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Major Awareness of Buddhism, Epistemology and Consciousness-only school

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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 Authors: Wang, Jian

Extract from ” Studies in World Religions, 1998, No. 3, pp.59-64“

Consciousness-only school has established the importance of contrast and integration of knowledge, which is an important achievement of human thought. Its creation is a vital link to understanding the meaning of Madhyamika. Consciousness-only school stresses that humans have to use their intelligence in determining the sense of things and under this presupposition, it highlights that this is the major role of human beings. In addition, it also discusses the main factors in the process of understanding and awareness that impact on the results, as well as employing memory as the centre of the cognitive structure. There are some similarities with modern epistemology. Not only is this providing a complete reference for the establishment of the modern theory of knowledge, but also it shows that human intelligence is shared in many ways.

Epistemology of Consciousness has played a vital role in the philosophy of Buddhism. With the purpose of emphasising the value of human existence, it is the highest achievement in the development of Buddhist epistemology, and also is the gateway of the meaning world for the purpose of attaining Nirvana. From the academic point of view, Consciousness-only school mainly indicates the Yogacara Idealistic school of Mahayana Buddhism in India and the notions of Dharmalaksana which later spread to China. Epistemology of Consciousness and Madhyamika have certain links in theory. Madhyamika incorporates epistemology in organising the theory of Knowledge System, thereby laying a theoretic route for the learning of epistemology, in the Consciousness-only school.

When summarising the past of Buddhism in the Consciousness-only school, especially those based on the notions of Madhyamika, three fundamental principles stood out, “The imagined nature”, “the dependent nature”, “the consummated nature”. The core of the three principles is “the dependent nature”. The Consciousness-only school is certain that “there is knowledge within”, not only does it correct Madhyamika’s concept of “how emptiness is incomprehensible”, but also it pushes the awareness of the Buddhist Epistemology to the heights. In the interaction process of the function and structure, Consciousness-only school expounds the two possibilities of how humans see our universe and beyond, in relation to free will.

The main idea of epistemology of Consciousness is roughly equivalent to the essence of modern epistemology. In terms of its function, the Consciousness-only school believes that the known object that links with the main known subject, and the understanding of the object does not depend on the main subject and the transfer of purely objective are different. According to the Consciousness-only school, the understanding set out in the object is constructed in the sense of the object. Consciousness-only school takes the process of understanding as a psychological, physiological, physical interaction to examine the unified process, stressing the dynamic aspects of subject knowledge to grasp and understand the known object. It contains a number of rational factors that are of modern cognitive significance, which certainly play a positive role in summarising the law of human thinking, common understanding and the development of modern epistemology.

In addition to function, the main ideas of epistemology of Consciousness are that there are “the three divisions of the eighth consciousness”, where a discourse of cognitive structure is provided. Pure consciousness, the seventh consciousness, and the other three types of knowledge can become interactive. The accumulation of experience and phenomena revealed through experience both can act as the cause and the effect. The close succession of constant circulation, accumulation in the meaning world is a great possibility of transformation into the state of nirvana. By the lead of epistemology towards the meaning world, it is stressing the main ideas of giving the person the power of the value of choice for oneself, this is a fundamental sense of orientation in Buddhist philosophy, and is also the ultimate goal of the main ideas of Consciousness-only school.

Furthermore, the similarities of the cognitive mapping of Consciousness-only school and the main structural elements in modern epistemology should be a cause for concern. Consciousness-only school places detailed analysis for understanding of occurrence at the “root”. Although there are restrictions due to the level of Ancient Natural Sciences and no evidence is provided from the physiological mechanism for understanding the occurrence, it has arrived at a speculative understanding of the main problems of the physiological functions. Consciousness-only school seventh knowledge is of all things dedicated to the world, where mental activity of “Dharma” is set up based on instinct of people’s self-survival and self-protection and others. Due to its stubbornness and greed for love, it contaminated the eighth seed, resulting in the mankind going through the eternal cycle of reincarnation and not being able to enter Nirvana. The purpose of understanding the problem of the psychological drive relating to the structure is of a religious perspective. Consciousness-only school’s eighth consciousness is the awareness of overall structure and the “fundamental knowledge” of creating awareness of the object, which speculatively involves understanding the core of the structure - the elements of knowledge, but also how seeds of the Consciousness-only school include mood, emotion and other irrational factors, which in turn may obscure the boundary of the rational side.

The main cognitive structure of the Consciousness-only school contains a number of rational factors with significant modern understanding. Although described in many ways, it is speculative, intuitive, and even ambiguous in some respects, but in order to establish a comprehensive modern theory of knowledge, it should be taken from the scientific and historical approach because any good spiritual heritage of mankind should not be ignored.