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SELF AND CONSCIOUSNESS Indian Interpretations

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Aspects of Sunyata and Consciousness in Mahayana Buddhism

Michael von Bruck*


1. Introduction


The Buddha's original teaching was not the philosophical discourse but spiritual instruction. The first sermon at Sarnath does not contain any theory of consciousness. However, the underlying assumption for the Four noble truths is the theory of karman. The different schools of thought in India have come up with modified interpretations concerning karman, but it is uncertain whether the Buddha himself knew of philosophical subtleties which were implied in this concept. His wa s an analysis of suffering, and this analysis wa s based on a unique spiritual experience.

It is an other question to analyze whether the anattadoctrine does necessarily belong to the earliest stock of Buddhist interpretation or not. We do not have sufficient historical evidence on earliest Buddhism, and therefore the question can be answered only by inference. 1

Whatever the answer might be, it is obvious that the whole argument concerning the Four noble truths rests on the assumption


of some theory of reincarnation. The basic contradiction in all later Buddhist thought - whether the Buddha was already aware of it or not-is anatta on the one side and rebirth on the other side. 2

It is-depending on the way how anatta is understood-a possible contradiction which is the driving force behind the development of an understanding of vijnäna (consciousness) which can be understood as the meta-theory which is to resolve precisely this contradiction on the grounds of a more comprehensive framework comprising both the attaj artaifa-dilemma and the reincarnational view. Thus, the theory of consciousness is to comprise this contradiction on a higher level, and this is precisely the attempt of philosophical reasoning in Mahäyäna-Buddhism, both in Mädhyamika and Vijnanävada thought.

In Indian philosophies we can roughly distinguish two different perceptions of "soul " or "self" which seem to be prevalent from the very beginning as structuraiizing factors concerning the later psychological or metaphysical developments, including Buddhism. 3 1. There is a notion of "self" which is pure awareness or pure consciousness, it is a factor of knowing and luminosity without any limiting adjunct or specific content, absolutely transcendental to any real perception; it is static and beyond change. This is what the Upanisads refer to and is later the basis for Vedäntic philosophy, but it is also the respective principle in Samkhya.

2. There is a notion of "self " which has or is always a specific content, it is shaped and bears the marks of 2 . Thi s problem wa s seen already in earlier Buddhology in the West, cp . E. Wolff, Zur Lehre vom Bewußtsein (Vijnänavada ) bei den späteren Buddhisten. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung de s Lankävatärasatra, Winter (Heidelberg), 1930,

3. Pratap Chandra , Metaphysic s of Perpetual Change . The Concept of Self in Earl y Buddhism , Somaiy a (Bombay-Ne w Delhi), 1978 , p. 190f.


SELF AND CONSCIOUSNESS


individuality. It is an entity which is the very focus of individuality; it is and remains distinct from other similar entities and therefore calls for realistic pluralism in any philosophical analysis. This is obviously the basic intuition in Jainism, but also of influence to Hindu and Buddhist schools of thought.

The Buddhist concept of consciousness (v/'nnäna/v//näna) seems to be a concept which is trying to combine the two in so far as it is beyond the ordinary conceptual factors in being a mere capacity which depends on other factors such as the senses and sense-objects on the one hand, and a principle of continuity in change which accounts for the perpetuation of the karmic chain leading into the next rebirth, 1. e. taking on the function of the jiva of the Jains , on the other hand. Already in early Buddhism we have the important function of this vihnäna mentioned in many Suttas, and in later Mahäyäna developments - not only in the VijnänavadaSchool-it developed into a kind of ultimate principle in general, but here always understood in relation to the basic experience of sünyatä as a non-dualistic and radicalized interpretation of the early concept of anicca and anatta in their mutual relationship.

The following explanations are an attempt to rise a few points for observation concerning the basic Buddhist view.


2 . Earl y Developmenta


The most distinct feature of Buddhism with regard to other Indian philosophical schools at that time is certainly the anatta-aooXxme as stated in Samyutta-Nikäya III, 132 : sabbe dhammä aniccä dukkhä anatta, whic h means that all formations are impermanent, miserable and without "self". A few questions arise already with regard to this classical formula. First of all it has to be understood that obviously the conclusion: impermanence is suffering, was not at all questioned.

ASPECTS OF SUNYATA AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Why not? If w e look into the earlier Vedic tradition we cannot take such a view for granted, and even in the Upanisads there is an implicit and explicit argument for the devaluation of what later was called the vyävahärika: the bra hman-ätman-xeaWty was much more splendid than what the senses could grasp, ordinary reality being a mere shadow of what really is. This argument does not work for the Buddhist view, because nothing else than the skandhas have real being. Samyutta-Nikäya

II, 53 just declares: yad aniccam tarn dukkham.

There is a reason for this implicit link, and the reason is precisely implied in the topic of this paper. The link between anicca and dukkha lies in the nature of consciousness and in the perception of sünyata, which became a key concept much later, of course, but which is the implicit experience already in earliest Buddhism that allows for the unquestioned relationship between anicca and dukkha. But this we shall develop later. Is there a kind of permanent principle in the human person or not? Concerning this question Buddhologists are as divided as the Buddhists themselves, and the whole history of the 18 schools of early Buddhism is a commentary on this unresolved problem.

