Yogacara School

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YOGĀCĀRA SCHOOL

The Yogācāra school, whose name is taken from one of its foundational texts, the Yogācārabhūmi (Stages of Yoga Practice), provided perhaps the most sophisticated examination and description in all of Buddhism of how the mind works—in psychological, epistemological, logical, emotional, cognitive, meditative, developmental, and soteriological modes. At once a rigorous, rational philosophy and an elaborate system of practice, it provided methods by which one could identify and correct the cognitive errors inherent in the way the mind works, since enlightenment meant direct, immediate, correct cognition.

The founding of Yogācāra, one of the two major Indian MahĀyĀna schools, is usually attributed to the half-brothers AsaṄga and Vasubandhu (fourth to fifth century c.e.), but most of its unique concepts had been introduced at least a century earlier in scriptures such as the SaṂdhinirmocanasŪtra (Sūtra Elucidating the Hidden Connections or Sūtra Setting Free the [Buddha's] Intent). Yogācāra forged novel concepts and methods that synthesized prior Buddhist teachings into a coherent antidote (pratipakṣa) for eliminating the cognitive problems that prevented liberation from the karmic cycles of birth and death.

Historical overview

Key Yogācāra notions such as only-cognition (vijñaptimātra), three self-natures (trisvabhāva), the ĀlayavijÑĀna (warehouse consciousness), overturning the basis (āśrayaparāvṛtti), and the theory of eight consciousnesses were introduced in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra and received more detailed, systematic treatment in the writings of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu. Born Brahmans in Puruṣapura (present-day Peshawar, Pakistan) to the same mother but different fathers, Asaṅga and his half-brother Vasubandhu became Buddhists, Asaṅga entering the MahĪŚĀsaka school, while Vasubandhu joined the Vaibhāṣikas in their stronghold in Kashmir. The literary core of Mahīśāsaka practice was the Āgama/NikĀya corpus of the mainstream Buddhist schools, while the Vaibhāṣikas excelled at abhidharma. The brothers' later writings reflect these backgrounds, since even Asaṅga's book on abhidharma, the Abhidharmasamuccaya (Abhidharma Compilation), cites only agamas, not abhidharma texts.

According to tradition, after many years of fruitless practice and solitary meditation, in a moment of utter despair, Asaṅga began receiving instruction from the future Buddha, Maitreya, who resides in the Tuṣita heaven. Maitreya dictated new texts for Asaṅga to disseminate. Asaṅga also composed works under his own name, though the Chinese and Tibetan traditions disagree about the attribution of these texts. For instance, both ascribe the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (Mahāyāna Compendium), Abhidharmasamuccaya, and Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkara (Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras) to Asaṅga, and Madhyāntavibhāga (Distinguishing the Middle and Extremes) to Maitreya, but Chinese tradition attributes the Yogācārabhūmi to Maitreya, whereas Tibetans credit Asaṅga with this text. What gave the Maitreya-Asaṅga texts their lasting importance was not their mode of composition—receiving sacred scriptures from nonhuman sources is not uncommon in Asian traditions—but their content, that is, how they rethought Buddhism on a grand scale, as well as in its most minute details.

Vasubandhu grew dissatisfied with Vaibhāṣika doctrine and, after exploring other forms of Buddhism, became a Yogācāra through Asaṅga's influence. Asaṅga's magnum opus, the Yogācārabhūmi, is a comprehensive encyclopedia of Buddhist terms and models mapped according to a Yogācāra view of how one progresses along the stages of the path to enlightenment. Vasubandhu's pre-Yogācāra magnum opus, the AbhidharmakoŚabhĀṢya (Treasury of Abhidharma), also provides a comprehensive, detailed overview of the Buddhist path with meticulous attention to nuances and differences of opinion on a broad range of exacting topics.

