Where might one find a refutation of Vasubandhu and Yogacara, as devastating as Betty and others papers on Nagarjuna?

Nagarjuna, and so also Madhyamaka, has been thoroughly refuted and disproven (see below for examples), where is the same treatment applied to Vasubandhu and Yogacara?

Nagarjuna’s Masterpiece: Logical, Mystical, Both or Neither? by Stafford L. Betty.

Is Nagarjuna a Philosopher? by Stafford L. Betty

Nagarjuna: Master of Paradox, Mystic or Perpetrator of Fallacies? by Richard Hayes

Did Nagarjuna Really Refute All Philosophical Views? by Richard Robinson

Edit: see also

and the summary of that thread applies here, too, but replace Nagarjuna with Vasubandhu:

tl;dr, Nagarjuna’s philosophy is a self refuting mess and is entirely invalid. The only way a logical, intelligent person could accept it is purely on faith, as a mystical teaching, because it does not hold up to logic at all, nor is it even a valid philosophy.

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Hello Zans,

Where can I find copies of these papers? Preferably PDFs.

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I read them over several years, and all online, so I’m not sure. I believe I read almost all of them on jstor, which is an academic site, and you need an account, but it’s free 100 articles a month. Definitely the Betty papers are on jstor, and they are the most devastating. The other two are good, but only point out some serious flaws, while Betty tears the entire thing down, and proves that Nagarjuna’s philosophy is entirely untenable. But all four combined, with the Betty ones dealing the final, utterly destroying blow, these papers got the Mahayana monkey off my back once and for all. Previously, I’d been told so often that Nagarjuna disproved all other philosophies, etc., but he sounded like blathering, self contradictory nonsense to me, so I always wondered: maybe I was too uneducated in philosophy to understand him? But now I never even consider it, and laugh when others rave about him. Betty explains it that well in his two papers.

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I found some ancient refutations. Very good, not the modern ones I was hoping for, but excellent nonetheless. Perhaps subjective idealism has been refuted enough, today, that scholars see no need in refuting yet another of the same, tired idea that everything is imaginary? It’s also strange to me that I cannot find any Theravada refutations. Plenty of Mahayana, and even some other early, pre Mahayana schools, but they bring their own bias. There are also many extremely well thought out Hindu refutations of Yogacara. Regardless, first, I’ll share a snippet from an ancient Mimamsa philosopher, as a more neutral party, since they weren’t Buddhist, yet nor were they theists. Here, we see Kumārila Bhatta demonstrating that Yogacara is self refuting, and entirely untenable.

The Thesis Is Self-Undermining
For Kumārila, not only is the Thesis called into question by perceptual and inferential counterevidence, but it also undermines itself in three different ways.
• No Difference Between Qualificand and Qualifier. First, the conclusion of any
argument makes sense only insofar as it involves two components. The first
is a qualificand (viśes.
ya), i.e., the site. In the Buddhist argument, the qualificand is the awareness of a pillar, etc… The second is a qualifier (viśes.an. a),
i.e., the target property that is inferred. In this case, it is supportlessness. But
if there are no distinct objects apprehended by awareness-events apart from
themselves or their aspects, then there can’t be any distinction between the
qualificand and the qualifier (v. 35)

Impossibility of Communication. The awareness of the qualificand and the
qualifier, which arises in both the speaker and the hearer, doesn’t apprehend
anything distinct from it. But the view that is being conveyed by the Thesis itself can only be known only if there are such objects. So, the Buddhist
who puts forward this thesis is caught in a pragmatic contradiction: they assert something which, if true, cannot be known (and therefore shouldn’t be
asserted) (v. 36).
• Impossibility of Truth/Accuracy. Finally, if all awareness-events lack an objective support, then it’s impossible to undergo any true or accurate awareness
at all (since truth, intuitively, involves some kind of correspondence with an
independent reality). Various bad consequences will then follow.

  1. The awareness as of the reason being present in the site is either true
    or false. If it is false, then the view can’t be proved on that basis (vv.
    74cd-75cd). If the awareness is true, then it is made true by some apprehended objects, i.e., by the site and its possessing awareness-hood.
    So, at least, some awareness-events have to have an external objective
    support (v. 75cd).
  2. The Buddhist’s own awareness that awareness-events exist, and are distinct and momentary, must either be true or false. If it is true, that
    awareness-event must have an external objective support, so the Buddhist’s argument fails. If it is false, the Buddhist can’t take their Thesis to
    be true (since it presupposes or entails the existence of such awarenessevents) (vv. 81cd-82).
  3. Finally, if the Thesis is qualified so that it only says that all awarenessevents other than the awareness-events about the site, the target property, or the reason, lack objective support, then we could still end up
    with the conclusion that these awareness-events have an external objective support. But since they aren’t fundamentally different from other
    waking awareness-events, we wouldn’t be able to rule out the possibility that those awareness-events also have an external objective support
    (v. 76).
    Upshot: the Thesis is self-undermining.
    -Kumarila Bhatta, verses 35-76

Here are a few words of Ramanuja on the matters of Yogacara idealism, and Madhyamaka Nihilism:

To maintain, as the Yogâkâras do, that the general rule of idea and thing presenting themselves together proves the non-difference of the thing from the idea, implies a self-contradiction; for ‘going together’ can only be where there are different things. To hold that it is a general rule that of the idea—the essential nature of which is to make the thing to which it refers capable of entering into common thought and intercourse—we are always conscious together with the thing, and then to prove therefrom that the thing is not different from the idea, is a laughable proceeding indeed.

