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The Yogacara Idealism

The Yogacara Idealism
Item Code: IDD401
Author: Ashok Kumar Chatterjee
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1999
ISBN: 8120803159
Pages: 253
Cover: HardCover
Other Details: 8.8" X 5.8"
weight of book 432 gms

About the Book:

In this book an attempt has been made to expound the metaphysics of the Yogacara school of Buddhism in all its aspects and bearings. Chapters are devoted to a critical and constructive discussion of its idealistic core as well as its spiritual discipline. According to Prof. T.R.V. Murti who occupied a conspicuous place in the galaxy of Indian philosophers, the author 'has utilized nearly all the sources available on the subject and has given a faithful and persuasive account of this system of thought'.

The Yogacara Idealism was acclaimed as a unique contribution to the study of Buddhism on its first publication in 1962 and subsequently in 1975. This reprint after a lapse of ten years fills the need for the new generation of students and researchers.


The Yogacara-Vijnanavada Idealism was the last great creative synthesis of Buddhism and its position in that tradition is comparable to that of the Advaita Vedanta in the orthodox Hindu tradition. It is perhaps the only original epistemological idealism to be formulated on the Indian soil. Its impact on the other systems of thought was tremendous. Even those philosophies that were completely out of line with idealism, like the Nyaya, the Mimamsa and Jainism, had to reckon with it. Considering the important role played by the Yogacara Idealism in Buddhism and in Indian philosophical and religious thought in general, it is surprising that there had been no full or reliable expositions of this philosophy. This gap in our knowledge is admirably filled by the present work of Dr. Chatterjee.

The author deals with the Yogacara-Vijnanavada in all its aspects and bearings, historically, analytically and comparatively. The first two chapters of the book show, with great clarity and sufficient detail, the origin and development of the Yogacara idealism as an outcome of those fruitful and dynamic ideas associated with the previous schools of Buddhism, especially with the Sautrantika and the Madhyamika. The originality of the Yogacara synthesis of Buddhist teachings has been clearly brought out, and the individual contribution made by the philosophers of this school, such as Asanga, Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, Dignaga, Dharmakirti and Santaraksita, has received adequate attention.

The subsequent chapters, which form the core of the work, represent a constructive and critical exposition of the Yogacara metaphysics, its idealism and absolutism as well as its spiritual discipline. Dr. Chatterjee has utilised neatly all the sources available on the subject and has given a faithful and persuasive account of this system of thought. He has not hesitated to go behind the literal meaning of the texts to extract their real significance. There is a measure of risk in such a venture, and at some places one might choose to disagree with the author’s interpretation. However, the duty of scholar is not just to reproduce literally, but to re-interpret and to re-construct his theme.

Comparison of the Yogacara with other forms of idealism and absolutism, Indian as well as European, has been undertaken in the last two chapters of the work. This serves to bring out the affinities and distinctions which are only too often blurred. These comparative studies are among the best specimens of the author’s keen analysis and lucid exposition.

I cannot help feeling that the work of Dr. Chatterjee would have gained considerably more in comprehension and authoritativeness if the Yogacara texts in Chinese and Tibetan or their translations in French had been made use of more fully. I have no manner of doubt, however, that the work of Dr. Chatterjee, even as it stands, will prove a valuable and outstanding contribution to our understanding of a very important phase of Indian thought. It is an excellent piece of philosophical writing, both with regard to the range of problems covered and the delightful manner of presentation. There is hardly any dull or un-stimulating page in a work of 230 pages.

It is a matter of personal gratification to me that the line of thought nitiated by me in dealing with the basic philosophy of Buddhism in my study of the Madhyamika system (The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1955) has been largely accepted and carried out by my student and friend, Dr. Ashok Kumar Chatterjee. His study of the Yogacara Idealism may well be considered as a sequel to my book on the Madhyamika Absolutism which together constitute the revolutionary Mahayana movement.