Vasubandhu's two main disciples (though they probably encountered his writings through intermediary generations of teachers) were DignĀga (ca. 480–540 c.e.), who revolutionized Indian logic and epistemology, and Sthiramati (ca. 510–570), who wrote important commentaries on the works of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, notably Abhidharmasamuccayabhāṣya, Triṃśikāvijñaptiṭīkā, and a subcommentary on Vasubandhu's commentary on the Madhyāntavibhāga. After Vasubandhu, Yogācāra developed into two distinct directions or branches: (1) a logico-epistemic tradition, exemplified by such thinkers as Dignāga, DharmakĪrti, Śāntarakṣita, and Ratnakīrti; and (2) an abhidharma-style psychology, exemplified by such thinkers as Sthiramati, Dharmapāla, Xuanzang, and Vinītadeva. While the first branch focused on questions of epistemology and logic, the other branch refined and elaborated the abhidharma analysis developed by Asaṅga and Vasubandhu. These branches were not entirely separate, and many Buddhists wrote works that contributed to both. Dignāga, for instance, besides his works on epistemology and logic, also wrote a commentary on Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośa. What united both branches was a deep concern with the process of cognition, that is, analyses of how people perceive and think. The former branch approached that issue epistemologically, whereas the latter branch approached it psychologically and therapeutically. Both identified the root of all human problems as cognitive errors that needed correction.

The abhidharma branch faded in importance by the eighth century in India, while the logico-epistemic branch remained vital until the demise of Buddhism in India around the thirteenth century. Nonetheless, various Hindu and Jain schools have continued up to the present day to study and write about its arguments and contributions to Indian philosophy. Such literature usually labels the Yogācāra positions VijÑĀnavĀda (consciousness school).

Yogācāra outside India

In the early sixth century in China, while translating Vasubandhu's commentary on the Ten Stages Sūtra (Sanskrit, Daśabhūmikasūtropadeśa; Chinese, Dilun), the two translators, Bodhiruci and Ratnamati, parted due to irreconcilable differences of interpretation. Bodhiruci favored a more orthodox Yogācāra approach, while Ratnamati was drawn to a Yogācāra-tathĀgatagarbha hybrid ideology. The former emphasizes removing mental obstructions, whereas the latter stresses an ontological pure nature that shines forth once defilements are removed. Their feud had an immediate and lasting impact on Chinese Buddhism, with followers of Bodhiruci's interpretation developing into the so-called Northern Dilun school and Ratnamati's followers becoming Southern Dilun. That feud dominated contemporary Chinese Buddhism, and it intensified when in the mid-sixth century the Indian translator ParamĀrtha (499–569) introduced another version of Yogācāra, amenable to the tathāgatagarbha ideology, that reified a ninth consciousness (amalavijñāna, pure consciousness) that would emerge with enlightenment, even though no Indian text attests to this concept. Asaṅga's Mahāyānasaṃgraha (Chinese, Shelun) became the key text for Paramārtha's followers, so their school was dubbed Shelun.

In 629, seeking to resolve the disputes between these schools, Xuanzang (ca. 600–664) traveled to India, returning in 645 with over six hundred texts—seventy-four of which he translated—and a better understanding of Indian Yogācāra as taught at Nālandā (the prime seat of Buddhist learning at that time). His successor, Kuiji (632–682), founded the Weishi school (Sanskrit, Vijñaptimātra), also called Faxiang (Dharma Characteristics). Students who had come from Korea and Japan to study with Xuanzang and Kuiji brought the teaching back to their countries, where it thrived for many centuries, and survives today in Japan as Hosso (the Japanese pronunciation of Faxiang). Although the Weishi school came under attack from the newly emerging sinitic Mahāyāna schools, such as the Huayan school, for challenging ingrained orthodoxies, ironically those orthodoxies were themselves largely grounded in developments from the earlier Yogācāra-oriented Dilun and Shelun schools. The Chan school, which started to institutionalize around the time of Xuanzang and Kuiji, initially drew on the LaṄkĀvatĀrasŪtra, a Yogācāra-tathāgatagarbha hybrid text, as one of its main scriptures. Thus, much of the later developments in East Asian Buddhism can be seen as arising out of inter-Yogācāra rivalries.

