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This talk focuses on a radical but, until now, much neglected change in Buddhist account of consciousness (meaning roughly “cognition” in this context) that took place from the Abhidharma tradition, (beginning roughly from the 3rd century BCE) to the Yogācāra tradition, (beginning roughly from the 3rd century CE). Namely, Abhidharma insists that only one type of consciousness arises at one moment, but Yogācāra allows the arising of multiple types of consciousness at one moment. What might have triggered such a radical change and development? I suggest that a tension was already there in Abhidharma that might have led to the Yogācāra position. Namely, Abhidharma holds two premises at the same time: (1) omnipresent (mahābhūmika) mental concomitants (caitta) must arise at the same time when any of the six types of consciousness arises; (2) the omnipresent mental concomitants arise through the functioning of the mental consciousness. These two premises taken together implies that the mental consciousness must arise at the same moment as a sensory consciousness arises, hence two types of consciousness arise at the same moment. This event is a Harvard-Yenching Institute Visiting Scholar Talk.



Ching Keng, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, National Taiwan University; Harvard-Yenching Institute Visiting Scholar, 2021-22


Parimal G. Patil, Professor of Religion and Indian Philosophy, Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University