In this chapter I take an exegetical approach to the philosophical issue of memory treated in Vasubandhu’s Ātmavādapratiṣedha (Refutation of the Theory of a Self), an appended treatise in the Abhidharmakośa (Treasury of Knowledge), and Viṃśikā (Twenty Verses on Consciousness-Only). These two texts will be examined within the continuity of two texts in Vasubandhu’s philosophical enterprise. Unlike Janet Gyatso’s edited volume, In The Mirror of Memory (1992), this chapter deliberately reads these texts from the perspective of Chinese commentaries composed by Puguang (普光, died in 664) and Kuiji (窺基, 632–682), two eminent disciples of Xuanzang (玄奘, 602–664). The main thrust of this chapter is to show how Vasubandhu argues against realist theories of memory, which affirm either the existence of the self as the owner of memory or the existence of external objects as the support (ālambana) of recollection. Vasubandhu concludes that memory can be explained without presupposing the existence of self (ātman) and external world. This is equivalent to saying that one should be more cautious when memory is employed by the realists, such as the Jains and the Vaiśesikas, as a means of proving the existence of ātman and external world.
To recap the arguments in the Ātmavādapratiṣedha and the Viṃśikā as a whole, Vasubandhu’s theory of memory is presented in his critique of the realist’s employing memory to prove the existence of self and external world, arguing that memory occurs in the continuum of consciousness without necessarily presupposing either an ātman (permanent self) as the agent or an external world as object of recollection. In the continuum of consciousness, recollection occurs with the aid of attentive mindfulness (smṛti): that the “seeds” first deposited in the same continuum of consciousness are re-activated later to appear as that which has been formerly experienced in sense perception. For the realist, memory simply means retrieving the previous perception of an external object. Without the external object, perception and recollection cannot be caused to arise. In reply, though Vasubandhu agrees that memory should rely on the previous perception, he does not accept the claim that perception implies the existence of external objects. The same argument also applies to the critique of the existence of self as the agent of memory. In the same vein, Kuiji further developed Vasubandhu’s theory by arguing that memory is possible because mental consciousness (mano-vijñāna) or mental faculty (manas) functions simultaneously with sensory perceptions to give memory meaningful content. Kuiji’s innovative interpretation set the ground for the later development of the theory of memory in East Asian Buddhism.
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