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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 5.2 (2022): 211–231;

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Conceptualisation and ‘World-Making’: A Study on Prapañca as an Imprint in Yogācāra Treatises

WANG Beier 王蓓兒
Leipzig University

Abstract: The ontological reality of the world has been a controversial topic among different Buddhist schools. Specifically, the Yogācāra school interprets the question of world-making from an epistemological perspective. In the view of Yogācāra, the so-called world is not a substantial entity but rather a mental construct of the perceiver, where the process of conceptualization plays an essential role. The term prapañca, usually translated as ‘conceptual proliferation’ by scholars, refers to a proliferating process that constructs the perceptual world through discrimination and verbalization. It appears repeatedly in descriptions of defiled mentalities throughout Early to Mahāyāna Buddhist doctrines. However, its meanings do not remain consistent but change along with the philosophical development. Centring on this significant term, this paper starts with a preliminary investigation of the transformation of the connotations of prapañca in Mahāyāna. Then, it examines the occurrences of the term in a peculiar imprint (vāsanā) in Yogācāra treatises: *nimitta-nāma-vikalpa-vyavahāra-prapañca-vāsanā. An analysis of this imprint of prapañca demonstrates the Yogācāra account of the mechanism of the formation of a subjective world, and on top of that, the function of conceptualization and language in the establishment of intersubjective worldly experience.

Keywords: prapañca, Yogācāra, conceptualization, epistemology,world-making


About the Author: Wang Beier 王蓓兒 is a Ph.D. candidate from Leipzig University (Germany), specializing in Yogācāra Buddhism. She obtained her M.A. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Hong Kong and her B.Sc. in Psychology from the University of Toronto. Her current research investigates the Buddhist accounts of cognitive process and the role of ‘conceptualisation’ in shaping the perceptual world, based on the philosophy of early to middle Yogācāra school.


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