An attempt is here made to expound the metaphysics of the Yogacara school of Buddhism and to analyse its logical implications. It may not be rash to think that little apology is needed for making such an attempt. The expository literature on the Yogacara system is plentiful, but unfortunately, not adequate. Scholarly studies on the subject from the historical point of view are not lacking. There is hardly any work, however, which treats of the system as an original contribution to philosophy. At best, it is construed as a phase in the historical development of Buddhism. The account of the Yogacara philosophy given in the standard histories of Indian thought is necessarily all too meagre. The details cannot be discussed with sufficient fulness within the limited space in such works. Treatises devoted entirely to the exposition of Buddhism fare no better. The analysis is sometimes positively misleading. The Yogacara is described merely as idealism. For a correct appraisement of the system it is very necessary to remember that it is a form of absolutism. This is the central problem in the Yogacara philosophy-the problem of effecting a logical synthesis between idealism and absolutism. The Yogacara is wise enough to perceive that idealism, when pressed, yields an absolutism by the sheer dynamism of its own inner logic. This point needs bringing out with sufficient deductive clarity. In the existing accounts this point is not utterly lacking, but it is hardly given that attention and emphasis which it demands. The late Stcherbatsky was a notable exception which only proves the general statement.

Other constructive details also of the system have not been fully analysed. In the present essay I have simply tried to present a more or less complete picture of the system, to collect the scattered details into a coherent connected picture and to size it up, not merely as a phase of Buddhism, but rather, as an original and constructive philosophy, Completeness has been with me more an ideal than an actual achievement. I have neither the soundness of scholarship not the maturity of judgment required for this. Certain omissions are however deli-berate. The first chapter professes to be a historical introduction to the Yogacara metaphysics, but history, in its popular sense of chronology of dates and events, will not be found there. Not that such a chronological study is uninteresting or unimportant; it is simply that in a morphological analysis of any metaphysics, chronology of dates and events is absolutely beside the point. In the present essay I have attempted to show that the Yogacara philosophy is a logical elaboration of the basic epistemological pattern of Buddhism. The first chapter is a history or the gradual development of the fundamental logic of Buddhism, culminating in the Yogacara idealism. The omission of actual chronological details appeared excusable, and is deliberate.

For the same reason, minor doctrinal differences, if any, between various Yogacara acaryas, have not been discussed. I have takes Vasubandhu’s Vijnaptimatratasiddhi as the basic work on the system. Other texts are consulted only as throwing light on the problems raised in that treatise. The other omission is regarding the insufficient space devoted to the 8th and 9th chapters, dealing with the discipline and the religion of the Yogacara system. In a strictly metaphysical essay, they could very well be deleted. I have said a few words only for the sake of completeness. Here also the shifting of emphasis away from these problems appeared to be justifiable, though I do not know how far this point of view is really justified. All that I ask is to have the essay judged purely on its merits as a philosophical analysis, and not as a piece of historical survey.

As regards the plan of the essay the first two chapters are more or less historical. The first chapter discusses how the Yogacara school emerged out of the inner dynamism inherent in Buddhism from the very outset. The second chapter is devoted to the important acaryas, texts, sub-schools, and other such minor details. These two chapters are in no way integrally related, with what follows.

The third and fourth chapters analyse the epistemological basis of the system. The third is concerned with the refutation of the category of the objective, and in the fourth realistic arguments are considered from the Yogacara standpoint. The fifth chapter sets forth the elaboration of the Yogacara idealism as a constructive metaphysics, and attempts to show how consciousness, the sole reality, is actually diversified into the multi-dimensional forms of the so-called empirical world. The sixth chapter is again a concession to the ideal of completeness. It deals with the Dharma-theory, a doctrine of central interest in entire Buddhism, as adapted by the Yogacara.

The seventh chapter attempts to analyse the Yogacara metaphysics as a form of absolutism. This problem can certainly be said to represent the very heart of the system. All the other details are to be under-stood as leading upto this logical climax. To this chapter is added a section on the doctrine of Three Truths.

The last two chapters are comparative and, as such, do not materially add to the understanding of the system. They are included in order to make clear the spiritual affinities and differences between the Yogacara and other allied schools of idealism and absolutism. For this purpose, Berkeley and Hegel are selected as representing different forms of idealism, I had intended to add a section on Leibnitz too; but had to refrain from doing so because of considerations of space. A section on Gentile is added however as an appendix to that on Hegel. The Advaita Vedanta and the Madhyamika are chosen as two other definitive forms of absolutism.


preface of Second Edition
Ch.I A Historical Introduction
Ch.II The Development of the Yogacara
Ch.III Refutation of Realism
Ch.IV Some Objections Answered
Ch.V The Three Vijnanas
Ch.VI Drama Theory in the Yogacara
Ch.VII The Yogacara Conception of the Absolute
Ch.VIII The Yogacara Discipline
Ch.IX The Concept of the Tathagata
Ch.X The Yogacara and Some Other Forms of Absolution
Ch.XI The Yogacara and Some Other Forms of Idealism

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