…the Nothing is the only reality.—To this the Sûtra replies, ‘And on account of its being in everyway unproved’—the theory of general Nothingness which you hold cannot stand. Do you hold that everything is being or non-being, or anything else? On none of these views the Nothingness maintained by you can be established. For the terms being and non-being and the ideas expressed by them are generally understood to refer to particular states of actually existing things only. If therefore you declare ‘everything is nothing,’ your declaration isequivalent to the declaration, ‘everything is being,’ for your statement also can only mean that everything that exists is capable of abiding in a certain condition (which you call ‘Nothing’). The absolute Nothingness you have in mind cannot thus be established in any way. Moreover, he who tries to establish the tenet of universal Nothingness can attempt this in so far only as,—through some means of knowledge, he has come to know Nothingness, and he must therefore acknowledge the truth of that means. For if it were not true it would follow that everything is real. The view of general Nothingness is thus altogether incapable of proof.—Here terminates the adhikarana of 'unprovedness in every way.
-Ramanuja, Vedanta sutra 2.2.28-2.2.31

Here are some words by a Sarvastivada thinker, Sanghabhadra, refuting Vasubandhu specifically (though, it’s hard to tell if this is the words of Sanghabhadra, or the books author, Collett Cox, but it makes no difference, the argument is unchanged):

A given instance of perceptual consciousness is said to arise only in dependence upon two conditions: the sense organ and its corresponding object-field. This implies that perceptual consciousness arises only in conjunction with an appropriate and existent object; perceptual consciousness of a nonexistent object or without an object is, therefore, impossible.
-Disputed Dharmas
Early Buddhist Theories on Existence
An Annotated Translation
of the Section on Factors Dissociated from Thought
from Sanghabhadra’s Nyayanusara
Collett Cox
p 136-137

My personal refutation is this: Let’s assume Yogacara is correct, for a moment: All is mind! Wow. Well, that means the idea that “All is mind” is purely imaginary, fiction, and thus cannot be true!

Ok, but the Yogacara-Madhyamakin may argue that it’s different, because mind is unreal? Ok, then the position is just as meaningless, and really says “All is unreal”, and self refutes, as, the statement, and all arguments for it, including the very statement “All is unreal”, are unreal, and so false, not to be believed. Thus, the Yogacara, and subjective idealism, and extreme nihilism, anti realism, and extreme relativism (Nagarjuna) all self refute. In other words, if things are not real, you have no argument. To prove all things are unreal, or that all things are relative, and never ultimately absolute and true, is to disprove one’s own thesis, as, if everything is unreal or never true, and only relative, then the thesis is likewise unreal, or strictly relative and not actually true.

Okay, so, can we save Yogacara? Maybe the Yogacarin argues we say mind is real? If yes, then so is everything real. If mind is real, and mind is everything, then everything is real. “All is mind” really says “All is real.” Thus the position is meaningless, and becomes realism, which is the polar opposite of the intent of the thesis.

All is mind, in any formulation, is self refuting nonsense: every single formulation is, by definition, nothing more than a flawed word game. Without words, Yogacara ceases to exist entirely, but the realist school, Theravada, still exists, as they are supported by reality. As the Buddha said, the dhamma exists even if no Buddhas are around to discover it (SN 12.20). It is like an ancient, forgotten city (SN 12.65), and matter, stars, land and so on, exist even if one is unaware of them (MN 99). Reality, explained with a bizarre, flawed philosophy based purely on words, and infinite eel wriggling to ostensibly prop up the ideas, can end up like Yogacara, but reality experienced can only lead to Theravada.

Edit: This is something else I’ve written on the issue:

It is a four pillared, or pronged, argument:

1.) There is no self. So, it is literally impossible that anything can be only in the mind of an “I”, because “I” is a mere conceit. Even an individuals private thoughts are not the property, nor product of an “I”, but rather are dependent conscious events that rely on many other factors. From here, there are things, and labeling them for this game is pretty pointless, as the egocentric embarrassment of the anthropocentric view that the whole universe is some singular human trait, belonging to one self, is nullified. We are mere suffering, piled up like grass and sticks (Vism XIII.31, SN 5.10), so there’s no logic in talking about the Yogacara view of all being in the mind of grass and sticks. Only an omnipotent, or very nearly omnipotent being could prove, and actually, legitimately claim they have a self, so this cannot be argued against. Unless, well, one were at least nearly omnipotent. Then one could argue, but then, what omnipotent person would care about this at all?