Not only the Pudgalavädins tried to introduce a principle of continuity, but the Sauträntikas even argued that it were the skandhas which transmigrated from one life to the other. They postulated the seeds of goodness which wa s some kind of incorruptible nature of Man which is the basis for that which attains Nirvana. The Yogäcärins worked this out into a theory of undestructible dharmas which are seeds in the continuous stream and so on. We could go on, but as Edward Conze says: "Thes e 'pseudo-selves' are not easy to study, partly because there is little precise information, and partly because the concepts themselves are distinctly indefinite. 4

With regard to Western and also recent Eastern scholarship and reception of Buddhism it is interesting to see how different ideological interests have influenced the reading (and misreading) of texts, from Schopenhauer to Rhys Davids in controversy with Kern and Stcherbatsky, or Georg Grimm versus Heinrich von Glasenapp. 5 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy tried to prove that the Buddha and Sankara said the same, the Enlightened one only via negativa, the preceptor of Vedänta via eminentiae.6

Those comparisons, I dare to suggest, are not very useful, because firstly they project later Vedäntic developments - there is a gap of more than thousand years between the Buddha and Sankara and considerable Buddhist influence on his Advaita Vedänta - onto earlier history, and secondly the terms for "consciousness" , "self", "person" etc. are used in an uncritical way mostly reflecting the conscious or unconscious philosophy of the interpreter than being founded on a careful analysis. Today there is a tendency to assume that the Buddha did not deny a "self" in the more comprehensive and totally transcendend sense, though he definitly negated the empirical "I " as the centre of attachment. 7

For Western Buddhists this is the articulus statis et cadentis ecclesiae as an interesting controversy in the Journal "Yana " of the "Altbuddhistische Gemeinde" in Germany (Vol.4, 1951), and also the disputed position of Christmas Humphreys8 show.

Let us highlight some of the developments in early Buddhism. The basic insight of the Buddha is that all is universal flux, and there is nothing else. The theory of the five 5. Pratap Chandra , op. cit., p. 112ff. 6. Cp . L. de Silva , The Problem of Self in Buddhism and Christianity, The Study Centre (Colombo), 1975 , p. 55f.

7. H. Nakamura, Die Grundlehren des Buddhismus , ihre Wurzeln in Geschi ­ chte und Tradition, in: Buddhismus der Gegenwart (ed. by ?. Dumoulin), Herder (Freiburg), 1970 , pp. 18ff.; se e also M. Shimizu, Da s "Selbst " im MahäVäna-Buddhismus in Japanische r Sicht und die "Person " im Christentum im Licht des Neuen Testaments , Brill (Leiden), 1981, p. ; 15 .

khandhasjskandhas wants to bring out precisely this point. They are combinations which decay as soon as they have synthesized. The aggregates, however, are. And the flux is. Thus, we have a realistic pluralism concerning the aggregates9 , and we have an unchanging formative principle with regard to the flux. All the different Buddhist schools took this as a basis to avoid both tho extremes, nihilism or better total negationalism (uccedavada) as well asetcrnalism with regard to a "substantial soul " (sassatavada). The argument against atta has had always an analytical and an ethical dimension.

But this is not all. There are sufficient scriptural passages which hint to something as coordinator of the karmic impressions, though this is definitely not an independent self. To give just a few examples I will come up with the famous story from the Bhärahära-Sutta in the Samyutta-Nikäya, III. 1 0

The Buddha compares to human being with an entity bearing a burden (bharam) which is the combination of the different factors of grasping. Yet, there is a bearer of the burden (bhäraharam) apart from the five aggregates, and this is a kind of "person" (puggalo) with a specific name and a distinguishable family-background. The three cravings are taking hold of the burden (bhärädänam)t and the end of craving is the act of laying down the burden (bhäranikkhepan). It is obvious that the Buddha describes the spiritual path to liberation, and there is a subject on that path. There are other "self-passages" in the Dhammapada (\ 60, 380,), the Mahäparinibbäna-Sutta etc.

There is a moral transcendence of the "sel f of a person who has attained liberation, a "higher sel f which is beyond samsaric bondage, searched for by Mara, the enemy and temptator, and for him impossible to reach.


9. Th . Stcherbatsky, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana, MotilaJ Banarsidas s (Delhi), 1978 , II, p. 55 . 10. Cp . the history of interpretation of this text in Pratap Chandra , op. cit. ,


Maybe more interesting is an other evidence because a good amount of probability is there that w e touch on historical ground of the earliest Buddhist community: the question of suicide of a liberated being, an arahat. There wa s no question that suicide cannot bring any gain, because it is only the body which could be killed. The karmic imprints (sankhäralsamskära) would remain, and more, by committing suicide one would only add two problems: a) an other and new violent act would only result in further karmic consequences, and b) a good opportunity of Dhamma-practice in this precious human birth would be wasted. But what about an arahat who had burnt up all Karma so that nothing could travel into the next reincarnation? Samyutta-Nikäya I, 120f. (Märasamyutta 23) and

(Khandhasamyutta 87) reports the strange story that Mära, the personification of karmic hindrances and obstruction, moves around in a smoky cloud in order to search for the "soul " or the rebirth-consciousness of an arahant who had committed suicide. Naturally Mära failed to find anything, because that being was already liberated and no "karmic stuff" could be around. Yet, what the story shows is that early Buddhism obviously did not deny a certain kind of "coherent substance' ' which after death - i.e. independent of the aggregates - wa s left behind. Needless to say that the Buddha himself would never have indulged to answer the possible question what this coherent entity would be. Rather unusual (and therefore with some historical backaground?) is also the story in the Mahäparinirväna-Sütra


which recollects the "treaty" between Buddha and Mara. Buddha had attained enlightenment, and Mära wanted to persuade him to enter Nirvana immediately in order to prevent 12. E. Waldschmidt, Da s Mahäparinirvänasütra. Text in Sanskrit und Tibetisch , verglichen mit dem PßW nebst einer Übersetzung der chinesische n Entsprechung im Vinay a der Mülasarvästivädins , Abhandlunge n der Deutsc - t . hen;Akactemie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Klass e für Sprachen , Litera ­ tur und Kunst Jg . 1950, 2, Akademie-Verlag (Berlin), 1951 , p. 209ff.


