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  • Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun
  • Charles Muller
Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun. By Dan Lusthaus. Curzon Critical Studies in Buddhism Series. London: Routledge, 2002. Pp. xii + 611. Hardcover $65.00.

Western students of Yogācāra Buddhism have long been in need of a full-length work that analyzes the key Yogācāra problematic concepts in a comprehensive manner. Due to the lack of such a text, many nonspecialists have been forced to rely on the accounts provided in reference and survey works, which have tended to offer vague and confusing interpretations of what the tradition actually represents. In writing Buddhist Phenomenology, Dan Lusthaus has provided us with the most comprehensive and coherent response to these needs seen in recent years. After decades spent reading descriptions of the school written by both classical and modern scholars that he considers to have missed the point in one way or another, his aim in writing Buddhist Phenomenology is to set the meaning of Yogācāra straight. In so doing, he provides a re-articulation of Yogācāra that amounts to a must-read for anyone with an interest in this seminal Buddhist system.

The core thread in this work lies in treating what Lusthaus takes to be the foremost of the misunderstandings of Yogācāra-the meaning of vijñapti-mātra, commonly rendered as "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Standard introductions to Yogācāra for several decades now have tended to explain vijñapti-mātra as either a Buddhist form of "idealism" or a Jungian psychologism wherein the store consciousness is equated with a collective unconscious. Most introductions to "consciousness-only" continue to explain it as a "kind of happy realization and valorizing affirmation of consciousness as a reality, meaning something like 'true cognition' or 'consciousness is real'" (p. 435). Lusthaus argues that Vasubandhu and his colleagues never intended such a valorizing signification, but in fact used the term vijñapti-mātra with "the intent of laying out an indictment of the problems that the activities of consciousness engender" (p. 435). The explanation of exactly how and why this is so necessitates a reexamination of a wide array of arcane Yogācāra concepts. But in a more fundamental sense—at least for Lusthaus (and, we would suppose, for Vasubandhu and Xuanzang)—it implies a reevaluation of one's understanding of the most basic concepts of Buddhism itself, including karma, dependent origination, and selflessness. Lusthaus' main vehicle for carrying out this project is Xuanzang's Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun (CWSL), which Xuanzang composed for the express purpose of clarifying the meaning of Yogācāra in his own time. Lusthaus has been working on the CWSL for decades, and so this book also represents a culmination of his studies on that text.

We should not misunderstand, based on the title, that Lusthaus is attempting to write a work of East-West comparative philosophy that directly correlates Husserlian phenomenology and Buddhism. The reason for the reference to phenomenology, as explained in the first two chapters, is that despite the numerous fundamental differences that lie between Buddhism and Western philosophy, when we attempt to translate the discourse of a Buddhist tradition such as Yogācāra, which is epistemological [End Page 135] in character (and not ontological or metaphysical, as it is often construed to be), the branch of Western philosophy that has the language most applicable to the task is that of phenomenology, with such hallmark concepts as noesis/noema and hyle.

In these first two chapters Lusthaus gives a welcome review of the various permutations and usages of the term "idealism," as understood by different branches of philosophy, so that we may, later in the book, see exactly why the term is not applicable to what is going on in Yogācāra. In the second part of the book (starting from chapter 3), Lusthaus shows how Yogācāra fleshes out the fundamental components of the Buddha's teaching by examining the terms and concepts located within the discourse of...