Paving the Great Way

Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu's Unifying Buddhist Philosophy

Jonathan C. Gold
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/gold16826
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  • Book Info
    Paving the Great Way
    Book Description:

    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 Wayreveals 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'sAbhidharmakosabhasya,Vyakhyayukti,Vimsatika, andTrisvabhavanirdesa, 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53800-8
    Subjects: Religion, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. 1 SUMMARIZING VASUBANDHU: Should a Buddhist Philosopher Have a Philosophy?
    (pp. 1-21)

    This book is a study of the philosophical work of Vasubandhu, a fourth/fifth-century Indian monk who was perhaps the greatest Buddhist philosopher after the Buddha.¹ Vasubandhu’s works are well known in Indian, Tibetan, and East Asian Buddhist traditions. From his time to this day, and without a break, his writings have been widely cited and commented upon, his arguments used and debated, and his accomplishments praised. He is a familiar figure in contemporary Buddhist studies as well. His works have been a constant topic of investigation and translation for more than a century—including being the subject of one of...

  6. 2 AGAINST THE TIMES: Vasubandhu’s Critique of His Main Abhidharma Rivals
    (pp. 22-58)

    Vasubandhu’s most important philosophical work by far is hisCommentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma (Abhidharmako śabhāṣya, hereafter AKBh). The careful elucidation of arguments in this text will occupy us in this and the next chapter. As I have discussed in the introduction, I personally do not distinguish the authorship of the verses from that of the commentary, and I will argue, furthermore, that many other works attributed to Vasubandhu show consistency of purpose with these texts.¹ For now, however, let us set aside all considerations of authorship and simply identify the name “Vasubandhu” with the author of the hand...

  7. 3 MERELY CAUSE AND EFFECT: The Imagined Self and the Literalistic Mind
    (pp. 59-93)

    Vasubandhu is well known for his extensive, brilliant argument defending the Buddha’s doctrine of no-self, which takes up the entirety of chapter IX of the AKBh. We ended our last chapter with the finale of that argument, we will begin the next chapter with its opening, and we will refer occasionally to other moments within it as well.¹ For this chapter, our goal is to grasp not the twists and turns of that argument, but only its motivating structure in Vasubandhu’s characteristic appeal to the nature of cause and effect. With that in hand, we will be able to see...

  8. 4 KNOWLEDGE, LANGUAGE, AND THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE: Vasubandhu’s Opening to the Mahāyāna
    (pp. 94-127)

    After working through the last two chapters, we are in a position to summarize some of the central methods and motives of Vasubandhu’s philosophy. In addition to presenting a consistent view, the “Sautrāntika” critique of Vaibhāṣika Abhidharma has a number of characteristic philosophical strategies. Above all, the goal, in argument after argument, seems to have been to dismantle the edifice of the opponent’s system that supports one or another false entity (a past/present/future reality, a self, a cloth). In each case, Vasubandhu targets the causal logic of the entity—its contribution to the Vaibhāṣika or non-Buddhist system. For instance, past...

  9. 5 VASUBANDHU’S YOGĀCĀRA: Enshrining the Causal Line in the Three Natures
    (pp. 128-175)

    Vasubandhu is famous for having converted from śrāvakayāna to Mahāyāna between writing the AKBh and his Yogācāra works. In the last chapter we saw that Vasubandhu’s approach to scripture in the AKBh left him open to considering Mahāyna scriptures, and that when he does integrate these scriptures, he constructs a hermeneutics that accounts for multiple places on the path under the view of reality as ultimately inexpressible. Although I would caution against placing too much faith in the historical veracity of Buddhist hagiographies, the transition that I have traced is fairly well symbolized by the famous episode in which Vasubandhu...

  10. 6 AGENCY AND THE ETHICS OF MASSIVELY CUMULATIVE CAUSALITY
    (pp. 176-213)

    Cioran was a cynic and rejected the possibility of salvation, but his reading of Buddhism here is apt. We are trapped, and destined to suffer, by the fact of our birth. Our suffering has, in fact, beginningless causes, and is properly conditioned to continue endlessly. What’s more, the Buddhist denial of the personal self—ordinarily the seat of freedom—seems to deny as well the possibility of meaningful human agency. Vasubandhu, as we have seen, is repeatedly found denying agency—even agency in a single momentary event. Yet salvation is possible. It is proposed not through a new kind of...

  11. CONCLUSION: Buddhist Causal Framing for the Modern World
    (pp. 214-224)

    Vasubandhu’s works cohere within a view that I would like to characterize as “Buddhist Causal Framing.” By this term I mean to indicate the unifed perspective that is implicit in the doctrines of the Three Natures and the storehouse consciousness (ālayavijñāna), and which I have shown Vasubandhu drawing from the central goals of Abhidharma and the Buddha’s core doctrines of impermanence, dependent origination, and no-self. The Buddha said that there is no self, and what appears to be the self is only an ever-changing mass (Kāya) of searate entities. Those enities, taken together, appear unified and static, but they are...

  12. Appendix A. AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF THE THREE TIMES
    (pp. 225-231)
  13. Appendix B. BRIEF DISPROOF OF THE SELF
    (pp. 232-232)
  14. Appendix C. DISCUSSION OF “VIEW” (DṚṢṬI)
    (pp. 233-235)
  15. Appendix D. AGAINST THE ETERNALITY OF ATOMS (PARAMĀṆU)
    (pp. 236-238)
  16. Appendix E. THE PROPER MODE OF EXPOSITION ON CONVENTIONAL AND ULTIMATE
    (pp. 239-242)
  17. Appendix F. THE TWENTY VERSES ON APPEARANCE AND MEMORY
    (pp. 243-243)
  18. Appendix G. THE THREE NATURES EXPOSITION
    (pp. 244-248)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 249-300)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 301-310)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 311-322)