other beings from becoming enlightened, i.e. freed from Mära's own power and influence. The Buddha had refused but offered to enter Nirvana as soon as the teaching had spread sufficiently and the Samgha be established firmly. Now at the end of his life in Vaisäli Mära returns and asks the Buddha: parinirvähi bhagavan Parinirvönasamayah sugatasya, it is time, Nirvana is there, may the Exalted One please enter into Parinirväna. Again, this refers to a kind of

continuous principle which Mära has control of if it is not liberated or transferred into an other level of existence. The motive of the "pact with the devil" is old and appears here and there in the history of religions, and Buddhism is by no means an exception. The unusual story (including Ananda's failure to change the mind of the Buddha to stay on), however, would not have entered the canon if it would not have had a strong support in the belief-system of early Buddhists. But what then is this "entity" leaving the body after death and entering a new body or Nirvana? Buddhism compares it to the flame, which in the second case is blown out. Western scholarship has often interpreted this comparison as extinguishing the existence of this "entity". But this is wrong. 1 3

In Majjhima-Nikäya (I, 487ff.) it is one Vacchagotta who asks the Buddha about the destiny of an Enlightened One after death. The Buddha asks the counter-question: What happens to the flame when a lamp is blown out? It is a good question, because the flame is energy which returns into a status of potentiality or

a more subtle realm of reality. This is by no means a specific Buddhist interpretation, but common Indian understanding of reality. Even in Vedanta it is not a gross "substance" which travels from one life to the next, but an energy. It is not the gross form of life, but the flame of life, i.e. reality (energy) on a more subtel level of reality which is passed on, as Muncjaka

Further, on the basis of the Milindapanha the theory of bhavanga was developed which found its way into the Abhidamma and was taken over by Buddhaghosa. This wa s conceived of as a causal factor of existence, some "life-continuum" 1 4 between two rebirths, and this wa s later developed into a kind of stream-of-being-theory by Anuruddha (12th century A.D.). 1 5

Hence, asking for "self" and "person" in early Buddhism we have to be aware that for them reality has many levels. There are subtle realms which present an entity as "something", but not as an independently existing reality as it is the case in the manifestation of latent energetic processes. Therefore, the Buddha's majjhimä patipadä (middle path) might not just indicate the inexpressibility of reality, but could be something like complementarity in present day

understanding of reality. We could go on in arguing that the world view of early Buddhism is more intelligible-neither "soul " nor "not-soul" - than often admitted. The Sauträntikas developed their samtänadoctrine of continuity not without reason. Here, the vasanas are imprints into the continuum of consciousnes s which form structures, and this is the basis for later Yogäcära developments. 1 6

Instead of mere contact (sparsa) it is now coordination (särüpya), i.e. a structuralized relationship, which accounts for perception. The Sammitiyas certainly speak of some independence of a "person" , and it is no doubt that the Pudgalavädins had been a strong school of thought at least right into the 7th century A.D., especially in the Northwest, 1 7 which would have been impossible if they could be simply accused of blatant heterodoxy (which of course wa s the charge of other schools which finally survived) and the question of "self" and "no-self " could be easily answered on the basis of the canon.


14. E. Conze, op. cit., p. 132 . 15. de Silva , op. cit., p. 48 . 16. E.Wolff, op. cit., p. 17ff. 17. N. Dutt, Mafiäyäna Buddhism, Motiial Banarsidas s (Delhi) , 19


N ow w e come to the crucial point. One of the central teachings of all Buddhist schools (though differently interpreted, of course) is paticcasamuppädajPratityasamutpäda, the interdependent origination. Tw o links in the chain are of interest here: consciousness (vinnäna/v/'/näna) and individuality (namarüpa).

What is this consciousness? ,

It is obvious that both sankharas and vinnäna are the factors carrying on in the chain of rebirths. The sankharas are basically mental factors determining a person's characterAnguttara-Nikäya II, 157f. equates sankhära and sancetanä which is the motivation or prefiguration of a determinate or intentional action. This leads right into a specific Buddhist understanding of the relationship between volition and action which is distinct from the Jain view of karman as a kind of material stuff.

For the Buddhists action is basically a result of a mental process (cetana) which directs the other aggregates. Therefore, vinnäna is not just one among the other aggregates, but it can control their flux on the basis of karmic conditions and is therefore the centre for freedom which is necessary for the whole Buddhist path and finally liberation. A s it is stated at the beginning of the Dhammapada: manopubbangama dharnma, ail is directed by the mind. Indeed, already

in early Buddhism vinnäna khandha has a distinct function which in other schools of thought are attributed to some kind of self or person. This is supported by a look into Rhys Davids Pali-English Dictionary where the whole spectrum of the term is quite clear; vinnäna is linked to five different sets of meanings: it

is one of the aggregates (khandha), it is listed as an element (dhätu), it is one of the links in paticcasamuppada, it is a kind of sustenance (ähära) and finally refers to a body (käya). There seem to be two general concepts behind it, one would be vinnäria as an empirical consciousness which depends on sensations, the 1 8 . Pratap Chandra , op. pit., pp. 188ff.

sense-organ and the sense-object, the other being a distinct and individuated vinnäna which is something like a subtle body.

