Language, Conceptualization and Awakening: On the Paradox of Discourse in Classical Indian Yogacara

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

John Y. Cha
Gustavus Adolphus College

    1. Proem

    The following essay attempts to do two things: it seeks to analyze Indian Buddhist (Yogacara) understandings of the relation between language (doctrine) and reality (Suchness), and relate this analysis to contemporary issues. This is a tall order, one perhaps a bit too tall for a single paper. Hence, the second part is unavoidably (too) brief: the only issue broached is the difficulty and importance of comparative analysis between the proverbial "East" and "West". One the other hand, the first attempt is carried out through an analysis of Yogacara philosophy and its embeddedness in classical Indian intellectual culture (approximately 500 BCE to 500 CE). However, one consequence of the heightened state of specialization (endemic not only to academia but also to most "technologized" cultures) is that discourse is becoming increasingly narrowed; therefore, my analysis is unavoidably focused on one school of Buddhist thought whose texts were composed between the fourth and sixth centuries of the Common Era. Therefore, a large portion of this essay is of necessity technical, in some cases more suited for those who specialize in Buddhist Studies. But all is not lost, despite the extremes of generality and specialization herein. For we find in the intellectual culture of classical India an extreme form of privileging theory over practice, a conscious effort throughout the period to construct what we would call nowadays a metanarrative. And, on the basis of a close reading of their texts I conclude that Yogacara thinkers 'occasioned' modes of thought that would have seemed to subvert, if only potentially or ideally, the strict hierarchy of theory over practice. Now, it is not my contention that Yogacara thinkers consciously engaged in a type of deconstruction. However, if some layers of 'subversive occasioning' lie in texts whose times, places and situations are far removed from our own, then that is in itself good enough reason to begin digging.

    2. Introduction

  1. A fundamental assumption found in the authoritative texts of classical Indian Yogacara is the view that language and conceptualization possess certain illusion-enhancing activities that must be systematically counteracted and gradually overcome. Indeed, many Yogacara technical terms that describe the nature of reality and veridical perception—for example, ineffability (anabhilapya) and non-conceptual awareness (nirvikalpajnana)—strongly implicate linguistic and conceptual constructions in obstructing the direct comprehension of Suchness (tathata). However, contrary to this negative view of language and conceptualization is the equally important assumption that accurate doctrinal discourse and correct conceptual understanding are indispensable conditions for the eventual attainment of awakening. Indeed, that Buddhist thinkers in classical India utilized their doctrinal texts (including commentaries and sub-commentaries) for pedagogical, explanatory and soteriological ends attests to the fact that intellectual formation was an indispensable aspect of Buddhist religious practice.[1] Moreover, these doctrinal and philosophical discourses were believed to disclose a reality (Suchness) that lay beyond linguistic and conceptual construction and that this reality, in turn, was taken to be foundational in the sense that all doctrine was ultimately derivative of Suchness. For the Yogacara then, language and conceptualization were inextricably bound to this ineffable and non-conceptual reality in a circular system of metaphysical derivation and signification.

  2. In this paper I will discuss this metaphysical derivation (from reality to language) and signification (from language to reality) found in the (textually inscribed) discourse of classical Indian Yogacara. I will begin with an (all too brief) analysis of the embeddedness of Yogacara doctrine in the intellectual culture of classical India, focusing on the literary genre of sastra. Next, I analyze the contents (philosophical strategies) of select Yogacara texts--specifically those concerned with ontology and epistemology. It is here that we will detect reversals of some fundamental notions found in classical Indian/Buddhist theory. It is these reversals, I will argue, that disclose 1) an "ontological paradox", namely, that absence discloses presence, and 2) a linguistically dependent ontology. I will conclude this paper with some general remarks about the relevance of our analysis of the above ontological paradox/dependency to contemporary postmodern issues. What I want to suggest in a preliminary way is that the implicit an-archic[2] themes found in Yogacara thought have their parallels with some issues in postmodern discourse.

