"Abhidharma and Tathāgatagarbha Influences in Yogācāra— Do the Competing Strands Allow for a Consistent Model of Reality?"
Klaus-Dieter Mathes, University of Vienna
Following the Abhidharma distinction of relative and ultimate realities/truths in terms of nominal (prajñaptisat) and substantial (dravyasat) existence, the Yogācāras defined their model of reality in a modified form—there being no longer material, but only “mental” substance—in terms of a mind stream that is characterized by an imagined, dependent and perfect nature: A dependently arising stream of false imagination (abhūtaparikalpa), i.e., the substantially or ultimately existing dependent nature (paratantrasvabhāva), projects the imagined nature (parikalpitasvabhāva) of a perceived object and perceiving subject, which exist only nominally. The third—the perfect—nature (pariniṣ-pannasvabhāva) is the dependent empty of the imagined. This “common” model of reality dominates Yogācāra literature and is most explicitly taught in Vasubandhu’s Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi (i.e., Triṃśikā, verse 25), which formed the basis of Xuanzang’s (玄奘) Buddhology. However, in the Madhyāntavibhāga, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra and the Vyākhyāyukti we also find strands of an uncommon Yogācāra model of reality that restricts the ontological status of the dependent nature to the level of relative truth/reality, especially when the three-nature model is explained in terms of the two realities/truths system.
It will be argued that if one accepts that the strands with the uncommon model of reality reflect the ultimate definite intention of Yogācāra, the latter can be easily brought in line with either Madhyamaka or Tathāgatagarbha thought. Such a synthesis also contributes to remedying the flaws Yogācāra has in the eyes of Mādhyamikas, namely that a considerable group of sentient beings is completely cut off from liberation or that a dependently arising mind exists on the level of ultimate reality/truth. This line of thought was mainly followed by the Nyingma, Kagyu and Jonang schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes is the head of the Department of South-Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies. He is the co-editor of the “Viennese Studies of Tibetology and Buddhism” (Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde) and a regular contributor to the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. His current research deals with the Tibetan reception of Yogācāra, Tathāgatagarbha, and Mahāmudrā. He obtained a Ph.D. from Marburg University with a study of the Yogācāra text Dharmadharmatāvibhāga (published in 1996 in the series Indica et Tibetica). His habilitation thesis was published by Wisdom Publications under the title A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsawa´s Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga (Boston, 2008). Recent publications include A Fine Blend of Mahāmudrā and Madhyamaka. Maitrīpa's Collection of Texts on Non-conceptual Realization (Amanasikāra) (Vienna, 2015), The Other Emptiness: Rethinking the Zhentong Buddhist Discourse in Tibet (SUNY, 2019), and Mahāmudrā in India and Tibet (Brill, 2020, in print).