The first is the generally accepted basis for Buddhist epistemology and theory of perception, as it is stated concisely in Majjhima-Nikäya III, 281: cakkhun capaticca rüpe ca uppajjati cakkhuvinhänam tinnam sangati phasso, based on the eye and connected with an object for seeing an eye-consciousness arises, the coincidence of the three is perception. Likewise with regard to the other senses so that we have six senseconsciousnesses, including manovinnäna which,

according to Majjhima-Nikäya 1, 295, coordinates the others in such a way that it allows for a multi-sensual perception. Otherwise we would perceive different worlds of forms, sounds etc. without being able to link them. Thus, whereas the consciousnesses connected with the senses are basically passive in relying on the sense-organ as directing agent, manovinnäna is an active coordinator which we could call "subjectivity" in a certain sense, there is even a tendency to substitute it for a "self". 1 9

This has often been overlooked and requires explanation-what does this subjectivity imply for our interpretation of anatta? The second concept, vinnäna as an individuated subtle body, has to do with the karmic interconnection between two births. It is said that vinnäna descends into the womb right at the moment of physical copulation between the parents. In the Mahanidana Sutta of Digha-Nikäya II, 63 the descent (okkamissatha) of vinnäna is a precondition for the next link in the chain of interdependent origination which is nämarüpa. It is näma-rüpa which provides a "foothold" 2 0 for 19. An analysi s of related texts in given by Perez-Remon, op.cit. , p. 61 , 69 ,

2 0 . Pratap Chandra, op. cit., 192 . However, his generalizing statement: "Wha t jiva does in Jainis m for the perpetuation of personality , vinnäna does in early Buddhism. " (p. 191), is an oversimplification.

vinnäqa, and based on the elements there is descent into the womb (gabbhassavakkanti), Anguttara-Nikaya 1,176. What is interesting is the difference between näma which is the function of mental factors in a personality related to and depending on all the other aggregates, and vinnäna, which, being a precondition in the chain, must be beyond it. Would it be possible to take vinnäna as a kind of dependent factor of a different order of subtlety? It is, after all, not only

Karma which transmigrates, but maybe this vinnana which is certainly not an entity of independent nature but a function or capacity, maybe an all-pervading latent energy, which comes to actualization under certain conditions and in dependence on other factors as is seen both in the theory of perception and in the theory of descent. This would also give a coherent interpretation to the stories of suicide of an arahant where a "subtle field" is being searched for.

No doubt, vinnäna is not an independent self, it is empty (sünya) with regard to substantial self-nature (svabhäva). It is a structuralizing potentiality which forms and is being formed in the process of becoming and decaying. Therefore, it is able to "carry" karmic seeds so that it can account for the necessary continuity in the chain of rebirths. Since it is not a static self, but a self related to all other factors, the question whether it is distinct in each individuality would be an abstraction.

But these are the problems discussed in the philosophical circles which later formed a kind of new paradigm in Buddhist history: Mahäyana. The philosophical developments are by no means the only and most important factors accounting for the emergence of Mahäyana. Social factors, cultural-religious influences, especially the emergence of bhakti-movements all over India which influenced Brahmanical culture (Bhagavad-Gitä) and Buddhism (Lotos-Sütra) simultaneously and partly with the same effects, the necessity to bridge laity and monks, financial developments in connection with the Stüpa-worship etc.

are other points.

What I wanted to show is that developments in Mahäyäna, as for instance the concept of sünyata (emptiness) in Mädhyamika and the notion of älaya-vijnäna (store-consciousness) in Vijnänaväda are consequences and logical conclusions on the basis of early Buddhist views and interpretations.

3. Aspect s in Mahayana


Early Buddhism taught selflessness with regard to the person on the basis of the intuition of anicca, but concerning the outside world, i.e. khandhas and dhötus, they held a realistic pluralism. These aggregates or elements did exist, though in a specific sequence of time which wa s accountable for uninterrupted new formation. Thus we have a realistic momentariness. It is my impression that the fundamental paradigm shift between early Buddhism and Mahayana - taking place already in certain schools such as the Mahäsamghikas - is the refutation of this realistic pluralism, not any theory of soul or not-soul I The

Prajfiäpäramitä literature, based on the cultural developments mentioned at the end of the last section and a new and deeper, to my mind also more consisting, interpretation of what w a s experienced in trans-rational meditative states, this literature interprets the Buddhist path to realization or liberation from an entirely transrational point of view. The key term is sünyata, which is actually more a programme or a matrix of a specific symbolic interpretation of reality

(or reality as symbol) than a philosophical term with a definite or even definable meaning. This became the corner-stone for all Mahayana philosophy, both Mädhyamika and Yogäcära. The meaning of sünyata over against the earlier and more limited anatta is simply that there is no limited entity which would be characterized by svabhäva whatsoever. There is no objective reality which is distinguished by any marks giving it an absolute identity, and in that sense (and only as such!) there is universal unreality or emptiness.