  3. 3. The Shastric Context of Buddhist Discourse

  4. Before discussing the specifics of Yogacara doctrine, it is important to contextualize these doctrinal/philosophical treatises within the larger intellectual culture of classical India. Buddhist treatises of the kind I discuss here can be classified under the broad genre category of sastra.[3] Like other central concepts of Indian intellectual history, sastra is a polyvalent term; among other definitions it includes the notion of philosophical treatise. A discussion of the historical development and variety of definitions of the term sastra is beyond the scope of this paper. What is important for my purposes here is the fact that, "Theory in the classical Indian formulation is held necessarily to precede any practical instantiation."[4] This means that all efficacious activity (for classical India this includes all cultural practices), be it in the realm of religion, politics, sexual/aesthetic practices, etc., is by definition preceded by and grounded in codified rules and systematic treatises called "sastra." Moreover, the authority of sastra is founded in its transcendent origins; for example, Indian mythology traces the composition of various sastric discourses to the spiritual plane, their authorship being attributed to various gods like Brahma.[5] Sheldon Pollock summarizes:

  5. Cultural knowledge is transcendent in origin, and its authority is therefore unimpeachable. Since this knowledge is always already revealed to human beings via sastra their mastery of the practices inscribed therein is a function of conformity to the preexistent paradigm. Thus the process of amelioration conceived of as "progress" in the post- Enlightenment West is here instead "regression" to the normative divine model; what is there viewed as "discovery" is here in essence nothing but recovery.[6]
  6. Generally speaking, Buddhist doctrinal texts in classical India were embedded in the larger cultural view of sastric primacy, hence sharing many fundamental assumptions with pan- Indian intellectual practice. Like their non-Buddhist counterparts, Buddhist sastras too, find their authority in transcendent origins. As mentioned above, soteriologically efficacious activity is possible only through mastery of and conformity to these authoritative treatises. This indicates a discursive mediation (i.e., doctrine) between the state of an ordinary person (ignorance)—traditionally defined as a condition where a person's consciousness is polluted by the two-fold defilement of emotional and cognitive obscurations (klesa-jneya-avarana)—and the state of an awakened one, whose consciousness is purified of these two kinds of obscurations. Furthermore, mastery and conformity (via gradated practices) guarantee the eventual attainment of awakening (possibly over many lifetimes) precisely because these Buddhist sastras ultimately originate from that reality toward which the practitioner is oriented. The required placement of a doctrinally authoritative text(s) between ignorance and awakening in the process of spiritual practice implies another mediating structure; namely, an embodied locus for awakening (a Buddha or an advanced bodhisattva) between language (doctrinal discourse) and reality (Suchness). Again, reflecting the larger cultural assumptions regarding sastric discourse, the authority vested in these doctrinal texts rests upon the spiritual attainment of a text's author. In other words, just like sastra, Buddhist doctrine ultimately finds its origin and legitimation in a transcendent reality, though via a person of spiritual status.[7]

  7. 4.0. Yogacara: Text/Ontology

  8. The clarification of the cultural context of Indian Buddhist discourse, namely the primacy of theory (sastra) over practice (prayoga) sheds light on some general aspects of the relation between language and awakening in Yogacara thought. However, a closer look at Yogacara philosophical discourse reveals some paradoxes in the language/reality relation. Specifically, the concepts of transcendence and immanence as they pertain to ontological and epistemological notions in the texts under consideration reverse commonly held ideas both in the pan-Indian intellectual context as well as Western thought in general. Moreover, the discursive strategies employed in the Yogacara texts—specifically, "navigating" the middle path—disclose another paradox in the relation between language and Suchness; namely, a kind of linguistically, or textually, dependent ontology. The aspects of discursive mediation and embodied locus discussed above provide a conceptual space for clarifying specific Yogacara interpretations of the pan-Indian understanding of the language/reality relation.

  9. The philosophical content of the texts under consideration involves questions concerning the ontological and epistemological relations between linguistic/conceptual constructions and their non- or pre-constructed foundation. Contrary to some previous analyses of the Yogacara notion of reality, this analysis does not entail the mere clarification of some metaphysical source for these illusion-enhancing activities.[8] Rather, it proceeds with an investigation of the intersection, or more accurately, the 'mutual inherency' of the epistemological and ontological realms and takes into account both the general strategy of philosophizing employed by Yogacara intellectuals and the resulting ontological paradox of their thought; namely, that absence discloses presence. What this paradox entails will unfold throughout my investigation. Here I begin with a (brief) discussion of epistemology—in this context defined primarily in terms of illusion construction—and ontology—defined in foundational terms with respect to language and conceptualization.