Yogācāra entered Tibet in the eighth century with Śāntarakṣita (ca. 725–790) and his disciple Kamalaśīla (ca. 740–795), who were among the earliest Buddhist missionaries there. While never established in Tibet as an independent school, Yogācāra teachings became part of the curriculum for other Tibetan schools, and exerted an influence on Rnying ma (Nyingma) and Dzogs chen thought. Tsong kha pa (1357–1419), founder of the Dge lugs (Geluk) school, devoted considerable attention to Yogācāra, especially the works of Asaṅga and the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, with particular attention to the Korean monk WŎnch'Ŭk's (613–696) commentary on the latter. Wŏnch'ŭk was a Korean disciple of Xuanzang; the final chapters of his Saṃdhinirmocana commentary are no longer extant in the original Chinese, the complete work surviving only in its Tibetan translation. The Tibetan understanding of Yogācāra, therefore, is drawn from East Asian as well as Indian sources. Many of the Tibetan debates on Yogācāra thought, which have continued until today, appear to be replays of the controversies that raged in China and East Asia centuries earlier, sometimes with new wrinkles.

Classic texts

The Maitreya-Asaṅga texts tend to be vast compendiums of models, technical terminology, and doctrinal lists that come alive only when one pays attention to their minutest details and contemplates their implications. The Yogācārabhūmi, which comprises one hundred fascicles in Xuanzang's Chinese translation (the complete Sanskrit is not available), describes seventeen stages (bhūmis) of practice, beginning with an exposition of what it means to have a body with the five sensory consciousnesses, and moving on to instructions on developing a vast array of mental and meditative capacities and on engaging the śrāvaka (HĪnayĀna), pratyekabuddha (one who achieves enlightenment independently without relying on Buddhism), and bodhisattva vehicles, culminating in nirvĀṆa without remainder (nirupādhikabhūmi).

The first part of the Abhidharmasamuccaya, the lakṣaṇasamuccaya (compilation of definitions), offers detailed abhidharma lists and definitions of the five skandhas (aggregates), twelve sense-realms, and so on. The second part, viniścayasamuccaya (compilation of determinations), teaches how to activate the plethora of abhidharma lists and models, so that when applied to each other (rather than taken in isolation), they effect changes in the practitioner by deconstructing one's delusions, greed, and anger. The Mahāyānasaṃgraha details how hearing, thinking, and contemplating the Mahāyāna teachings destroys the ālayavijñāna from within, like a germ infecting a host, since the Buddha's word (buddhavacana) is ultimately irreducible to mental constructions; eliminating the ālayavijñāna therefore results in buddhahood. The Madhyāntavibhāga, implicitly deploying the theory of three natures (trisvabhāva) to define and explicate Buddhist practice, illustrates how ŚŪnyatĀ (emptiness) and cultivating positive insight (pariniṣpanna) act as an antidote (pratipakṣa) to the pervasive false mental constructions (parikalpita) one projects as lived experience, resulting in reality being experienced just as it is (purified paratantra).

Vasubandhu's Karmasiddhiprakaraṇsa (Investigation Establishing [the Correct Understanding] of Karma) discusses various Buddhist theories on how karma works, concluding that all is momentary but held together by causal chains, consequences of actions requiting their doer through mental causal chains embodied in the ālayavijñāna. The Vādavidhi (Debate Methods) is a proto-logic text on reasoning in arguments and debates, and a precursor of Dignāga's innovations in logic. Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇa (Investigation of the Five Aggregates) breaks down the aggregates into abhidharma categories and their constituents (dharmas), constructing a dharma system in transition between the seventy-five dharmas of his Vaibhāṣika Abhidharmakośa and his fully mature Yogācāra system of one hundred dharmas, later enumerated in his Mahāyānaśatadharmāprakāśamukhaśāstra (One Hundred Dharma Treatise). One can trace Vasubandhu's development from Vaibhāṣika to Yogācāra through these texts.

