“The Study of Mahayana Buddhism: Doctrinal and Psychological” Religious Studies 162A Professor Ninian smart Janelle Harrison

Due: Dec. 1, 1998

In the Indian tradition if Philosophy and religion there has developed many different forms of doctrines; both orthodox and unorthodox. Out of these two branches of Hindu culture come of the most influential religious teachers have arose. One such teacher is Gautama (The Buddha) and from his teachings there developed in the Buddhist tradition three great Buddhist vehicles: Theravada (Way of The Elders). Sarvastivada (All Things Are Real), a middle phase: Madhgamika (Middle Way) and, Vijnanavada (Consciousness Only). For this paper, the focus will be on the Madhyamikas school which, is also known as Mahayana. The Mahayana school of thought within the Buddhist tradition espoused many doctrines of belief; some of which brought new insight into Buddhist teachings. This new insight was formulated by the schools founder Sakyamuni. By elaborating on doctrinal beliefs such as The Bodhisattva (enlightrnmen being), The three-nature theory (trisvabhava), The six perfection’s, and The ten Bodhisattva levels, along with the doctrine of emptiness (aunyata) I hope to illustrate the various aspects of maya (illusion) as a concept can be an eternal aspect to what has been thought for centuries as sunyata. These two concepts are paradoxical, but further analysis will have to support this theory to its full capacity. To contrast Buddhist teachings which are unorthodox to another school of thought I will briefly expose a number of doctrinal beliefs from the Vedanta branch of Hindu orthodox philosophy. I will focus on Sankara’s famous metaphysical system for the most part, and show the parallels of the belief in Maya between his teachings and, The Buddha’s (well, in Mahayana they are the teachings of Sakyamuni) can compare two traditions in the Hindu culture which are viewed as distinctly separate. All of this of

source will have to be viewed in light of the theories of causation and then, perhaps in some reflexivity show the implications of these doctrines and theories in light of modern cognitive science: Psychology. The teachings of Gautama (The Buddha) espoused a theory of no-self (anatman) and sunyata (Eliade 2: 335). The no-self doctrine is a denial of a permanent self existing in a world of emptiness (Smart 31). He taught that life is permeated with suffering (dukkha) and this suffering is what causes craving. If one can bring about cessation of craving through the Noble Eightfold Path then suffering will end (Smart 18). In the empirical world, Nirvana is a release realized by the cessation of craving. This release is from the round of rebirth and leads to the attainment of peace (santi) and insight (panna) (19). Once the macro-individual ceases to live in the empirical world, a transcendent Nirvana is finally realized and release from a world made-up of impermanent states (dhamma) which are governed by causal laws can be achieved (22). These teachings tie in well for ore discussion of Mahayana Buddhism. They show how the various schools of thought developed contrasting ideas about the path one should take. Once we begin to examine Hinayana (The “lesser” Vehicle) compared to Mahayana (The “greater” Vehicle) the doctrine of the Bodhisattva comes into play. It was the Hinayanist who espoused a theory of individual liberation (release); thus they were referred to in a pejorative manner as the “lesser Vehicle” by adherents of Mahayana (Power 94). While the Mahayanist taught the doctrine of the Bodhisattva, who are beings motivated by “great compassion” for all sentient beings; thus they were referred to as the “greater Vehicle” (93,94). It is the former school that adheres more closely to the Buddha’s original teachings of release or Nirvana.

This thought gives the only surviving Hinayana school lest today (called Theravada) a general means
to reject the Mahayana claim that Mahayana sutra’s are the authentic words of Sakyamuni, and contend that they are in fact later forgeries. Theravada scholars assert that Sakyamuni life is a paradigmatic example of the heroic struggle of an individual seeker of truth, who saw through the illusions that bind most people and who won enlightenment through his won exhorts...but Theravadins pont to numerous passages in their canon in which he told his followers to pursue their won salvation’s (95).

By applying this theory the Hinayanist’s can refute Mahayana’s doctrine of the Bodhisattva, which is a powerful rebuttal in the philosophical debates on religious theory. It also leads back to India’s original Buddhist belief that the Buddha’s words are the ultimate source of sacred authority which he gained through his insight into enlightenment of the Dharma (The Truth) (Eliade 2:336). Now in discussing the Mahayana doctrine of the Bodhisattva path, which is conducive of someone “who is progressing toward the state of enlightenment of a Buddha” there are several traits that he or she possesses that are of note; The Bodhisattva possesses supernatural powers that are used for “working for the benefit of other” that could consist of the Bodhisattva taking on karmic burdens of others that are suffering (Power 91). John Powers explains this compassion for all sentient beings as follows:
At the beginning of the Bodhisattva path, they realize that their present capacities are limited and that they are unable even to prevent their own sufferings. In order to improve their ability to aid sentient beings in distress, bodhisattva’s resolve to become Buddha’s, since Buddha’s have the greatest possible capacity to help others. Buddha’s possess unlimited wisdom and compassion, and they have perfected the ability to adapt their instructions to suit the needs of individuals.

