Yogachara (IAST: Yog?c?ra; literally "yoga practice"; "one whose practice is yoga") is an influential school of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing phenomenology and ontology through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It was associated with Indian Mahayana Buddhism in about the fourth century, but also included non-Mahayana practitioners of the D?rntika school.
Yog?c?ra discourse explains how our human experience is constructed by the mind.
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The earliest text of this tradition is the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra which might be as early as the first or second century CE. It includes new theories such as the basis-consciousness (?laya-vijñ?na), and the doctrine of cognition-only (vijñapti-m?tra) and the "three natures" (trisvabh?va). However, these theories were not completely new, as they have predecessors in older theories held by previous Buddhist schools, such as the Sautr?ntika theory of seeds (b?ja) and the Sthavira nik?ya's abhidharma theory of an unconscious Bhavanga. Richard King has also noted the similarity of the Sautantrika representationalism and the Yogacara:
The Sautrantika accept that it is only the form (akara) or representation (vijñapti) of an object which is perceived. Where the schools differ is in the Yogacara refusal to accept the validity of discussing external objects as causes (nimitta) given that an external object is never (directly) perceived.
The Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra, as the doctrinal trailblazer of the Yog?c?ra, inaugurated the paradigm of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, with its own tenets in the "third turning". The Yog?c?ra texts are generally considered part of the third turning along with the relevant sutra. (Some traditions categorize this teaching as within the "fourth turning" of the wheel of Dharma.) Moreover, Yog?c?ra discourse surveys and synthesizes all three turnings and considers itself as the final definitive explanation of Buddhism.
The orientation of the Yog?c?ra school is largely consistent with the thinking of the P?li nik?yas. It frequently treats later developments in a way that realigns them with earlier versions of Buddhist doctrines. One of the agendas of the Yog?c?ra school was to reorient the complexity of later refinements in Buddhist philosophy to accord with early Buddhist doctrine.
Yog?c?ra, which had its genesis in the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra, was largely formulated by the brahmin-born half-brothers Asa?ga and Vasubandhu. Asa?ga spent many years in intense meditation, during which time tradition says that he often visited the Tu?ita Heaven to receive teachings from Maitreya. Heavens such as Tu?ita are said to be accessible through meditation and accounts of this are given in the writings of the Indian Buddhist monk Param?rtha, who lived during the 6th century.Xuanzang tells a similar account of these events:
In the great mango grove five or six li to the southwest of the city (Ayodhy?), there is an old monastery where Asa?ga Bodhisattva received instructions and guided the common people. At night he went up to the place of Maitreya Bodhisattva in Tu?ita Heaven to learn the Yog?c?rabh?mi-stra, the Mah?y?na-s?tra-ala?k?ra-stra, the Madhy?nta-vibh?ga-stra, etc.; in the daytime, he lectured on the marvelous principles to a great audience.
Asa?ga went on to write many of the key Yog?c?ra treatises such as the Yog?c?rabh?mi-stra, the Mah?y?nasa?graha and the Abhidharma-samuccaya as well as other works, although there are discrepancies between the Chinese and Tibetan traditions concerning which works are attributed to him and which to Maitreya.
The Yog?c?ra school held a prominent position in Indian Buddhism for centuries after the time of Asa?ga and Vasubandhu. Teachings and derivations of this school have influenced and become well-established in East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.
According to Tibetan sources, this school was in protracted dialectic with the Madhyamaka. However, there is disagreement among contemporary Western and traditional Buddhist scholars about the degree to which they were opposed, if at all. To summarize the main difference: while the Madhyamaka held that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing was inappropriate, some later exponents of Yog?c?ra asserted that the mind (or in the more sophisticated variations, primordial wisdom) and only the mind is ultimately real. This is, however, a later interpretation of Yog?c?ra, and Vasubandhu and Asa?ga in particular did not assert that mind was truly inherently existent.
The position that Yog?c?ra and Madhyamaka were in dialectic was expounded by Xuanzang in the 7th century. After a suite of debates with exponents of the Madhyamaka school in India, Xuanzang composed in Sanskrit the no longer extant three-thousand verse treatise The Non-difference of Madhyamaka and Yog?c?ra.