2.) All of these ideas rely on language. If language is omitted, they cease to be. Thus, they are purely a language game, and do not really exist, nor have any validity beyond the game. Unlike unavoidable facts of the Theravada Dhamma, like anicca, dukkha, anatta, and many others that exist whether we put them into words or not, Yogacara has zero existence unless put into words.

3.) If language is allowed, we find linguistic problems with these ideas, paradoxes, fallacies, contradictions, and, so, we find they don’t work.

4.) Even if one agreed that everything was a Yogacara or Madhyamaka type, or similar, illusion of some kind, that wouldn’t lead any intelligent person to declare this idea as fact forever, quite the opposite! Any smart person, upon deciding they’d been completely fooled, that literally everything was an illusion, would have to admit that they are gullible, the opposite of wise, and so this should lead to philosophical quietism, like the Ajnanas. Because, if they think they can see through a great illusion, they must admit that this may be an illusion, too, and that may be another illusion, and on to vicious infinite regression. Only a fool would think that concluding they’d been fooled about all things meant they were smart, and could teach others about it. Or that reading, or hearing a Mahayana teaching that declares that everything, including the very Mahayana teachings one learned it from, are unreal, is a defensible, coherent position. If they are correct, then, by their own definition, they cannot be correct. Thus, these ideas fall even when assumed as correct. Fools preach Yogacara/Madhyamaka subjective idealism/anti realism/extreme relativism/extreme nihilism. Smart people, after working through them, and seeing that all of these ideas suffer logical fallacies, and are incoherent, untenable nonsense, may take a quietist stance. Truly wise people go with the Theravada Dhamma, which teaches us how to see the truth in what we already experience, rather the opposite of pretending we may see that literally everything is imaginary, or some other such nonsense.

For a wise, thinking person there are only two choices: Realism (like Theravada) and similar, or Philosophical quietism and similar. No one who truly understands language and logic could stay on Yogacara/Madhyamaka subjective idealism/anti realism/Extreme Nihilism/Extreme relativism/etc. forever, at least not if they are honest with themselves, and others, and seeking truth, rather than a game, or mindless faith, because, while they are games masquerading as truth that can ensnare anyone, wise people always see the fallacies, contradictions, and other problems in these philosophies, eventually, and walk away.


Kids sing a song in school called “row row row your boat”.

In 1996ish… I thought the world might be just a dream and all I needed to do was to “wake up”. I got into lucid dreaming and even bought the novadreamer.

Interesting, Venerable. Long ago, I used to read Stephen Laberge and keep dream journals. It became too much of a hassle though lol!

What made you change your mind?

1996 was a very spiritual time for me. I was living in a very surreal place on a lake where “Cats In The Cradle” was recorded. I felt inclined to become a monk and that there was no purpose in life if I was the creator of everything in it.

However, I decided that most people get satisfaction with finding love and starting a family, so I moved into a more populous area and joined a singles group (with real people) and picked out someone who looked decent and went with that.

I told the woman that it was marriage or monk life. On our first date, I told her about my theory on dreams and enlightenment… For a random person I happened to pick, it was a great match, but there is no random in Buddhism.

All that awareness I had started to fade with the woman-replacement and after about 6 months we broke up and that awareness of the reality as a fake dream was gone. It was quite cool while it lasted.

It took some time to follow through to become a monk , but maybe a more mature outlook and moving towards Theravāda and away from mystical Buddhist “related” teachings.

You would probably like my book, Going for Broke: Travelogs on becoming a Buddhist Monk. It is free on my website.

Stephen Leberge and Michael Raduga re pretty much the only sober Lucid Dream writers out there. The rest are just new age junk. Dreaming takes a lot of effort, requires interrupting sleep patterns and made me tired throughout the day, plus you need to sleep more hours to provide a light sleep mode.

While I think it is not so useful for Buddhism. I do recommend the experience (for a short number of times) if one has never had it. One can appreciate the fact that walking lucid in a dream is just so hyper realistic and far out way cool, and it puts to question, why we don’t have awareness like this with “normal walking”. There are many parallels to awareness and forgetfulness as well. But I have not actively tried for lucidity in a long time.

I do believe that when your mind is at rest and starting to fall asleep, it is interesting to pay attention to the thoughts, perhaps that will happen near death as well.

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Thank you very much for sharing, Venerable. What a deep story! I did the whole lucid dream thing long ago, it was fun, and I had some interesting, and some hilarious dreams, but it was too much of a hassle, for the reasons you mention, and others.

I’m reading some of the travelog now, great stuff! The hidden group in Kalalau was very surprising, and I found articles about it online, seems it’s gone now. I caught your joke about the Mel Brooks sequel to History of the World. Got me for a second, I grew up watching the first one, and so I had to look it up to see if it really existed :laughing: The India desert safari log was really interesting, too! I hope to read more when I have time.

