- Parallels of the All Base Consciousness?
Since the beginning of the transmission of Buddhism to the West there has been a keen interest in the Yogācāra school of Buddhist philosophy. Although this area of scholarship has been marginalized due to the mainstream emphasis on Mādhyamaka (middle way) philosophy, it is still regarded as one of the pinnacle achievements of the Mahāyāna period. Due to the advanced and intricate nature of the ideas put forth by this school it is easy to understand how one of its key concepts, the ālayavijñāna (base consciousness), has become the focal point for discussion in the twenty-first monograph of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy, Tao Jiang’s Contexts and Dialogues: Yogācāra Buddhism and Modern Psychology on the Subliminal Mind. If this title does not grab the reader’s interest from the outset, then I am sure one of the seven sections (five chapters and the introductory and concluding remarks) will surely capture her attention.
Why has the ālayavijñāna been chosen as the key topic for discussion in this book? The simple answer can be found in the main title, “Contexts and Dialogue.” If there is going to be a context in which to discuss both Yogācāra Buddhism and modern psychology, then one can quickly see how it would be very useful to utilize the Yogācāra idea of the ālayavijñāna, or, as Jiang translates it, the “subliminal mind.” It would not make sense to use the Yogācāra concept of trisvabhāva (three natures) as the basis for discussion, as that concept is not found in modern psychology.
From the very beginning, one can see that Jiang has done the necessary preparatory work of discovering a foundation from which a dialogue between these two disciplines can emerge. Initially, I approached this possibility of a shared concept between Yogācāra Buddhism and modern psychology with skepticism, due to the recent tendency in psychology and New Age discourse to try to appropriate Buddhist concepts into their own respective frameworks in order to gain popularity, and in some cases legitimacy. However, putting that bias aside, I was pleasantly surprised at how often I became immersed in the multiple discussions that occur throughout the book.
Contexts and Dialogue has the potential to help researchers across disciplines ask important questions when investigating possible parallels. Jiang states that “the accidental nature of drawing parallels . . . is hard to avoid. . . . [T]here needs to be a [End Page 102] more methodic reflection on the very comparative context within which these parallels are made” (p. 6). This conclusion is an extremely important one at a time when the emphasis on interdisciplinary study is experiencing exponential growth.
In the beginning of the book, it is a little difficult to ascertain who the intended audience is, even though Jiang states that it is for Buddhist specialists as well as nonspecialists (p. 22). However, as one reads further, this appears to become less important as there is something to offer to a variety of audiences. For example, the researcher in Yogācāra Buddhism will find the first half of this book of interest because of the detailed discussion of the ālayavijñāna. On the other hand, the modern psychologist and the comparative philosopher may find the second half of interest because of the discussion of the subliminal mind in modern psychology, and the analysis of the different systems of Xuan Zang, Freud, and Jung. Furthermore, there may be scholars and researchers who are outside the disciplines of Buddhist studies and modern psychology who will find the entire discussion to be of interest as well.
At the outset, Jiang makes it very clear that the motivation for writing this book was not to find common ground or language but rather to understand the two systems within their original contexts and then bring them into a new context, which he calls “a face to face dialogical setting” (p. 6). It is...