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Plotinus and Vijnanavada Buddhism

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 By McEvilley, Thomas
Philosophy East & West


As A. H. Armstrong has said, and virtually every scholarly commentator on Plotinus has agreed, "It is possible to derive from the Enneads several divergent and not completely reconcilable constructions of reality."[1] Perhaps the most fundamental question is whether to emphasize the ontic-ontological aspect of Plotinus' thought or its mentalist-idealist aspect. Plotinus himself vacillates between these two emphases in such a way that neither may clearly and finally be identified as his essential meaning. In the first case the three hypostases appear as a series of different relationships between unity and multiplicity (Parmenidean Being and non-Being), in the second case, as a series of different states of sensibility or different subject-object relationships:

    The One: unity-unio mystica-pure subject
    Mind: unity-in-multiplicity-intuition-interpenetrated subject and object
    Soul: unity and multiplicity-sensation and discursive thought[2] -- alienated subject and object

    Most commentators have chosen the ontological emphasis, which brings Plotinus more into line with Plato. If this path is chosen, then Plotinus' thought displays certain important similarities with the Upanisadic-Vedaantic philosophy, and a good deal has been written on that subject (though it cannot be said to have been fully explored).[3] If, on the other hand, the mentalist-idealist aspect of Plotinus is emphasized, then certain similarities emerge between Plotinus and the vij~naanavaada schools of Buddhism, which have not yet received much attention, though they are perhaps even more striking and comprehensive than the similarities with the Vedaanta.

    This article will offer a general comparison of Plotinus' system of three hypostases with the trisvabhaava doctrine of Buddhism. First the mentalist interpretation of Plotinus will be sketched briefly, then the parallels found in the trisvabhaava doctrine will be presented. To scale the topic down to manageable size, broad structural characteristics of the two systems will be studied without the inspection of details which would necessitate a monographic treatment.


The tendency to regard ontological states as different configurations of mind is foreshadowed in the Platonic tradition by Xenocrates' equation of the One with Mind as a "Monad-Nous," by Aristotle's description of the prime mover as "the thought which thinks itself" (or "self-realizing mind"), by Albinus' division of the universe into an inward-turned, nonactive higher Mind and an

outward-turned, creative lower Mind, and by Numenius' similar description of absolute and relative realities as "Mind-at-rest" and "Mind-in-motion." The Enneads derive, in large part, from this thread of the Platonic tradition and develop it prominently in many passages.

    With each of Plotinus' hypostases a particular mode of mental activity is associated which is, in effect, an alternate definition of the hypostasis in epistemological rather than ontological terms. Lower Soul (Nature) is sensation and discursive one-at-a-time reasoning; higher Soul is changeless, unified vision of Mind; Mind is a complete and unchanging awareness of all reality by direct, simultaneous intuition; the One is pure subjectivity with all manifestations of consciousness folded into itself.[4] In addition, the second hypostasis, Mind, is described as an interpenetrated or interinclusive awareness in which distinctions between part and whole, and knower and known, lose force; Mind is one with each of the forms which it contains and knows, and each of them is thus all of Mind, containing and knowing the whole. Part and whole, knower and known, are not two, but two-in-one; each an aspect of the other, they are distinguishable but inseparable.[5] Mind is the central reality, in relation to which the others are defined: in the One, these poles or aspects are not only inseparable but indistinguishable; in Soul they appear both distinguishable and separable.

    It is important to note that for Plotinus, matter is strictly unreal.[6] None of the hypostases is described as corporeal. Even Soul, which at its lower edge comprises the world of phenomenality, is described as incorporeal, indivisible and nonspatial, but producing, when conjoined with the illusory and nonspatial "screen" which we misleadingly translate "matter," the appearances of spatial division which are the life of the body.[7] In other words, Plotinus' universe may be said to be made up of different levels or degrees of subjectivity, which is to say, of mental reality.[8] Ontology fades into epistemology and loses itself there.[9] Mind, says Plotinus, "is its own thoughts." [10] Nature "is a vision of itself.[11] Creation is not so much a making (poiesis) as a thinking (theoria): the activity of contemplation (theoria), says Plotinus, produces the object contemplated.[12] "That all things," he goes on in the same passage, "including those that are truly beings, are from contemplation [theoria: contemplation, awareness, vision, consciousness) and are themselves contemplation is clear."[13] All things are theoremata, "works of contemplation," "mind-created objects." "All things are Traces of Thought and Mind."[14]