  10. 4.1. Reversals: Immanence/Transcendence

  11. Issues concerning ontology and epistemology in the Yogacara context revolve around the question of the ontological status of both consciousness (vijnana) and the objects of consciousness (vijneya). Yogacara intellectuals describe three possible answers to the question, "what, if anything, exists?" 1) the objects of consciousness, like consciousness itself, exist as independent realities; 2) consciousness and the objects of consciousness are merely conventional designations and therefore are non-existent; 3) the objects of consciousness do not exist, but consciousness does. Of these three possibilities, the Yogacara argue for the third, that consciousness is the sole existence.[9] Before discussing the specific Yogacara arguments for this view a brief discussion of the epistemological and ontological spheres is in order.

  12. Conventionally understood[10], the epistemological realm is characterized by immanence, an horizon of "interiority" within which phenomena are perceived. Questions about this sphere are concerned with the process of cognition and, possibly, the transcendental role that language and conceptualization play in this process. The ontological realm, on the other hand, is characterized by transcendence, an horizon of exteriority, where (if one were to adopt a stance of naïve realism) those entities the appearances of which we perceive in the immanent sphere, actually exist. Questions, for example, about the existence or non-existence of entities are questions about their transcendent or ontological status. Of course, at some level, the spheres of immanence and transcendence must overlap, for any discussion about cognition requires a consideration of the ways in which "external" reality affects cognition (or, on the other hand, how perception occurs without mind-independent entities). In the same manner, philosophical discussions of "external" reality must consider the role of conceptualization and language in the presentation of that external reality to us.

  13. As presently conceived, however, there is a chasm between the spheres of immanence and transcendence which gives rise to the problem of validation; that is, how does one know whether or not one's perception "in here" corresponds to reality "out there"? If the conventional understanding of epistemology and ontology and their corresponding spheres of immanence and transcendence as presented above are accepted, then one of two alternatives must be taken. Either one maintains that we are locked in immanence, that the way we see the world is determined by cognitive and linguistic structures; or one asserts that the way we perceive the world is actually the way the world is. Both stances, however, are unsatisfactory. The first alternative that maintains the primacy of immanence is ultimately nihilistic. In the context of language, for instance, this view would hold that all discourse is inter-linguistic; that is, all discourse is ultimately about discourse (words only refer to other words) with no grounding in a non-discursive, non-linguistic reality. In the same vein, all cognition would be "inter-mental"; that is, all cognition is cognition of mentally constructed objects within a transcendental sphere with no recourse to a transcendent ground. Therefore the world as we know it actually would be a textual, linguistic and conceptual horizon cut off from any transcendent field. On the other hand, the second alternative that maintains the primacy of transcendence assumes the existence of extra-linguistic and extra-mental realities, thus falling prey to a kind of naïve realism. This naivete turns a blind eye to important considerations of the possible transcendental operations inherent in cognition and/or influenced by language, dogmatically maintaining that how we see the world is how the world really is.

  14. At first glance the Yogacara seem to adopt a view of immanence, emphasizing the mere conceptual and linguistic status of phenomena by denying perceived objects mind- and language-independent status. Moreover, Yogacara intellectuals also appear to have adopted a stance like those in the West facing similar philosophical problems, that is, one of idealism. For instance, it is stated quite explicitly in several texts that it is consciousness that generates the objects of experience. In other words, to solve the problem of the fissure between the epistemological and ontological realms, the field of immanence is given primacy. However, this understandable, yet simplistic, conclusion obscures the more complex issue of how Yogacara intellectuals conceived of epistemology/ontology, and immanence/transcendence. I propose that the Yogacara understanding of epistemology and ontology is the reverse of that presented above; that is, reality is understood in its ontological mode as immanent, while in its epistemological mode it is considered transcendent.[11]

