UBEF Lecture Series | Can Ultimate Reality Change? The Three Natures / Three Characters Doctrine in Indian Yogācāra and Its Modern Interpreters
The Department of Indian Subcontinental Studies presents
UBEF Lecture Series
Can Ultimate Reality Change? The Three Natures/Three Characters Doctrine in Indian Yogācāra and Its Modern Interpreters
The three natures / three characters (trisvabhāva/trilakṣaṇa) doctrine holds that there are three ways of perceiving reality: (1) the imputational (parikalpita), which is a wholly false superimposition; (2) the other dependent (paratantra), equated with dependent arising (pratītya-samutpāda); and (3) the ultimately real (pariniṣpanna), which is synonymous with emptiness (śūnyatā) and such-ness (tathatā). The third character is what advanced meditators perceive when they eliminate the erroneous appearances of the imputational that were superimposed on the other dependent. It is described in Yogācāra texts beginning with the Discourse Explaining the Thought (Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra) as a “purifying object” (viśuddhālambana), meaning that when meditators focus on it, it serves to remove afflictions and aids them in attaining advanced states of consciousness. It can do this because it is unchanging; it is the nature of all phenomena, and when meditators realise it directly they make progress on the path. Contemporary buddhologists, however, mostly follow the interpretations of Gadjin Nagao and Alan Sponberg, who think that the other dependent is the primary factor in this schema. It is “transformed” through the actions of meditators, and so it is the result of the process, rather than a facilitating factor. This presentation will examine these interpretations in light of Indian Yogācāra texts that discuss the three natures and will analyse the implications of various ways of interpreting it, with a particular focus on how it functions as a core element of the Yogācāra path to buddhahood.
About the speaker
John Powers is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and author of 18 books and more than 100 articles and book chapters, mainly focused on the Buddhist history of ideas in India and Tibet. His books include A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism (Harvard, 2009) and The Buddha Party: How the Chinese Communist Party Works to Define and Control Tibetan Buddhism (Oxford, 2015).
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