Buddhist Perspectives of the Mind and How We Experience the World

A Lecture Series with John Dunne

Join John Dunne, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy, as he takes you on a fascinating journey into Buddhism’s extensive analyze of the mysteries of human consciousness and perception.

Focusing primarily on the Indo-Tibetan tradition of Mahayana philosophy, John explores how Buddhist philosophy describes the cognitive processes that give rise to our daily experience of life, and in the process uncovers the distortions and tendencies within them that keep us from seeing reality clearly. With his extensive knowledge and clear, engaging teaching style, John renders these ancient and sophisticated ideas into immediately useful wisdom, helping you to see consciousness for what it really is.



Lecture 1: The Intellectual Origins of Suffering 

In this opening lecture, John explains why Buddhism places the origin of suffering in distorted cognition, and how the Indo-Tibetan tradition of Buddhist philosophy has tried to define the nuances of consciousness in order to correct that view. When consciousness is seen as a series of events rather than an abstract quality, it becomes possible to experience a pure awareness that persists once cognitive distortions are removed.

Lecture 1 is available to all members of the Wisdom Experience. Start watching now.


Lecture 2: Seeing Through Concepts and Categories

Continuing the discussion of distorted cognition, in this second lecture John focuses on how concepts and categories frame our perception of objects and ourselves. A central goal of Buddhist philosophy is to cut through the unconscious categorization that leads us to mistakenly believe that what we experience mentally truly exists externally to our mind. However, because conceptual thought remains central to human experience, Buddhists can employ concepts like impermanence and nonduality to lead themselves toward an ultimately nonconceptual experience of reality.

Lecture 2 is available to Plus and All-Access members of the Wisdom Experience. Start watching now.


Lecture 3: Pramanas, or How We Know That We Know

In this third lecture, John begins with the question: What does it mean to see things as they “truly are?” This is the animating concern behind the discussion of pramanas, or instruments of knowledge, which form the core of Buddhist epistemology. In order to cut through mental distortion, we first must come to agreement on what makes a cognition valid or not. Buddhist philosophy differs from other Indian schools in saying that a pramana must not only be reliable, but also inferentially motivating. Yet while pramanas are necessary for acting in and interpreting the world, they are the mechanism that powers our conceptual habits, and thus distortions about reality.

Lecture 3 is available to Plus and All-Access members of the Wisdom Experience. Start watching now.


Lecture 4: The Five Mental Functions

In this fourth lecture, John focuses on how Buddhist sources explain the details of how the ordinary mind functions, or how it is that we can have experiences at all. Drawing from the work of Yogācāra philosophers, particularly Asanga and Vasubandhu, we learn about the five mental functions that must be present for consciousness to arise, and their relationship to the kleshas, or afflictions, which hinder enlightenment.

Lecture 4 is is available to Plus and All-Access members of the Wisdom Experience. Start watching now.


Lecture 5: Particulars and Universals 

In the fifth lecture, John moves to a discussion of the concept of apoha, or exclusion theory, mainly attributed to the Buddhist philosophers Dignaga and Dharmakirti. He explains that in order for conceptual categories to be useful in daily life, they must be recognizable, or differentiated from all other phenomena. However, Buddhists contend that no two things are ever alike, so the creation of stable, universal concepts entails a flattening of experience. The consequence is that our pragmatic conception of an object, such as a cow, exists only as a sheer negation of everything besides that concept.

Lecture 5 is available to Plus and All-Access members of the Wisdom Experience. Start watching now.


Lecture 6: Dissolving Subject and Object

In this final lecture, John focuses on a topic of major importance in Mahayana Buddhism: how to see through the duality of subject and object. We cannot have ordinary knowledge, mediated through concepts, without a deeply felt sense that there is a knower and the known; yet given all the issues with ordinary cognition discussed in the previous lectures, can there be a valid form of knowledge, or pramana, that is nondual?

Lecture 6 is available to Plus and All-Access members of the Wisdom Experience. Start watching now.




John D. Dunne serves on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he holds the Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities at the Center for Healthy Minds. He is also chair of the Department of Asian Languages & Cultures. His work focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, especially in dialog with Cognitive Science and Psychology. His more than fifty publications appear in venues ranging across both the Humanities and the Sciences, including Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy (2004) and Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics: The Mind (2020). John Dunne speaks in both academic and public contexts, and he occasionally teaches for Buddhist communities. His broader engagements include being a Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute, where he was previously a member of the board of directors, and serving as an academic advisor to the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal.



What is a Wisdom Lecture Series?

One of our new additions to the Wisdom Experience, lecture series are a set of approximately six short videos covering a singular topic with an amazing teacher. You can think of them as short courses with no reading assignments, quizzes, or homework. We’ve already created some wonderful lecture series including The Pursuit of Happiness with Barry Magid, The Brilliance of Dzogchen with Malcolm Smith, and Buddha Revolution with Robert Thurman, and Creativity, Spirituality & Making a Buck with David Nichtern. Buddhist Perspectives of the Mind and How We Experience the World with John Dunne is our newest Wisdom Lecture Series.

The first lecture of each lecture series is available to any member of the Wisdom Experience—Free, Plus, or All-Access. The rest of the lectures are available to Plus and All-Access members on an ongoing basis.

Join the Wisdom Experience to start watching now.

Some upcoming teachers for lecture series in the next year include B. Alan Wallace, Ajahn Brahm, Bhante Gunaratana, and Geshe Samten.

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