To realize this truth is supreme enlightenment because it frees from any possible attachment - there is not anything to be attached to. The one attached and the thing being attached to are no objective realities or distinct entities, and therefore the process of attachment reveals its true nature: it is empty. This lack of inherent existence (n/Jjsvabhäva) is the core of sünyatä, or expressed with regard to early Buddhist philosophy, there is not only pudgalanairatmya but, much more comprehensive and consequent, dharmanairätmya. This, once more, is the great and new insight of Mahäyana. It sheds a completely new light on the

process of liberation and its social implications, thus paving the way for a bodhisattvayäna based on the teaching of tathägatagarbha which would be impossible without the comprehensive matrix of sünyatä. It sheds new light on the understanding of reality as such, including, of course, understanding of consciousness. And this is the only point which interests us here, though we will realize that it is the fundamental point, because this new understanding of consciousness is the framework in which all the other questions are being resolved. Before I will discuss only some points I will, however, try to give a brief survey on the different schools with regard to our topic. 2 2

For all schools there is no dispute that sünyatä does not mean that nothing exists. Rather, sünyatä, though being without quality, means, that all, what is, exists because of a cause (different from itself in Präsangika-Mädhyamika) in and relation to other things and causes. Any phenomenon has actually no real Origin but is empty. Präsangika-Mädhyamika adds, that

2 2 . Base d on Th . Stcherbatsky , Buddhist Logic Vol . I-II, Dover (Ne w York), 1962 ; T.R . V . Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism , Unwin Pb. (London), 1980 ; N. Datt, op. cit , esp . pp. 178ff.; The XIV. Dalai Lama , Universal Responsibility and the Good Heart, Library of Tibetan Works & Archive s (Dharamsala) , 1981 , pp. 97ff. Se e als o M. Schott, Sein al s Bewußtsein. Ein Beitrag zur Mahäyäna-Philosophie , Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismu s H. 20 , Winter (Heidelberg) 1935 , pp. 16ff.


things are only nominally imputed by consciousness, i.e. they are not self-existent as they appear to be. But this does not mean that things do not exist.

The Self does not exist in the ordinary sense. What actually is positively accepted is different in various schools. Yogäcära has two explanations. The self is not explained in relation to the aggregates, i.e. the form of a body etc., but only on the basis of consciousness. Now there are two views: one is to count

eight consciousnesses (five sense-consciousnesses, mental consciousness, a negative" or linking consciousness (manas)23 and the fundamental consciousness 'älayavijnäna-), and this fundamental consciousness has the function of self or I; the other (earlier) view has only six levels of consciousness, and here the sixth one is that which exists as "I".

Mädhyamika also has two sub-schools : Svätantrika-Mädhyamika and Präsangika-Mädhyamika. In Svätantrika there again are two views (Yogäcära-Svätantrika-Mädhyamika and Sauträntika-Svätantrika-Mädhyamika), and both accept the sixth level of consciousness as a "self" independent of body and the other consciousnesses. The argument, of course, is, that body and the consciousnesses depending on the senses perish at death, so it must be something else what is responsible for the karmic chain. Präsangika-Mädhyamika, however, holds that all phenomena, including different aspects or levels of consciousness, exist in mutual dependence. The "self", too, exists only in dependence both of the physical aggregates and consciousness. There fore, 'T ' is a mere designation referring to the process of connection between body and consciousness. Consciousness and "self", therefore, are not identical.


a) Mädhyamika

I will start with Candrakkti's view of self and consciousness, because it has become the basis for later classifications and discriminations concerning mind, mental states and so on in Madhyamika, especially the Präsangika school. 2 4 Candrakirti starts from the discrimination between two different kinds of notion of self. 2 5

First, self can mean the erson or I as a conventionally existing phenomenon which is nominally imputed onto the collection of the five mental and physical aggregates. Such a self does exist only conventionally, because it cannot be found under logical analysis as Candrakirti explains by his Sevenfold Reasoning. Second, self can mean inherent existence or self-sufficient existence, and such a self does not exist at all, not even conventionally. This kind of self which does not exist at all is the object being negated when one meditates on the selflessness (sünyatä) of persons. Thus, the emptiness of a person is its lack of

inherent existence. To be a little bit more precise it is useful to distinguish eight different meanings of self in Präsangika-Mädhyamika, but all of 2 4 . Candrakirti, Catu^ataka , in: V. Bhattacarya , The Catuhsatak a of Ärva - deva , with Extracts from the Commentary of Candrakirti, The Indian Pres s (Allahabad), 1928 , pp. 831ff.; H. Tauscher, Candrakirti: Madhya - makävstärali und Madhyamakävatärabhäsya m (Kap. VI , 166-266) , Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde , H. 5: Universität Wien / 1981 ; Candrakirti , Supplement to Nägärjuna's Treatise on the Middle Way , Dharamsal a ed . For the following explanations I rely als o on J . Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness , Wisdo m Publ. (London), 1983 .

them come under the two different types which I have explained. 2 6 1. Self in terms of ? " or person (pudga/a) as that which is being nominally imputed on the five aggregates as a kind of functioning modus concerning their collective interplay. This is, says Candrakirti, how the self should be apprehended. The basis for imputation are the aggregates which are empty of inherent existence, and this is precisely what is being negated.

2. This self which is a referent object of a false conception because it appears to show inherent existence, does not have any existence at all. It is what is called inherent existence (svabhäva-siddhi) or natural existence (svalaksana-siddhi). It is a subtle concept and difficult to remove, probably, because it is the root cause for attachments.

3. This notion of self conceives a person (being imputed on the aggregates) being of different character from the aggregates, because it is in control of them and not seen as dependent on them. This, says Candrakirti, is based on a secondary intellectual reasoning once the l is imputed.

4. The self as permanent, partless and independent entity is the self referred to in other systems such as Vedänta and is negated, of course, in Präsangika-Mädhyamika.