Vasubandhu's most important Yogācāra texts are his Viṃśatikā (Twenty Verses) with autocommentary and Triṃśikā (Thirty Verses), together sometimes called the Vijñaptimatra treatises. The Triṃśikā densely packs the entire Yogācāra system into thirty short verses. The Viṃśatikā refutes realist objections to Yogācāra. The realists contend that the objects in our perception exist outside of consciousness just as we perceive them, which is why they remain stable through (1) time and (2) space; why (3) people with different perceptions of a thing can reach a consensus about it; and why (4) the objective world operates by determinate causal principles, not through unreal, ineffective fantasies. Vasubandhu responds with numerous arguments to these four points, and he offers an analogy to dreams. Seemingly external objects appear in dreams, even though such objects are only mental fabrications with nothing external corresponding to them, proving that consciousness is a necessary and sufficient condition for objects to appear, but actual external objects are neither necessary nor sufficient. Ordinary perception is like a dream, a mental projection; that different beings perceive the supposed same thing differently proves this. To update Vasubandhu's example, that humans and flies perceive and react to excrement in radically different ways demonstrates that what each perceives is a projection based on its own conditioning, or its own mental "seeds" (bījās) acquired from past experiences (perhaps in past lives). Karma (action) is collective, in that we gravitate toward beings or types who perceive as we do, erroneously justifying the seeming universality of our group perspective. Thus the "varying perception" argument supports rather than undermines the Yogācāra position. Vasubandhu uses the example of a wet dream to demonstrate causal efficacy: Though the erotic cognitive object is a mental construction, without external or physical reality, it causes actual seminal emission, a physical effect produced outside the dream and recognized as such upon awakening. This means that even though dreams are only fantasies, they have real karmic consequences. The deluded mind produces real effects that can only be known after awakening, once delusion has ceased. Awakening means enlightenment—bodhi (awakening) can also mean enlightenment—the cessation of the deluded mind. Even though we act in a collective deluded world of our own construction, our actions have real causal consequences.

To the objection that dream objects are usually not as stable as objects perceived while awake, Vasubandhu replies that objects and events seem less clear, less consistent in dreams than when awake because during sleep the mind is overcome by sleepiness and, thus, it is not "thinking clearly." Therefore, in a dream one does not know that the objects therein are only dream-objects until one awakens. Similarly, to the question of whether we can know other minds, Vasubandhu replies that even our own minds are opaque to us, since our mental capacities are dim and sleepy. An awakened one (the literal meaning of buddha), however, can know other minds more clearly than we know our own. So, not only can we know other minds (if we awaken), but we constantly influence each other for better and for worse (though we may not notice that within our individual dreams). Thus, karma is intersubjective. Moreover, since the more awake one is, the more causally effective one's mind becomes, sages and buddhas can exert powerful effects on the world, including devastating destruction, and even life and death.

Vijñaptimātra

Yogācāra encapsulates its doctrine in the term vijñaptimātra (often rendered "consciousness-only" or "representation-only"), which is not meant to suggest that only the mind is real. Consciousness (vijñāna) is not the ultimate reality or solution for Yogācāra, but rather the basic problem, as Vasubandhu's Twenty Verses illustrated. Vijñapti is grammatically a causative form, "what makes known," and thus indicates that what appears in cognition is constructed, projected by consciousness, rather than passively received from outside by consciousness. Since nothing appears to us except within our acts of consciousness, all is vijñaptimātra. The inability to distinguish between our interpretations of the world and the world itself is what Yogācāra calls vijñaptimātra. This problem pervades ordinary mental operations and can be eliminated only when those operations are brought to an end.

It is not that there is nothing real outside an individual mind. Yogācāra rejects solipsism and theories of a universal mind that subsumes individuals. According to Yogācāra, each individual is a distinct consciousness stream or mental continuum (cittasantāna), and individuals can communicate with each other, teach and learn from each other, and influence and affect each other. If this were not the case, learning about Buddhism would be impossible. Even rūpa (sensorial materiality) is accepted, if one realizes that physicality is only known as such through sensation and cognition. Everything we know, conceive, imagine, or are aware of, we know through cognition, including the notion that entities might exist independent of our cognition. Although the mind does not create the physical world, it generates the interpretative categories through which we know and classify the physical world, and it does this so seamlessly that we mistake our interpretations for the world itself. Those interpretations, which are projections of our desires and anxieties, become obstructions (āvaraṇa) preventing us from seeing what is actually the case. In simple terms, we are blinded by our own self-interests, our own prejudices, our desires. Unenlightened cognition is an appropriative act. Yogācāra does not speak about subjects and objects; instead, it analyzes perception in terms of graspers (grāhaka) and what is grasped (grāhya).