Yog?c?ra and Madhyamaka philosophers demonstrated two opposing tendencies throughout the history of Buddhist philosophy in India, one which worked to separate and distance the two systems and one tendency which worked towards harmonizing them.  The harmonizing tendency can be seen in the work of philosophers like ntarak?ita and also the work of the Yog?c?ra thinker Ratnakaraksanti (c. 1000). These thinkers also saw the Yog?c?ra Alik?k?rav?da ("false aspectarian", those Yog?c?ras who believe that mental appearances are false or don't ultimately exist) view as the highest.ntarak?ita (8th century), whose view was later called "Yog?c?ra-Svatantrika-Madhyamaka" by the Tibetan tradition, saw the M?dhyamika position as ultimately true and at the same time saw the Yog?c?ra view as a useful way to relate to conventionalities and progress students more skillfully toward the ultimate. This synthesized view between the two positions, and also incorporated the views of valid cognition (pramana) from Dign?ga and Dharmak?rti.
Later Tibetan Buddhist thinkers like Shakya Chokden would also work to show the compatibility of the Alik?k?rav?da sub-school with Madhyamaka, arguing that it is in fact a form of Madhyamaka. Likewise, the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyamtso has a similar view which holds that the "profound important points and intents" of the two systems are one.Ju Mipham is also another Tibetan philosopher whose project is aimed as showing the harmony between Yogacara and Madhyamaka, arguing that there is only a very subtle difference between them, being a subtle clinging by Yogacaras to the existence of an "inexpressible, naturally luminous cognition" (rig pa rang bzhin gyis 'od gsal ba).
Translations of Indian Yog?c?ra texts were first introduced to China in the early 5th century CE. Among these was Gu?abhadra's translation of the La?k?vat?ra S?tra in four fascicles, which would also become important in the early history of Chan Buddhism. During the sixth century, the Indian monk and translator Param?rtha widely propagated Yog?c?ra teachings in China. His translations include the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra, the Madhy?ntavibh?ga-k?rik?, the Triik?-vijñaptim?trat?, and the Mah?y?nasa?graha. Param?rtha also taught widely on the principles of Consciousness Only, and developed a large following in southern China. Many monks and laypeople traveled long distances to hear his teachings, especially those on the Mah?y?nasa?graha.
Although Yog?c?ra teachings had been propagated widely in China before the 7th century, most look to Xuanzang as the most important founder of East Asian Yog?c?ra. At the age of 33, Xuanzang made a dangerous journey to India in order to study Buddhism there and to procure Buddhist texts for translation into Chinese. Dan Lusthaus writes that Xuanzang had come to the conclusion that issues of dispute in Chinese Buddhism could be resolved with the availability of important texts, and especially the Yog?c?rabh?mi stra.
Xuanzang spent over ten years in India traveling and studying under various Buddhist masters. Lusthaus writes that during this time, Xuanzang discovered that the manner in which Buddhists understood and interpreted texts was much richer and more varied than the Chinese materials had previously indicated, and drew meaning from a broad cultural context. Xuanzang's teachers included labhadra, the abbot of N?land?, who was then 106 years old. Xuanzang was tutored in the Yog?c?ra teachings by labhadra for several years at N?land?. Upon his return from India, Xuanzang brought with him 657 Buddhist texts, including important Yog?c?ra works such as the Yog?c?rabh?mi stra. Upon his return to China, he was given government support and many assistants for the purpose of translating these texts into Chinese.
As an important contribution to East Asian Yog?c?ra, Xuanzang composed the treatise Cheng Weishi Lun, or "Discourse on the Establishment of Consciousness Only." This work is framed around Vasubandhu's Triik?-vijñaptim?trat?, or "Thirty Verses on Consciousness Only." Xuanzang upheld Dharmap?la's commentary on this work as being the correct one, and provided his own explanations of these as well as other views in the Cheng Weishi Lun. This work was composed at the behest of Xuanzang's disciple Kuiji, and became a central representation of East Asian Yog?c?ra. Xuanzang also promoted devotional meditative practices toward Maitreya Bodhisattva. Xuanzang's disciple Kuiji wrote a number of important commentaries on the Yogacara texts and further developed the influence of this doctrine in China, and was recognized by later adherents as the first true patriarch of the school.