5. The view of "mine" (atmiya) is much debated and again subdivided. It arises as false view in dependence on the collection of aggregates regarding them or their functional occurences (feelings, actions etc.) as "mine". We could say that it is a mental substructure in the person's own continuum, an imputation on imputation, which is crucial in obstructing liberation from Samsära. To quote Candrakirti who states in his "Clear Words": 2 7 "That which pertains to the self is the mine; the term


refers to one's own five aggregates. The conventionally existing self is the object of the conception of an I. The mine, the aggregates and so on, are the objects of the conception of mine. Due to the pacification, i.e. the non-arising or nonobservation of the true existence (of the I and mine) the yogi annihilates the conception of an I and the conception of mine". 6. The self as a mode of consciousness conceiving a "sel f (ätmagräha) of type 2-4 , i.e. a "self" within the "sel f having a wrong conception of reality in conceiving the same as inherently existent.

7. The self as a mode of consciousness conceiving an I in one's own continuum of consciousness which is not aware of the mechanism of imputation and is therefore wrong.

8. This conception of I and mine corresponds to a consciousness conceiving I (Nr.7).

The self being negated here is a "conceiver " which is as it were the subject of "l-and-minearising", and it appears differently than it is in reality. We see, the differentiation being made here is quite subtle, but all is an application of sünyatä with regard to the mental process conceiving I or self on different levels or stages of reasoning. In Präsangika-Mädhyamika2 8

both persons and all other phenomena are lacking inherent existence, i.e. they are sünya. The mere I, however, exists as an imputation on the five aggregates. If they do not appear, this I cannot appear. But now comes a crucial addition: The false view of an inherently existing self which does not recognize this imputation as such, can come into being only when the aggregates are conceived as truly existing. Thus, the general insight into sünyatä concerning the dharmas and skandhas is being called for ! Nevertheless, meditation on emptiness occurs always with regard to the person, because that is where clinging


and all the klesas are to be removed. Or to put it in other words: "Persons, however, also lack existence as self-sufficient or substantial entities and as permanent partless and independent selves. Phenomena other than persons are not meditated upon as being empty of these modes of existence for the simple reason that there is no innate conception of either of these two in phenomena other than persons". 2 9 On this basis we do not have to comment on Candrakirti's mode of Sevenfold Reasoning concerning selflessness in detail yet the seven steps shall be just mentioned. 3 0


He compares the aggregates with the parts of a chariot and the "self" with that what is called "chariot" but does not exist independently or apart from the parts:

1. There is no chariot which is other than its parts.

2. There is no chariot which is the same as its parts.

3. There is no chariot which inherently possesses its parts.

4. There is no chariot which inherently depends on its parts.

5. There is no chariot upon which its parts are inherently dependent.

6. There is no chariot which is the mere collection of its parts.

7. There is no chariot which is the shape of its parts. Likewise there is no self which could be found separate from the basis of designation, i.e. the aggregates. Position

6 is a refutation of the view of Svatantrik as who held that the continuum or collection of moments of the mental cons ­ ciousness would be the self which takes rebirth. Position

7 is said to be directed against non-Buddhist systems of tenets. 3 1


I do not want to go into details concerning the rationality of the Präsangika system concerning our subject but shall briefly summarize the functioning of the argumentation with regard to the understanding of consciousness, based on the explanation given by the XIV. Dalai Lama. 3 2 What actually is consciousness according to PräsangikaMädhyamika? Human beings have five sense organs, thuson the basis of the collaboration of organ, sense-consciousness

and object being perceived, as explained earlier-one can see, hear, smell, taste and touch something. Now, what happens when one meditates and cuts off mental awareness from these sensual impressions, what remains? First of all, the mind gets occupied with inner imagery, memories and so on. Once the meditator has

gone through this stage there might be still an awareness of present, past and future, but this also disappears with continuing purification of the process of consciousness. What remains now is a clear, undisturbed and non-dual mind. We shall come back to the notion of non-dual which is different in Präsangika and Yogäcära thought. Now, when this mind is investigated intoit is clear that it does not have any characteristic marks of form, location, origin and so on.

Thus, when consciousness is out of contact with an object it is empty like a vast limitless ocean. But as soon as it comes in contact with an object it gets an experience or reflection of the same, it is, as it were, shaped (passive) by the qualities of objects and reflects them (active), like a mirror, which is what it is, but reflects immediately the image put in front of it. Thus, the true nature of consciousness comprises both, getting a clear knowledge about any given object and reflecting that experience to the one who experiences the object. Now, is this vast or limitless emptiness the true 3 2 . The XIV Dalai Lama , Universal Responsibilit y and the Good Heart,

nature of consciousness? No. Because what has been said so far was an analysis of the function of consciousness only when it is related to a concrete experience. This, therefore, is an understanding of the relative nature of consciousness. There are more levels and aspects to be taken into account, however.

If you take all the attributes and aspects of consciousness you come from level to level, from mode to mode. All composed things, however, are impermanent. Since cons ­ ciousness has levels, modes etc. it is composed, therefore impermanent. This impermanence is one of the aspects of its nature.

Consciousness depends on factors like anything composed. Only on the superficial level it appears as a self-existing entity. But it is also not a mere designation, as shown above. Any moment of consciousness is depending on a former moment of consciousness. But more, it is also depending on the conditions for its arising, as explained by Candrakirti. To be not independently existing, therefore, is the true nature of consciousness, it is the ultimate nature of the self. So you have two levels: the ultimate nature of cons ­ ciousness and the knowledge of this ultimate nature of cons ­ ciousness. The first one is the basis, and the second its attribute. Consciousness or self is the basis - being not independently existing - , and all possible modes of consciousness are its

attributes. But basis and attributes are of one and the same nature: Consciousness which is not inherently existing and its nature, emptiness with regard to inherent existence, are one and the same. Emptiness penetrates everything as its true nature. If w e regard consciousness as subject and the final nature of consciousness as its object we can comprehend the ultimate nature of consciousness properly. This is thedirect experience of emptiness as direct and non-dual experience of consciousness. ASPECT S O F SÜNYAT Ä AN D CONSCIOUSNES S 125 The result is that greed, hatred and all other klesas are eradicated, because they depend on the duality of grasper and grasped.

