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The Yogic Practice School (Yogācāra) is one of the two main traditions of Indian Buddhist philosophy. Its luminaries made significant contributions to epistemology and logic, and they developed a sophisticated vision of the path to awakening aimed at transforming pathological mental patterns and developing attitudes conducive to more skillful engagement with other beings and the world. One of the most important Yogācāra doctrines is the “three natures”: the imputational, the other dependent, and the ultimately real. The first refers to false notions imputed to the phenomena of experience; the second involves viewing phenomena as arising in dependence on causes and conditions, which is correct on the conventional level but mistaken from an ultimate perspective. The ultimately real nature is how sages view things: without the false overlay of the imputational and free from subject-object dichotomy. I will begin with an overview of the three natures and how they function within the Yogācāra soteriological system, and will then discuss how the third—the ultimately real—has largely been mistranslated and misconstrued by contemporary scholars who work on the tradition. This is more than just termininological quibbling because correct understanding of the ultimately real is crucial to the entire Yogācāra project, and it has ramifications for Buddhist practice more generally.
John Powers is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and Professor of Religion at Deakin University in Australia. He is the author of 18 books and more than 100 articles and book chapters, mainly on Buddhist philosophy and history of ideas, as well as environmental history, human rights, and gender, and propaganda. His books include A Bull of A Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism (Harvard, 2009) and Dignāga’s Investigation of the Percept and Its Philosophical Legacy (with Douglas Duckworth, David Eckel, Jay Garfield, Sonam Thakchoe, and Yeshes Thabkhas). New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).