Yog?c?ra was first transmitted to Tibet by ntarak?ita and then later again by Ati?a. Yog?c?ra terminology (though not necessarily its view) is also employed by the Nyingmapa in attempting to describe the nondenumerable ultimate phenomenon (Tibetan: ). Yog?c?ra is, therefore, an integral part of the history of Tibetan Buddhism.
Although Je Tsongkhapa (whose reforms to Ati?a's Kadam tradition are generally considered the beginnings of the Gelug school) argued in favour of Yog?c?ra views (specifically regarding the existence and functioning of Eight Consciousnesses) early in his career, the prevailing Gelug view eventually came to hold Yog?c?ra views as a matter of interpretable meaning, therefore distinct from Madhyamaka logic which was held to be of definitive meaning in terms of Buddhist two truths doctrine.
For their part, Jonang teachers, including Taranatha, held their own shentong ("other-voidness" Tibetan: , Wylie: gzhan-stong) views expressed in terms of "Great Madhyamaka" to be ultimately definitive in meaning, in contrast to the circumstantially definitive rangtong ("self-voidness" or prasa?gika, Tibetan: , Wylie: rang-stong) philosophy of what they termed "general Madhyamaka", comprising both Svatantrika and Prasa?gika Madhyamaka.
Current discussions between Tibetan scholars regarding the differences between shentong and rangtong views may therefore appear similar to historical debates between Yog?c?ra and Madhyamaka, but the specific distinctions have, in fact, evolved much further. Although later Tibetan views may be said to have evolved from the earlier Indian positions, the distinctions between the views have become increasingly subtle, especially as Yog?c?ra has evolved to incorporate the Madhyamaka view of the ultimate. Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso, the 19th century Rimé movement commentator, wrote in his commentary on ntarak?ita's synthesis, that the ultimate view in both schools is the same, and that each path leads to the same ultimate state of abiding.
Principal exponents of Yog?c?ra categorized and alphabetized according to location:
The Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra ("S?tra of the Explanation of the Profound Secrets"; 2nd century CE), was the seminal Yog?c?ra sutra and continued to be a primary referent for the tradition. The La?k?vat?ra S?tra also assumed considerable importance and portions of this text were considered by Étienne Lamotte as being contemporaneous with the Sa?dhinirmocana.
Also containing Yog?c?ra elements were the Pratyutpanna Sam?dhi S?tra (1st century CE) and Da?abh?mika S?tra (pre-3rd century CE).[need quotation to verify] These two sutras contain statements about the mental character of everything.
Among the most important texts to the Yog?c?ra tradition is the Five Treatises of Maitreya. These texts are said to have been related to Asa?ga by the Bodhisattva Maitreya from Tusita Heaven. Some scholars like Erich Frauwallner and Giuseppe Tucci held that Maitreya may have been a historical person and Asanga's teacher. Others like Eric Obermiller are of the opinion that Asanga wrote these five treatises himself.Fyodor Shcherbatskoy likewise doubted the historicity of Maitreya. Whatever the case, the texts are as follows:
Most of these texts were also incorporated into the Chinese tradition, which was established several centuries earlier than the Tibetan. However, the Ornament for Clear Realization is not mentioned by Chinese translators up to the 7th century, including Xuanzang, who was an expert in this field. This suggests it may possibly have emerged from a later period than is generally ascribed to it.
Authorship of critical Yog?c?ra texts is also ascribed to Asa?ga personally (in contrast to the Five Treatises of Maitreya). Among them are the Mah?y?nasa?graha and the Abhidharma-samuccaya. Sometimes also ascribed to him is the Yogacarabhumi-sastra, a massive encyclopedic work considered the definitive statement of Yog?c?ra, but most scholars believe it was compiled a century later, in the 5th century, while its components reflect various stages in the development of Yog?c?ra thought. Asa?ga also composed a commentary to the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra.
