Joy Brennan

‘The Yogacara understanding of mind as subjective and objective both accounts for and counters the invisibility of whiteness. Yogacara, unlike earlier schools of Buddhist thought, uses the term “mind” to refer both to the subjective aspect of awareness (the part of the mind that does the thinking and feeling) and to its objects, whether they are internal (like a thought or feeling) or external (like a material thing or another person’s voice). For example, the mind that becomes aware of a feeling of anger, or the mind that perceives a loved one’s voice, is not distinct from that feeling or that voice. Here, the nondistinctness means that the subjective and objective aspects of awareness share a set of causal conditions, rather than arising due to entirely separate sets of causal conditions. Subjective awareness and its objects are therefore co-constructed, or brought into being together, in relationship to one another.

However, Yogacara teaches that the ordinary person does not know that these two aspects of awareness are co-constructed. Rather, we commonly take it that the subjective aspect of awareness and its objects are distinct and arise from different sets of conditions. Yogacara uses the term “constructed” to refer to both aspects of awareness when taken as distinct from one another. And this term is meant to be a corrective to how they appear—they appear as natural, fixed, distinct features of experience, when in fact they have been constructed to appear that way and are two aspects of a single experience. Our lack of understanding of this point, according to Yogacara thought, is also the nature of delusion…

Many nonwhite writers and thinkers have identified the delusive belief white people share that while nonwhite people have a race and see reality based on their experiences as racialized people, white people are free of such “distorting” influences. White people commonly take their own perceptions to reflect reality and nonwhite people’s perceptions to be filtered by their specific experiences. In this way, white experience is taken by white people as a human norm, while the experiences of nonwhite people are taken as distinctive, nonnormative, and even distorted. But if the Yogacara school is right that all ordinary people’s experiences include subjective and objective aspects that are mutually and fully shaped by conditions—which include the past experiences and actions of white people as a collective—then white experience, too, must be shaped in this way. The call for white people to understand how whiteness as an identity construct came about and how it shapes our own experiences is a call to overcome this false subject–object divide and to see the workings of the mind for what they are…

Finally, the Yogacara school emphasizes both the intersubjective aspects of experience and the collective aspects of karmic conditioning, two points that cut against white individualism. Intersubjectivity refers to the fact that through shared language and shared conceptual constructions—or ways of dividing up the world of experience—beings actually share structures of consciousness. In this way of thinking, my mind is not in fact mine alone and awareness is not a private affair. And because the subjective and objective aspects of experience are mutually conditioned, intersubjectivity entails interobjectivity. We share an object world—a world of shared institutions, social practices and ideals, norms, and references—not because they are natural and fixed features of reality, but because they are shaped by the same shared conditioning forces that shape our subjective experiences. Collective karma refers to karmic conditioning that is shared by a group of beings. The fact of collective karma follows from the intersubjective nature of experience and the inter-objective nature of our worlds. Shared karmic conditioning is nothing other than the fact that important features of both our subjective awareness and the objects it encounters arise from the same set of conditions.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Joy spent time at City Center while I was there; I knew she was in academia, and enjoyed this very dense unpacking of Yogacara and whiteness – I learned more about Yogacara from this article than I have previously.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s