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I found a great example of what I’m looking for, though the author is not addressing Yogacara directly, the views he demonstrates as self refuting are identical to those of Vasubandhu, and Yogacara.

All the four expressions I have just introduced, namely, “Material things are not real,” “Space is not real,” “Time is not real,” “The Self is not real,” are, I think, unlike the expressions I used in (1), really ambiguous. And it may be that, in the case of each of them, some philosopher has used the expression in question to express some view he held which was not incompatible with (2). With such philosophers, if there are any, I am not, of course, at present concerned. But it seems to me that the most natural and proper usage of each of these expressions is a usage in which it does express a view incompatible with (2); and, in the case of each of them, some philosophers have, I think, really used the expression in question to express such a view. All such philosophers have, therefore, been holding a view incompatible with (2).

All such views, whether incompatible with all of the propositions in (1), or only with some of them, seems to me to be quite certainly false; and I think the following points are specially deserving of notice with regard to them:

(a) If any of the classes of propositions in (2) is such that no proposition of that class is true, then no philosopher has ever existed, and therefore none can ever have held with regard to any such class, that no proposition belonging to it is true. In other words, the proposition that some propositions belonging to each of these classes are true is a proposition which has the peculiarity, that, if any philosopher has ever denied it, it follows from the fact that he has denied it, that he must have been wrong in denying it. For when I speak of “philosophers” I mean, of course (as we all do), exclusively philosophers who have been human beings, with human bodies that have lived upon the earth, and who have at different times had many different experiences. If, therefore, there have been any philosophers, there have been human beings of this class; and if there have been human beings of this class, all the rest of what is asserted in (1) is certainly true too. Any view, therefore, incompatible with the proposition that many propositions corresponding to each of the propositions in (1) are true, can only be true, on the hypothesis that no philosopher has ever held any such view. It follows, therefore, that, in considering whether this proposition is true, I cannot consistently regard the fact that many philosophers, whom I respect, have, to the best of my belief, held views incompatible with it, as having any weight at all against it. Since, if I know that they have held such views, I am, ipso facto, knowing that they were mistaken; and, if I have no reason to believe that the proposition in question is true, I have still less reason to believe that they have held views incompatible with it; since I am more certain that they have existed and held some views, i.e. that the proposition in question is true, than that they have held any views incompatible with it.

If this first point in my philosophical position, namely my belief in (2), is to be given any name, which has actually been used by philosophers in classifying the positions of other philosophers, it would have, I think, to be expressed by saying that I am one of those philosophers who have held that the “Common Sense view of the world” is, in certain fundamental features, wholly true. But it must be remembered that, according to me, all philosophers, without exception, have agreed with me in holding this: and that the real difference, which is commonly expressed in this way, is only a difference between those philosophers, who have also held views inconsistent with these features in “the Common Sense view of the world,” and those who have not.

The features in question (namely, propositions of any of the classes defined in defining (2)) are all of them features, which have this peculiar property – namely, that if we know that they are features in the “Common Sense view of the world,” it follows that they are true: it is self-contradictory to maintain that we know them to be features in the Common Sense view, and that yet they are not true; since to say that we know this, is to say that they are true. And many of them also have the further peculiar property that, if they are features in the Common Sense view of the world (whether “we” know this or not), it follows that they are true, since to say that there is a “Common Sense view of the world,” is to say that they are true. The phrases “Common Sense view of the world” or “Common Sense beliefs” (as used by philosophers) are, of course, extraordinarily vague; and, for all I know, there may be many propositions which may be properly called features in “the Common Sense view of the world” or “Common Sense beliefs,” which are not true, and which deserve to be mentioned with the contempt with which some philosophers speak of “Common Sense beliefs.” But to speak with contempt of those “Common Sense beliefs” which I have mentioned is quite certainly the height of absurdity. And there are, of course, enormous numbers of other features in “the Common Sense view of the world” which, if these are true, are quite certainly true too: e.g. that there have lived upon the surface of the earth not only human beings, but also many different species of plants and animals, etc. etc.

-A Defense of Common Sense, G. E. Moore

Here is Epictetus on this type of “all is mind” thinking, though, again, not directly about Yogacara, still relevant, as he is refuting identical core beliefs, though, it seems he is poking fun, so, this should be taken as humor, for entertainment purposes only:

If I were a slave of one of these gentlemen, even at the risk of being whipped to the bone every day, I would never stop tormenting him.
‘Throw a bit of oil into the bath, boy.’
I’d take some fish sauce and go and pour it over his head.
‘What’s this?’
‘ I had an impression that was indistinguishable from that of oil; it was just the same, I swear that by your fortune.’
‘ Here pass me the gruel.’
I’d bring him a dish full of vinegar.
‘Didn’t I ask you for the gruel?’
‘ Yes, master, this is gruel.’
‘ But surely it’s vinegar?’
‘ Why that rather than gruel?’
‘Take some and smell it, take some and taste it.’
‘ Well, how do you know, if it is true that our senses deceive us?’
If I had three or four fellow slaves who thought in the same way as I did, I’d soon make him explode with anger and hang himself, or else change his ideas.
But as things are, men like this are making fun of us, they make use of all the gifts of nature while abolishing them in theory.
Discourses: 2:20