Vasubandhu is considered to be the systematizer of Yogacara-thought.
Vasubandhu wrote three foundational texts of the Yog?c?ra:
He also wrote an important commentary on the Madhyantavibha?ga. According to Buddhist scholar Jay Garfield:
While the Trisvabh?va-nirde?a is arguably the most philosophically detailed and comprehensive of the three short works on this topic composed by Vasubandu, as well as the clearest, it is almost never read or taught in contemporary traditional cultures or centers of learning. The reason may be simply that this is the only one of Vasubandhu's root texts for which no autocommmentary exists. For this reason, none of Vasubandhu's students composed commentaries on the text and hence there is no recognized lineage of transmission for the text. So nobody within the Tibetan tradition (the only extant Mah?y?na scholarly tradition) could consider him or herself authorized to teach the text. It is therefore simply not studied, a great pity. It is a beautiful and deep philosophical essay and an unparalleled introduction to the Cittamatra system.:128
Dign?ga (c. 480 - c. 540 CE) wrote an important Yogacara work, the Alambanapariksa and its vrtti.
Other important commentaries on various Yog?c?ra texts were written by Sthiramati (6th century) and Dharmapala of Nalanda (7th century), and an influential Yog?c?ra-Madhyamaka synthesis was formulated by ntarak?ita (8th century).
Yogacara is "meant to be an explanation of experience, rather than a system of ontology". It uses various concepts in providing this explanation: representation-only, the eight consciousnesses, the three natures, emptiness. They form a complex system, and each can be taken as a point of departure for understanding Yogacara:
[I]n the vast and complex system that is known as Yog?c?ra, all of these different approaches and categories are ultimately tied into each other, and thus, starting with any one of them, one can eventually enter into all of the rest."
Yogacara is usually treated as a philosophical system, but it is a school of practice as well:
[Yog?c?ra] attaches importance to the religious practice of yoga as a means for attaining final emancipation from the bondage of the phenomenal world. The stages of yoga are systematically set forth in the treatises associated with this tradition.
The Yog?c?ra masters inherited the mystical approach of the Prajñ?p?ramit? texts. However, they did not reject the validity of theoretical Abhidharma. Rather they attempted to construct a critical understanding of the consciousness that underlies all meaning, both mystical and theoretical. Their focus was on doctrine, but as it flowed from the practice of meditative centering (yoga), rather than as it was understood in acts of conceptual apprehension.
One of the main features of Yog?c?ra philosophy is the concept of vijñapti-m?tra. It is often used interchangeably with the term citta-m?tra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Several modern researchers object to this translation, and the accompanying label of "absolute idealism" or "idealistic monism". A better translation for vijñapti-m?tra is representation-only, while an alternative translation for citta (mind, thought) m?tra (only, exclusively) has not been proposed.
According to Dan Lusthaus, this theory is similar in some ways to Western Phenomenological theories and Epistemological Idealism, but it is not a metaphysical idealism because Yog?c?ra rejects the construction of metaphysical theories. Regarding Vijñapti-m?tra, Lusthaus translates it as "nothing but conscious construction" and states it is:
A deceptive trick is built into the way consciousness operates at every moment. Consciousness projects and constructs a cognitive object in such a way that it disowns its own creation - pretending the object is "out there" - in order to render that object capable of being appropriated. Even while what we cognize is occurring within our act of cognition, we cognize it as if it were external to our consciousness. Realization of vijñapti-m?tra exposes this trick intrinsic to consciousness's workings, thereby eliminating it. When that deception is removed one's mode of cognition is no longer termed vijñ?na (consciousness); it has become direct cognition (jñ?na) (see above). Consciousness engages in this deceptive game of projection, dissociation, and appropriation because there is no "self." According to Buddhism, the deepest, most pernicious erroneous view held by sentient beings is the view that a permanent, eternal, immutable, independent self exists. There is no such self, and deep down we know that. This makes us anxious, since it entails that no self or identity endures forever. In order to assuage that anxiety, we attempt to construct a self, to fill the anxious void, to do something enduring. The projection of cognitive objects for appropriation is consciousness's main tool for this construction. If I own things (ideas, theories, identities, material objects), then "I am." If there are eternal objects that I can possess, then I too must be eternal. To undermine this desperate and erroneous appropriative grasping, Yog?c?ra texts say: Negate the object, and the self is also negated (e.g., Madhy?nta-vibh?ga, 1:4, 8).