    It must be observed, however, that Plotinus is not altogether consistent on this poiesis by theoria. At some times he states that Being is prior to Mind, at others that the two are simultaneous and mutually implicative, and at yet others that all existents are produced by contemplation.[15] This inconsistency, however, does not seriously weaken the interpretation we are presenting. It applies only to the hypostasis of the One and arises from Plotinus'

desire to avoid suggesting any internal division within the One: to describe the One as a type of knowledge would be to imply a subject-object division within it.[16] Yet his usual scrupulousness on this question of terminology does not prevent Plotinus in looser moments from describing the One as an ultimate Self,[17] as a "self-knowledge which is itself"[18] and as a "superknowledge"[19] which may be described as a state of pure subjectivity, a subjectivity without any object.[20] As Gerald J. P. O'Daly said, "This is explicit: the One is an absolute subject or self."[21] And Emile Brehier; "The One of Plotinus is... the pure, absolute, single subject, without any relation to external objects."[22] The subjective awareness of the One is not a noesis, involving subject and object, but an epibole, an immediate intuition without self-discrimination,[23] or a "pre-knowing" (pronoousa) not involving any duality.[24] Speaking "incorrectly," Plotinus says, "The One; as it were, made itself by an act of looking at itself. This act of looking at itself is, in effect, its being,"[25] and, a little later in the same passage, he calls the One, " . . . a wakefulness and an eternal superknowledge."

    Among modern authors, Brehier has written most lucidly on the idealist-mentalist aspect of Plotinianism. "The inner life of the soul," he writes, "is one with the locality it inhabits."[26] In other words, the different levels of being are different attitudes of soul. "Metaphysical reality as conceived by Plotinus is spiritual life hypostatized."[27] The universe is contemplation, or mind activity, at different levels of intensity, from the extremely vague and inert contemplation of plants and stones up to the ultimate contemplation, that of oneness with the One. So the universe as a whole may be described as a continuous medley of mental processes, or a single huge mind functioning simultaneously at different levels of contemplation: "All activity of soul must be contemplation, but one stage weaker than another."[28] As awareness descends through these levels it produces ever more thoughts, so that the lower reaches of this mind are noisy and full of chaotic and disharmonious thoughts bound together only by the illusory chain of causality; as it reascends, it produces at each higher level fewer, less object-oriented and fragmented thoughts, up to the "nirvikalpa samaadhi" of the One.

    In this universe, as Brehier said, "the only real force. . . is contemplation,"[29] now operating downward through the levels and again upward through them. Descending contemplation and ascending contemplation are the forces binding the universal process together. The outward, downward, form-generating tendency of contemplation is Plotinus' process of progression, whereby the lower hypostases emanate from the One. The inward, upward, form-synthesizing tendency is "regression" or "reversion," whereby everything returns to the One. Each hypostasis is produced by a certain mental activity, consists of that mental activity, and is transcended, in the reversion process, by reverting to a more primal type of mental activity. "True realities," as Brehier says, "are not inert objects of knowledge, but subjective spiritual attitudes."[30] "For

nothing like things exists in true reality. There exist only subjects which contemplate and in which contemplation exists in a varying degree of concentration and purity."[31] The universe is a bidirectional process of the progressive alienation of subject and object (progression), and their progressive reintegration (reversion). The One is the still center of consciousness, matter the outer surface of its disintegrating thought-activity. "Pure subject-the One; the subject ideally separated from its object-Intelligence; finally, the subject which scatters and disperses itself in a world of objects-Soul."[32] Even at the lowest level of Soul, however, there is no real object; rather, the subject, forgetting its exclusive self-identity, projects "bits" of itself "outward" as objects and fastens other bits of itself onto these as accompanying subjects.[33] Really, there is only subject; the world of the object is dreamlike, reflectionlike, unreal.[34] There are, according to this persistent aspect of Plotinus' thought, no objective ontological divisions in the universe, only different grades of concentration of subjectivity.


