Guest Lecture: Perceiving Illusions on the Bodhisattvas’ Path: The Exchange between Madhyamaka and Yogācāra

The Vimalakirti Sutra. Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, From the Collection of A. W. Bahr, Purchase, Fletcher Fund, 1947. Accession no. 47.18.2.


Speaker: Dr. Jingjing Li, Leiden University

Date: Monday, September 18, 2023, 7:00-8:00 pm PDT

Location: UBC Asian Centre, Room 604


Abstract: In this talk, I invite the audience to read the passages on how Bodhisattvas perceive sentient beings as illusions (huan 幻) at the beginning of Chapter 7 of the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, as translated by Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什 (T. no. 475, 14: 547a28-547b10) and Xuanzang 玄奘 (T. no 476, 14: 572c5-572c24). Comparing and contrasting the interpretations of these passages proffered by Jizang 吉藏 (T. no. 1781, 38: 965a6-965c10) and Kuiji 窺基 (T. no. 1782, 38: 1081a28-1081c18), I unpack the approaches to illusory phenomenon in Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. Although it seems that Yogācārins take a more positive approach to illusory phenomena, their approach actually underscores illusions’ transformative (hua 化) function at the interpersonal level. Particularly mindful of the Madhyamaka approach, Kuiji shifts the focus from the knowledge of empty existence (in Madhyamaka) to the embodiment of compassionate action (in Yogācāra). As I will argue, Yogācārins affirm the seemingly real existence of illusory phenomena not to consolidate ignorance but to carve out a way for Bodhisattvas to engage with and awake their interlocutors. In outlining the Yogācāra contribution to the discussion on illusion, I also hope to draw parallels to the later debate on illusion among Tibetan clerics and the contemporary development of illusionism in philosophy of mind.

About the speaker:
Jingjing Li is Assistant Professor (Universitair docent) at Leiden University’s Institute for Philosophy. From Sept to Oct 2023, she is visiting research fellow at University of Victoria’s Centre for Study in Religion and Society. She received her Ph.D. from McGill University in 2019 and has been working at Leiden University ever since. The foci of her teaching and research are Buddhist and intercultural philosophy. She is the author of Comparing Husserl’s Phenomenology and Chinese Yogācāra in a Multicultural World: A Journey beyond Orientalism (Bloomsbury Academic 2022). Currently, she is working on the project “A Lost Pearl: Feminist Theories in Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness-only,” which has been awarded a Veni Grant (2022-2026) from the Dutch Research Council (NWO).