And this modern piece, yet again not about Yogacara, but utterly destroys it just the same:

The Incoherence of Solipsism

With the belief in the essential privacy of experience eliminated as false, the last presupposition underlying solipsism is removed and solipsism is shown as foundationless, in theory and in fact. One might even say, solipsism is necessarily foundationless, for to make an appeal to logical rules or empirical evidence the solipsist would implicitly have to affirm the very thing that he purportedly refuses to believe: the reality of intersubjectively valid criteria and a public, extra-mental world. There is a temptation to say that solipsism is a false philosophical theory, but this is not quite strong or accurate enough. As a theory, it is incoherent. What makes it incoherent, above all else, is that the solipsist requires a language (that is, a sign-system) to think or to affirm his solipsistic thoughts at all.

Given this, it is scarcely surprising that those philosophers who accept the Cartesian premises that make solipsism apparently plausible, if not inescapable, have also invariably assumed that language-usage is itself essentially private. The cluster of arguments—generally referred to as “the private language argument”—that we find in the Investigations against this assumption effectively administers the coup de grâce to both Cartesian dualism and solipsism. (I. § 202; 242-315). Language is an irreducibly public form of life that is encountered in specifically social contexts. Each natural language-system contains an indefinitely large number of “language-games,” governed by rules that, though conventional, are not arbitrary personal fiats. The meaning of a word is its (publicly accessible) use in a language. To question, argue, or doubt is to utilize language in a particular way. It is to play a particular kind of public language-game. The proposition “I am the only mind that exists” makes sense only to the extent that it is expressed in a public language, and the existence of such language itself implies the existence of a social context. Such a context exists for the hypothetical last survivor of a nuclear holocaust, but not for the solipsist. A non-linguistic solipsism is unthinkable and a thinkable solipsism is necessarily linguistic. Solipsism therefore presupposes the very thing that it seeks to deny. That solipsistic thoughts are thinkable in the first instance implies the existence of the public, shared, intersubjective world that they purport to call into question.

-Stephen P. Thornton

Bye Yogacara. And combined with the demise of Madhyamaka, as these two, Madhyamaka and Yogacara, are the lynch pins that prop the whole system up, so falls all of Mahayana. And, likewise for all the fake “Theravada” interpretations that fall into these categories. All fall apart upon careful examination, and not falling for their word games.

So we see, all that’s left unscathed is, not surprisingly, original Buddhism, or in other words, Classical Theravada :heart:

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And because, despite denying the external world, declaring all to be mind, and in all ways being identical with idealism and solipsism, some still swear Yogacara is not these things, I’ll present some clear counter arguments as evidence.

The Yogacara (sometimes translated as “Mind only”) school of Buddhist philosophy contends that all human experience is constructed by mind. Some later representatives of one Yogacara subschool (Prajnakaragupta, Ratnakīrti) propounded a form of idealism that has been interpreted as solipsism. A view of this sort is contained in the 11th-century treatise of Ratnakirti, “Refutation of the existence of other minds” (Santanantara dusana), which provides a philosophical refutation of external mind-streams from the Buddhist standpoint of ultimate truth (as distinct from the perspective of everyday reality).
-Wikipedia on solipsism
reference: A. C. Senape McDermott (2013). An Eleventh-Century Buddhist Logic of ‘Exists’: Ratnakīrti’s Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhiḥ Vyatirekātmikā. Foundations of language. Vol. 2. Springer-Science Business Media. p. 1. ISBN 978-94-017-6322-6.

Regarding existing Sanskrit sources, the term appears in the first verse of Vasubandhu’s Vimśatikā, which is a locus classicus of the idea, it states:[16]

Vijñaptimātram evaitad asad arthāvabhāsanāt yathā taimirikasyāsat keśa candrādi darśanam. “This [world] is vijñaptimātra, since it manifests itself as an unreal object (artha), just like the case of those with cataracts seeing unreal hairs in the moon and the like.”