Buddhist vij~naanavaada doctrine received several formulations, from Vasubandhu to the Chinese Hua Yen school. A general resemblance to Plotinus' system is already discernible in Vasubandhu's Tri^m`sikaakaarikaa and increases in later reformulations until it is all but complete in the Hua Yen system. The similarities which we will outline fall into four parts: (1) the parallelism between the trisvabhaava, or three levels of being, and the three hypostases of Plotinus; (2) the parallel between the two permeations taught in the Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada and Plotinus' forces of progression and reversion; (3) the parallel between the principle of paratantric interpenetration in the Hua Yen school and the interpenetration of Plotinus' hypostasis of Mind; (4) the emphasis, in Plotinus and the Hua Yen school, on Mind or paratantra, rather than the One or parini.spanna, as the goal of the aspirant to enlightenment.

(1) Trisvabhaava and Three Hypostases

The general parallelism which we will inspect is between the vij~naanavaada concept of trisvabhaava and Plotinus' three hypostases. Trisvabhaava means 'three modes of being,' but, as Suzuki said, "svabhaava in this case is to be understood as an epistemological term."[35] As in Plotinus, the overlap between ontology and epistemology is more or less complete; each realm of being is created by the next higher one through a poiesis/theoria, a "making through mentation"; the three levels of being are three levels of consciousness, each representing a type of cognition. This system of three realms of consciousness first appears in Vasubandhu's Tri^m`sikaakaarikaa, in a relatively simple form, is given further definition in the La^nkaavataara Sutra and the Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada,[36] and is elaborated by the Chinese She Lun, Fa Hsiang, T'ien-t'ai, and Hua Yen schools into something remarkably like the system of Plotinus.

    The fundamental parallelism, which holds good with some qualifications throughout the aforementioned stages of the Buddhist traditions, is as follows:

    Svabhaava Ontological/Epistemological Status Hypostasis
    parini.spanna absolute being/knowledge The One
    paratantra dependent being/knowledge Mind
    parikalpita nonbeing/ignorance Soul

We will briefly survey the different stages of the Buddhist tradition in relation to Plotinus.

    Throughout the tradition the lowest, or parikalpita, realm "signifies," as Alfonso Verdu puts it, "mere imagination, 'imagined being' as the shallow and null degree of entitative value that results from the activities of discrimination."[37] "The parikalpita," says Suzuki, "is the fabrication of one's own imagination or mind."[38] The La^nkaavataara Sutra frequently refers to this level as maayaa ,"magical illusion."[39] This level comprehends phenomenality as experienced by a mind which has not yet begun to recognize its errors, and corresponds to Plotinus' Soul, especially lower Soul or Nature, the illusory realm of unlimited subjective discrimination which Plotinus describes as "nonbeing . . . a weak and dim phantom . . . a falsehood . . . a shadow . . . a passing trick [confer maayaa]. . . phantasms within a phantasm . . . "[40] Plotinus and the Buddhist authors continually use the same metaphors to describe this realm, for example, the mirror:

    All things, therefore, are just like the images in a mirror which are devoid of any objectivity that one can get hold of (Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada 3Bc2a.)[41]

    [Particulars are] nothing but phantoms in a phantom, like something in a mirror . . . like things in a dream or water or a mirror. (Enn. 111.6.7)

Throughout the stages of the Buddhist doctrine this parallel remains constant.

    The highest real, or parini.spanna, is identified by Vasubandhu as the storehouse consciousness (aalayavij~naana), as such, it is described in terms partly similar to Plotinus' conception and partly different. As in Plotinus, it is said to be unaware of all "clinging and sensation . . . indifferent to its associations . . . (and) not affected by the darkness of ignorance."[42] Thus far Vasubandhu describes "the pure (amala) state" of the aalaya, and is in agreement with Plotinus' conception of the One. He goes on, however, to attribute to the parini.spanna an impure and differentiated aspect which "is always flowing like a torrent,"[43] and in which karmic seeds ripen; it is, in other words, the active source of the differentiation of the lower realms. Here, Vasubandhu differs from Plotinus who, while allowing that the One must in some way be the ultimate source of differentiation, will not attribute to it any active part in that process;[44] Vasubandhu's impure aalaya is in this respect more similar to Plotinus' Mind, which, like Vasubandhu's aalaya which "is always flowing like a torrent," is described as "boiling with life."[45]

