Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy

Perhaps no other classical philosophical tradition, East or West, offers a more complex and counter-intuitive account of mind and mental phenomena than Buddhism. While Buddhists share with other Indian philosophers the view that the domain of the mental encompasses a set of interrelated faculties and processes, they do not associate mental phenomena with the activity of a substantial, independent, and enduring self or agent. Rather, Buddhist theories of mind center on the doctrine of no-self (Pāli anatta, Skt.[1] anātma), which postulates that human beings are reducible to the physical and psychological constituents and processes which comprise them.

Indian Buddhist analyses of the mind span a period of some fifteen centuries, from the earliest discourses of the Buddha (ca. 450 B.C.E.) to the systematic developments of late Mahāyāna Buddhism (500–1000 C.E.). Although philosophical accounts of mind emerge only within the Abhidharma scholastic traditions (roughly 150 B.C.E. to 450 C.E.), their roots are found in the Buddha’s teachings of the no-self doctrine. At the same time, these accounts parallel similar theoretical developments within the Brahmanical traditions, with which they share a common philosophical vocabulary (and a general view of mental processes as hierarchical and discrete). This article focuses on the picture of mind and mental phenomena that emerges from the canonical literature, the theories of mind advanced by the main Abhidharma scholastic traditions, and the epistemological issues of perception and intentionality debated by philosophers such as Vasubandhu, Dignāga, Dharmakīrti, Candrakīrti, Śāntarakṣita, and Dharmottara.

All references to the canonical literature are to the major collections of texts in the Pāli Canon, primarily to the LongMiddle, and Connected Discourses of the Buddha (the Dīgha,Majjhima, and Saṃyutta Nikāyas respectively). For the Abhidharmic account of mind and related phenomena I draw almost exclusively from Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharmakośa and its bhāṣya; hereafter AKBh), a foundational text for most of the philosophical developments of late Indian Buddhism.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Coseru, Christian, “Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/mind-indian-buddhism/&gt;.

One thought on “Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy

  1. Pingback: audio & lyrics: A real fantasy (“I’m Justified!”) « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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