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The Depth Psychology of the Yogachara

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of Buddhist Psychology

Lecture 42: The Depth Psychology of the Yogacara Reverend Sir, and Friends Our course of lectures week by week is proceeding. We have dealt already with the analytical psychology of the Abhidharma; we have dealt also with the psychology of spiritual development. The first lecture, we may say, was concerned mainly with some of the more important themes and technicalities of early Buddhist psychology. We shall, incidentally, be referring back to some of that material more than once in the course of the coming lectures. The second lecture in the course, on the psychology of spiritual development, was concerned much more directly than the first lecture was with the spiritual life. You may remember that we traced the ascent of humanity up the stages of the spiral from the round of existence, from Samsara, even to Nirvana. Today we come to our third lecture, our third subject, which is the Depth Psychology of the Yogacara.

This evening we are concerned to some extent with psychological themes and technicalities, as we were in the first lecture, but we're also concerned, as we were in the second lecture, with the spiritual life itself. We are concerned with the first as subordinate to the second, as we shall see in due course. So we may say, broadly speaking, that this evening's lecture follows a sort of middle way, or middle course, between the type of subject matter we had in the first lecture and the type of subject matter we had in the second.

Now a question which immediately arises, and which must have occurred to most of you when the title of the lecture was announced, "What is the Yogacara?" I'm sorry that in the course of the lectures we keep on having to have all these Sanskrit and Pali names and titles and so on, but until they become as it were naturalised in English, there's no other way.

So what does the word 'Yogacara' mean? Literally, it means the practice of Yoga: acara means simply practice, or application, or even conduct. We shall be going a little more deeply into this later on. But for the present, all we need to know is that Yogacara is one of the schools of ancient Indian Buddhism. Buddhism was extinct in India for many centuries until its revival in the present century and the Yogacara school is no longer known there, except to some extent as a subject of academic study. So the Yogacara is a school of ancient Indian Buddhism.

More specifically, the Yogacara is a school of the Mahayana form of Buddhism. Some of you may remember that the Mahayana was mentioned in the course of the first lecture. You may remember that after dealing with the Abhidharma psychology, after going to some extent into the technicalities, even the scholastic by-ways, of that Abhidharma system, I remarked that much in the way of poetry and myth - the whole non-rational approach - had been banished from Buddhism practically by the Abhidharma. And I also went on to say that those elements, those more mythical, poetic, intuitional elements which had been banished by the Abhidharma from Buddhism, re-asserted themselves in what were called the Mahayana and the Vajrayana.

Now let us look into this a little bit more. We all know that Buddhism originated in India. And it's not always appreciated that Buddhism lasted in India for one thousand, five hundred years. That is, we may say, longer than Christianity has been known in this country. That is the length, that is the extent of the history of Buddhism in India - one thousand, five hundred years from about 500 BC, in round figures, to about 1000 AD or a little after, when it was finally destroyed by the Muslims. And in the course of that 1,500 years of history, Buddhism passed in India through three great stages, or three great phases of development. And these three great stages of development are known in Buddhism as the three Yanas. Yana means literally a vehicle, but in this connection, in this context, it means rather a path or a way. So we find that each of the three Yanas - we shall learn their names in a minute - was dominant for 500 years in the course of the history of Buddhism in India.

For 500 years one Yana was dominant, for the second 500 years, another Yana, and for the third 500 years, yet another.

So what were these three Yanas? As this is only introductory to our main subject matter, we have to be very brief, and very schematic.

The first Yana is what we call in Buddhism the Hinayana, which means literally the 'Little Way'. This is the first phase or first stage of the development of Buddhism in India, lasting 500 years. And the Hinayana, the Little Way, is so called because it taught the goal of individual salvation, individual emancipation, individual realisation and attainment of Nirvana, without thinking so much of the other person. It tended to emphasise one's own personal development, one's own personal spiritual advancement somewhat to the detriment to one's concern with and for other people.

