The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-vijñana in the context of Indian Buddhist Thought, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Buddhist Unconscious

The Alaya-vijñana in the context of Indian Buddhist Thought, 1st Edition

By William S. Waldron


272 pages

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This is the story of fifth century CE India, when the Yogacarin Buddhists tested the awareness of unawareness, and became aware of human unawareness to an extraordinary degree. They not only explicitly differentiated this dimension of mental processes from conscious cognitive processes, but also offered reasoned arguments on behalf of this dimension of mind. This is the concept of the 'Buddhist unconscious', which arose just as philosophical discourse in other circles was fiercely debating the limits of conscious awareness, and these ideas in turn had developed as a systematisation of teachings from the Buddha himself. For us in the twenty-first century, these teachings connect in fascinating ways to the Western conceptions of the 'cognitive unconscious' which have been elaborated in the work of Jung and Freud.

This important study reveals how the Buddhist unconscious illuminates and draws out aspects of current western thinking on the unconscious mind. One of the most intriguing connections is the idea that there is in fact no substantial 'self' underlying all mental activity; 'the thoughts themselves are the thinker'. William S. Waldron considers the implications of this radical notion, which, despite only recently gaining plausibility, was in fact first posited 2,500 years ago.


'This work weaves together into one fabric yards spanning some one thousand years of Indian Buddhist thought, and will prove to be an invaluable source of information for scholars of Buddhist literature.' - East and West Series

Table of Contents

Part I - The Background and Context of the Ãlaya-vijñãna Part II - The Abhidharma Context 15. The Abhidharma Project and its Problematic Part III - The Alaya-vijñana in the Yogacara Tradition, The Alaya-vijñana in the Early Tradition Part IV - The Alaya-Vijñana in the Mahayana-samgraha I : Bringing It All Back Home Part V - The Alaya-Vijñana in the Mahayana-samgraha II: Looking Beyond

About the Author

William S. Waldron received his PhD in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin after studying extensively in India, Nepal and Japan. He currently teaches South Asian religions and Buddhist philosophy at Middlebury College, Vermont. His research areas include the Yogacara school of Indian Buddhism, and comparative psychologies and philosophies of mind.

About the Series

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the Buddhist tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive tradition from a variety of perspectives, using a range of different methodologies. The series is diverse in its focus, including historical, philological, cultural, and sociological investigations into the manifold features and expressions of Buddhism worldwide. It also presents works of constructive and reflective analysis, including the role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical context and in the light of current social issues. The series is expansive and imaginative in scope, spanning more than two and a half millennia of Buddhist history. It is receptive to all research works that are of significance and interest to the broader field of Buddhist Studies.

Some of the titles in the series are published in association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, which conducts and promotes rigorous teaching and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition.

Editorial Advisory Board:
James A. Benn, McMaster University, Canada

Jinhua Chen, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Rupert Gethin, University of Bristol, UK

Peter Harvey, University of Sunderland, UK

Sallie King, James Madison University, USA

Anne Klein, Rice University, USA

Lori Meeks, University of Southern California, USA;

Ulrich Pagel, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK

John Powers, Australian National University, Australia;

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University, USA

Vesna A. Wallace, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Michael Zimmermann, University of Hamburg, Germany

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / Buddhism / General (see also PHILOSOPHY / Buddhist)
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General