  15. 4.2. Being/Non-Being

  16. This reversal of the immanence/transcendence and ontological/epistemological relation, the reversal being stated as the ontological immanence and epistemological transcendence of reality, is disclosed by a kind of dialectic of affirmation, negation and again affirmation, typical of Yogacara philosophical strategy. This strategy attempts to reveal that Suchness, paradoxically, is immanent within the sphere of language and cognition while at the same time transcends these very same linguistic and conceptual spheres. What is ultimately affirmed in this paradoxical relation is the middle path (madhyama pratipat) between the extreme (and erroneous) views of being and non-being. The Yogacara explain these views in the following manner: The erroneous view of "non-being" on the one hand, is the denial of all modes of existence whatsoever. Language and conceptualization, therefore, operate within their own realm without reference to anything other than linguistic and conceptual constructs. In the Bodhisattvabhumi it is explained that

  17. Non-being [means] that this verbal designation of "form" up to the verbal designation of "nirvana" is without an objective basis, that is, it is without characterization, that the basis of verbal designation is completely non-existent, that is, completely absent. Verbal designation functions without relying on any existing thing. This is called non-being.[12]
  18. The Yogacara also have a technical term for non-being, apavada, which simply means the view that nothing whatsoever exists. Asanga defines apavada in the following way:

  19. And also, whosoever negates the locus for the characteristic of verbal designation, which is the basis for the characteristic of verbal designation, completely negates the object that is the ineffable, ultimately real existence. [Thus the nihilist states]: "everything is completely non-existent."[13]
  20. The erroneous view of "being", on the other hand, is one of postulating a mode of existence upon phenomena that are in actuality non-existent. It is a naïve realism that admits of the ontological existence of linguistic referents; in other words, designations such as "visible objects" correspond to actually existing objects. Again citing from the Bodhisattvabhumi Asanga defines "being" as:

  21. Anything posited as the self-nature (svabhava) of verbal designation (prajnaptivada)… [Indeed], the self-nature of the factors of existence (dharma) is the "referent" of verbal designation, and it is called "being" by the worldly.[14]
  22. "Being" therefore, is the postulation of an individuated entity as an existing non-linguistic referent for language. For the Yogacara, these so-called existing entities are in actuality non-existent; they are merely constructed entities (kalpita), the reifications of language and concepts. The Yogacara technical term for these reifications is samaropa, which means: the postulation of existence upon what does not exist. Asanga explains:

  23. And whosoever attaches to the own-nature of the verbal designation for factors of existence, i.e., the specific characteristic of form, etc., [does so] because of the postulation of existence upon that which does not exist.[15]
  24. The Yogacara response to these extreme views of being and non-being is the "middle path" (madhyama pratipat), a view that asserts both existence (bhava, sat) and non-existence (abhava, asat). Exactly what exists and what does not is clarified in the first verse of chapter one of the Madhyantavibhaga:

  25. Unreal mental construction exists; in that [unreal mental construction] duality does not exist (1ab).
    But here [in unreal mental construction] emptiness exists; that [unreal mental construction] too exists in that [emptiness] (1cd).[16]
  26. What concerns us for now is verse 1ab, which states that unreal mental construction exists while duality does not. According to Sthiramati one reason for articulating "existence" in verse 1a-b is to counteract apavada:

  27. Some maintain that all factors of existence are completely without self-nature, just like the horns of a rabbit. For that reason, in order to counter the negation of all things (sarvapavada) [Maitreya] said,
         Unreal mental construction exists (1a);
    "in-itself" (svabhavatas) should be added. [The opponent objects:] Is it not the case that this assertion contradicts scripture, because it is said in scripture that "all factors of existence are empty"? [We respond:] There is no contradiction because [it is further stated that]
         in that [unreal mental construction] duality does not exist. (1b)
    Indeed, unreal mental construction which is devoid of the [duality] of any entity of subject and object of cognition, is called "empty" but not completely without self-nature.[17]
  28. The point is, in part, that the lack of self-nature (nihsvabhava), which for the Yogacara is equivalent non-existence, applies only to dualistically constructed subjects and objects of cognition. What is assumed here, and in most Yogacara discussions of ordinary cognition, is that every moment of cognition before awakening is dualistically structured, and that non-conceptual reality, or Suchness, therefore, transcends all modes of cognitive activity. It is also clear that unreal mental construction exists, the emphasis added by Sthiramati's use of "in-itself" (svabhavatas). However, existence in this context does not signify unreal mental construction's status as ultimate reality; rather, it exists as the real basis for both the construction of illusion or the attainment of awakening.

