When one considers Asanga and Vasubandhu and their connection with the Yogācāra, it needs to be stated that they stressed their basic position as Vijñaptimātratā, wherein the emphasis was placed on a form of an epistemic-proposition that elaborates on perceptual-errors that blocks the path to higher self-realization. In this sense its primary focus is more of a soteriological-formulation than an exclusively “mind-only” proposition. Thus, Vijñaptimātratā became known as the fundamental philosophical principle of a “Classical- Yogācāra” as articulated by Asanga and Vasubandhu. In particular, Vasubandhu, in his Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya, or commentary on the Madhyāntavibhāga, put the Vijñaptimātratā-construct to work wholeheartedly. Likewise, the Madhyānta-vibhāgaṭīkā, or subcommentary on both the Madhyāntavibhāga+bhāṣya composed by Sthiramati, also puts emphasis on that Vijñaptimātratā formulation. While Stcherbatsky includes both the MAVBH and MAVT in his translation, someone else writing simultaneously at the same time (unbeknownst to both men), the Dutch scholar David Lasar Friedmann, placed a greater emphasis on the Sthiramati Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā. It’s interesting to note that when Friedmann heard that the famous Russian Buddhologist was translating the same work, he was about to abandon his efforts when he was persuaded by Stcherbatsky to continue his noble effort. We will also be utilizing Friedmann’s excellent work as it nicely and refreshingly compliments Stcherbatsky’s translation.
Friedmann’s analysis of the Middle-Path is well-worth quoting:
This Middle Path is difficult to comprehend but nevertheless essential. It is difficult to be understood because it is the object of that wisdom which transcends logic and dialectics, i.e. because it is the object of the Nirvikalpajñāna, the Pure Non-Discriminative Wisdom [of the Saints]. And it is essential because it cannot be known by the controversialists, the opponents. Its [mystical] essentiality (sāratā) has been explained according to the truth [as the activity of the Bodhisattva on the Path of Final Deliverance, for it consists of the obtainment and practicing of the ten Paramitas the ten Transcendental Virtues]. (Friedmann, Sthiramati Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā, pg. VII)
Friedmann also concisely pinpoints in his introduction the Abhūtaparikalpa* in the Madhyāntavibhāga, and that is what he terms the “Constructive Ideation”:
[*Abhūtaparikalpa: In Sanskrit, “false imagining” or “construction of what is unreal”; a pivotal Yogācāra term describing the tendency of the dependent (PARATANTRA) nature (SVABHĀVA) to project false constructions of a reality that is bifurcated between self and others. Sentient beings mistakenly assume that what has been constructed through consciousness has a static, unchanging reality. (Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 1456-1460). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.) Sometimes it is used interchangeably with the Ālayavijñāna.]
Constructive Ideation: By it is meant the foundation of phenomenal existence, not phenomenal existence itself. It is a kind of “Cogito, erg o sum” but without a real, individual thinker. It is “thought” here which is real, not the thinker (subject) nor that which is being thought (object). The Constructive Ideation is seen as a dynamic stream of consciousness, the component parts of which, i.e. the dharmas, the ideas or elements of existence arise in causally dependent origination. These elements, which we might call the noumena (*from our last blog this would be the negative-noumenon), being consciousness, are capable of objectivizing and are therefore responsible for phenomenal existence. As Dr. Obermiller has it JGIS , voL I, p. 113): “they are the substratum on whose basis the attribution of the superimposed essences and qualities is made: at the same time, as moments of consciousness, they are the agents , which bring about the superimposition, inasmuch as the habit of objectivizing forms a property of the stream of consciousness to which they belong.” So, the Constructive Ideation constructs the phenomenal world, the world of the subject-object relation. The Phenomenal world cannot have for that reason, real, independent existence, since it is only a product of sense perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna). This Constructive Ideation therefore, although real in itself, is devoid of its super-imposed, phenomenal aspect or to put it otherwise: From the transcendental point of view it is nonsubstantial inasmuch as this phenomenal aspect is concerned. (ibid, pg.VI)
For Friedmann, the Constructive Ideation, or the conscious-agent, is pure Avidyā—or the Transcendental Illusion, something that Stcherbatsky also emphasizes. The Constructive Ideation is the body-consciousness that creates the “illusory world of phenomena.” Stcherbatsky refers to the Constructive Ideation as the “Universal Constructor of Phenomenal Reality”:
We thus have the full right to call it phenomenal appearance, appearance simply, illusive appearance, world-illusion, transcendental illusion, phenomenal world or worlds, since all single phenomena, as well as all the worlds, everything except the transcendent Absolute, are embraced by it…
[Thus] The Discourse on Discrimination between Middle and Extremes is written with the same aim as the Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi. It repudiates the Universal Relativism of the Mādhymikas. It repudiates also the Pluralism of Hinayāns. By a stricter discrimination between Appearance and Reality it establishes its own system of a spiritual Monism. There is a transcendent Absolute Reality of the Pure Spirit (vijñapti-matrata), Hegel’s Absolute Idea. (Stcherbatsky, MAVBH)
“And being nonsubstantial, i.e. its Non-Substantiality, says Friedmann, “is at the same time its true essence, its sole reality.” This can become somewhat unclear because what Stcherbatsky refers to as “the Absolute”, is considered by Friedmann as Non-Substantiality; yet he soon clarifies its significance:
Duality i.e. subject and object does not substantially exist in the Constructive Ideation or as Constructive Ideation, because it is of an imputed nature. Now, the real background of this unreality of duality is the Essence of the Non-Substantiality…
So the essential nature of the Non-Substantiality has been elucidated. It is the Monistic Essence, [i.e. the real background] of the unreality [of phenomenal existence. This monistic reality however should not be understood in the sense of objective, empirical reality]. It has not the character of an entity. The word “bhava, existence, background” is added here [in order to denote that the reality of the Non-Substantiality is absolute and transcendental]…
[The Non-Substantiality] in this respect is characterized by that [monistic] essence which transcends the reality as well as the unreality [of phenomenal existence], because, in its various forms, it pervades everything. (ibid, pg. 60-62)
Hence, Friedmann refers to what Stcherbatsky claims as the chapter of The Absolute, as one entailing the title: Śūnyata—Non-Substantiality. Both Stcherbatsky’s “Absolute” and Friedmann’s “Non-Substantiality” are synonyms of Śūnyata. (And vice-versa, i.e. śūnyata, tathatā, bhūtatathatā, dharmakāya are all attributes of Absolute Suchness: the sole Reality and the Real-Substance (essence) behind all dharmata.
I cannot stress enough that these first few blogs of this series be studied totally and completely before reading what is to follow, otherwise the terminology can prove to be most ambiguous at best. Studium facit in mente pura!