Public Lecture on Buddhist Philosophy of Religion

Alan Waters Building - Room G11
Wednesday 26 October 2022 (17:00-18:30)

Explanation or Insight: How Buddhist Knowledge Can Set You Free

Dr Amber Carpenter (Yale-NUS)  

It is in some ways a commonplace that classical Buddhist thought closely links knowledge and liberation: Right View, Right Contemplation and Right Insight are defining parts of the Eightfold Path, and the six perfections are organised around the final and ultimate perfection of prajñā, wisdom or insight. Yet at the same time, this is not ‘knowledge’ as we know it. Not only is there a deeply-rooted eschewal of attachment to views in the Pāli texts, but the liberatory cognition of Yogācāra is explicitly non-conceptual, while Madhyamaka enjoins us likewise to cease conceptualising in a way that seems incompatible with anything that could be called a cognitive state at all.

This talk will focus specifically on the sort of liberatory cognition found in Vasubandhu and implicit in Diṅnāga’s account of the pramāṇas in the Pramāṇasamuccaya. I will ask in what sense these may count as knowledge states, and for what reason we may have reservations about so conceiving them. I will argue that we have here an essentially perceptual model of highest cognition (along with a certain conception of perception). And I will investigate why and in what ways such ideal cognition might lay claim to being liberatory—in what ways, and by what mechanisms, having (and getting closer to having such cognition) transform us.

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