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

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!


Apology accepted. On my position, I haven’t done a 180. I considered myself to be a Classical Theravādin when I joined this site and started posting. I don’t really want to get into Phenomenalism here, but what I will say is that I saw Classical Theravāda as saying the same things as Phenomenalism. How it could be a Phenomenalism and a Realism at the same time is what intrigued me. I think though that perhaps the similarities are only skin deep, and the Abhidhamma itself doesn’t have to perfectly match Western philosophical ideas. It can stand on its own right. How Phenomenalism and Classical Theravāda are similar but also different does intrigue me, but I’m not going to get into those kinds of discussions here. I’d rather just discuss the tradition as it stands. On Mahāyāna, whilst there was a brief period where I flirted with the Prajñāpāramitā in the end it was not for me. I couldn’t really reconcile it with what we find in the suttas (and other early texts). It seems quite clear to me that the Buddha accepted the reality of the external world, and indeed he said that the 4NT (which would include dhammas such as the body and mind) were real, not otherwise. I also think the Bodhisattva idea is absurd, contradictory and isn’t substantiated by the body of early material. This led me to an EBT view, but on such a method it’s very hard to work out the Dhamma conceptually. It’s hard to do so because suttas are more guidelines or outlines, the bare bones of the practice as it were, rather than anything like the detailed Dhamma instruction the Buddha would have given in his day to day. To actually understand the Dhamma in depth then, we need tradition. We need the detailed map of the Abhidhamma and the commentaries to guide us. Having studied what I could of the various early and non-Mahāyāna traditions, Theravāda looks like the best. There we do not find the subtle atta view of Pudgalavāda. We do not find the substance metaphysics of the Sarvāstivādins, nor the god-like cosmic Buddha of the Mahāsāṃghikas with their 9 (yes, 9!) unconditioned dhammas (including nibbāna). I should point out here that whilst I do follow the Mahavihāravāsin tradition and accept its Abhidhamma and the guidance of its commentaries, I do so from a different route than the traditional explanation of the Abhidhamma being taught by the Buddha. I have to be honest and say that whilst I don’t say such a thing never happened, I find it hard to believe. With that said, I fully respect those who do accept such things and I won’t be looking to argue against it here.

On final thing on the EBT approach. I do find it ironic that those who reject the Abhidhamma then go on to create an Abhidhamma of their own, and usually of a poorer quality. We see this all the time on SuttaCentral and on DhammaWheel. That’s not to say that a comparative approach can’t be useful. I think one of the benefits of the EBT approach is that it has given even further assurance that the teachings of the suttas go back to the Buddha himself. However, even so we still need the Abhidhamma and commentaries to guide us through to awakening.


It is a wise observation I think.

Another wise observation which I have seen in open-minded seekers when they getting matured.

If one can come up to this position, I would think they are not average persons.

As long as one believe Abhidhamma as correct and don’t believe in risky opinions like “it was definitely not from the Buddha”, he has the chance to learn and practice Abhidhamma.

And he has the chance even to accept it was from the Buddha, in a future day, if his trust about the ancient tradition getting developed little by little.

Any sensible mature person infers that there should be a Philosophical part (like Abhidhamma) and Explanation of meanings (like Atthakata).

When the EBT quest realize that mere Text-criticism is not enough, they tend to create a new Abhidhamma in order to fill the lack of their philosophy.

Though they try it, they are not Intellectual/Philosophical Characters like Nagarjuna or Vasubandhu. They are largely Radical/Emotional Characters. So the new Abhidhamma they create will be of Poor Quality.


Thanks for clearing that up. I’m truly happy for you that you got over prajnaparamita! I was stuck on that stuff for 15 years! It’s truly heartening to see someone else break free.