The Buddhist notion of karma is intimately connected to the notion of appropriation (upādāna). As the earliest Buddhist texts explained, suffering and ignorance are produced by karma. Karma, according to Buddhism, consists of any intentional activity of body, speech, or mind. Intention is the crucial factor, and intention is a cognitive condition, so whatever is devoid of cognition must be nonkarmic and nonintentional. Thus, by definition, whatever is noncognitive can have no karmic implications or consequences. Intention means desiring something. Physically, linguistically, or mentally, we try to "get it." Stated another way, only cognitive acts can have karmic repercussions. This would include meaningful bodily gestures that communicate intentions (such gestures are also called vijñapti). Since Buddhists seek to overcome ignorance and suffering by eliminating karmic conditioning, Buddhists need focus only on what occurs within the domain of cognitive conditions (cittagocara). Categories such as external object and materiality (rūpa) are cognitive constructions. Materiality is a word for the colors, textures, sounds, and so on that we cognize in acts of perception, and it is only to the extent that they are perceived and ideologically grasped, thereby becoming objects of attachment, that they have karmic significance. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about gold, for example; rather our ideas about gold's value and uses, which we project and then act upon, lead to good or bad consequences. Materialism is not the problem. The incessant propensity (anuśaya) to appropriate (upādāna) what consciousness projects is the problem. These projections are not just things, but moral qualities, status, ideals, religious and national doctrines and identities, the holding of opinions, whatever we can make our own, or make ourselves to be.

A deceptive trick is built into the way consciousness operates at every moment. Consciousness constructs a cognitive object in such a way that it disowns its own creation, pretending the object is "out there," in order to render that object capable of being appropriated. Even while what we cognize is occurring within our act of cognition, we cognize it as if it were external to our consciousness. Realizing vijñaptimātra means exposing this trick at play in every act of consciousness, catching it in the act, as it were, and thereby eliminating it. Consciousness engages in this deceptive game of projection, dissociation, and appropriation because there is no "self." The deepest-seated erroneous view to which sentient beings cling, according to Buddhism, is ātmadṛṣṭi, the view that a permanent, eternal, immutable, independent self exists. No such self exists, and deep down we know that. This makes us anxious, since it entails that no self or identity endures forever. In order to alleviate that anxiety, we attempt to construct a self, to fill the anxious void, to do or acquire something enduring. The projection of cognitive objects for appropriation is consciousness's main tool for this construction. If I own things (ideas, theories, identities, material objects), then "I am." If there are eternal objects that I can possess, then I too must be eternal. To undermine this erroneous appropriative grasping, Yogācāra texts say: Negate the object, and the self is also negated (e.g., Madhyāntavibhāga, 1:4, 8).

Intentional acts also have moral motives and consequences. Since effects are shaped by their causes, an act with a wholesome intent would tend to yield wholesome fruits, while unwholesome intentions produce unwholesome effects.

Three natures (trisvabhāva)

Yogācāra devised a model of three self-natures (trisvabhāva) to explain vijñaptimātra more concisely. The pervasive mental constructions that obstruct our view of what truly is the case are called parikalpita (imaginative construction). The actual webs of causes and conditions at play are called paratantra (dependent on other [causes]). Other-dependence is so-called to emphasize that no thing exists as an independent, eternal self; everything arises dependent on causes and conditions other than itself, in the absence of which it ceases to be. Ordinarily paratantra is infested with parikalpita. Pariniṣpanna (consummation) is the removal of parikalpita from paratantra, leaving only purified paratantra.

