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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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
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.
Early Buddhist Theories on Existence
An Annotated Translation
of the Section on Factors Dissociated from Thought
from Sanghabhadra’s Nyayanusara
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.