    The La^nkaavataara Suutra brings the parini.spanna realm closer to Plotinus' One; its authors show a scrupulousness about the unity of the aalaya which is comparable to Plotinus' scrupulousness about the One: it cannot be said to have either knowledge or being, for "that which is perfect is beyond the dualism of being and non-being" or knowledge and ignorance.[46] The aalaya now is the ultimate supercognition, or the cognitive aspect of Suchness itself; it is, as Conze put it, "absolute knowledge... free from all discrimination of signs, names, entities and marks."[47] In this formulation it corresponds more closely to Plotinus' One as pure self-identity/awareness with no internal discrimination and no knowledge of the lower realms of being/consciousness which depend on it.[48] The Chinese She Lun school, based on Vasubandhu, brought this conception to a still closer correspondence with Plotinus: the parini.spanna is now designated "immaculate consciousness" (amalavij~naana), or unchanging self-identity/awareness, and corresponds both to Plotinus' One as superknowledge without object and to Vasubandhu's "pure state" of the aalaya.[49] The impure aalaya, the aalaya as active seedbed of phenomenality, is now the paratantra realm, "flowing like a torrent" and rather like Plotinus' Mind "boiling with life." The Fa Hsiang school reinstated the aalaya in the parini.spanna realm, but only after bringing it close to Plotinus' One by conceiving of it as "primordial unity, purity and universality," an "absolute, infinitely open and self-related substratum," a "non-evolving . . . static super-consciousness," "a self-abiding, unrelated, empty and totally undifferentiated superconsciousness," "passive, unalterable and quiet," which "does not actively intervene in causative ideation."[50] This absolutist definition of the parini.spanna realm was solidified by the T'ien-t'ai school's "Mind of Pure Self-nature"[51] and was maintained in the most Plotinian formulation of all, that of the Hua Yen school.

    A second major difference between Plotinus' One and Vasubandhu's parini.spanna is the concept of multiple aalayas, one for each parikalpita subject; and this also is most pronounced in Vasubandhu and is attenuated and finally eliminated by the later schools: probably the La^nkaavataara taught a universal and eternal aalaya, and, in any case, it is clear that the Fa Hsiang and Hua Yen schools did so, bringing the doctrine into close agreement with Plotinus on this point.

    The most crucial and most problematical correspondence is between the middle realms, paratantra and Mind, and here too we find the difference most marked at the Indian stages of the tradition and virtually insignificant at the Hua Yen stage. First, with regard to the Indian schools, the following similarities may be pointed out: (1) the paratantra level, though it has some degree of reality and cognizability, exists only in dependence on parini.spanna, as Plotinus' Mind, while it has a degree of ontic and noetic reality, exists only in dependence on the One; (2) "in the Paratantra view of existence there is no (subjective) discrimination,"[52] as in Plotinus' Mind also there is no possible

occurrence of personal error or unjustified discrimination; (3) the entities in the paratantra realm, like those in Mind, exist not only in dependence on the absolute, but also in mutual interdependence, what Verdu calls "a leaning-on-each-other-in-order-to -be"; paratantra is a "correlational interdependent totality,"[53] as is Plotinus' intelligible realm, or Mind, in which the entities exist by correlation with one another, and dependence on one another, while the realm as a whole exists in absolute dependence on the One; (4) the paratantra realm is the proximate source of phenomenality, and provides it with whatever degree of reality it might have, as Mind is called "the Demiurge,"[54] and, as ideal model or pattern, is the reality which is clouded in the lowest realm by subjective discrimination. The chief differences are two: (1) the paratantra realm is the source of delusion and as such is inherently deceptive,[55] whereas Plotinus' Mind, conforming to Plato's doctrine, is absolved of all active causative function in relation to the realm of delusion; it serves as passive model for the phantasms of that realm rather than as active generator of them; (2) there is nothing in the Indian Buddhist tradition which corresponds very closely to the Platonic eide, which are the correlational entities in the realm of Mind; still, the paratantric entities are the real facts of which the parikalpita fantasies are subjective misapprehensions or distortions, as the Platonic eide represent the real factual content of which the phenomenal realm is a distorted reflection; the cognitive definitions are very similar, although the metaphysical definitions of these real yet interdependent facts are somewhat at variance. As we will see in a later section of this article, the Hua Yen school arrived at a conception much closer to Plotinus', regarding the paratantra realm as a unity-in-multiplicity, mediating and fusing the parini.spanna and parikalpita.

