- Indian Buddhist Theories of Persons: Vasubandhu’s “Refutation of the Theory of a Self”
In Indian Buddhist Theories of Persons: Vasubandhu’s “Refutation of the Theory of a Self,” Vasubandhu’s classic fourth-fifth century c.e. treatise, “The Refutation of the Theory of a Self” (ātmavādapratiṣedha) is translated and provided with a comprehensive introduction and an analytical commentary by James Duerlinger. The difficult question of the dating of Vasubandhu is not taken up by the author, whose concern is exclusively with this treatise as a philosophical work. In the “Refutation” Vasubandhu briefly presents the Abhidharma account of the selflessness of persons, raises objections to the standpoint of the Pudgalavādins, answers their objections to his own view, and then answers the objections presented by the Tīrthikas—those who belong to the non-Buddhist schools advocating the thesis that a person is a self (ātman), which is a substance (dravya) that exists apart from the aggregates (skandhas).
This translation of the “Refutation” is a slight revision of the author’s earlier translation, which appeared in the Journal of Indian Philosophy (U.S.A.) in 1987. It is based on the Sanskrit text of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, discovered in Tibet by Rahula Sankrtyayana in 1936, and then edited by Prahlad Pradhan in 1967. There was a translation of the “Refutation” into English made by Theodore Stcherbatsky in 1919 based on Yaśomitra’s Sanskrit commentary (Sphuṭārthā Vyākhyā) and its Tibetan translation. It was also translated into French by Louis de La Vallée Poussin in 1931 on the basis of Yaśomitra’s Sanskrit commentary and its two Chinese translations. These early translations of the “Refutation” are superceded by the present one, which corrects their errors of translation, some of which were occasioned by the absence of the original Sanskrit text. The book, therefore, satisfies a need for scholars and students to have access to a good English translation of this important Sanskrit text.
The introduction to the translation (pp. 1–70) is divided into twelve sections: “Vasubandhu’s ‘Refutation’ and the central philosophical questions about which Indian Buddhist theories of persons are concerned”; “The Sanskrit text and its translation”; [End Page 108] “The theories of persons of the Pudgalavādins and the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas”; “Indian Buddhist philosophical schools and the two realities”; “The selflessness of persons thesis and Indian Buddhist theories of persons”; “The conception of a person and its causal basis”; “The five aggregates in dependence upon which persons are conceived”; “The middle way between extreme views”; “The problematic character of Vasubandhu’s exchange with the Pudgalavādins”; “Problems and implications of the Pudgalavādins’ theory of persons”; “The objections to Vasubandhu’s theory of persons”; and “An initial reflection on the theories of persons discussed in this study of Vasubandhu’s ‘Refutation.’” The author’s introduction is followed by important notes (pp. 58–70), which contain textual references and detailed critical discussions. His discussions in the footnotes are subtle and innovative.
The translation itself (pp. 71–121) is lucid. It is divided into five sections, four treating the topics mentioned above and one containing Vasubandhu’s concluding verses. This is followed by explanatory notes (pp. 112–121) on terms and concepts, which are sometimes masterly. The commentary (pp. 122–298), which is analytical in character, is divided into four sections, each devoted to comments on one of the four major parts of the translation. It carefully analyzes and evaluates the theses and arguments in the “Refutation.”
The book, therefore, is suitable for use by both scholars and students as a text for courses in Indian Buddhist philosophy. The selflessness of persons, which is the most important topic in Indian Buddhist philosophy, is the primary focus of the book.
In the introduction Duerlinger very carefully distinguishes Indian Buddhist theories of persons into three basic kinds. The first is the classical theory, which is set out by Vasubandhu himself in the “Refutation.” The...