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Mahayana Buddhism



The Yogacara school, also known as Cittamatra or mind-only, teaches that everything we experience in the world is a product of the mind and has no inherent existence of its own. The mind itself really does exist but is empty of duality or any conception of subject and object. In order to explain this Yogacara teaches three natures (svabhava); three ways of understanding. These are: the parikalpita-svabhava (imagined) which is the incorrect belief that individual selves and objects possess own being and are not subject to causes; the paratantra-svabhava (dependent) which really exists and is the constant flow of conditioned and conditioning events which the mind wrongly interprets as separate things with own-nature; and the parinispanna-svabhava (perfected) which represents the ultimate truth because it is the paratantra as correctly understood by an enlightened mind.
     Yogacara also has a systematized explanation of the process by which the unenlightened mind may become enlightened. This is based on the doctrine of eight types of consciousness. These are the six sense consciousnesses which include the mind, the manas which interprets information received through the sense consciousnesses and also a storehouse consciousness the alaya-vijnana. The alaya-vijnana is the deepest level of consciousness and contains `seeds' which are deposited there through karmic actions. In time these `seeds' come to fruition leading to yet more unenlightened perceptions. At the point of enlightenment the alaya-vijnana no longer contains such `seeds' and is pure.


The Yogacara school is the second of the two major philosophical schools within Mahayana Buddhism (the other is Madhyamaka). Like other Buddhist philosophical systems it is an attempt to explain the way things really are and to give a full and final explanation of the teachings of the Buddha. Yogacarins criticised the Abhidharma systems for positing really existing dharmas and the Madhyamaka for going too far in the other direction and teaching that nothing exists. The founder of the Yogacara school was Asanga, a fourth century monk in the Mahisasaka order. The tradition records that his teacher was Maitreya who may have been the heavenly Bodhisattva or a human teacher. Asanga converted his brother Vasubandhu to the Mahayana and the brothers developed and systematised the Yogacara school and other Mahayana teachings. The Yogacarin explanation for the way things are was developed further in the sixth century by Sthiramati and Dharmapala who disagreed about the detail of the enlightenment process and in particular the nature of the consciousness that remains within an enlightened being. Disciples of both scholars carried Yogacara thought into China where it was later associated with the teaching of tathagatagarbha, the Buddha-essence. In the eighth century the Yogacara-Madhyamaka, a synthesis of Yogacara and Madhyamaka teachings was developed by Santaraksita (c.680-740CE) and his disciple Kamalasila. This synthesis was reputed to be superior to either of the schools on their own. 


There is no inscriptional or textual evidence to suggest that the school had a distinct symbol system.


Like the Madhyamaka, the Yogacara school continues as part of the philosophical underpinning of many schools of Mahayana Buddhism including Tibetan and Far Eastern schools.

Main Centre

The school had no headquarters or main centre. Instead it had centres throughout northern India and China.