According to Mark Siderits, what Vasubandhu means here is that we are only ever aware of mental images or impressions which manifest themselves as external objects, but “there is actually no such thing outside the mind.”[16]

The term also appears in Asaṅga’s classic Yogācāra work, the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (no Sanskrit original, trans. from Tibetan):

These representations (vijñapti) are mere representations (vijñapti-mātra), because there is no [corresponding] thing/object (artha)…Just as in a dream there appear, even without a thing/object (artha), just in the mind alone, forms/images of all kinds of things/objects like visibles, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, houses, forests, land, and mountains, and yet there are no [such] things/objects at all in that [place]. MSg II.6[17]

The term is sometimes used as a synonym with citta-mātra (mere citta), which is also used as a name for the school that suggests Idealism.[4][18] Schmithausen writes that the first appearance of this term is in the Pratyupanna samadhi sutra, which states:

This (or: whatever belongs to this) triple world (*traidhātuka) is nothing but mind (or thought: *cittamatra). Why? Because however I imagine things, that is how they appear.[19]
-Wikipedia on Yogacara

Scholars such as Saam Trivedi argue that Yogācāra is similar to Idealism (closer to a Kantian epistemic idealism), though they note that it is its own unique form and that it might be confusing to categorize it as such.[21] Paul Williams, citing Griffiths, writes that it could be termed “dynamic idealism”.[22] Sean Butler argues for the idealistic nature of Yogācāra, noting that there are numerous similarities between Yogācāra and the systems of Kant and Berkeley.[23] Jay Garfield also argues that Yogācāra is “akin to the idealisms defended by such Western philosophers as Berkeley, Kant and Schopenhauer.”[24]

Jonathan Gold writes that the Yogācāra thinker Vasubandhu can be said to be an idealist (similar to Kant), in the sense that for him, everything in experience as well as its causal support is mental, and thus he gives causal priority to the mental.
-Wikipedia on Yogacara

The Vaibhāṣika’s realistic theory of the two truths and the Sautrāntika’s representationalist theory of the two truths both affirm the ultimate reality of physical objects constituted by atoms. The Yogācāra rejects physical realism of both the Vaibhāṣika and the Sautrāntika, although it agrees with the Sautrāntika’s representationalist theory as far as they both affirm representation as the intentional objects in perception and deny in perception a direct access to any external object. Where they part their company is in their response to the questions: what causes representations? Is the contact of senses with physical objects necessary to give rise to representations in perception? The Sautrāntika’s reply is that external objects cause representations, given that these representations are intentional objects there is indeed a contact between senses and external objects. This affirmative response allows the Sautrāntika to affirm reality of external objects. The Yogācārin however replies that “subliminal impressions” (vāsanās) from foundational consciousness (ālayavijñāna) are the causes of the mental representations, and given that these impressions are only internal phenomena acting as intentional objects, the contact between senses and external objects is therefore rejected even conventionally. This allows the Yogācārin to deny even conventional reality of all physical objects, and argue that all conventional realities are our mental representations, mental creations, cognitions etc.

The central thesis in the Yogācāra philosophy, the theory of the two truths echoes is the assertion that all that is conventionally real is only ideas, representations, images, creations of the mind, and that there is no conventionally real object that exists outside the mind to which it corresponds. These ideas are only objects of any cognition. The whole universe is a mental universe. All physical objects are only fiction, they are unreal even by the conventional standard, similar to a dream, a mirage, a magical illusion, where what we perceive are only products of our mind, without a real external existence.

Inspired by the idealistic tendencies of various sūtras consisting of important elements of the idealistic doctrines, in the third and the fourth centuries many Indian philosophers developed and systematised a coherent Idealist School. In the beginning of the Viṃśatikā Vasubandhu treats citta, manas, vijñāna, vijñāpti as synonymous and uses these terms as the names of the idealistic school. The chief founders were Maitreyanāth (ca. 300) and Asaṅga (315–390), propagated by Vasubandhu (320–380), Dignāga (480–540) Sthiramati (ca. 500), Dharmapāla (530–561), Hiuan-tsang (602–664), Dharmakīrti (600–660), Śāntarakṣita (ca.725–788) and Kamalaśīla (ca.740–795). The last two are Yogācāra-Mādhyamikas in contrast with the earlier figures who are identified as Yogācārins.

-Thakchoe, Sonam, “The Theory of Two Truths in India”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Thus, it becomes abundantly clear that the only logical explanation would be that Yogacara apologists, or the uninformed, must be the only ones to claim that Yogacara is not idealism or solipsism, presumably to save it from precisely the destruction such ideas bring upon themselves, and the demonstrating of which I have used, here, to utterly defeat this absurd, profoundly misleading philosophy.

Thus ends my refutation, including words from brilliant minds, spanning thousands of years. Thank you for reading, and I hope this has been helpful for anyone wondering about Mahayana, and strengthened their confidence in the classical Theravada.


Yogācāra would agree that it’s Abhidharma is conceptual. The ultimate reality for them is beyond conception. The “thusness” of reality. They would agree that dhammas have sabhāva, but this sabhāva can only be known in a state of immediacy, without any conceptual overlay.

Vasubandhu also states that emptiness does not mean that things have no intrinsic nature, but that this nature is "inexpressible and only to be apprehended by a kind of cognition that transcends the subject-object duality.

We see similar claims in the commentaries

To explain the fact that the intrinsic characteristics of mind and body cannot be described, the Abhidhamma subcommentary says:

"Phenomena cannot be described in an ultimate sense."177

This means that we cannot understand the intrinsic characteristics of mental and physical phenomena based on descriptions but only based on our own experience. Only what we experience personally is ultimate reality.

