Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu's Unifying Buddhist Philosophy
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The Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (fourth–fifth century C.E.) is known for his critical contribution to Buddhist Abhidharma thought, his turn to the Mahayana tradition, and his concise, influential Yogacara–Vijñanavada texts. Paving the Great Way reveals another dimension of his legacy: his integration of several seemingly incompatible intellectual and scriptural traditions, with far-ranging consequences for the development of Buddhist epistemology and the theorization of tantra.
Most scholars read Vasubandhu's texts in isolation and separate his intellectual development into distinct phases. Featuring close studies of Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosabhasya, Vyakhyayukti, Vimsatika, and Trisvabhavanirdesa, among other works, this book identifies recurrent treatments of causality and scriptural interpretation that unify distinct strands of thought under a single, coherent Buddhist philosophy. In Vasubandhu's hands, the Buddha's rejection of the self as a false construction provides a framework through which to clarify problematic philosophical issues, such as the nature of moral agency and subjectivity under a broadly causal worldview. Recognizing this continuity of purpose across Vasubandhu's diverse corpus recasts the interests of the philosopher and his truly innovative vision, which influenced Buddhist thought for a millennium and continues to resonate with today's philosophical issues. An appendix includes extensive English-language translations of the major texts discussed.
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like the bodily sense organ which meets its object, does not see it to the extent it is covered? Because it is subject to resistance. And how is something seen which has an interposition by glass, fog, veil, or water? That is not a case where, because it is subject to resistance, an eye fails to see a covered form. What is it then? The eye consciousness does arise in the case where sight has no impediment even with respect to a covered form. But where there is an impediment, it does not
well. There are some things that cannot be known. In a passage discussing the story in which there is a giant mass of meat, the size of Mount Meru, decomposing, and it changes into a mass of worms, Vasubandhu poses the question of what karmic causes could have allowed all of these beings to be born here, all at once? This is a version of the question of how to account, karmically, for the world’s population increase—a question that arises in nearly every attentive first-year Buddhism class.
entities. This argument is the focus of the next section, where we provide a summary of Vasubandhu’s tremendously influential Twenty Verses (Viṃśatika [Viṃś]). Then, once this idea is in place, we will begin to examine what is unique, and distinctive, about Vasubandhu’s approach to Yogācāra philosophy. We must understand how Vasubandhu presents the concepts of the “three natures” and, most crucially, “duality.” I will argue that Vasubandhu’s distinctive interpretation of duality is a natural
“wrong view.” The difference between the two moments can be stated plainly: duality is two things, and external objects (or mental objects) make up just one of the two things being denied. Also to be denied is internal reality, the mind itself as subject. This is easily demonstrated by looking to the concluding verses of TSN, where it is quite evident that duality, dvaya—here translated “either”—includes both mental objects and the mind itself: 36 As a result of perception of only mind,