Since the notion of "self-nature" is itself a parikalpic idea that presumes self-hood, it too must be eliminated. Thus the three self-natures are actually three non-self-natures (tri-niḥsvabhāva). Parikalpita is devoid of self-nature since it is unreal by definition. Paratantra lacks self-nature, since other-dependence precludes "self" nature. Pariniṣpanna—the Yogācāra counterpart to the Madhyamaka notion of śūnyatā (emptiness), which stands for the lack of self-nature in everything—is the antithesis of self-nature. Thus the three self-natures are ultimately understood as three non-self-natures.

Eight consciousnesses

Prior to Yogācāra, Buddhists discussed six types of consciousness: the five sensory consciousnesses (visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile) and mental consciousness (manovijñāna). The consciousnesses were said to be produced by contact between a sense organ (e.g., the eye) and its corresponding sense field or objects (e.g., colors, shapes). The mind (manas) operated like the other senses, mental consciousness arising from the contact between manas and mental objects (thoughts, ideas), though it could think about what the other senses perceived, while the five senses could not cognize each other's objects. Yogācāra found this theory sound but inadequate because it did not explain the origin of the sense of self-hood with its appropriative propensities, various problems with continuity of experience, or the projective activity of consciousness. If causality requires temporal contiguity, how can consciousness temporarily cease during sleep, unconscious states, certain forms of meditation, or between lives, and then suddenly recommence? Where did it reside in the interim? If karmic consequences occur long after the act they are requiting was committed, and there is no substantial self, what links the act to its eventual karmic effect, and in what does this linkage reside? Most importantly, how can consciousnesses that are derivative of contact between organs and objects become projective?

Yogācāra's eight consciousnesses theory answered these questions. Manovijñāna became the organ of the sixth consciousness, rather than its by-product; manas became the seventh consciousness, responsible for appropriating experience as "mine" and thus infesting experience with a sense of self-hood (and thus also called ādānavijñāna, "appropriative consciousness," and kliṣṭamanas, "defiled mind"). The eighth consciousness, the ālayavijñāna (warehouse consciousness), was Yogācāra's most important innovation.

Experiences produce seeds (bījā) and perfumings (vāsanā) that are deposited in the ālayavijñāna. These seeds, embodying wholesome or unwholesome implications, regenerate new seeds each moment. These causal seed chains remain latent until a new conscious experience causes the seed to sprout, infusing a new cognition. Hence the ālayavijñāna was also called vipākavijñāna (karmic requital consciousness). Like a warehouse, the ālayavijñāna serves as a repository for seeds that are stored there, across a lifetime or many lifetimes, until dispatched. So it was also called allseeds consciousness (sarvabījakavijñāna). Vāsanās "perfume" the ālayavijñāna, like the smell of incense perfumes a cloth in its proximity. The smell may seem intrinsic to the cloth, but it is adventitious and can be removed, returning the cloth to its original state. Various Yogācāra texts debate whether seeds and perfuming describe the same phenomenon with different metaphors, or whether they are different types of mental events. In either case, the ālayavijñāna flows onward like a constant stream, changing each moment with each new experience, thus providing karmic continuity as the seeds reach fruition. The ālayavijñāna continues to function even while the other consciousnesses become temporarily inoperative, unconscious. Hence it is also called "foundational consciousness" (mūlavijñāna). Although it stores karmic seeds and engenders their projection, the ālayavijñāna is a karmically neutral mechanical process (anivṛta, avyākṛta). Manas appropriates the activities of the other consciousnesses, thinking they are "my" experience, and it appropriates the ālayavijñāna as a "self."

Karmic continuity ceases by overturning the basis (āśrayaparāvṛtti), in which the ālayavijñāna and the other consciousnesses cease to function. The consciousnesses (vijñāna) become direct cognitions (jñāna). Ālayavijñana becomes the "great mirror cognition" (mahādarśanajñāna), no longer holding on to or engendering new seeds, but reflecting everything impartially in the present moment, like an unobstructed mirror. Manas loses its self-prejudicial nature and becomes the immediate cognition of equality (samatājñana), equalizing self and other. Manovijñāna, which discriminates cognitive objects, becomes immediate cognitive mastery (pratyavekṣaṇājñāna), in which the general and particular characteristics of things are discerned just as they are. The five sense consciousnesses, now devoid of mental constructions, become immediate cognitions that accomplish what needs to be done (kṛtyānuṣṭhānajñāna), thereby engaging the world effectively. Yogācāra texts differ on which over-turning occurs at which stage of practice, but they agree that full enlightenment entails accomplishing all of them.

