Yogacara Buddhism in Daily Life

Recently, I talked a little bit about an old, but highly influential stream of Mahayana Buddhist thought called Yogacara Buddhism (sounds like “Yogaachaara“) also known as “Conscious-ness Only Buddhism”. A lot of modern Buddhism that people practice now from Tibet to Japan is deeply influenced by Yogacara, even if not overtly aware of it.

Anyhow, in the previous post, I provided a very high-level overview of Yogacara Buddhism through an excellent book titled Living Yogacara: An Introduction to Consciousness-Only Buddhism, originally written in Japanese, but translated to English by A Charles Muller.

The book goes on to describe a more down to earth example of how Yogacara Buddhism describes the world:

We touch upon various things every day, meet various kinds of people, and are encountering various situations and events as we carry out our day-to-day living. At that time, it is quite natural for us to think that in regard to the objects of our mental functions of perceiving, thinking, and making judgments, that we are directly seeing, hearing, and making judgements in regard to this and that object. However, according to Yogācāra Buddhism, those cognized objects have already been colored and transformed by our minds in the process of their manifestation.

Page 10, translation by A Charles Muller

In the same chapter, the author uses the example of looking at a clock and recognizing that it is 7:30pm. The raw, digital output from the clock is internalized by our minds and interpreted as “7:30 in the evening” as the initial cognization, with follow up thoughts such as “oh, I am late” or “it’s time to get ready for bed”, and so on, as the followup stream of consciousness.

Elsewhere, Rev. Tagawa, also writes:

We lead our lives surrounded by all sorts of things. We annoyed, we may try to escape them by moving to the quiet and simple life in the middle of the mountains, but the fact of our being surrounded by many things does not change at all. As long as we are alive, there is no way that we can ever sever ourselves from our environment. In managing our daily lives, we have no recourse by to proceed while maintaining some kind of relationship with all those things that surround us. At such a time, there will always be things, people, and events. Rather than seeking to escape from them, what we need to do is examine the way we cognize these things, and the way we understand their content.

Page 11, trans. by A Charles Muller

This harks allllllllll the way back to one of the very earliest Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada, which is a collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha, wherein the opening lines are:

1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

Translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita

Indeed, one cannot escape the mind or its mental states, regardless of whether one is in a mountain retreat, or stuck in the office. Buddhism is, first and foremost, a religion of the mind, not magical phenomena.

In the second Dune novel, there’s a quotation I think about sometimes think about at times like this:

The greatest palatinate earl and the lowliest stipendiary serf share the same problem. You cannot hire a mentat or any other intellect to solve it for you. There’s no writ of inquest or calling of witnesses to provide answers. No servant — or disciple — can dress the wound. You dress it yourself or continue bleeding for all to see.

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

In other words, we have to learn to live with ourselves and the environment around us somehow.

Namu Amida Butsu
Namu Shaka Nyorai

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

2 thoughts on “Yogacara Buddhism in Daily Life

  1. What an interesting article! I wonder how it would seem, if it would work, if instead of looking toward something, it was attempted to look from something? Instead of perceiving from the centre of our being, perceive from a perspective of, for example, a falling leaf. I shall attempt this. Thank you.


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