According to Thomas Kochumuttom, Yog?c?ra is a realistic pluralism. It does not deny the existence of individual beings:
What it denies is:
- That the absolute mode of reality is consciousness/mind/ideas,
- That the individual beings are transformations or evolutes of an absolute consciousness/mind/idea,
- That the individual beings are but illusory appearances of a monistic reality.
Vijñapti-m?tra then means "mere representation of consciousness":
[T]he phrase vijñaptim?trat?-v?da means a theory which says that the world as it appears to the unenlightened ones is mere representation of consciousness. Therefore, any attempt to interpret vijñaptim?trat?-v?da as idealism would be a gross misunderstanding of it.
The term vijñapti-m?tra replaced the "more metaphysical" term citta-m?tra used in the La?k?vat?ra S?tra. The La?k?vat?ra S?tra "appears to be one of the earliest attempts to provide a philosophical justification for the Absolutism that emerged in Mahayana in relation to the concept of Buddha". It uses the term citta-m?tra, which means properly "thought-only". By using this term it develops an ontology, in contrast to the epistemology of the term vijñapti-m?tra. The La?k?vat?ra S?tra equates citta and the absolute. According to Kochumuttom, this is not the way Yogacara uses the term vijñapti:
[T]he absolute state is defined simply as emptiness, namely the emptiness of subject-object distinction. Once thus defined as emptiness (sunyata), it receives a number of synonyms, none of which betray idealism.
The term citta-m?tra was used in Tibet and East Asia interchangeably with "Yog?c?ra", although modern scholars believe it is inaccurate to conflate the two terms. Even the uniformity of an assumed "Yog?c?ra school" has been put into question.
Yogacara gives a detailed explanation of the workings of the mind and the way it constructs the reality we experience. Vasubandhu used the concept of the six consciousnesses, on which he elaborated in the Triikaik?-k?rik? (Treatise in Thirty Stanzas).
According to the traditional interpretation, Vasubandhu states that there are eight consciousnesses: the five sense-consciousnesses, mind (perception), manas (self-consciousness), and the storehouse-consciousness. According to Kalupahana, this classification of eight consciousnesses is based on a misunderstanding of Vasubandhu's Triikaik?-k?rik? by later adherents.[a]
According to the traditional explanation, the theory of the consciousnesses attempted to explain all the phenomena of cyclic existence, including how rebirth occurs and precisely how karma functions on an individual basis. It addressed questions that had long vexed Buddhist philosophers, such as,
The answer given by later Yog?c?rins was the store consciousness (Sanskrit: ?layavijñ?na), also known as the basal, or eighth consciousness. It simultaneously acts as a storage place for karmic latencies and as a fertile matrix of predispositions that bring karma to a state of fruition.
The likeness of this process to the cultivation of plants led to the creation of the metaphor of seeds (Sanskrit: b?ja) to explain the way karma is stored in the eighth consciousness. In the Yog?c?ra formulation, all experience without exception is said to result from the ripening of karma. The seemingly external world is merely a "by-product" (adhipati-phala) of karma. The term v?san? ("perfuming") is also used, and Yog?c?rins debated whether v?s?na and bija were essentially the same, the seeds were the effect of the perfuming, or whether the perfuming simply affected the seeds. The type, quantity, quality and strength of the seeds determine where and how a sentient being will be reborn: one's race, gender, social status, proclivities, bodily appearance and so forth. The conditioning of the mind resulting from karma is called sa?sk?ra.