  29. Another reason for verse 1ab is to counteract the other extreme view of samaropa, in this case the postulation of existence upon the intentional objects of mind and mental functions:

  30. Or, in order to counter the view, "visual form, etc., exist as real entities apart from mind and mental functions", [Maitreya] stated
         Unreal mental construction exists (1a);
    "as a real entity" [should be added]. Visual form does not exist separated from that [consciousness]. Why? Since,
         in that [unreal mental construction] duality does not exist (1b)
    Indeed, unreal mental construction is neither the perceiver of something nor is it perceived by anything. However, [unreal mental construction] as the absence of the subject and object of perception is the sole reality (bhavamatra).[18]
  31. According to this interpretation, verse 1ab counters the over-determination of existence regarding phenomena which asserts the existence of the objects of consciousness as external to consciousness. Again, it is made explicitly clear, though for a different reason, that unreal mental construction exists, and this time with the emphasis made on its existence as the sole reality (bhavamatra). Existence in this context means existing beyond the ken of duality; that is, unreal mental construction is neither the perceiver of something nor is it perceived by anyone. Therefore, unreal mental construction has two aspects of existence: 1) it is a real basis or foundation, and 2) it is non-dualistic.

  32. 4.3. The Presence of Absence

  33. Verse 1cd completes the notion of what really exists for the Yogacara. Here we quote it again:

  34. But here [in unreal mental construction] emptiness exists; that [unreal mental construction] too exists in that [emptiness].
  35. As stated in the verse, emptiness exists 'here' (atra) in unreal mental construction. Furthermore, unreal mental construction also exists in emptiness. This state of mutual inherence can be explained as follows: For the Yogacara, emptiness is defined as the pure intentional object (visuddhy-alambana); it is, conventionally speaking, the "object" of awareness free from duality. Moreover, liberation (moksa) is possible because emptiness exists in unreal mental construction. In this context, emptiness is defined as the state of being devoid (rahitata) of duality (the subject and object of perception), in contrast to the definition of unreal mental construction as the mere absence (rahita) of duality. The addition of –ta to rahita, thus forming the abstract noun rahitata, is important for understanding Yogacara ontology—we can see in the same context that the word empty (sunya) is used to describe unreal mental construction, whereas empti-ness (sunyata) is synonymous with reality, or Suchness (tathata). Being empty of something, in this case the duality of subject and object, therefore, refers to the absence of that thing, whereas emptiness is the presence of the absence of that thing.[19] In other words, there is a positive attribution of presence to the true state of all phenomenal existence. For the Yogacara, then, that which makes an object what it is, is the being-absent-ness of its non-existent status. The Yogacara conception of unreal mental construction as both a basis (for illusion and awakening) and as non-dualistic—this conception arising from the navigation between "being" and "non-being"—therefore, provides the discursive space for conceiving of the "presence of absence".

  36. 4.4. Primacy of the Text and Ontological Dependency

  37. Although the explicit language on Suchness reads somewhat like a discourse on metaphysical foundations (in this case, a seeming metaphysics of immanence), the Yogacara conception of language and conceptualization reveals an implicit and paradoxical "ontological dependence". That is to say, the presence of Suchness is dependent on the textual horizon of Buddhist doctrine. This ontological dependence is a more explicit way of describing the locus for the mutually inherent aspects of ontological immanence and epistemological transcendence. What is required now is an analysis of this dependence on textuality and the implications of this dependence for traditional conceptions of sastric primacy.