Not to say that Theravāda is Yogācāra of course. That’s my admittedly limited understanding of their system. Madhyamaka would also definitely agree that it’s all language. Even “ultimate reality” or “nibbāna” are, in the end, just concepts too for them (contrary to Yogācāra, where there is something that exists in ultimate reality). In other words, you just argued for Yogācāra and Madhyamaka. There are ways to argue against them, but this isn’t it. Interestingly I think Venerable Asaṅga gives a good argument against Madhyamaka, and inadvertently against Yogācāra too. It seems he wasn’t a big fan of Madhyamaka

How, again, is emptiness wrongly conceptualized? Some ascetics and Brahmins do not acknowledge that [viz. intrinsic nature] of which something is empty. Nor do they acknowledge that which is empty [viz. things and dharmas]. It is in this way that emptiness is said to be wrongly conceived. For what reason? Because that of which it is empty is non-existent, but that which is empty is existent— it is thus that emptiness is possible. What will be empty of what, where, when everything is unreal? This thing’s being devoid of that is not [then] possible. Thus emptiness is wrongly conceptualized in this case.

“if nothing is real, there cannot be any ideas (prajñapti ). Someone who holds this view is a nihilist, with whom one should not speak or share living quarters. This person falls into a bad rebirth and takes others with him.”

Madhyamaka - Wikipedia

I would agree that “that which is empty is existent”, for in order for it to be empty it must exist. Not everything can be empty of itself, and not everything can be unreal. To say that all dhammas are empty themselves, and so are ultimately unreal, is to say they are concepts or ideas (and this is Venerable Nāgārjuna’s claim in one of his less well-known works, I forget which at the moment). If all dhammas are unreal ideas, then there must be something which is imaging the ideas. This arrives us at conciousness and nāma as being truly real. Now if the immaterial dhammas are real, what about the physical dhammas? Well, here is where the Theravādin approach is useful. What is an ultimately reality? It is an actuality than can be known to be completely true. From the sub-commentaries, as quoted in Mahāsī Sayādaw’s “Manual of Insight”

Knowledge that is based on hearsay and such may or may not be true, so it is not ultimate reality. Only empirical facts are ultimate realities. To communicate this point, it is said that “They cannot be experienced by hearsay; they are higher realities

Being ultimate, genuine realities are called “ultimate realities.” Mental and physical phenomena that can be empirically known are phenomena that cannot be pointed out. Therefore, they are called “higher realities.”17

They are ultimate realities because they are what is directly experienced, and so we can know they are true. We know that immaterial dhammas are of a different character to physical dhammas. Immaterial dhammas “bend” towards and object to cognise it, whilst physical dhammas are subject ot being deformed (ruppatīti) and offer resistance contact (you find a similar way of separating mind from physicality in Franz Brentano’s idea of “intentionality” as being the defining feature of mind and mental states). We also know that two people experience the same physical object, but do not experience each other’s minds (ignoring psychic powers here). From this then we can arrive at the reality of our traditions sabhāva-dhammas. Now of course, the Madhyamaika might reply that we do of course experience dhammas, but we cannot ultimately know if they are real or not (and so we can’t say things exist or not, etc). To counter I would say only that which you directly experience can be said to be true, because it is free of conceptualisation and, so, is an immediate actuality which is experienced.

On a final note, I have relied upon Wikipedia here for some of my quotes. Something to bear in mind.

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You are going to try to fight for the Yogacara and Madhyamaka even on a classical Theravada site? Even going so far as to quote Vasubandhu to back up your assault on the Classical Theravada? What do you get out of this? This is the last place to look for converts to Ceisiwrism (which is just a confusion of a Theravada facade overlaid on a purely Mahayana foundation). Have you considered just going to dharmawheel? You are not a Classical Theravadin. All of your beliefs are compatible with Mahayana, and fundamentally incompatible with Classical Theravada.

You’ve posted that you agree with prajna paramita, so, run with it. You’ll hit the dead end of Mahayana eventually, and, I sincerely hope you’ll then drop all the Mahayana and accept the true Classical Theravada dhamma. But, please, until that day, spare us this slow, grating process of you trying to shoe horn Mahayana into Theravada.

That said, I’ll address your silly attempt at subversion, just for clarity for anyone else reading:

No, I didn’t. I said that these Mahayana ideas rely solely on language, and cease without it, and then affirmed that there are things that the Theravada affirms that exist even without words. That is a far cry, in fact quite the opposite from saying that nibbana is a mere concept and doesn’t exist outside of words, which would be agreeing with Madhyamaka. Nibbana is an ultimate reality, and the only unconditioned one. Nibbana exists, is permanent, and stable, absolutely endless, and objective. I didn’t spell that out in that paragraph because we are on a Classical Theravada site, where this is accepted as fact already, and the Madhyamaka nonsense is automatically seen as wrong. You are literally the only user on this site that I know of that would read that as agreeing with the Madhyamaka and Yogacara. You have severe confirmation bias issues.