This being the first step in realizing that one is a Bodhisattva, the person then begins the path which consists of the six perfection’s. The six perfection’s of the Bodhisattva are qualities that make one a Buddha (98). After these six qualities of (1) generosity, (2) ethics, (3) patience, (4) effort, (5)

concentration, and lastly (6) wisdom there are four more supplemental traits that Powers notes in his list that constitute the ten bohisattva levels. These four perfection’s are (1) skill in means, (2)aspiration, (3) power and (4) exalted wisdom (98). Unfortunately, a discussion of these defections in detail is not possible at this time. The discussion here will have to be limited to the third level of the ten hierarchical stages in the bodhisattva’s path to enlightenment. The reason for focusing on this level is that it is a fundamental perfection that illustrates the concept of Maya within the Mahayana tradition. The third level of perfection has been called the luminous. It is at this level that the bodhisattva’s “cultivate the perfection of patience” (power 105). But they also train their minds in a number of traits which help to constitute the Bodhisattva countenance and of Maya within Mahayana. These five clairvoyance’s are: (1) magical creation, (2) the divine ear, (3) knowing other’ minds, (4) remembering former lives, and (5) the divine eye. (105). It is magical creation that is maya. In Mahayana Buddhism maya is known as a concept which states that the world is substitution or delusion that has been conjured up as an “act of illusionism” (Eliade 9:297). Mercae Sliade points out that this view that “the world process and ore experience of it are devices to hide the inexpressible total void, cosmic consciousness postulated by Nagarjuna’s philosophy that is parallel to the Buddha’s teaching which asserts “it (the cosmic consciousness) as belonging to this sphere of secondary reality” (297). This sphere of reality in Mahayana Buddhism is created out of maya and the Bodhisattva uses the clairvoyance of magical creation to help sentient beings in a number of ways.

Although maya plays a role in the Bodhisattva doctrine it is not as central of a theme as the case is when one examines it in the three-nature theory (trisvabhava). This theory elucidates the world, and everything in it as having three natures. The first, is an imagined nature which is maya. The next nature is called other-dependent; the last nature making up everything that exists is the consummated nature (Kawamura 62). Within the three-nature theory there is a dualism, or more correctly, a bi-polar relationship between the imagined nature (which is nonexistent) and, the consummated nature which id empirically real and existent (Kawamura 62). The other-dependent nature lies in-between the two and it exists, “but only by depending on some other entity” (62). The world, though it consist of these three natures is not separated into divisional parts that are distinct from one another. No, as Kawamura notes:
According to the three-nature theory, the world remains at all times one and the same, appearing on different occasions to passes one of the three natures. While various different worlds exist, the world of human beings, the world of animals, or the heavens, the hells, and so on, according to the one unchanging world being converted into these various other worlds; those various other worlds do not exist from the first (62, 63).

This theory was also espoused by Eleanor Rosch as having a “psychological reality” (52). Her discussion is based on causality within the Buddhist doctrine and how it (causality) is used as one of the arguments for the doctrine of emptiness (sunyata) of phenomena (50). By elaborating on the different aspects of causality the mechanics, perception, action and so forth, Rosch gives a brief exposition on the parallels of folk psychology and the Madhyamika assumptions of “independent entities and concepts” as well as “the concept of cause and effect” (63). For the Madhyamika traditions contends that “no actual independent arising of causes or effects could be found” in both “ourselves and the objects of

the world” (63). Thus confirming a notion of causality within their tradition but yet, maintaining that “reality” is impermanent and without substance. And this is relative to cognitive psychology because as humans we seek to find connections between events that occur from previous grounds. This process tends to create a circular flow of events within the time-space flow of human consciousness; thus giving supportive framework for Rosch’s argument (Hunt 241-256). This of course has implications that are relative to the concept of maya in the Madhyamikas, Mahayana doctrine. The illusion (maya) is not an effect that arises out of independent causes. There is a ground for this cause, but that is a paradox to the theory that all things are empty (sunyata). This paradox would have to be one of The Buddha’s unanswerable questions that are beyond experience in interpreting the notion of a first cause. And in relation to the threenature theory both maya and cause are explained by Kawamura to be without reflection or self-consciousness because:
insofar as we are not yet enlightened to its reality but remain in a deluded state (it being the world)- we speak of this world as a world of the imagined nature: it is an imagined world. Through our cognition’s, or discriminations, or intellect, we are always projecting some kind of imagination onto the world that is originally neutral (63).

That of course bears resemblance to Roschs’ cognitive psychology and is also relative to the neurobiological functions of the brain. Though I will not be able to discuss the neuronal processes that correlate to our conscious perceptual experiences in this paper, it is a theory that is being researched in modern science and, philosophically it has been affirmed and opposed by such thinkers as Hume and Kant (Hardcastle 66).

In conclusion to the three-nature theory in Mahayana and the relative implications of maya within it there are several similes that can be found in Yogacara texts which will suffice to give an example for the Mahayana school as well. It is the magic show simile and has been directly referred to as maya.
An elephant form appears; but this magically created elephant is not real; what really exists is the wood or other material. It is not difficult to see which of the three natures these three elements are intended to represent. The words “an elephant form appears” stand for the other-dependent nature; “magically created elephant “stands for the imagined nature which is “not real”; and “what really exists is the wood or other material” stands for the other-dependent nature as well as the consummated nature (Kawamura 69).

