Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Vol. 1

1. Systems of Classification

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Systems of Classification

WHEN ANCIENT INDIAN Buddhist texts present the topic of reality, they rely on numerous systems of classification. For example, in the Attainment of Knowledge (Jñānaprasthāna), which belongs to the Seven Treatises of Abhidharma,28 as well as its commentary the Great Treatise on Differentiation (Mahāvibhāṣāśāstra), three groupings are used to classify all phenomena: (1) aggregates, (2) elements, and (3) bases. First, all conditioned phenomena are systematically presented in the five aggregates (skandha): the aggregates of form, feeling, discernment, formation, and consciousness. When external and internal phenomena are classified by means of object, sense faculty, and consciousness, phenomena are presented in terms of the eighteen elements and the twelve bases. The eighteen elements (dhātu) consist of six objective elements — form, sound, smell, taste, tactility, and mental objects; [140] six sense-faculty elements that support consciousness — the eye sense faculty, ear sense faculty, nose sense faculty, tongue sense faculty, body sense faculty, and mental sense faculty; and six subjective elements that are supported consciousnesses — eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mental consciousness. When the term base (āyatana) is applied as part of this classification system, all phenomena are categorized in twelve bases: the six objects comprising the sense base of form, sound, smell, taste, tactility, and the base of mental objects; and the six sense faculties comprising the eye sense base, ear sense base, nose sense base, tongue sense base, body sense base, and mental sense base. In these classification systems, unconditioned phenomena are included in the mental-object element from the list of eighteen elements and the mental-object base29 in the enumeration of the twelve bases.

Alternatively, in Vaibhāṣika works such as Vasubandhu’s Treasury of 48Knowledge (Abhidharmakośa), the following framework of five basic categories of reality is presented: (1) evident material form, (2) primary minds, (3) concomitant mental factors, (4) nonassociated formative factors, and (5) unconditioned phenomena.

According to this classification all external and internal physical phenomena — the five sense objects such as material form and so forth and the five sense faculties such as the eyes — are included in the basic category of evident material form. The phenomena that constitute the inner world of consciousness are subsumed in the two categories of primary minds and concomitant mental factors. Those conditioned phenomena that belong to neither the class of material form nor consciousness — such as the three attributes of conditioned phenomena, namely, (1) arising, (2) enduring, and (3) disintegrating, as well as the three times of past, present, and future, and so forth — encompass the basic category of nonassociated formative factors. Finally, those phenomena that are not produced by causes and conditions constitute the basic category of unconditioned phenomena. In this way, all knowable objects are systematically classified in terms of the five basic categories of reality. [141]

In Indian Buddhist texts on epistemology, however, the presentation of reality is framed in terms of the following three topics: (1) the objects of knowledge, (2) the mind that knows, and (3) the way the mind engages objects. In contrast, in the texts of the Mind Only school, reality is presented in terms of the theory of the three natures: (1) dependent nature, (2) perfected nature, and (3) imputed nature.30 In the texts of the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) school, phenomena are presented in terms of (1) the basis, which comprises the two truths,31 (2) the path encompassing both method and wisdom,32 and (3) the result, namely, the truth body and the form body of a buddha.33 In the texts of tantra the presentation is arranged in terms of (1) the ground, that is, the nature of reality, (2) the stages for proceeding on the path, and (3) how the result is actualized. Thus, in brief, different formats were employed in classical Indian texts to systematically present the nature of reality.

In this two-volume compendium, we have organized our presentation on reality in terms of five major themes:

1.The presentation of knowable objects

2.The presentation of the cognizing mind

3.How the mind engages its objects


4.The means by which the mind ascertains objects

5.The presentation of the person, the agent who ascertains objects

One might ask, “Since there are a vast number of Indian Buddhist treatises, what are the principal sources for this compendium?” Here the presentation of physical phenomena in general, the primary elements and derivative form in particular, and the subtle and coarse particles that comprise material entities are based [142] by and large on the textual tradition of Abhidharma. We take as our sources: (1) the texts of the upper Abhidharma system, such as Asaṅga’s Compendium of Abhidharma (Abhidharmasamuccaya) and its associated commentaries, (2) the Seven Treatises of Abhidharma as well as the Great Treatise on Differentiation, and (3) the treatises that expound these works, such as Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Knowledge as well as its associated writings belonging to the lower Abhidharma system.34 At times we have also consulted Bhāvaviveka’s Blaze of Reasoning (Tarkajvālā) and its commentarial tradition. In the specific section where the question of whether indivisible particles exist or not is analyzed, we have principally selected the logical arguments negating the existence of partless entities presented by Nagārjūna, Āryadeva, Candrakīrti, and so on. We have also drawn from Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses (Viṃśatikā). As for the formation and destruction of external world systems and their inhabitants, and the progressive development of the fetus in the womb and so on, by and large we have relied on Nanda’s Sūtra on Entering the Womb, the texts of the upper and lower Abhidharma systems, the corpus of the Kālacakra tantra, and traditional medical texts. Information concerning the channels, winds, and drops of the subtle body is derived from the texts of highest yoga tantra as well as works on medical science. The presentation on the brain too is based on traditional medical texts. [143]

Regarding the presentation on the subjective mind, we have drawn primarily on Asaṅga’s Five Treatises on the Grounds as well as Yogācāra texts associated with these works, Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Knowledge and its Autocommentary, and in particular the texts of the Buddhist epistemological tradition, such as the works of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, as well as their subsequent commentators. The presentation on mental factors is compiled from the texts of the upper and lower Abhidharma systems. With regard to the levels of subtlety of mind, in terms of the notion of 50“coarse” and “subtle” minds contingent on (the subtlety of the mental states of) higher and lower realms of existence, we principally rely on the texts of the upper and lower Abhidharma systems as well as works pertaining to the Yogācāra school. As for the levels of subtlety of mind, the stages of dissolution of wind and mind, and the stages of death and so on as described in the highest yoga tantra system, we have drawn principally from the textual corpus of Guhyasamāja tantra as well as the cycle of texts belonging to the Kālacakra system.

On the way in which the mind engages its objects, we have taken the texts of the Buddhist epistemological tradition as our principal source while also drawing on the Yogācāra texts of Asaṅga and his followers. With respect to the means by which the mind engages its object, in terms of the application of formal reasoning, we have based our presentation on the Buddhist sūtras, Asaṅga’s Śrāvaka Grounds (Śrāvakabhūmi), and so on, as well as Buddhist epistemological writings. On the essential points pertaining to the methods of training the mind, we have relied mainly on the following works: the Unraveling the Intention Sūtra (Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra), the texts of the upper and lower Abhidharma systems, and works belonging to the Yogācāra school. In particular, we have utilized these specific texts: Śāntideva’s [144] Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds (Bodhicāryāvatara) as well as his Compendium of Training (Śikṣāsamuccaya), Dharmakīrti’s Exposition of Valid Cognition (Pramāṇavārttika), and Kamalaśīla’s Stages of Meditation (Bhāvanākrama). Finally, on the presentation of the person, the one who ascertains objects, we have drawn from treatises such as those of the Middle Way school.

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