  38. Unreal mental construction, being in essence non-dualistic (though appearing as duality for the non-awakened), is constituted by language and conceptualization. In fact, it is conceptualization that 'constructs' duality, hence its more technical designation in Yogacara as dichotomous construction (vikalpa). Generally speaking, dichotomous construction is the discursive activity of thought that constructs divisions between related terms such as the subject (grahaka) and object (grahya) of perception. Furthermore, this constructive activity includes the postulation of an entititive nature to both sides of the division, resulting in the perception of separate entities (artha) such as a subject and object.[20]

  39. The interesting position taken by the Yogacara on the relation between dichotomous construction and language is that language is the basis for the construction of entities. Indeed, it is the linguistic field (or textual horizon), constituted by such designations of "self" (atman), "person" (pudgala), and the various terms of the dharmic discourse of the abhidharmikas, such as "form" (rupa), sensations (vedana), and so on, that provide the occasion for postulating entititive existence, or self-nature (svabhava). In other words, these designations function as conventional markers for dichotomous construction to posit referents for these designations. The result of this linguistically circumscribed postulation is the appearance of the subject and object of perception (grahya-grahaka-samprakhyana).[21]

  40. The process of the construction of entities can be described in the following manner:[22] First, there is the existence of the flow of perceptions of dependently arisen phenomena, technically defined as the transformation of consciousness (equated with unreal mental construction). Next, language designates certain aspects of the flow of dependently arisen phenomena, though in reality, this flow is ineffable. Following the naming process is dichotomous conception (vikalpa), which divides the ineffable flow of perceptions from those designations that refer to the specific aspects of this process. Dichotomous conception, therefore, constructs a division between the signifying activity and that which is signified, reifying the "object" of the linguistic term. On the basis of this created duality arises the illusion of an extra-linguistic realm signified by language, and therefore, the view of entities external to consciousness.

  41. The question that remains is how can language, or more specifically the textual horizon (doctrinal discourse), function in the process of liberation? Of course, according to traditional assumptions in Buddhist intellectual practice the answer is obvious. Being derivative of Suchness itself (recall the pan-Indian assumption of sastric primacy) doctrine is both a correct description of reality and an efficacious prescription for awakening. But is soteriological efficacy only a matter of doctrine possessing sastric authority? Is there another (implicit) view of (doctrinal) language that articulates its soteriological and ontological significance? I have hinted at the answer in the earlier analysis of discursive mediation and embodied locus. Here I want to suggest that these two concepts of Yogacara discourse suggest a view of language that that not only lies beyond but also subverts the traditional conception of sastra.

  42. Recall the definition of Suchness; it is reality (synonymous with emptiness) that is both the absence of duality as well as the presence of that absence. In other contexts, reality is defined as the entitylessness of the self and factors of existence (pudgala-dharma-nairatmya). Also recall that the basis for entity construction is language, which includes the multitude of words designating "self' and "factors of existence". Here language functions as the basis for awakening, not because of its sastric status but because the circumscribed locus for the postulating of non-existent entities is also a locus for the possible vision of the absence of those entities and correspondingly the presence of that absence. This is identical with the definition given earlier of unreal mental construction as the basis for both illusion and awakening. Designations certainly do not refer to reality directly; however, perceiving designated phenomena as being empty of essence leads to true vision of reality. This paradoxical role of language as both referring and not referring is stated in the Bodhisattvabhumi:

  43. [A designation] is neither the essential nature of that dharma, nor is it wholly other than that. That [essential nature] is neither the sphere of speech nor the object of speech; nor is it altogether different from these. That being the case, the essential nature of dharmas is not found in the way in which it is expressed. But further, neither is absolutely nothing found. Again, the essential nature is absent and yet not absolutely absent.[23]
  44. In other words, to perceive the entitylessness of a factor of existence, there must be both the abandoning of any postulated entitical view and the perception of the presence of that absence. Again we quote from the Bodhisattvabhumi:

  45. And also, whosoever negates the locus for the characteristic of verbal designation, which is the basis for the characteristic of verbal designation, completely negates the object that is the ineffable, ultimately real existence.[24]
  46. The absence of an existing, non-linguistic referent is not mere absence; there is the presence of that absence which is none other than a phenomenon's Suchness. In this context, therefore, the above-mentioned discursive mediation (language/doctrine) becomes not merely a textual bridge between ignorance and awakening; rather, it becomes the very locus for the vision of Suchness (the absence of an entititive object as well as the presence of that absence). Moreover, the notion of embodiment no longer signifies a traditional conception of a person's spiritual authority. Embodiment here is none other that the ontological "presence" of Suchness within the textual horizon.