For Candrakirti, and consequently in Präsangika-Mädhyamika, non-duality means prajiia which is free from both the extremes of the view of permanence and the view of annihilation. Thus, it is an other word for the epistemological principle of mädhyamika and not an ontological or psychological description of the nature of reality concerning the duality of matter and consciousness. This is precisely the basic point of difference between Präsangika and Yogäcära-Svätantrika-Mädhyamika but mainly between Präsangika and Yogäcära/ Cittamätra.


b) Yogäcära has bserved that three terms refer to the same reality of the deepest level of consciousness from different angles and on different historical background : 1. citta, which from the very beginning of Buddhist history of thought was related to the theory of perception and functions of the mind, 2. älayavijnäna, which is the most comprehensive psychological term in relation to the w/wäf/ra-tradition, 3. tathagata-garbha, which is a religious term referring to the possibility of liberation for everybody. Citta in a general sense refers to all possible mental processes, but in a specific sense it is

different from manas and the vijnänas of the different senses. They signify specific functions, whereas citta is the "principle of unification by which all the activities are understood as issuing from one centre". 3 5 Manas, 3 3 . Candrakirti, Supplement to Nägänuna' s Treatise on the Middle Way , quoted acc . to Wilson , op. cit., pp. 4f. note 5. 3 4 . D.T. Suzuki, Studies in the Lafikävatära Sütra, Routledge (London),

however, develops within the citta, and it has two functions, (a) it reflects (manyati) on citta and (b) makes citta see itself as object iyidiyate). During this process of differentiation within the one citta the karmic seeds {bija), stored up nowhere else than in the citta (and in this connection usually called älayavijnäna), get actualized. The Lankävatärs Sütra puts it this way: cittena ciyate karma..., Karma is accumulated by consciousness and structuralized by the analytical function of consciousness - jiiänena ca vidhiyate.36 The result is that citta gets "enveloped" by the cloud of vc7sa/?f7-formations which Suzuki

calls very appropriately "habitenergies". In early Buddhism these caittas or cetasikas were really distinct realities besides the contentless citta. In Yogäcära they are just phases in the process of consciousness which explicates the implicate complexity of the one citta. Therefore, in early Buddhism one moment of consciousness is the combination of citta and the accompanying caittas, whereas in Yogäcära one moment of consciousness is only one phase of the citta though differentiating different aspects of its own.

There are a view beautiful passages in the Lankävatära, and I quote according to Suzuki (p.256f.): "The Citta is in its original naturel pure, but the Manas and others are not and by them various karmas are accumulated, and as the result there are two sorts of impurities". (754) "On account of external defilements from the beginningless past the pure self is contaminated: it is like a soiled garment which can be cleansed". (755) "A s an unintelligent man seeks for the abode of sweet sound in the body of the lute, conch-shell, or kettle-drum, so does he look for a soul within the Skandhas" . (757) This passage makes it quite clear that the pure citta is not to be misunderstood as a kind of self or substance or individual reality besides anything else.

T he citta now becomes obscure. Hence, the citta is full of phenomena and experience of past karmic events, and all what is a possible phenomenon of experience is nowhere else than in this citta, in fact, it is citta. Even the dhätus do not exist apart from it i.e. they are empty of inherent existence, as the Latikävatära explicitely mentions in Sagäthakam 20. Cittamätra therefore means the ground of all differentiation which is beyond phenomenal reality, and that is why cittam hi sarvam, as Sagäthakam 134 has it. But when this ground (citta) evolves (pravartate), all forms come into (dependent) being.

Thus, what is stated here is a radical ontological non-dualism. All forms, energies, formative energies, subtle realities or gross matter is nothing but explication of an implicate potentiality.

This, of course, is possible only on the basis of sünyatä which can unify all different aspects and levels of reality because it allows for their mutual interpenetration. This, in turn, is not just an ontological or epistemological device, but a soteriological instrument in order to bridge not only the different worlds of samsära and nirvana, but the defiled and undefiled consciousness. 3 8

This, again, is the great insight in Mahäyana underlying all schools.

The much disputed älayavijnäna is no "self " in the sense of an inherently existing entity at all. It is precisely this ground 3 8 . Garma C. C Chang puts it very well : "It is becaus e of Sünyatä that the merging or dissolving of all dualitie s is made possible . Thi s w e have seen in the discussio n of the Not-Tw o Dharma Principle (or the Dharma - gate of non-duality) mentioned before in the Vimalakirti Sütra. Without Sünyatä , the unification of SamSära and Nirvana ,

the merging of the finite and infinity, and the interpenetration and mutual containment of all beings on ail levels woul d not be possibl e . . . without the realization of Emptiness , the infinite compassio n and altruistic deeds of a Bodhisattva are not possible . . . The wa y to Buddhahood is to do all good deeds with a spirit imbued with Thorough Emptiness , free from all attachment" . (The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, Allen & Unwin


of potentiality, depending on everything else. It is one of the vijnanas, though the most fundamental one in so far as it stores all the karmic impressions of the past. It forms, as it were, the matrix for the functioning of all the other processes of consciousness. But in the Lankävatära it is identified with the Tathögata-garbha as the original and pure nature, the suchness of reality dormant in every being. No wonder that Mahämati got confused and asked the Buddha whether this is not a permanent self, very much like the ätman. And here is the Buddha's answer: " 0 Mahämati, the doctrine of the ätman by the philosophers is