The Treatise on Action (Karmasiddhiprakara?a), also by Vasubandhu, treats the subject of karma in detail from the Yog?c?ra perspective.
The traditional interpretation may be discarded on the ground of a reinterpretation of Vasubandhu's works. According to scholar Roger R. Jackson, a "'fundamental unconstructed awareness' (m?la-nirvikalpa-jñ?na)" is "described [...] frequently in Yogacara literature.", According to Kalupahana, instead of positing additional consciousnesses, the Triikaik?-k?rik? describes the transformations of this consciousness:
Taking vipaka, manana and vijnapti as three different kinds of functions, rather than characteristics, and understanding vijnana itself as a function (vijnanatiti vijnanam), Vasubandhu seems to be avoiding any form of substantialist thinking in relation to consciousness.
These transformations are threefold:
Whatever, indeed, is the variety of ideas of self and elements that prevails, it occurs in the transformation of consciousness. Such transformation is threefold, [namely,]
The first transformation results in the alaya:
the resultant, what is called mentation, as well as the concept of the object. Herein, the consciousness called alaya, with all its seeds, is the resultant.
The alaya-vijnana therefore is not an eight consciousness, but the resultant of the transformation of consciousness:
Instead of being a completely distinct category, alaya-vijnana merely represents the normal flow of the stream of consciousness uninterrupted by the appearance of reflective self-awareness. It is no more than the unbroken stream of consciousness called the life-process by the Buddha. It is the cognitive process, containing both emotive and conative aspects of human experience, but without the enlarged egoistic emotions and dogmatic graspings characteristic of the next two transformations.
The second transformation is manana, self-consciousness or "Self-view, self-confusion, self-esteem and self-love". According to the Lankavatara and later interpreters it is the seventh consciousness. It is "thinking" about the various perceptions occurring in the stream of consciousness". The alaya is defiled by this self-interest;
[I]t can be purified by adopting a non-substantialist (anatman) perspective and thereby allowing the alaya-part (i.e. attachment) to dissipate, leaving consciousness or the function of being intact.
The third transformation is visaya-vijnapti, the "concept of the object". In this transformation the concept of objects is created. By creating these concepts human beings become "susceptible to grasping after the object":
Vasubandhu is critical of the third transformation, not because it relates to the conception of an object, but because it generates grasping after a "real object" (sad artha), even when it is no more than a conception (vijnapti) that combines experience and reflection.
A similar perspective is given by Walpola Rahula. According to Walpola Rahula, all the elements of the Yog?c?ra storehouse-consciousness are already found in the P?li Canon. He writes that the three layers of the mind (citta, manas, and vijñana) as presented by Asa?ga are also mentioned in the P?li Canon:
Thus we can see that 'Vijñ?na' represents the simple reaction or response of the sense organs when they come in contact with external objects. This is the uppermost or superficial aspect or layer of the 'Vijñ?na-skandha'. 'Manas' represents the aspect of its mental functioning, thinking, reasoning, conceiving ideas, etc. 'Citta' which is here called '?layavijñ?na', represents the deepest, finest and subtlest aspect or layer of the Aggregate of consciousness. It contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future possibilities.
The store consciousness concept developed along with the Buddha nature doctrine and resolved into the concept of mindstream or the "consciousness-continuity" (Sanskrit: citta-sant?na) to avoid being denounced as running counter to the doctrine of emptiness (nyat?) and the tenets of selflessness (an?tman).
The concept of alaya is borrowed from Lankavatara; but it does not have the same characteristics nor does it function in the same way. It is neither "the originally pure mind" (prakrti-prabhasvara-citta) nor "the location of the womb (of enlightenment)" (garbha-samsthana).
To account for the notion of Buddha-nature in all beings, Yogacara scholars in China such as Tz'u-en (, 632-682) the first patriarch in China, advocated two types of nature: the latent nature found in all beings () and the Buddha-nature in practice (). The latter nature was determined by the innate seeds listed above.