Sounds like the only thing you’re stuck on is phenomenalism. I’d give the friendly suggestion to read the quotes from abhidhamma works on what the four elements are, that I provided on your dhamma theory thread, and see if those square with the phenomenalist position that, for example, the earth element is strictly the sensation of hardness, while it is described in the abhidhamma works as things that go far and beyond sense quality descriptors like “hardness,” and even go so far as to declare one element intangible, and that another can generate matter without assistance from mind, nor kamma, which, of course, would be impossible if all elements were purely sensory qualities, as the phenomenalist position holds. For example:

Pañhavi means the element of extension, the substratum of matter. Without it objects cannot occupy space. The
qualities of hardness and softness which are purely relative
are two conditions of this particular element. It may be
stated that this element is present in earth, water, fire and
air. For instance, the water above is supported by water
below. It is this element of extension in conjunction with the
element of motion that produces the upward pressure. Heat
or cold is the tejo element, while fluidity is the àpo element.
âpo is the element of cohesion. Unlike pañhavi it is
intangible. It is this element that makes scattered particles
of matter cohere and gives rise to the idea of ‘body’. When
solid bodies are melted this element becomes more prominent in the resulting fluid. This element is found even in
minute particles when solid bodies are reduced to powder.
The element of extension and cohesion are so closely interrelated that when cohesion ceases extension disappears. Tejo is the element of heat. Cold is also a form of tejo.
Both heat and cold are included in tejo because they possess the power of maturing bodies. Tejo, in other words, is
the vitalizing energy. Preservation and decay are also due
to this element. Unlike the other three essentials of matter,
this element has the power to regenerate matter by itself.
Inseparably connected with heat is vàyo, the element
of motion. Movements are caused by this element. Motion
is regarded as the force or the generator of heat. “Motion and heat in the material realm correspond respectively to
consciousness and Kamma in the mental.”
-Narada Thera, A Manual of Abhidhamma, p 319-320

I do sometimes find that hard to understand. For example, from Ledi Sayadaw’s “Manual of Light”

The earth element (paṭhavī-dhātu), in the ultimate sense, is the mere property of hardness. By earth is not meant any substance— not even a hundred-thousandth part of an atom. It lacks shape, mass, form, core, or solidity. Therefore, this element exists in very clear spring water or river water; in all forms of light, including sunlight, moonlight, and even the lustre of gems; in all sounds, including the vibrant sounds of gongs or pagoda bells; in moving air, from the softest breeze to a gale ; and in smells, good or bad, that spread near and far…In the case of light and smell, however, although the element of extension is definitely there, this element is too subtle to notice. No empirical data can be drawn from them. We simply have to rely on the authority of the scriptures…

When hundreds of thousands of crores of the earth element— by themselves the mere property of hardness—happen to be held together by the element of cohesion or the water element (āpodhātu), a form appears, which is given the name “atom.” When thousands of crores of such atoms come together, certain forms of life come into being, beginning with tiny insects.

01VD-Main.book (bps.lk)

Here Bhante states that there is no substance which bears the quality of “hardness”. There is only “hardness” which has no form, shape nor mass. This really does make it sound either as phenomenal or as a “force” like the strong and weak nuclear forces. Both of course create issues, since a phenomenon is a quality experienced in the mind whilst natural forces are never directly experienced. They are conceptual ideas. I also struggle to understand how a simple quality of “hardness” with the simple quality of “cohesion” can accumulate to create insects, trees etc which do not really exist. I also struggle to understand how, say the fire element which is just “heat” can destroy “hardness”. We would all agree that there is no substance in reality. When we eat an apple, there is no “apple” which bears the characteristics. There are only the characteristics of “redness, hardness, sweetness” etc. That I can accept, but I find it much harder to conceptually understand how “hardness, hotness, cohesion and distension” can cause each other much less cause “redness”, since this does look all very phenomenal to me (when dhammas are said to be nothing but their characteristics, which is their sabhāva). Does it really matter though if they are phenomenal or not, as long as we understand there is no substance and even these qualities, which barely have any existence, are too impermanent, dukkha and not-self?

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You are trying to pin point the thing whereas the Buddha saids dependent arising means the thing cant be traced .

You make some really excellent points. They are difficult. I would like to challenge an abhidhamma expert with this question: How is it said that abhidhamma is realist, and teaches the four ultimate realities, when the fundamental ultimate realities are merely subjective delineations such as “hardness,” and subjective delineations are not ultimate realities by any measure?

