Contending Interpretations of the Concept of Mind in Yogācāra Buddhism

  • Phramaha Somboon Vutthikaro (Phanna) Graduate School, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University
Keywords: metaphysical idealism, pluralistic interpretation, Early Buddhism, Yogācāra Buddhism, religious pluralism


This research aims to study the various interpretations of the concept of mind in Yogācāra Buddhism with special reference to the pluralistic interpretations based on Early Buddhism. Such interpretations will be invited to converse with key aspects of John Hick’s religious pluralism. This investigation aims to tease out interpretive responses to the question whether the concept of mind in Yogācāra Buddhism could be posited as proposing a religious pluralist stance as explicated by Hick.

This study argues that the teachings of Yogācāra Buddhism are not centered on the problem of what metaphysically exists or not, but rather on ethical problems concerning human sufferings in the saṃsāra caused by their mental activities. In this respect, the concept of “Cittamātra” (Mind-only) in Yogācāra Buddhism that has been interpreted as metaphysical idealism, therefore, is not consistent with the overall standpoint of Yogācāra Buddhism.

Having analyzed the concepts of mind in Early Buddhism and Yogācāra Buddhism through a conversation with religious pluralism of John Hick, this study demonstrates the followings. 1) On ultimate reality: Buddhism holds a different position from that of Hick in the sense that the ultimate reality is not God-centered, but rather natural law-centered; 2) On the limitations of human perception of reality: Buddhism and Hick share similar idea that the human perception is limited, that is, the mind does not perceive things as they really are, but perceives them in terms of “experiencing-as” or “seeing-as”. The limitations of human perception of reality leads to the conflicting truth-claims among religions; 3)On presentation of reality: both Buddhism and Hick share the similar idea that humans have limitations in presenting reality, that is, the various symbolic systems that they use, language, for example, are unable to convey true reality; and 4) On recognition of other religions: Hick views that ways to salvation of all religions are equal. No religion can claim superiority over all others. All religions hold the position of moving around the same center, which is God. This kind of relationship is mirrored in the way all the planets move around the same center, which is the Sun. Buddhism disagrees with this aspect of pluralism. It accepts that the ways of other religions could lead to some levels of enlightenment. Buddhism welcomes religious freedom by encouraging each person to consider and decide by his or her own intelligence what religion he or she would practice.


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How to Cite
Vutthikaro, S. (2021). Contending Interpretations of the Concept of Mind in Yogācāra Buddhism. Journal of Buddhist Studies Chulalongkorn University, 27(3), 1-43. Retrieved from
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