Yogācāra Strategies against Realism: Appearances (ākti) and Metaphors (upacāra)

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This paper describes and elucidates two philosophical parallels: the first between two early Yogācāra Buddhist positions, and the second between these positions and a contemporary discussion in analytic philosophy. The two Yogācāra positions are (1) that reality is a mere appearance (ākti); and (2) that all language is metaphorical (upacāra). First, the distinctive Yogācāra belief in the reality of mere appearances is clarified by carefully distinguishing the terminological uses in Vasubandhu's Three Natures Exposition (Trisvabhāvanirdeśa) from the terms used to make parallel conceptual moves in a very similar passage from the Ornament to the Mahāyāna Sūtras (Mahāyānasūtrāla kāra). Second, the theory of language advocated by Sthiramati in his commentary to Vasubandhu's Thirty Verses (Triśikākārikā) is explained as a counter to arguments that Yogācāra non-realism is self-defeating. This latter view shows how Yogācāra may be fruitfully brought into dialogue with Hilary Putnam's famous antiskeptical Brain-in-a-Vat argument. The paper finds basic accord within Vasubandhu's ontology and theory of reference, and shows how they represent a new, coherent Yogācāra response to Putnam's realist challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-147
Number of pages17
JournalReligion Compass
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


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