(2) The Two Permeations and Plotinus' Progression and Reversion

In the Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada the mediating character of the aalaya as a transition device between tathataa and sa^msaara is defined in terms of two aspects or forces which create and constitute or embrace all levels of existence, the aspect of enlightenment and the aspect of nonenlightenment.[56] The aspect of non-enlightenment tends away from Suchness toward multiplicity and the alienation of subject and object, the aspect of enlightenment tends in the other direction. They perform the same functions as Plotinus' forces of progression and reversion. The force of nonenlightenment obscures the self-identity of original mind, fragments it into apparent subject and object, and progressively alienates subject from object until the subject is lost in a nightmare of chaotic multiplicity to which it is bound by its own apparent actions, as Plotinus' individual subject is bound to the realm of Nature by the effects of its actions. The aspect of enlightenment involves the reintegration of subject and object until they are once more completely infolded, until object is lost in subject, or, until the appearance of an object is gone. As in Plotinus, these forces are simultaneous

and interlocking, the one-way-up-and-down of Heraclitus, but operating in Mind-stuff, not in matter. Just as Plotinus' One produces stratified emanations, so the aalaya "is provided with separational functions and the nature of manifesting itself [by positing the world-object]."[57] The Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada calls this separational function, which expresses the aalaya's aspect of nonenlightenment, the "permeation of ignorance"[58] (Plotinian Progression). It is counter-balanced by the return force, which is called the "permeation of enlightenment" (Plotinian Reversion). In both systems the first force leads from infinitude to finitude, the second from finitude to infinitude. Through the permeation of ignorance the aalaya "fades downward" through descending degrees of subjectivity into the world of sensation. We may compare this "fading downward" to Plotinus' statement that the lower realms emanate from the One like the sun's rays fading away from their source.[59] As in Plotinus, the source deteriorates into the world, the world saves itself by returning to the source. These simultaneous, complementary processes of the progressive concentration or diffusion of subjectivity are the universe; yet the two systems are not basically dualistic: the opposed processes are the positive presence of the One and its negation or absence.

(3) The Concept of Interpenetration in Plotinus and the Buddhist Schools

The doctrine of interpenetration is implied already in the Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada's teaching that the aalayavij~naana is "the place of intersection of the absolute order and of the phenomenal order."[60] The Hua Yen school elaborated this idea from the `Sraddhotpaada and combined it with the trisvabhaava of the Fa Hsiang school and the `Sraddhotpaada's two permeations to produce an ontological/epistemological system which parallels Plotinus' in every major point. Characteristically, the Greek and Chinese systems offer models of reality rather than analyses of individual psychology, as did Vasubandhu; and both also de-emphasize, in comparison with Vasubandhu, the unreality of the parikalpita realm, which is conceived as a valid part of the universal interpenetration process."[61] In both Plotinus and the Hua Yen school, the middle realm (paratantra or Mind) is the crucial center in which the process of the interpenetration of One and many or universal and particular occurs.

    The paratantra realm as defined by the Hua Yen school is very close to Plotinus' Mind realm of Platonic-ideas-as -interreflexive-consciousnesses. In Verdu's words, paratantra is "an intersubjective net of individual consciousnesses . . . [which] are also termed . . . the 'immaterial subjects' or pure thought subjects . . . ; paratantra . . . in itself constitutes an ideal realm." The difference between the plurality of ideal subjects in paratantra and that of particular subjects in parikalpita is that the "category of paratantra implicitly contains the universality of parini.spanna and thereby includes 'suchness' (tathataa) as

permeating all [its] determinations" (which thereby retain their unity as an interdependent whole), whereas in parikalpita "the 'particular' subjects and objects appear as devoid of their ultimate all-permeating universality, and thus erroneously manifest themselves as independent of one another."[62] Just so, Plotinus taught that the interdependent subject/objects in the realm of Mind are saturated with the direct presence of the One and thereby are made indissoluble from one another, while particulars lack direct contact with the One and therefore falsely appear as separate and independent existents."[63] Again: "Paratantra . . . represents the true, although ideal, nature of parikalpita,"[64] just as Plotinus' realm of Mind is the true and ideal reality of which the realm of particulars is a false copy.