Lecture 42: The Depth Psychology of the Yogacara Page 2 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ And the Hinayana, we may say, also stressed very much, ethics, especially in the form of disciplinary rules, and, as we saw in the case of the Abhidharma, it stressed very much analytical psychology. The Hinayana also attached very great importance to the monastic life. And it tended in practice, practically to identify the spiritual life and the monastic life. It said in effect that if you want to lead a religious, a spiritual life properly, thoroughly, you have to become a monk or a nun; there is no other way.

Now the Theravada and the Sarvastivada, about which we spoke in the course of the first lecture, when we mentioned their respective Abhidharmas, are both forms of the Hinayana, and perhaps the two most prominent representatives of that particular phase or stage in the history of the development of Buddhism.

Now the second great phase, the second great stage, is what is known as the Mahayana, which likewise was dominant for a period of about 500 years in India. Mahayana literally means 'Great Way' or 'Great Path' or 'Great Vehicle', and it is so called because it teaches the goal of universal emancipation or salvation. It says, as it were, as the Bodhisattva Vow makes quite clear, that one should not be concerned only with one's own spiritual progress, one's own spiritual development; one also should be concerned with that of other people, and try to help them to the utmost of one's ability, according to one's own spiritual qualifications and experience and so on.

And the Mahayana, we find, stressed metaphysics, in the sense of ontology; it was preoccupied with the nature of the Absolute, and it stressed, also, devotion. In the Mahayana, we find a much greater place given to the whole emotional and devotional side of the religious or spiritual life, including ceremonies, rituals, devotions to different Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and so on. The Mahayana also attached very great importance to living in the world but not of it. And it said, it maintained, that the dedicated household life, devoted to the realisation of spiritual objectives, was just as good as the monastic life lived in the monastery. This was the Mahayana, the Great Way, the second great phase or stage in the development of Buddhism in India.

Then thirdly, there was the Vajrayana, which means the Adamantine Path or Way. And the Vajrayana is also known, perhaps better known, as Tantric Buddhism. The Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism also accepts the Mahayanistic goal of universal salvation, but it teaches its realisation, as it were, by means of a 'short cut'. It very much stresses symbolic ritual and it stresses also the practice of what we may describe as esoteric meditation. So this is the Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism; the third, the final, even the culminating phase or stage of the development of Buddhism in India.

This evening there's no time to say any more on the subject of the three Yanas, but it must be stressed, it must be emphasised, that an understanding of these three Yanas, their distinctive features and so on, is vital for an understanding of the whole history and development of Buddhism, not only in India, but throughout the whole of Asia. (This topic is dealt with in a seminar to be given on Boxing Day on The Three Yanas.) It's time we got back now to the Yogacara. The Yogacara is one of the schools of the Mahayana, or the Great Way, that is to say, one of the schools of Buddhism that arose in the course of the second phase or stage of development of Buddhism in India.

On the philosophical side, it is well known that there are two great schools of the Mahayana - that is to say, of the Indian Mahayana - and these are known as the Madhyamika and the Yogacara.

The term Madhyamika means Middle Way, and this school is so called because it followed a middle way between the extreme metaphysical positions of affirmation and negation. It tried to see reality, not in terms of existence; not in terms of non-existence; but in terms of a third factor, above and beyond, as it were, those two extremes. The Yogacara, as we've already seen, means the practice of Yoga.

Now these two schools, the Madhyamika, the School of the Middle Way, and the Yogacara, the School of the Practice of Yoga, share certain fundamentals in common. They are both schools of the Mahayana form of Buddhism, but each of them has its distinctive emphasis.

The Madhyamika, we may say, emphasises the primacy of Wisdom, and its approach to Reality is what we may describe as dialectical - logical, philosophical, even intellectual in a general sense.

The Yogacara, on the other hand, emphasises much more, meditation and the meditational approach. ...

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