Asanga’s Tattvartha Chapter | Professor Jan Willis
April 29 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
About this teaching
Within the Nalanda tradition, the teachings of the Buddha were disseminated over generations through two lineages. The Wisdom lineage transmitted the philosophical teachings, teacher to disciple, on the profound view of the ultimate nature of reality. The Method lineage, on the other hand, transmitted the teachings on the stages of successive realisations traversed by the practitioner who cultivates deeper and deeper wisdom.
Asanga is the trailblazer of the Method lineage, passing it down to us through the revelatory inspiration of the Buddha Maitreya. He is also known for having founded the Yogachara school, often seen as upholding an idealistic, or ‘Mind Only’ position. For proponents of the Middle Way school, the Mind Only view is thought of as being less refined – so, we might ask, was Asanga’s philosophical understanding lacking? Not according to Professor Jan Willis’ interpretation. She suggests that far from being propounding an idealism that clings on to vestiges of inherent existence, Asanga was thoroughly rooted in the notion of emptiness. But, whereas Nagarjuna expounded this notion through a process of radical negation, Asanga expressed emptiness from an affirmative standpoint: in Professor Jan Willis’ words, form the standpoint all phenomena are empty, ‘there is a positive experiential Reality attainable’.
Professor Willis explored these subtle distinctions in her book, On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattva Bhumi. We’re delighted that she has accepted our invitation to come to London and discuss her ideas with us, and to help us understand how they can be related to our own Buddhist practice.
About Professor Jan Willis
Jan Willis is Professor Emerita of Religion at Wesleyan University. A student of Lama Yeshe that grew up in Alabama during the era of segregation, she is the author of several books including Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist. Professor Willis was named one of six ‘spiritual innovators for the new millennium’ by TIME magazine, and one of Ebony magazine’s ‘Power 150’ most influential African Americans.
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