    Thus, in both Plotinus and the Hua Yen system, the middle realm is the place of interpenetration where one and many, and subject and object, fuse their natures. In Tu Shun's On the Meditation of Dharamadhatu the fusion of Li and Shih (universal and particular) is asserted"[65]; and in Fa Tsang's On the Golden Lion,[66] the universe is described as an infinitely interinclusive infinity in which each part contains the whole while remaining simultaneously a part: each particular contains the infinity which contains it; subject contains object which contains subject. Parini.spanna is conceived as universal without particular, and parikalpita as particular without universal; the interpenetration takes place through the mediation of the central paratantra realm of one-in-many and subject-in-object.[67]

    Plotinus described the hypostasis of Mind in more or less identical terms:

    The Nous which thinks a particular living thing does not cease to be the Nous of everything (including, for instance, man), since every part, whichever one you take, is all things, though in a different way from the way in which it is a part... [68]

    [The Forms in the realm of Mind) see all things. . . and they see themselves in them; for all things There are transparent, and there is nothing dark or opaque; everything is clear, altogether and to its inmost part, to everything, for light is transparent to light. Each There has everything in itself and sees all things in every other, for all are everywhere and each and every one is all, and the glory is unbounded: for each of them is great, because even the small is great: the sun There is all the stars, and each star is the sun and all the others. One particular kind of being stands out in each, but in each all are manifest.[69]

    This interpenetration of Forms within the Mind realm is extended to include both One and Soul also, by Plotinus' assertions that every individual subject is represented by a Form in the intelligible realm[70] and that the intelligible realm, or Mind, is contained whole in each individual subject, as, indeed, though indirectly, is the One itself.[71] I Finally the Plotinian universe emerges as, on all levels, a completely interinclusive and interpenetrated dharmadhaatu of infinite infinities, like Fa Tsang's Golden Lion, the Net of Indra, or the Ga.n.davyuhaa's Vairocana Tower.[72]

(4) Paratantra, or Mind, as the Goal of the Aspirant

In the literature of the trisvabhaava doctrine, as in the Enneads, this infinite interpenetration or nonimpededness applies, in particular, to the middle realm in which unity and multiplicity meet and fuse, universal and particular flow unimpededly into and through one another. And in both systems it seems to be the realization of this realm within one's own mind that is the primary goal of spiritual work. Whereas Plotinus sometimes speaks of the One as the goal of the individual soul, he more often speaks of Mind as its goal and regards oneness with the One as a transient and unnecessary, albeit highly exalted, experience.[73] Armstrong, for example, (following Inge) asserts that for Plotinus man's true status is "as inhabitant by nature of the intelligible world . . . The realization of identity with the One is for Plotinus a temporary and abnormal state and . . . Nous, the intelligible realm, is for him the normal home and most fully natural state of the human being in a way in which neither the One nor the visible universe is." "The way to the mystic union is for Plotinus through the knowledge of the One in Multiplicity" (italics mine).[74] Similarly, in the Hua Yen school and in related Zen texts, the goal of the aspirant is not the ecstatic blankness of nirvikalpa samaadhi, though this (as in Plotinus) may be a useful stage along the way, but the realization of consciousness as "the intersubjective mesh of interinclusion of infinity."[75] Many Zen and Hua Yen texts (including the Suutra of Hui Neng and Tsung Mi's Ch'an-yuan chu-ch'uan-chi tu-hsi) deny that the state of mental arrest in which all objects are obliterated, and which is described as the goal of yogic practice in Patanjali's Yoga Suutras, has any intrinsic relationship to enlightenment. Enlightenment is not the obliteration of consciousness, but the reconstitution of total consciousness (dharmadhaatu). To emphasize the absolute unity and subjectivity of the highest realm is as unbalanced as to emphasize the plurality and objectivity of the lowest. The influence of the Maadhyamika may be seen here. Mind emptiness is useful as an experience to break one free from ordinary consciousness, where unity is rejected for the sake of multiplicity; but insofar as the parini.spanna realm rejects multiplicity in favor of unity, it also fails to walk the middle way.