The Yog?c?rins defined three basic modes by which we perceive our world. These are referred to in Yog?c?ra as the three natures of perception. They are:
Also, regarding perception, the Yog?c?rins emphasized that our everyday understanding of the existence of external objects is problematic, since in order to perceive any object (and thus, for all practical purposes, for the object to "exist"), there must be a sensory organ as well as a correlative type of consciousness to allow the process of cognition to occur.
The doctrine of nyat? is central to Yog?c?ra, as to any Mah?y?na school. Early Yog?c?ra texts, such as the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra and the Yog?c?rabh?mi stra, often act as explanations of the Prajñ?p?ramit? s?tras. Related concepts as dependent origination (prat?tyasamutp?da) and the doctrine of two truths are also central in Yog?c?ra thought and meditation. But the Yogacara-school developed its own insights on the nature of sunyata:
[T]he Yog?c?ra thinkers did not simply comment on M?dhyamika thought. They attempted to ground insight into emptiness in a critical understanding of the mind, articulated in a sophisticated theoretical discourse.
Yogacara has a positive approach of emptiness:
Although meaning 'absence of inherent existence' in Madhyamaka, to the Yog?c?rins [emptiness] means 'absence of duality between perceiving subject [gr?haka, 'dzin-pa] and the perceived object [gr?hya, bzhung-ba].'"
Each of the three natures has its corresponding "absence of nature":
Each of these "absences" is a form of emptiness, i.e. the nature is "empty" of the particular qualified quality.
An important debate about the reality of mental appearances within Yog?c?ra led to its later subdivision into two systems of Alik?k?rav?da (Tib. rnam rdzun pa, False Aspectarians) and Saty?k?rav?da (rnam bden pa, True Aspectarians) or "Aspectarians" (?k?ra) and "Non-Aspectarians" (an?k?ra). The core issue is whether appearances or "aspects" (rnam pa, ?k?ra) of objects in the mind are treated as true (bden pa, satya) or false (rdzun pa, alika). While this division did not exist in the works of the early Yog?c?ra philosophers, tendencies similar to these views can be discerned in the works of Yogacara thinkers like Dharmapala (c. 530-561?) and Sthiramati (c. 510-570?). According to Yaroslav Komarovski the distinction is:
Although Yog?c?ras in general do not accept the existence of an external material world, according to Saty?k?rav?da its appearances or "aspects" (rnam pa, ?k?ra) reflected in consciousness have a real existence, because they are of one nature with the really existent consciousness, their creator. According to Alik?k?rav?da, neither external phenomena nor their appearances and/in the minds that reflect them really exist. What exists in reality is only primordial mind (ye shes, jñ?na), described as self-cognition (rang rig, svasamvedana/ svasamvitti) or individually self-cognizing primordial mind (so so(r) rang gis rig pa'i ye shes).
As the name of the school suggests, meditation practice is central to the Yog?c?ra tradition. Practice manuals prescribe the practice of mindfulness of body, feelings, thoughts and dharmas in oneself and others, out of which an understanding of the non-differentiation of self and other is said to arise. This process is referred to in the Yog?c?ra tradition as raya-par?v?tti, "turning about in the basis", or "revolution of the basis", the basis being the store-house consciousness:
... a sudden revulsion, turning, or re-turning of the ?laya vijñaña back into its original state of purity [...] the Mind returns to its original condition of non-attachment, non-discrimination and non-duality".
In this awakening it is realized that observer and observed are not distinct entities, but mutually co-dependent.
One of the more controversial teachings espoused by the Yogacara school was an extension of the teachings on seeds and store-conscious. Based on the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra and the La?k?vat?ra S?tra, the Yogacara school posited that sentient beings had innate seeds that would make them capable of achieving a particular state of enlightenment and no other. Thus, beings were categorized in 5 ways:
The fifth class of beings, the Icchantika, were described in various Mahayana sutras as being incapable of achieving Enlightenment, unless in some cases through the aid of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. Nevertheless, the notion was highly criticized by adherents of the Lotus Sutra (e.g. the Tiantai school) and its teaching of universal Buddhahood. This tension appears in East Asian Buddhist history.
