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  • Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy of Mind and Nature by Douglas Duckworth
  • Roshni Patel (bio)
Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy of Mind and Nature. By Douglas Duckworth. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xi + 328. Hardcover $105.00, ISBN 978-0-19-088395-9.

Douglas Duckworth’s Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy of Mind and Nature introduces a thematic way to understand the terrain of Buddhist philosophy of mind. This book is exciting for scholars who work on Buddhist philosophy, philosophy of mind, and especially Buddhist philosophy of mind or phenomenology. This wide appeal emerges from Duckworth’s own skepticism of sectarian lines between Madhyamaka and Mind-Only (Yogācāra) traditions (as well as divisions within each). While guiding us through contentious topics, Duckworth shows us how these philosophies have an underappreciated affinity as they “orbit a common ground” of nonduality (p. 25). This review will focus its praise, summaries, and comments on the five chapters of Duckworth’s analysis, and strongly encourages readers to study the four translations of practical tantric texts in the appendices.

The first chapter fluidly presents the notion of emptiness through both larger implications and fine distinctions (e.g., types of negation). Mādhyamikas understand emptiness to be a deconstructive analysis that reveals everything as mediated by the parameters of convention rather than possessing an intrinsic nature. Meanwhile, adherents of Mind-Only argue that the critical work of showing things to lack an intrinsic nature discloses an immediate consciousness that calibrates everything without duality. Duckworth appeals to the performative function of language to argue that the negative process of Madhyamaka brings us to abide with non-entities and indeterminacy in a manner similar to the practices of Mind-Only. While avoiding a simple claim of sameness between Madhyamaka and Mind-Only, this discussion is paradigmatic of how Duckworth’s analysis complicates overstated characterizations of difference.

The second chapter discusses the phenomenology of Mind-Only and the ontology of Madhyamaka, a distinction that ultimately furthers Duckworth’s thesis of reconciliation. Understanding the methodological differences between the two helps us see how we might facilitate junctures. For instance, we can see Mind-Only philosophy as a first-person, experiential perspective while Madhyamaka philosophy offers us a third-person, metaphysical perspective. [End Page 1] When taken as complements in this way, we need not see their differing emphases as indicative of disagreement (p. 36). While showing that there is some variance within Mind-Only and Madhyamaka, Duckworth argues that they both continue to trouble any sense of a strict boundary occurring between internal and external spheres.

Having laid the groundwork for understanding the common goal of nonduality, the remaining chapters each demonstrate how nonduality is operative in the philosophical topics of self-awareness, concepts, and tantric practice. In Buddhist philosophy, self-awareness requires some primary and privileged access to one’s own experience or mind, not the positing of a metaphysical self. This self-awareness excels when it reaches the form of “nondual gnosis,” a sort of experience that lacks the conceptual and dualistic dimensions of conventional experience. Prasaṅgika Mādhyamikas, however, refute the notion of this type of experience because they do not want to privilege subjectivity or grant experience any sort of higher status over objectivity. Duckworth explains that in the Madhyamaka tradition, there is nonetheless a sort of nonduality: everything is seen as “an entity of disintegration,” such that its objective character rises and falls with a correlating subjective dimension. Beholding entities as standing only in such a way that they are continually disintegrating through interdependent relations facilitates the disintegration of subjectivity and the sphere of the self, opening a nondual understanding.

The penultimate chapter is on the topic of concepts. In Mind-Only, percepts are regarded as purer than the conceptual judgments applied to them, and so the goal is to shed distortive judgments without also losing meaning altogether. To do this, one must analyze first objects, then subjects, and then the dualistic structure that holds these two spheres apart. In Madhyamaka philosophy, there is no notion of a percept that is not already conceptually laden. Tsongkhapa understands the goal to be a realization of one’s consciousness as inherently entangled with conventional concepts, a realization that...


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