Plotinus' system of three hypostases and two forces binding them together and effecting transitions between them is structurally parallel to the vij~naanavaada system of trisvabhaava with two permeations. Plotinus' system is more similar to the Chinese reformulations of Vasubandhu than to Vasubandhu himself, in line with the fact that both Greek and Chinese philosophers were less willing to deny all metaphysical reality to the world than were Indian philosophers. Perhaps the most striking resemblance between the two traditions is the doctrine of interpenetration as found in Plotinus and the Hua Yen school.

    Though historical influence, or diffusion, is possible, through the Middle or

Neo-Platonist schools of Alexandria and the Buddhist teachers active there in Plotinus' time, several factors make it unlikely that such diffusion was important in this case. The trisvabhaava seems not to have arisen in India until at least a century after Plotinus, therefore such influence, if it occurred, must be presumed to have been from West to East; yet Vasubandhu's system is very unlike Plotinus' in intention, and can be derived coherently from Indian tradition alone. The Hua Yen system is much more Plotinian, but there seems no mechanism of diffusion which could have brought Plotinian influence into China in the seventh century, and indeed no need for any, since the Avata^msaka Suutra and the Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada are all that is necessary to account for the Hua Yen view. The Avata.msaka and Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaada, in turn, can be seen as reasonable developments from the Maadhyamika school and the La^nkaavataara Suutra, without positing any input from outside the Indian tradition.


1. A. H. Armstrong, The Architecture of the Intelligible Universe in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1940), p. 1. Hereafter cited as Armstrong, Architecture.

2. This scheme is somewhat simplified. Plotinus repeatedly says that higher soul is in Mind (Enn. 111.3.5, 11.5.3, 111.4.3) and that it does not reason discursively (or "seek") but possesses an unchanging eternal "vision" (theoria) of Mind (Enn. IV.4. 10 and 12); lower Soul, on the other hand, "reaches to the things of this world" (Enn. IV.8.7) and thus includes both sensation and the discursive thought based on it (Enn. 111.8.5). Elsewhere he says contrariwise that Soul as a whole is from Mind, that is, that it descends from it in the emanation process. Whether we should regard lower and higher Soul as two separate hypostases or higher Soul and Mind as one together, or some other view, is a question much discussed by Plotinus specialists. For our purposes the simplified scheme is adequate, since, in any case, the equivalence between the trisvabhaava and the hypostases is approximate and general rather than total and exact in all points of detail.

3. J. F. Staal, Advaita and Neoplatonism (Bibliography) (Madras: University of Madras, 1961), pp. 251-254.

4. Enn. 11.3.17-18, 111.8.5 and 8, IV.4.10-12, IV.8.3, V.1.12, V.3.3-5, V.4.2, V.6.1, V.8.3-6, VI.2.21, VI.7.9.12, and 15, VI.8.14, VI.9.3.

5. Enn. III.2.14, V. 1.4, V.8.3-4, VI.7.9.

6. Enn. 11.5.5, III.6.6-7, III.9.3, IV.3.9, VI.4.5.

7. Enn. III.8.4.

8. Enn. III.4.3, III.8.5 and 7, IV.3.9, V.1.1, V.5.9.

9. Enn.V.1.4.

10. Enn. V.9.5.

11. Enn. III.8.4.

12. Ibid.

13. Enn. III.8.7.

14. Enn. V.3.7.

15. Enn. III.8.7, V.9.7, VI.7.2.

16. Enn. V.6.1, V.3.12-13.

17. Enn. VI.8.14.

18. Enn. V.4.2.

19. Enn.VI.8.1.

20. John N. Deck, Nature, Contemplation, and the One: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967) pp. 20-21, for the translation of hypernoesis as "superknowledge" rather than as "a state beyond knowledge."

21. Gerald J. P. O'Daly, Plotinus's Philosophy of the Self, (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1973), p. 9.