Yog?c?ra has also been identified in the western philosophical tradition as idealism, or more specifically subjective idealism. This equation was standard until recently, when it began to be challenged by scholars such as Kochumuttom, Anacker, Kalupahana, Dunne, Lusthaus, Powers, and Wayman.[c] Buddhist scholar Jay Garfield continues to uphold the equation of Yog?c?ra and idealism, however.:155 To the same effect, Nobuyoshi Yamabe states that "Dign?ga also clearly inherited the idealistic system of Yog?c?ra."  Like many contemporary scholars, Yamabe is aware that the texts considered to be Yog?c?ra treatises reflect various stages in addressing the issue of mind and matter. Yog?c?ra has also been aligned with phenomenalism. In modern western philosophical discourse, Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have approached what western scholarship generally concedes to be a standard Yog?c?ra position.
There are two important aspects of the Yog?c?ra schemata that are of special interest to modern-day practitioners. One is that virtually all schools of Mah?y?na Buddhism came to rely on these Yog?c?ra explanations as they created their own doctrinal systems, including the Zen schools. For example, the early Zen tradition in China was sometimes referred to simply as the "La?k?vat?ra school" (Ch. , Léngqié Z?ng), due to their strong association with the La?k?vat?ra S?tra. This s?tra draws heavily upon Yog?c?ra theories of the eight consciousnesses, especially the ?layavijñ?na. Accounts recording the history of this early period are preserved in Records of the La?k?vat?ra Masters (Ch. , Léngqié Sh?z? Jì).
That the scriptural tradition of Yog?c?ra is not yet well-known among the community of western practitioners is perhaps attributable to the fact that most of the initial transmission of Buddhism to the west has been directly concerned with meditation and basic doctrines. However, within Tibetan Buddhism more and more western students are becoming acquainted with this school. Very little research in English has been carried out on the Chinese Yog?c?ra traditions.
In the 8th century, Shantarakshita went to Tibet and founded the monastery at Samyé. He was not a direct disciple of Bhavaviveka, but the disciple of one of his disciples. He combined the Madhyamika-Svatantrika and Cittamatra schools, and created a new school of Madhyamika called Svatantrika-Yogachara-Madhyamika. His disciple Kamalashila, who wrote The Stages of Meditation upon Madhyamika (uma'i sgom rim), developed his ideas further, and together they were very influential in Tibet.
There was a very famous Nyingma lama at the time called Lhodrag Namka-gyeltsen, and this Nyingma lama had, continually, visions of Vajrapani. And he invited Tsongkhapa, and they became mutual teacher and disciple. It's from this Nyingma lama that Tsongkhapa got his main lam-rim transmissions from the Kadam tradition -- two of the main Kadam lineages. There are three Kadampa lineages that had split. He got two of them from this Nyingma lama and one from a Kagyu lama. The Kadampa was divided into three: One was the lam-rim teachings, one was the textual teachings, and one was the oral guideline teachings. So he got the lam-rim and the oral guideline lineages from this Nyingma lama, and the textual tradition from a Kagyu lama. This I find very interesting. One always thinks that he got them from Kadampa lamas; he didn't. And that Gelugpa was so separate from all these other traditions; it wasn't. Look at this Kagyu lama, Lama Umapa, that Tsongkhapa studied Madhyamaka with; he had studied Madhyamaka with Sakya. The Sakyas were the main Madhyamaka people of those days.
Accordingly, those who adhere to rangtong take the first wheel of the Buddha's teachings which is the Wheel of Dharma that teaches the Four Noble Truths to be provisional in meaning, the middle Wheel of Dharma that teaches the absence of characteristics as ultimately definitive in meaning, and the final excellently distinguished Wheel of Dharma as teaching the circumstantial definitive meaning, which is provisional in meaning. Those who uphold zhentong take the first Wheel of Dharma to be provisional, the middle Wheel of Dharma to teach the circumstantial definitive meaning, and the final Wheel of Dharma to teach to ultimate definitive meaning.