  47. 5. Conclusion

  48. As we have seen, the Yogacara discourse discussed above is embedded in the larger context of classical Indian Buddhist doctrine, which in turn is a part of the pan-Indian genre of sastra. Under the principial authority of "sastra" Buddhist intellectuals who composed and/or commented upon authoritative Buddhist texts, attempted to construct (or, from the classical Indian context, "recover") treatises that were systematic and comprehensive in scope. As with their non- Buddhist counterparts, Buddhist sastras functioned both descriptively and prescriptively for those who considered them authoritative: they not only disclosed the way things actually are but also mapped out specific modes of practice for the attainment of religious objectives. This state of affairs explicitly betrays a metaphysics of derivation, assuming a hierarchical division between theory and practice and affording theory primacy of place. This situation, of course, is not surprising given the status of sastric discourse in classical India. And as participants in this intellectual culture, Buddhist intellectuals sought to recover and articulate in a most detailed and comprehensive manner the "eternal truths" revealed to us by Buddhas and/or bodhisattvas.

  49. And yet, given the above discussion of some specific Yogacara analyses of the language/reality relation, we find the possibility of yet another reversal (though in this case, most likely unintended by these authors) this time of the metaphysics of derivation underlying sastric authority. For if a text's authority and efficacy lies in its transcendent origin, as well as its accuracy in reflecting this origin, what happens when this origin is not an ultimate, non-linguistic signified? What if this ultimate referent is not only embedded in the text, but also dependent on it? Let us repeat: the religious authority and soteriological efficacy of Yogacara doctrine (as with other Buddhist and non- Buddhist discourses) lay in that doctrine's accurate reference to Suchness. But Suchness entails not only a negative aspect—the absence of duality—but also a positive one—the presence of the absence of duality. And recall that it is language (text), or more specifically the linguistic circumscription of an object, that provides the locus for both the false imputation of entity upon that "object" as well as the insight into that (constructed) object's emptiness (i.e., Suchness). Therefore, as analyzed above, the ontological foundation for reality is, in contrast with the traditional idea of sastric primacy, dependent on language. It is assumed in Yogacara doctrine that the true nature of phenomena (dharmata) is dependent on phenomena themselves (dharma)—another way of saying this is that emptiness depends on empty phenomena—and that phenomena are the products of linguistic and conceptual construction. From this we can with some certainty assert that the textual field is the locus for the presence of Suchness.

  50. The analysis that is offered in this paper is one that implies an anti-metaphysical reading of Yogacara doctrine as well as a non-referential view of language. If I am reasonably correct in my interpretation there are at least some parallels between Yogacara philosophy and certain forms of postmodern discourse (e.g., deconstruction). We must, however, keep in mind that the "deconstruction" we detect in Buddhist philosophy is more likely than not our contemporary retrospective (re-)construction of a "Buddhist deconstruction". Whatever similarities we find between Yogacara thought and Western philosophy and criticism, Buddhist intellectuals were not proto-deconstructionists, proto-Wittgenstineans, or any other pre-modern, non- Western form of contemporary philosophical/critical discourse. They have their own doctrinal, intellectual, cultural and historical situated-ness that must be, to the extent possible, investigated and clarified before exegesis and interpretation can commence.

  51. And yet, similarities can be found, and comparative analysis/reflection is a worthwhile if not necessary venture. For, if the Heideggerian commentator, Reiner Schürman (along with other postmodern thinkers) is correct in asserting that our times mark not only the end of an epoch but the end of epochal presencing—characterized by a metaphysics of derivation—itself,[25] it is of profound importance to search for and explicate subversive occasions in pre-modern "Eastern" texts. Not so much as an enactment of "diversity" or "comparative philosophy" (however important these may be) but for the very reason that the principles underlying the epoch of the "rational West" and "mystical East" are slowly but inevitably deteriorating. As discourses on alterity gain visibility, we need to transgress the boundaries demarcating the categories of "East" and "West" and recognize that within these very categories lie heterogeneous elements/origins thus far hidden from our sight. And, in the critical recognition of radical difference we may stumble upon, in this case, "subversive occasions", that suggest radical similarities between modes of thought temporally and spatially distanced.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]