” This “switch from essentialist thinking to [interactional] thinking” is also the focus of the second school of Indian Buddhist Mahāyāna philosophy, Yogācāra (4–7th c. ce). Grounded in the logical critiques of essentialism articulated by the Mādhyamikans, Yogācārin philosophers emphasized their epistemological implications. They argued that the basic epistemological problem—and hence the basic spiritual problem—is that we falsely imagine (abhuta-parikalpita) that the subjective dimension of experience is truly separable from the objective dimension, that we actually are independently existing subjects distinct and separate from equally independently existing objects. They claim, moreover, that we ordinarily and nearly universally reify our experiences into exactly this kind of subject-object dualism, and that, to our detriment, we think and act as if we were isolated, reified entities rather than thoroughly embedded in complex causal relations.
This “imagining the nonexistent” not only imagines that we are separate from the larger causal networks in which we are embedded, it also encourages us to ignore the effects of our actions (karma) on the larger world. That is, the Yogācārins argue that such reifications, and the philosophies articulating them, like Cartesian dualism (and its derivative, reductive materialism), are not only incoherent, they are also harmful. We can, they argue, see more clearly, think more coherently, and act more constructively when we fully comprehend the causal embeddedness of our lives and adjust our actions accordingly. An important part of this constructive program is developing conceptions of mind and world that reflect this causal embeddedness. In this process, one eventually comes to recognize that both subject and object are “dependent on others” (paratantra), a realization that, when “fully perfected” (pariniṣpanna), becomes the ultimate realization in Yogacara thought. Hence, well conceived causal models are not only important for understanding the world, but for Indian Buddhists at any rate they also have a spiritual dimension as well.
“analytic thought must, by its very definition, apply definite names, concepts, and values to our experience. All these are necessarily subjective because their are derived from particular and limited points of view, and all are necessarily too definite, because they are inadequate to the fluidity, to the ebb and flow of nature. All these are therefore necessarily distorting. They lead us […] to become entangled in contradictions. We should learn to relax our conceptual definiteness and our incessant distinguishing between one thing and another. Things merge no less than they separate. […] Opposites are in a sense the same, “the admissible is simultaneously the inadmissible”, and every definite thing, every “it”, as the translator puts Chuang-tzu’s word, is also the same as that which is other than itself. “What is ‘it'”, says Chuang-tzu, “is also ‘other’, what is ‘other’ is also ‘it’.. Are there really It and Other? Or really no It and Other?”
“you should discard your myriad involvements, cease frittering away your time, and devote yourself to diligently practicing the Way. You should do your training and practice, even though you may still be attached to discriminatory thinking; you should do your training and practice, even if you have gone beyond discriminatory thinking; you should do your training and practice, even though you may be half-hearted in the attempt. Study with urgency, as though you were extinguishing a fire on your head: study with joy and hopefulness, as though you were standing on tiptoes.
Securing the Marrow and communicating the Dharma inevitably depend on sincere devotion and a trusting heart. Sincerity and trust do not in the least come from outside ourselves, nor is there any place within from which they emerge. Simply, beyond doubt, those who have done this emphasize the Dharma and play down themselves. These people flee society’s world and make the Path their dwelling place.”
“From the start of your training under a wise master, have no recourse to incense offerings, prostrations, recitation of buddha names, repentances, or sutra reading. Just sit in meditation and attain the dropping off of mind and body.”
“When you are attached to outer form, to meritorious practices and performances, this is a deluded understanding that is out of accord with the Way.”
“and who shall bind awareness in a word?”
“Any device is good which works, and a thousand more have yet to be found and used as people have need of them. All, however, will have in common the emptying of the self, that into the space so made the light of life, the eternal More, may flow. Everything must be emptied out, the toys that we love, each cherished, loved ideal as well as each “fond offence”, all purpose and desire. The self, with its pride and regret of the past, its fears and boasts and desires of the moment, its hopes and ambitions for the days unborn, must be transcended.”
Indeed the preparations include the acceptance of all limitations of karma, for to refuse to accept them, or anything whatsoever, is to perpetuate the division between this and that of which satori is the end. Yet even the attempt to acquire satori must at the final moment be cast away. “The Tao,” says Alan Watts, “is not brought to birth by deep philosophical understanding or by any effort of action or emotion, although it is necessary and inevitable that one of these attempts should precede the birth. The birth itself, however, only takes place when the futility of the attempt has been fully realised, and that realisation can only come through making the attempt”. But this is only another of the countless paradoxes which, like a hedgehog’s prickles, stand erect at the entrance to satori. Another is that with the approach to satori the mind is enormously expanded and contracted at the same time. “Each single fact of experience is to be related to the totality of things, for thereby it gains for the first time its meaning.” The part is the whole, and the whole of it, and if that is not difficult enough to understand, be pleased to notice that the part is greater than the whole. For the whole is complete, which is finite; the part is unfinished, and that is infinite. . .”
“We must think of the mind as a phenomenon to which the human case is not necessarily central, even though our minds are at the centre of the world. This idea can be betrayed if we turn objective comprehensibility into a new standard of reality. That is an error because the fact that reality extends beyond what is available to our original perspective does not mean that all of it is available to some transcendent perspective that we can reach from here. But so long as we avoid this error, it is proper to be motivated by the hope of extending our objective understanding to as much of life and the world as we can.
By a general concept of mind I don’t mean an anthropocentric concept which conceives all minds on analogy with our own. I mean a concept under which we ourselves fall as instances – without any implication that we are the central instances […] I want to think of mind as a general feature of the world. […] The necessary incompleteness of an objective concept of mind seems fairly clear.
One might say that the wider problem of mental objectivity is an analogue at the level of mental types to the problem of other minds for individuals: not, “How can I conceive of minds other than my own?” but, “How can we conceive of minds subjectively incommensurable with our own?” In both cases we must conceive of ourselves as instances of something more general in order to place ourselves in a centerless world.
The interesting problem of other minds is not the epistemological problem, how I can know that other people are not zombies. It is the conceptual problem, how I can understand the attribution of mental states to others. And this in turn is really the problem, how I can conceive of my own mind as merely one of many examples of mental phenomena contained in the world.
The issue is whether there can be a general concept of experience that extends far beyond our own or anything like it. Even if there can, we may be able to grasp it only in the abstract, as we are presumably unable to grasp now concepts of objective physical reality which will be developed five centuries hence. But the possibility that there is such a concept would be sufficient motive for trying to form it. It is only if we are convinced in advance that the thing makes no sense that we can be justified in setting the limits of objectivity with regard to the mind so close to our own ordinary viewpoint.
CONSCIOUSNESS IN GENERAL
So far as I can see the only reason for accepting such limits would be a Wittgensteinian one – namely, that such an extension or attempted generalization of the concept of mind takes us away from the conditions that make the concept meaningful.”