22. Emile Brehier, The Philosophy of Plotinus, trans. Joseph Thomas (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 189. Hereafter cited as Brehier, Philosophy of Plotinus.

23. Enn. VI.7.38-39.

24. Enn. VI.3.10.

25. Enn.VI.8.16.

26. Brehier, Philosophy of Plotinus, p. 43.

27. Ibid., p. 51.

28. Enn. III.8.5.

29. Brehier, Philosophy of Plotinus, p. 62.

30. Ibid., p. 148.

31. Ibid., p. 192.

32. Ibid.

33. Enn. 11.9.2, IV.3.5 and 12-13, V.3.3-4, VI.4.3 and 16.

34. Enn. 11.5.5, III.6.7, VI.3.8.

35. D. T. Suzuki, Studies in the La^nkaavataara Suutra (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1930), p. 158. Hereafter cited as Suzuki, Studies.

36. Assuming, as this article will do, that both of these texts are later than the Tri^m`sikaakaarikaa.

37. Alfonso Verdu, Dialectical Aspects in Buddhist Thoughts, (Kansas Center for East Asian Studies, University of Kansas, 1974), p. 25. Hereafter cited as Verdu, Dialectical Aspects.

38. Suzuki, Studies, p. 158.

39. For example Lanka,II. 184;D.T.Suzuki, trans. The La^nkaavataara Suutra (London:Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1932), p. 112.

40. Enn. 11.5.5, III.6.7, VI.3.8,

41. English translation by Y. S. Hakeda, The Awakening of Faith (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), pp. 48-49. Hereafter cited as Hakeda, Awakening.

42. Tri^m`sikaakaarikaa, 3-4; English translation in S. Radhakrishnan and C. A. Moore, eds., A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1957), pp. 333-337, and, with selected commentary by Dharmapala, in Wing-tsit Chan, ed., A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963), pp. 374-395. Hereafter cited as Chan, Source Book. Confer Enn. V.1.6, V.5.12.

43. Tri^m`sikaa, 4.

44. Enn. 1.7.1, V.1.6.

45. Enn. VI. 7. 12.

46. La^nkaa, 11.198-199; see Suzuki, Studies, p. 162.

47. Edward, Conze, Buddhist Thought in India (London: Alien and Unwin, 1962), p. 259.

48. Enn. V.5.12.

49. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, 30-31.

50. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, pp. 42, 44, 45.

51. Hui-ssu, in Chan, Source Book, p. 399.

52. La^nkaa, II.183; see Suzuki, Studies, p. 160.

53. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, p. 26.

54. Enn. V.9.3.

55. Tri^m`sikaa, 6-7.

56. Hakeda, Awakening, pp. 37-45.

57. Hakeda, Awakening, p. 59, with bracketed addition as in Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, pp. 22,72.

58. Hakeda, Awakening, p. 59.

59. Enn., 1.7.1, V.1.6-7.V.3.12.

60. Hakeda, Awakening, p. 37.

61. Enn. 11.3.17-18, 11.9.16, IV.8.5.

62. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, pp. 58-59.

63. Enn. III.2.2, IV.3.4, V.3.17, VI.2.21-22, VI.4.4 and 16, VI.5.12.

64. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, p.62.

65. English translation in Garma C. C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality (University Park. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974), pp. 208-223.

66. English translations, ibid., and in Chan, Source Book, pp. 409-414.

67. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, p. 61.

68. Enn. VI.7.9.

69. Enn.V.8.3-4. Translated as in A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus (London: George Alien and Unwin, 1953), pp. 77, 80.

70. Enn.V.7.1.

71. Enn.I.I.8, 11.9 8, III.4.3, V.3.8 and 17, VI 6.12, VI.7.34-36.

72. D. T. Suzuki, On Indian Mahayana Buddhism, ed., Edward Conze (New York: Harper and Row, Harper Torchbooks, 1968), pp. 173 ff.

73. Enn. I.2.6. I.4.4, II.3.9, II.9.9, III.4.3, IV.7.10, V.3.4, V.8.7, VI.5.7, et passim.

74. Armstrong, Architecture, pp. 5-6, 46.

75. Verdu, Dialectical Aspects, p. 63. .