not the same as my teaching of the tathägata-garbha. For what the Tathägatas teach is emptiness (hlnyatä), limit of reality (bhütakoti), Nirvana, no-birth, noappearance, no-desire (apranihita), and such other conceptions, with which the tathägata-garbha is characterised, and by which the ignorant are saved from the occasion of cherishing a sense of fear about the Buddhist teaching of non-ego . . .". 3 9 The vijnanas depend on the älayavijnäna, and they in turn mistake phenomena for independently existing "things instead of realizing that they all are projections of different levels of citta. But when all the karmic seeds in the älaya are stilled and eradicated, emptiness appears. In other words: non-duality arises as soon as the discriminating factors within citta disappear.

This is an extremely brief attempt to characterize the nature of consciousness in Yogäcära thought, all subtleties being neglected here. I doubt that it is useful to call cittamätra a form of idealism, as Suzuki does. Why? First because of the history of Yogäcära thought. It is rather well established, that Vasubandhu in his Trimsatikä does not speak about a cosmic consciousness, but about the appearance of things in an individual consciousness, i.e. in their subjectivity {ätman) and their objectivity (dharma) both of which are only mental constructs. 4 0

Though this, of course, is different in later Yogäcära, it is the background of philosophical debate. But second with regard to fully developed Yogäcära: because of the emptiness of citta. This is consciousness in Yogäcära: an infinite continuum which has the potential of self-differentiation, but in itself, at its deepest level it is absolutely quiet and non-dual. All what happens, happens within this selfdifferentiation. But even this ground or deepest level is "nothing", it is empty of inherent existence, pure process, one could say.

What matters is not to hold a view of self or no-self. Even a "view of no-self" can become a fixed notion, a substantialized mental phenomenon, and thus turn into what Mahäyana calls "inherent existence" or self! Emptiness also must be emptied. What remains is the continuous process of emptying. This is the nature or better the adventure of consciousness, its final ground which is no-ground, of course.


4. Conclusion


I will not try a synthesis here, much less a critical examination of the question how to proceed under a crosscultural perspective. I just would like to summarize a few basic distinctions which are essential for an understanding of consciousness in the context of sünyatä in Mahäyäna-Buddhism without investigating the basic difference between PräsangikaMädhyamika and Yogäcära concerning the subtle dualism (of mind and matter) of the first one and the radical nondual citta mätra-doctrine of the second one. My attempt is to show the implications of the whole discussion for our mental training on the basis of an understanding of the different levels of consciousness as presented in Mahäyana.


1. The core of all Buddhist philosophy is the study of consciousness, because it is consciousness which is accountable for all actions, emotions and thoughts which are to be purified in order to attain liberation. Whatever consciousness is defined to be, all philosophical endeavour has this soteriological motivation.

2. Consciousness is the fundamental reality, a beginningless and endless continuum of processes. Buddhism refers to this continnum both in logical analysis and in direct meditative perception. Consciousness cannot originate from nothing nor from matter, and therefore its source is a former moment of consciousness. This is an important argument used to establish the rationality of belief in rebirth. 3. Some Sütras compare the ground of consciousness (citta) with an ocean and the different mental states or processes in consciousness (caitta) with the ripples on the surface of the ocean. In Yogäcära citta is the one reality or a universal consciousness in which all processes emerge and, after their disappearance, leave formative traces (bija) for further processes. Even in what w e

call matter this conscious principle is latent, and the development of this conscious principle towards full maturity, which is Buddhahood, is the evolutionary process in Buddhism. In Präsafigika-Mädhyamika, however, there is always an extremely subtle duality of most subtle mind (in Tibetan 'od gsal, the clear light) and most subtle matter, which is its supporting energy (präna, rlung). 4. The essential nature of consciousness is its emptiness with regard to inherent existence (sünyata), it is pure potentiality as process of its own luminosity and faculty of knowing. The most subtle level of this continuum is undestructible and lasting from birth to birth, being completely purified right into Buddhahood.


5. Consciousness is not only a store for information resulting from karmic processes, but it is the active process of knowing. Here, one differentiates between attentiveness (buddhi) and knowledge (/nana). Only by intensification and purification of consciousness attentiveness can become so undivided and knowledge so clear that the ultimate nature of consciousness can be perceived directly. The purification is essentially an eradication of the klesas which produce karmic defilments of which the most fundamental one is the false notion of a substantial self as an entity of its own (svabhava). This "self " tries to establish its

wrong identity by all sorts of clinging and therefore intensifies the illusion of its existence by further illusion, greed and hatred. What is the problem of beings, therefore, is the wrong perception of an absoluteness of differentiated or individuated reality. 6. What is perceived in the direct perception of consciousness by a purified consciousness? The ultimate emptiness of consciousness is perceived, i.e. the most subtle level of the continuum of consciousness which has no limiting determinations whatsoever. It is no substance, but pure light beyond any conceptual perception and duality. It has no beginning and no end. It is always present in all beings.


It is their ultimate nature.


7. From a theistic point of view the Buddhist philosophy of consciousness and emptiness allows a more comprehensive view of the person. What later wa s developed by EastAsian Buddhism with its doctrine of mutual interpenetration of i all phenomena (based on the Avatamsaka-Sütra) has relevance today for a unified world-view. The basic question is not self or no-self, but on a more comprehensive level: fragmentation or unity of reality.


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