If it is merely subjective, and thus, phenomenalism, then there is truly no division between Theravada and Yogacara. In which case, there is no reason whatsoever to practice Buddhism, as it is purely imaginary. Or, in other words, no one has ever read a single sutta, as such things are purely subjective, having zero existence in any way. The ultimate reality taught by the abhidhamma, if the ultimate realities be strictly subjective things, would be nothing but confirmation that you’ve never experienced anything beyond your own imagination, and the Buddha himself never declared knowledge of anything beyond his own imagination, nothing real, nothing ultimate, and thus nothing true. This is a question that has nettled me for five years or so now. Ever since I came to the conclusion that Yogacara openly admits that it is not a true teaching, because every single thing in it is imaginary, I’ve been applying the same treatment to all forms of Buddhism, and the only one to hold up is Theravada.

Now, here is where this will end, I know, because I’ve been down this road before: Anyone who addresses this issue will probably just declare that these things are not conducive to ending suffering. In other words, the question will be dodged in this way, or some other way, and we will never get a truly conclusive answer on whether or not the paramattha dhammas are ultimately real, or just imaginary. The question will be set aside as unimportant.

I personally think it is a very important question, not to be merely dodged, because for a teaching to have weight, and importance, it must be real! If it is merely subjective ideas, and teaches an ultimate reality, the one that makes up rupa no less, as the Buddha declared rupa to be made of the four great elements, and it teaches that ultimate reality is merely subjective, then it has nothing over any other form of subjective idealism, nor its cousins like phenomenalism, etc. Also, perhaps more importantly, it then contains every fatal flaw of these other philosophies, which have been conclusively disproven, and shown to be utterly self contradictory and paradoxical by many philosophers, ancient and modern. Sure, some have defended them, but, even then, if nothing else, the consensus is that these philosophies have some serious flaws, and issues that are entirely unresolved, and incompatible with pretty much everything else. People quickly see through subjective idealism, because it is asking them to accept flight of fancy as fact, while admitting that it is flight of fancy.


The mere hardness our body feels is pathavi. It is not a mental construct according to Abhidhamma. Five senses sense only realities.

Hardness can be sensed only by the body (kayappasada) out of five senses. It can not be seen. The body can sense only 3 mahbhutas i.e. pathavi, tejo and vayo.

Late Abhidhamma master venerable Rerukane Chandavimala has explained these qualities/characteristics as “Actions” and not solid entities. Abhidhamma master venerable Maggavihari prefers the definition “Characteristic natures or Natural characteristics” .

When a bomb blasts in a city, 10000 people feel the heat of bomb at the exact same time. All the 10000 hear the sound at the exact same time. All the 10000 see the light at the exact same time. The possibility/probability of “all the 10000 people’s minds create/illude the heat/sound/light of the bomb at the exact same time without an objective explosion” is extremely low. The phenomenologists have hard times in explaining such incidents. [venerable Maggavihari]

Any kind of rupa we find (even photons, electrons) is considered to have all the rupas of the Octad (4mahabhutas + color + smell + taste + nutriment). The Octad is considered inseparable from any physical entity. All the 8 exist in each and every physical thing. No one can find 1 of them alone or 2 or …7 alone.

The 4 mahabhutas are considered to be completely mixed with each other in an “unthinkable way”. The ingredients of a cup of tea (tea, sugar, milk and water) are completely mixed, yet we can separate the particles in microscopic level. But the 4 mahabhuthas are considered to be fully mixed in a way that is beyond human imagination. The 4 are said to have “swallowed each other”.

The 4 mahabhutas (with color etc) of a tree exist. What doesn’t exist is the idea/concept of compactness/oneness of the tree.

Upadaya-rupas like color etc. are considered to be created by (/ born depended on) 4 mahabhutas. Upadaya rupas depend on 4 mahabhutas but not vice versa. Any single mahabhuta (out of 4) depends on the other 3 mahabhutas but not on upadaya rupas.

I think it matters if one needs to proceed Classical Vipassana, since the Abhidhamma and Ditthi-visuddhi demand the acceptance of realities beforehand.

In classical theravada, “impermanence” is not applied to concepts (phenomenal things) but only to realities.