogacara a nondual system, which acknowledges that mind and world are inseparable and arise together.

As Yogacara was a highly influential school in the development of Buddhist thought, I think it is very important to study. And Living Yogacara is a great place to start. There are plenty of books on the subject, but most are not so reader friendly.


  1. Yeah, I read Understanding Our Mind, which is Thich Nhat Hanh's commentary on Vasubandhu's 50 verses on the nature of mind from the Yogacara point of view. Even in his gentle simplicity, it hurt my brain. Like brainworms.

  2. Brainworms, indeed. I don't think that I ever finished it. TNH's explanation was very repetitive. Living Yogacara, while it frequently recaps main ideas, doesn't feel that way. At least not to me.

    Thanks for stopping by, Do-Myong.