Purification of the mental stream

Yogācāra practice consists of analyzing cognitive processes in order to purify the mental stream of pollutants (āśrava), removing all obstructions to unexcelled complete enlightenment (anuttarasaṂyaksaṂbodhi). Bad seeds and perfumings need to be filtered out, while good seeds need to be watered and cultivated, so they will reach fruition. Mental disturbances (kleśa), such as greed, hatred, delusion, arrogance, wrong views, envy, shamelessness, and so on, are gradually eliminated, while karmically wholesome mental conditions, such as nonharming, serenity, carefulness, and equanimity, are strengthened. As the obstructions from emotional and mental obstructions (kleśāvaraṇa) are eliminated, purification continues until the deepest seated cognitive obstructions (jñeyāvaraṇa) are finally extinguished.

Yogācāra provides a vast and detailed literature on the various practices, meditations, and stages the Yogācāra adept undertakes. The details differ greatly across texts, with the Yogācārabhūmi enumerating seventeen stages, the Daśabhūmikasūtropadeśa ten stages, and other texts, such as the Mahāyānasaṃgraha and Cheng weishi lun, five stages. The five stages are:

  1. The "provisioning" stage (saṃbhārāvasthā), during which one gathers and stocks up on "provisions" for the journey. These provisions primarily consist of orienting oneself toward the pursuit of the path and developing the proper character, attitude, and resolve to accomplish it. This stage commences at the moment the aspiration for enlightenment (bodhicitta) arises. One relies on the four excellent powers (the causal force of one's seeds, good friends, focused attention, and provisions of merit and wisdom).
  2. Next is the "experimental" stage (prayogāvasthā), where one begins to experiment with various Buddhist theories and practices, and doctrines are converted from theory to praxis. Prayoga also means "intensifying effort," or applying oneself with increasing vigilance. One trains in the four-stage samādhi (meditation): (1) meditation achieving initial illumination (into an issue), (2) meditation to increase that illumination, (3) meditation producing sudden insights, and (4) maintaining meditative awareness continuously and uninterruptedly. During this stage one begins to suppress the grasper-grasped relation and commences on a careful and detailed study of the relation between things, language, and cognition.
  3. Continually honing one's discipline, eventually one enters the third stage, "deepening understanding" (prativedhāvasthā). Some texts refer to this as the path of corrective vision (darśanamārga). Here one works on realizing the emptiness of self and dharmas while reducing the obstructions (kleśāvaraṇa and jñeyāvaraṇa). This stage ends once one has acquired some insight into nonconceptual cognition (nirvikalpajñāna), that is, cognition devoid of interpretive or imaginative overlay.
  4. In this stage, the "path of cultivation" (bhāvanā-mārga), nonconceptual cognition deepens. The grasper-grasped relation is utterly eliminated, as are all cognitive obstructions. This path culminates in the full overturning of the basis, or enlightenment.
  5. In the "final stage" (niṣṭhāvasthā), one abides in unexcelled, complete enlightenment and engages the world through the four immediate cognitions (mirror cognition, etc.). At this stage, all of one's activities and cognitions are "postenlightenment" (pṛṣṭhalabdha), and other beings become one's sole concern because Mahāyāna adepts devote themselves not only to attaining enlightenment for themselves, but to helping all sentient beings to attain enlightenment as well. As Kuiji puts it in his Heart Sūtra Commentary: "This is the stage of liberation which comprises the three buddha bodies, the four kinds of perfect nirvāṇa, and the perfect fruition of buddhahood."

See also:Consciousness, Theories of; Psychology

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Dan Lusthaus