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Making Sense of Mind Only

Why Yogacara Buddhism Matters

Published by Wisdom Publications
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

Through engaging, contemporary examples, Making Sense of Mind Only reveals the Yogacara school of Indian Buddhism as a coherent system of ideas and practices for the path to liberation, contextualizing its key texts and rendering them accessible and relevant.

The Yogacara, or Yoga Practice, school is one of the two schools of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in the early centuries of the common era. Though it arose in India, Mahayana Buddhism now flourishes in China, Tibet, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. While the other major Mahayana tradition, the Madhyamaka (Middle Way), focuses on the concept of emptiness—that all phenomena lack an intrinsic essence—the Yogacara school focuses on the cognitive processes whereby we impute such essences. Through everyday examples and analogues in cognitive science, author William Waldron makes Yogacara’s core teachings—on the three turnings of the Dharma wheel, the three natures, the storehouse consciousness, and mere perception—accessible to a broad audience. In contrast to the common characterization of Yogacara as philosophical idealism, Waldron presents Yogacara Buddhism on its own terms, as a coherent system of ideas and practices, with dependent arising its guiding principle.

The first half of Making Sense of Mind Only explores the historical context for Yogacara’s development. Waldron 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 habits that bind us to samsara. He then analyzes the early Madhyamaka critique of essences.

This context sets the stage for the book’s second half, an examination of how Yogacara texts such as the Samdhinirmocana Sutra and Asanga’s Stages of Yogic Practice (Yogacarabhumi) build upon these earlier ideas by arguing that our constructive processes also occur unconsciously. Not only do we collectively, yet mostly unknowingly, construct shared realities or cultures, our shared worlds are also mediated through the storehouse consciousness (alayavijñana) functioning as a cultural unconscious. Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses argues that we can learn to recognize such objects and worlds as “mere perceptions” (vijñaptimatra) and thereby abandon our enchantment with the products of our own cognitive processes. Finally, Maitreya’s Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Ultimate Nature (Dharmadharmatavibhaga) elegantly lays out the Mahayana path to this transformation.

About The Author

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 Otani 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 Yogacara school of Indian Buddhism in dialogue with modern thought. His first book, The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-Vijñana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought, was published by RoutledgeCurzon in 2003. He regularly gives talks and workshops at Dharma study groups in America and Asia, focusing on Yogacara 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.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (November 7, 2023)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781614297413

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Raves and Reviews

Making Sense of Mind Only clarifies how our perceptions are largely driven by unconscious apprehensions that bind us to ideological stances and their ensuing delusions. Outlining a path through our minds’ fabrications, Waldron offers readers access to one of the world’s deepest traditions of working with the mind.”

– John P. Keenan, professor emeritus of religion, Middlebury College

“This introduction to Yogacara thought is a remarkable accomplishment: drawing on his decades of work with Yogacara sources, Waldron manages to make Yogacara accessible to those unfamiliar with Buddhist scholastic philosophy while still doing justice to its intellectual, historical, and textual complexities. Waldron’s vivid demonstration of the philosophical subtlety and sophistication of the tradition—both on its own terms and when placed in conversation with contemporary philosophy—is a strong argument for the continued relevance of the medieval Buddhist philosophical tradition.”

– Robert Sharf, chair, Numata Center for Buddhist Studies, University of California, Berkeley

“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 Yogacara 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

"Waldron helps us discern the value of Yogacara philosophy at this time when cognitive science, developmental psychology, and aspects of physics are becoming aligned with it. Waldron engages both general and scholarly readers, breaking through our habits of being trapped in the subject–object split. I cannot recommend this seminal contribution to contemporary psychology and spirituality too highly.”

– Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD, Jungian analyst and psychologist, author of The Present Heart

"Written in an elegant and accessible prose, Making Sense of Mind Only: Why Yogacara Buddhism Matters will shape philosophical discussion about Yogacara for years to come.”

– Jonardon Ganeri, Bimal Matilal Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto

"I strongly recommend Making Sense of Mind Only to all philosophically interested readers who want to find out what early Indian Yogacara has to say on some of the most fundamental questions about reality and our cognitive access to it.”

– Jan Westerhoff, University of Oxford

"Making Sense of Mind Only is a brilliant book.”

– Jonathan C. Gold, professor of religion, Princeton University, and author of Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu’s Unifying Buddhist Philosophy

"This is not only a great book on Yogacara 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

Making Sense of Mind Only is good medicine for our challenging time."

– 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 Yogacara. 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

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