A unique and interesting look at how Yogacara philosophy influenced the development of tantra and Mahamudra. Developed by Asanga and Vasubandhu as a reaction to over theorization, Yogacara emphasizes individual experience and practice.
We are going to be talking about Yogacara philosophy's relationship to Buddhist tantra. People have generally ignored how Yogacara philosophy influenced Buddhist tantra and its development. It is not discussed explicitly, even though it's quite patent in the writings of Buddhist tantra. You could trace different notions discussed in the tantric literatures back to Yogacara philosophy. Yogacara philosophy itself developed as a reaction against too much theorisation and came to emphasise individual experience and practice, hence the name "Yogacara", meaning practitioners of yoga. Yoga here doesn't mean twiddling with your toes, but meditation. So Yogacara, practitioners of yoga, meaning meditators. Yogacara as a system was developed by two brothers known as Asanga and Vasubandhu. They developed the philosophy in such a way that everything came back to one's practice, one's experience. You could not theorise about Yogacara philosophy without meditating. In fact, you could not be a Yogacara philosopher unless you meditate. When you look at the writings of Yogacara philosophy, you discover many tantric concepts mentioned either implicitly or explicitly. There are certain crucial concepts that both Yogacara philosophy and Buddhist tantra share, concepts such as transforming unhealthy or unwholesome psychological aspects of oneself into something higher. In other words, all our negativities - emotions such as passion, aggression, ignorance, stupidity, confusion, whatever they may be - are not perceived as being something that should be dispensed with, as much as transformed or mutated. The nature of one's psychological makeup is not altered, but the way the negativities manifest becomes totally different. That is a very important tantric concept, as many of you might know. Transforming one's neuroses and emotional instabilities are very much part of the tantric concept. Not to reject what is bothering you, but to learn to accept and transform it. In fact, you could trace those ideas in the original Yogacarin writings. A second concept, again a very important one, which is also common to Yogacara philosophy and Buddhist tantra is emphasis on the enlightened nature of every human being. Both Yogacara tradition and the tantric school emphasise the fact that every single human being is fundamentally enlightened. Ignorance or confusion is totally incidental or contingent. They are not at all intrinsic to human nature. In fact, human nature is believed to be totally enlightened and sane. No amount of negativities or emotional instabilities, whatever they may be, could corrupt that basic intrinsic intelligence or wisdom, that basic enlightened nature. In Yogacara writings that is known as tathagatagarbha. Tathagatagarbha actually means "womb of enlightenment". Enlightened nature exists as a potendality, as a womb has the potential to accommodate a being. Every human being possesses tathagatagarbha, this womb of enlightenment. Normally, tathagatagarbha is translated as Buddha-nature. The notion of Buddha-nature is actually a Yogacarin concept. Buddhists tend to associate Buddha-nature with the Mahayana in general, but that is not true. Not all Mahayana schools would go along with that notion. The Madhyamika school, for instance, rejects the notion of thagatagarbha altogether, because for them it is still another concept. Madhyamikans reject any kind of metaphysical concept. For them, the tathagatagarbha notion is, as they say, taught by the Buddha only for beginners, so that, gradually, they will wake up to the fact that Madhyamika is the answer. So it's just a warmup exercise, an entree, whereas the main course is yet not presented. The tantric tradition uses the notion of tathagatagarbha, but it is expressed in a different way and is called clear light, or something like that. "Clear light" is not a particularly good translation, I don't think. In Tibetan it is called 'od gsal, clear light or luminosity.
The Influence of Yogacara On Tantra, Traleg Rinpoche, KTD Publications, Paperback, 126 pages, $15.95