The simile continues to explain how the audience believes that what is not real (the elephant) is real. Yet, the process of interpretation is different for enlightened beings as opposed to unenlightened beings: the former are not attached to the otherdependent nature and thus see by means of their non-discriminative wisdom the original nature (71). One such being, The Buddha, “accomplished in this knowledge of the consummated nature” could be “compared in the simile to the magician (mayakara), because the magician, like the Buddha, differs from his audience in that he is well aware of the magic shows hidden secrets” (71). In contrasting Mahayanas to another school of thought, it is the Vedanta philosophical school of thought from orthodox Hinduism that I would briefly like to discuss. This school asserts several doctrinal theories about the ultimate reality; some parallel, come opposed to The Buddhist tradition. The first most distinctive difference would be the disbelief of Brahman within the Buddhist school. Brahman, which is absolute reality according to Vedanta is considered non-dual (advaita) and in Sankara’s thought the essence of consciousness that is our inner soul is espoused by him as being identical with Brahman (Eliade 13:65). The Buddhist tradition of course teaches the

doctrine of no-self, and this is a central theme that reveals the main contrasts between orthodox Hinduism and, Mahayana Buddhism. According to Eliade, the Vedanta schools concept of maya “follows the Vedic tradition of a mysterious power of self-transformation” (Eliade 9:297). By disposing of ignorance (avidya) the process of self-transformation occurs. In Sankara’s tradition, maya is considered to be the illusion that is ignorance (13:65). He espoused that, there is no ultimate reality to the phenomenal world. Rather, it is Brahman that creation arises out of, and thus is not “totally unreal” (297). Were as in the Buddhist tradition atman is impermanent and devoid of self (anatman) and does not conjoin with a ultimate reality. These contrasts of atman and Brahman unfold into two thoughts which, holds maya or illusion as an aspect that is fundamental in each of these traditions. To expand this discussions viewpoint of maya within the Vedanta school of thought a brief exposition given by Eliade notes that
Maya deludes cosmic consciousness into associating itself with individuality, sense perception, and the sensory objects of phenomenal reality. Gaudapada interprets this process as a misconception (vikalpa) of the pure and undivided self-consciousness of the atman, just as a snake. To dispel false perception is to attain true insight into the undivided Absolute. Sankara prefers the term avidya (nescience) or ajnana (ignorance) (297).

Here we find maya’s role in Sankara’s doctrine to have parallels to the concept of maya in Mahayana. The snake simile is widely used within both traditions. It is the theory of the soul which divides these two schools though. Once again, this discussion is able to Western psychology to show the parallel’s between cognitive science and ancient religious theory. In some contexts of the Indian philosophy “the phenomenal world is likened to a bubble on the water” (Eliade 9:298). This is a theory quite the same as posited by William James’ stream of thought.

The relationship between orthodox Hinduism and Buddhist tradition is a wide gap, but at the level of illusion, thought the concepts be grounded in a different conceptual mode one could infer that there are similarities between the two schools of thought. There are a number of factors that develop the theory of maya. And there are many aspects of illusion and its role in orthodox Hinduism and Buddhism which were not discussed. A further exposition would reveal maya as a fundamental trait of the gods in Hinduism (this discussion rested on the Bodhisattva). Philosophically maya can be elaborated on in much greater detail, but as this discussion has espoused in its focus of illusion there is a paradox between the eternal idea of maya and the doctrine of sunyata within the Buddhist tradition. This was what the development of this paper was meant to expound. I hope the contrasting of two different traditions elaborated on the ideas of maya and, how comparing these two traditions in the study of religion can be beneficial for students interested in the Eastern Religious traditions.

WORKSCITED Eliade, Mircea. “Maya.” The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol 9:297-98. “Play” Vol.11: 363-68 “Sankara” Vol. 13:64,65 “Hinduism” Vol. 6: 336-60 “Buddhism: An Overview” Vol.2: 334-560 “Soul: Indian Concepts” Vol. 13:438-43 “Buddhism: Buddhism in India” Vol. 2: 334-560

Hardcastle, Valerie Gray. Psychology’s Binding Problem and Possible Neurobiological Solutions. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 1:1 (summer 1994) : 66-90. Hunt, Harry, T. On the Nature of Consciousness: Cognitive, phenomenological, and transpersonal perspectives. Kawamura, L.S. and, Nagao, G.M. Madhyamika and Yogacara: A study of Mahayana Philosohies. New York: State University of New York Press, 1991. Powers, John. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. New York: Snow Lion Pub. 1995. Rosch, Eleanor. “Is Causality Circular? Event Struture In Flok Psychology, Cognitive Science, and Buddhist Logiv: Journal of Consciousness Studies. 1:1 (summer 1994). James, William. The Principles of Psychology. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica. 1994.

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