Making Sense of Mind Only

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“William Waldron has accomplished a small miracle in composing a remarkably clear and insightful introduction to the Yogācāra school of Buddhism. Yogācāra’s brilliant explorations of interdependence and the mind in India have been extraordinarily influential on Buddhist thought and practice across Asia, and yet its complexities have defied broad global understanding in modern times. There is a compelling grace and clarity in how Waldron elucidates its deepest intricacies with resonant meaning that is simultaneously modern and Buddhist in character, leaving one with a sense of a lifetime of quiet reflective immersion in these ancient philosophical and contemplative traditions.” —David Germano, professor of Tibetan Buddhist studies and executive director of the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia

Making Sense of Mind Only is good medicine for our challenging time. Bill Waldron has skillfully brought his deep scholarship into these profound teachings on the nature of perception and experience, blended with incisive insights and good humor. He has articulated the significant implications of our mind’s deep propensity to project self-bias onto all that we experience. How urgent this is in our world of divisiveness. These teachings, and this excellent book, offer real insights that can be examined through reflection and directly experienced through Buddhist practice. —Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, abbot, Zen Mountain Monastery

“Minds and worlds interdependently construct each other at myriad entangled levels. That’s the central theme of Waldron’s superb guide to Yogācāra. This will become the go-to book for anyone wishing to learn about this radical Buddhist philosophy of cognition.” —Evan Thompson, professor of philosophy, University of British Columbia, and author of Waking, Dreaming, Being

“William Waldron’s remarkable book brings his notable textual scholarship into accessible conversation with meditators, scientists, and consciousness aficionados. Steering between idealism and realism, Waldron allows us to ask, “What is all this and how do we know?” His care in demonstrating Yogacara’s nuanced and elegant answers invites us to fall in love with Mahāyāna Buddhism in a brand-new way.” —Judith Simmer-Brown, distinguished professor, Naropa University, and author of Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism

"This is not only a great book on Yogācāra but a great book on Buddhist thought and what it tells us about that most basic, vital, and elusive aspect of being human: the mind.” —Roger R. Jackson, John W. Nason Professor of Asian Studies and Religion, emeritus, Carleton College

“This book is a treasure, a major contribution both to scholars of Buddhist studies and to students of Buddhism who care about doctrine. Professor Waldron explains in lucid prose the historical and doctrinal context of Yogācāra as well as its philosophical importance and value for the contemporary philosophy of mind. His account is accurate, rigorous, and profound; the narrative is compelling. You will love this book, and you will learn from it.” —Jay L. Garfield, Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and professor of philosophy and Buddhist studies, Smith College and the Harvard Divinity School

"Professor Waldron is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts on Yogācāra Buddhist philosophy and psychology. His decades of experience researching and teaching Yogācāra philosophy in dialogue with modern disciplines and sciences have given him the skills needed to write a foundational introduction to Yogācāra that demonstrates the enormous contribution it is now making across many current frames of knowledge.” —John Makransky, associate professor of Buddhism and comparative theology, Boston College


Why Yogācāra Buddhism Matters

William S. Waldron

This survey of the Yogācāra school of Indian Buddhism makes its key texts and ideas accessible and relevant through engaging, contemporary examples. It interprets Yogācāra Buddhism as a coherent system of ideas and practices in relation to the path to liberation.

Mahāyāna Buddhism arose in classical India and flourished in China, Tibet, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. While one of its major Indian schools, the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) focuses on the concept of emptiness—that all phenomena lack their own essence—the Yoga Practitioners school (Yogācāra) focuses on the cognitive processes whereby we impute such essences. Through everyday examples and analogues in cognitive science, author William Waldron makes Yogācāra’s core teachings—the three turnings of the Dharma-wheel, the three-nature theory, the store-house consciousness, and the idea of mere perception—accessible to a general audience. Countering the common view of Yogācāra as a form of idealism, he treats Yogācāra Buddhism as a coherent system of ideas and practices on its own terms, with dependent arising its guiding principle. He first examines early Buddhist texts that show how our affective and cognitive processes shape the way objects and worlds appear to us, and how we erroneously grasp onto them as essentially real—perpetuating the engrained habits that bind us to saṃsāra. After analyzing the early Madhyamaka critique of essences, he then examines how Yogācāra texts, such as the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra and Stages of Yogic Practice, build upon these earlier ideas to argue that our constructive processes also occur unconsciously. Not only are we collectively, yet mostly unknowingly, constructing our shared realities—our cultural worlds—they are also mediated through the store-house consciousness (ālaya-vijñāna)—functioning as a kind of “cultural unconscious.” Next, Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses argues that we can learn to recognize such objects and worlds as “mere perceptions” (vijñāpti-mātra) and thereby abandon our enchantment with the products of our own cognitive processes. The author walks us through the Mahāyāna path to this transformation as gracefully laid out in Maitreya’s Distinguishing Phenomena from their Ultimate Nature. Finally, he considers how Yogācāra perspectives inspire us to rethink religion in our scientific and pluralistic age.

book information
  • Paperback
  • 384 pages, 6 x 9 inches
  • $29.95
  • ISBN 9781614297260
  • ebook
  • 384 pages
  • $21.99
  • ISBN 9781614297413
about the author
Making Sense of Mind Only

Bill Waldron got his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1990 after extensive travel and study in Asia with native Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese scholars and three years of research at Ōtani University in Kyoto, Japan. He has been teaching courses at Middlebury College since 1996 on Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, comparative philosophies of mind, and theory and method in the study of religion. His publications focus on the Yogācāra school of Indian Buddhism in dialogue with modern thought. His first book, The Buddhist Unconscious: The Ālaya-Vijñāna in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought, was published by Routledge Curzon in 2003. He regularly gives talks and workshops at Dharma study groups in America and Asia, focusing on Yogācāra and contemporary topics. When he is not teaching, he may be found wandering the shores of Lake Huron or doing kora with his wife in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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