I just argued against them. Criticising your arguments for being poor isn’t an argument for Yogacara or Madhyamaka either. Your arguments read like you don’t really understand the schools you are critiquing.

Criticising Zan’s arguments isn’t criticising Classical Theravada. Try actually reading what someone says instead of just reacting.

You misunderstood and misinterpreted my argument by ignoring half of it, as I explained above. I do not accept nor follow the arbitrary rules, and layers of obfuscation, self contradiction, and paradox within the Mahayana teachings in my refutation. Yogacara and Madhyamaka are, respectively, just subjective idealism and extreme nihilism/relativism, with a lot of superfluous words, ideas, and dogma making them seem much more complex, and confounding, all of which falls away when one understands what they really are. Refuting subjective idealism and extreme nihilism/relativism is very, very easy, as they are profoundly simplistic positions. In fact, they are conclusively, and undeniably, self refuting schools.

Hence, there’s nothing poor about my arguments, they are all patterned on expert philosopher’s points, just in my own inelegant wording. They refute the foundations of Mahayana: subjective idealism and extreme nihilism/relativism. It doesn’t matter if they would ostensibly agree with my arguement within their own riddling system, especially because their system self refutes and embraces paradox. Thus, they would, and do “agree” with many things that refute their own systems.

What becomes clear is that, from an outside perspective, they are those simple positions: subjective idealism and extreme nihilism/relativism. Circumventing linguistic play, and getting straight to the point, subjective idealism and extreme nihilism/relativism are simply word games. That’s what I was getting at, and Theravada being realist accounts for and affirms the real world as well, and thus, is substantial, and beyond simple word games.

In other words, you using Yogacara scripture to find fault with my arguments is like using theological arguments from the Bible, that assume the Bible’s logic and rules are correct and authoritative, to refute an atheists secular arguments, which assume none of these things and are refuting it based purely on its foundational idea in its simplest form.

That said, I’ll not be responding to you any longer, nor will I comment on your threads, and I request you refrain from commenting on my threads. You of course, being a troll, will ignore this request, and still comment on all my threads. You will be ignored. Enjoy talking to the air.

Dear Ceisiwr, I’m happy to see you are getting matured and thinking positively about the Classical interpretations.

As opposed to Yogacara way (knowing in a state of immediacy), Theravada way is to knowing by Yonisomanasikara (contemplating intrinsic natures, their causes and their universal characteristics) while based on a Samadhi which is based on Sila. It is considered Yonisomanasikara.

And what to contemplate is Paratoghosa and it must be heard beforehand from the Omniscient One or disciples of him. In Nettippakarana, Paratoghosa has been equated to Text-learning as well.

These two, Yonisomanasikara and Paratoghosa, are the necessary factors to realize the reality.

Vasubandhu’s view is “intrinsic natures are inexpressible and only to be apprehended by a kind of cognition that transcends the subject-object duality.”

But the Theravada “inexpressibility of intrinsic natures by descriptions” is different from that. The intrinsic natures of realities (apart from Nibbana) can be empirically known by many people.

Ven. Maggavihari says,

  • The Paramatthas are not Gupta (hidden) things that we don’t experience.

  • They are the things that we always experience. (apart from Nibbana)

  • But we misrecognize them as Concepts (fake objects that doesn’t exist)

He further says,

  • The five consciousnesses never deceit us. They always cognize realities only.

  • Mind is the one that cheat us. Mind misrecognize realities as concepts.

  • So we must train our minds to cognize the realities as they are.

Just so everyone knows… @Ceisiwr identifies as Classical Theravada and does not follow Mahayana teachings. He said this after reading the latest and most detailed Faq made to date. The faq is a little too strong and actually needs @RobertK 's touch to soften it up.

Please remember that it is great to just post more simple things… like a sutta and why you like it. Or the accompanied commentary, etc. Otherwise, people will get the wrong idea about what Classical Theravada is.


Thank you for clarifying, Venerable. This changes things, significantly. Due to this, I think it only fair that I offer a humble apology to @Ceisiwr for calling him a troll, and assuming he was being subversive. I also rescind my request that he not reply to my threads, nor I his. I also think it would be very instructive for others who are new to Classical Theravada for @Ceisiwr to share with us: What made you do a complete 180 in your position, from believing that Theravada is phenomenalism, to becoming Classical Theravada, which is a realism that affirms mind independent reality, and, thus, entirely rules out phenomenalism?

I went through a very similar process. I was formally trained in the Mahayana school in my younger days, and then held an idealist/phenomenalist/nihilist/relativist understanding of the Theravada until many, many years later. In fact, it was only within the past decade that I fully understood Classical Theravada, and, hence, was obliged to entirely drop my previous views. I find that my process of development on this issue has been instructive to some friends who I have explained this to. I imagine your process will be very helpful to people as well. Probably more helpful than me explaining mine, because you are a bit more articulate than I!