From Self-Attaching to Self-Emptying: An Investigation of Xuanzang’s Account of Self-Consciousness

Open Theology 3:184-197 (2017)
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Abstract

In this paper, I investigate the account of self-consciousness provided by Chinese Yogācārins Xuanzang (602-664CE) and Kuiji (632-682CE). I will explain how they clarify the transition from selfattaching to self-emptying through the articulation of consciousness (vijñāna). Current scholarship often interprets the Yogācāra account of consciousness either as a science of mind or as a metaphysical idealism. Both interpretations are misleading, partly because they perpetuate various stereotypes about Buddhism, partly also because they overlook the religious goal of realizing in practice the wisdom of emptiness and the non-egoistic compassion. Against the status quo, I argue that through their account of self-consciousness, Xuanzang and Kuiji advocate what can be referred to as transcendental idealism that stresses the correlation between subjectivity and objectivity. Yogācārins thus neither nullify the existence of subjectivity nor formulate subjectivity as a higher entity. The transcendental idealism yields a Buddhist phenomenology that is similar to and also different from Edmund Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. In what follows I will first characterize Husserl’s phenomenology as an approach to consciousness at two levels (the descriptive level and the explicative level). Then, I elicit the Buddhist phenomenology from Yogācāra philosophy that is not only descriptive and explicative but also prescriptive. This three-level architectonic of consciousness, while reaffirming the importance of agency, further justifies the role of religious rituals and moral practices for Yogācāra devotees.

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Jingjing Li
Leiden University

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