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The Depth Psychology of the Yogachara

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by Sangharakshita

... It approaches Reality, we may say, not dialectically, not through the intellect, but approaches Reality through meditation, through one's own inner spiritual experience.

Lecture 42: The Depth Psychology of the Yogacara Page 3 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Now each of these two great schools, the Madhyamika and the Yogacara, is associated with a particular group of Mahayana sutras. Sutras are discourses given by the Buddha, and they represent the most important Scriptures.

The Madhyamika is associated with a group of Scriptures known as the Perfection of Wisdom, or Transcendental Wisdom, sutras, or in Sanskrit, Prajnaparamita. There are more than thirty of these texts in Sanskrit and Chinese and Tibetan. Most of them survive in the original Sanskrit, and they have all been translated into English by Dr Edward Conze. This is probably the biggest Buddhist achievement, especially single-handed achievement in the field of translation, in this century at least. The Madhyamika then, is particularly associated with these Perfection of Wisdom sutras.

The Yogacara School, on the other hand, is associated not so much with the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, as with a sutra called the Samdhinirmocana, which means Explication of Knots; and the Lankavatara, or to give it its full title, the Saddharma Lankavatara Sutra, which means the Descent or the Entry of the Good Law, into the island of Lanka. And out of these two sutras, the Yogacara is especially associated with the latter, that is to say, with the Lankavatara Sutra, or as we say, for short, the Lanka.

Now the Madhyamika movement or school was initiated by the great Indian thinker and sage, Nagarjuna, and the Yogacara was founded or initiated by Maitreya, or Maitreyanatha. I have to mention here that there's a dispute among scholars that's been carried on for some time now, in books and pamphlets and articles, a dispute as to whether Maitreya, or Maitreyanatha, the founder or inspirer of the Yogacara movement, is a historical figure or a non-historical figure. You get lots of disputes, I'm afraid, of this sort in the field of Buddhism. Some people dispute whether Bodhidharma was a historical figure or not - some people even dispute whether the Buddha was a historical figure or not. Scholars do tend to be fond of disputes and discussions of this sort.

According to tradition at least, according to the Buddhist tradition, Maitreya or Maitreyanatha, the founder and inspirer of the Yogacara tradition, is identical with the Bodhisattva Maitreya, that is to say, the coming Buddha.

Most of you know that among Buddhists there is a belief that another Buddha will come in the future, another great Enlightened teacher will arise when the teaching has been forgotten, and once again proclaim it to mankind. So most Buddhists, in fact Buddhists of practically all schools, believe that the next Buddha is now the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and exists or lived or lives on a higher plane of existence imperceptible to human beings, except in advanced states of meditation.

According to the Yogacara tradition, the great teacher Asanga, who lived in the fifth century, was supposed to have visited the Tusita heaven, where Maitreya lives, and is supposed to have received instruction from him.

This instruction he embodied in five works which are known as the Five Books of Maitreya, as well as in various independent works of his own, and these works constitute the literary foundation of the Yogacara School.

Some scholars maintain that Maitreya is not the Bodhisattva Maitreya; they dismiss this legend altogether. They say that Maitreya, or Maitreyanatha, is a human and historical teacher of the Fourth Century and Asanga simply received instruction from him.

Perhaps, in a sense, in a way, it doesn't matter very much. But there's at least one point of interest in the traditional account. As I've said, according to the traditional account, Asanga visited Maitreya in the Tusita heaven. A heaven in Buddhism, a devaloka, is a higher plane of existence, a higher plane of being, a higher plane of consciousness. You may remember that in the first lecture we saw that the Abhidharma classifies mind according to its planes - there's not only the plane of sensuous desire, there's the plane of pure form, the archetypal plane; and also the formless plane. In other words, many planes of being, many planes of consciousness, rising above the level of so-called 'normal' consciousness. So the Tusita devaloka, the Tusita heaven represents, we may say, one of the higher planes or states or stages of consciousness. And the story, the traditional account of the origin of the Yogacara School, may be taken to mean that the great teacher Asanga received the inspiration, if you like even the guidance, for his work from a higher plane or level of consciousness or being.

In other words, he gained the inspiration for his work, gained his insight, in the course of his own practice and experience of meditation. He drew down, as it were, something from on high in the course of his spiritual life and spiritual experience. And this is, we may say, in perfect keeping with the whole emphasis of the Yogacara School; it's certainly in keeping with the very name of the school, which as we've already seen, means simply practice of Yoga.

Lecture 42: The Depth Psychology of the Yogacara Page 4 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Now you've all heard about Yoga - nowadays the word yoga has become quite familiar, even popular. Even when you travel by underground, you can see advertisements for yoga classes, so people have got all sorts of ideas about what yoga is, but in this context at least, yoga doesn't mean physical exercises. In this context yoga means meditation. So when we say that the Yogacara is the school of the practice of Yoga, we mean primarily, that it is the school of the practice of meditation.

Now we come at his point to a very important principle, which is that one who meditates, whether a follower of the Yogacara School or any other, sees things, looks out upon the world, in a way very different from one who does not meditate. At this point in the lecture, this is the first thing that we have to realise, otherwise we shan't understand very well what follows.

One who meditates sees the world very differently from one who does not meditate.

Now the ancient Indian Yogacarins meditated. That is to say, they attained, or they realised or they experienced higher states or stages of consciousness above and beyond the states, the stages, the functions of the ordinary conscious mind. They experienced states and stages are very much nearer to Reality than those which we usually or normally experience. Not only attained to them, not only, as it were, touched them, but as it were dwelt in them, abode in them, even lived and moved and had their being in those higher levels, higher planes, and not on this lower plane where we have our life, where we live and move and have our being.

It's only natural therefore that these Yogacarins, these practitioners of Yoga, of meditation, these experiencers of higher states of consciousness, should have seen things very differently from other people. They saw them truly, saw them as they were in Reality, and they formulated what they saw, they formulated their vision or their experience in terms of what we, using a quite different type of terminology, can only describe as the Yogacara philosophy.

We use this word philosophy, but it certainly isn't philosophy in the modern academic western sense of the term.

I remember in this connection a little incident which occurred a couple of years ago when not long after my return from India, where I spent some twenty years, I paid a visit to Oxford in order to give a lecture. Before the lecture I was having a talk with that very eminent scholar, Dr Conze, whom I've already mentioned as the translator of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. And Dr Conze was then living in Oxford - he was in fact giving lectures there; he wasn't quite a full professor - Oxford has got all sorts of strange things about those who are full professors and those who are not and so on, but anyway he was living there and giving lectures, and in the course of conversation, knowing his great reputation, his great knowledge of Indian thought and Buddhist philosophy, I said "Well, surely in Oxford there must be a tremendous interest in Oriental philosophy, especially since you are here." So he smiled a very bitter smile and he said "Interested in oriental philosophy? In Oxford? Good heavens, no. They're not even interested in western philosophy here." And then he said with his usual very scathing expression, "All they're interested in here is linguistic analysis!" So I tell this little story just in passing just to indicate, just to illustrate the fact that although I use this term philosophy, it's not philosophy in the modern western academic sense, certainly not philosophy in the sense of linguistic analysis and so on.

The Yogacara philosophy, like any other form of Buddhist philosophy, even the Abhidharma, attempts to describe, attempts to explain, attempts to formulate what is essentially a spiritual experience.

Now in the case of the Yogacarins, what was the nature of this experience? What was it that the Yogacarins saw in their meditation? We can put this very simply. The Yogacarins themselves have done so.

What they saw in these higher states of consciousness, in their meditation, was that nothing existed but mind: that all things were, in reality, mind, and that mind was all things.

This is what they saw, what ...

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