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I read that everything is just my own mind from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. If everything is my own mind, what about other peoples minds? Are they also my own mind? How can this be understood?

For instance in Chapter 7 of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra there is this passage:

The Blessed One replied: There are four things by the fulfilling of which an earnest disciple may gain self-realization of Noble Wisdom and become and Bodhisattva-Mahasattva: First, he must have a clear understanding that all things are only manifestations of the mind itself; second, he must discard the notion of birth, abiding and disappearance; third, he must clearly understand the ego-less-ness of both things and persons; and fourth, he must have a true conception of what constitutes self-realization of Noble Wisdom, provided with these four understandings, earnest disciples may become Bodhisattvas and attain Transcendental Intelligence.

If all things are manifestations of my own mind, doesn't this mean Buddhism as expressed in this Sutra is the equivalent of solipsism? How do we understand the problem of other minds given this Sutra?

  • good question, thanks. the lankavatara sutra always stuck me as a very unique sutra -- even-though mind only is ofc not unique to it – user2512 Feb 4 at 1:57
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Don't quite agree with the other answers so I'll try and flesh out the differences.

First, it is important to understand that the cittamatra view is not the pinnacle of prajnaparamita. It is one stop that some beings need to arrive at before reaching the pinnacle of the perfection of wisdom.

Second, it is important to know that although the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra is popularly said by some to be a sutra supporting cittamatra, actually it is quite critical of it. You can find in the sutra quite explicit admonitions that some of the concepts popular with cittamatra are actually upaya used by the Buddha out of compassion for those who are not ready to understand conceptually the perfection of wisdom and who are prone to fall to annihilation or extreme fear as they approach the truth.

With those points made I want you to look at the third point in the verse sighted which has been overlooked.

The Blessed One replied: There are four things by the fulfilling of which an earnest disciple may gain self-realization of Noble Wisdom and become and Bodhisattva-Mahasattva: First, he must have a clear understanding that all things are only manifestations of the mind itself; second, he must discard the notion of birth, abiding and disappearance; third, he must clearly understand the ego-less-ness of both things and persons; and fourth, he must have a true conception of what constitutes self-realization of Noble Wisdom, provided with these four understandings, earnest disciples may become Bodhisattvas and attain Transcendental Intelligence.

Now look at the formulation of your question with emphasis on the third point above.

If everything is my own mind, what about other peoples minds? Are they also my own mind?

No, they are not your own mind. Your own mind is not your own mind. Because 'you' do not exist in the way that 'you' think you do.

What you are doing with your question is diving up the world into two; a duality if you will. On one side you have you and your mind. Set aside for a second the question of what 'you' are given that all things are manifestation of mind. On the other side you have the rest of the world and you interpret what the Buddha has said as putting you and your mind as masters of this world. You've interpreted it to say that only you and your own mind are real and all the rest is just a fiction that your mind is making up.

This is just not even close to what the Buddha was saying. Ask yourself... if all things are manifestation of the mind itself (note: not 'your' mind), then what of the mind itself? Is it also a manifestation of mind? Is the Buddha saying that only the mind is real? If only the mind is real, then there can be no thing, no separate non-mind thing, that is the 'owner' of that mind, right? So what does that make 'you'?

Let's just say hypothetically that the mind is real and the only thing that is real. So how do you interpret the third point above? The Buddha in the very same passage is telling us that all people and phenomena are empty. That neither people nor phenomena contain any inherent being. How can you square that with this idea of 'your' mind or even with the idea that 'mind' itself is real?

To truly understand these four points and what the Buddha is after in this passage you have to understand emptiness and what is meant by this third point. It is the teaching on emptiness and anatta that is unique and clears up any and all doubt that the Buddha was referring to some form of solipsism when teaching that all should be regarded as manifestation of mind. Mind itself is empty of any inherent being. Mind itself is not real.

I'm hopeful this is helpful, but if you find yourself just confused by this I'd suggest putting it down and focusing on the method aspects of the path.

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  • Very nice. Thanks. – Malik A Feb 5 at 19:29
  • An excellent answer. – user14119 Feb 7 at 11:23
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Thrangu Rinpoche once said that everything we see (all phenomena we experience) is our own projection - except other people's minds. Only other people's subjective experience is not our projection and therefore exists independently of us.

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  • I was hoping for a more scripturally based answer. But this is not bad. – Malik A Feb 3 at 22:00
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How to understand the lankavatara sutra and 'mind only' will depend on what practice or practices you are engaged with. At least some Buddhists thought that the "one mind" - Buddhahood -- includes all other minds.

enter image description here

From scholarship by Charles Jones, p113 of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism:

Incidentally, people complain about academic analysis, but I think that's pretty out dated. When Buddhism first came to the West, academics were concerned just with making philosophical sense of it, which was inevitably filtered through whatever philosophy was fashionable at the time (e.g. Hegel). But most of what I've read is very different -- more concerned with reconstructing what historical Buddhists thought and disagreed about.

So anyway, the idea of the one mind including every mind seems very Chinese -- Huayen / Tientai / Pure Land (Amitabha's pure land pervading all minds here already).

The point I'm getting to is that other minds I think are manifestations of our own -- at least our own consummate nature -- but we don't experience them that way due to delusion. Which is not to deny the existence of "other minds", vijñāna-santâna.

Or this, by Yung Ming

enter image description here

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  • why the downvote to this well referenced reply? – user2512 Feb 7 at 3:30
  • I will own up to downvoting. I find this misleading in relation to the OP's quoted text. It feels a bit conjectural to me. You say 'I think other minds and manifestations of our own', and for me this is an opinion too far. Yeshe Tenley gives a model answer imho. It was a close decision. You make a good point about analysis. . – user14119 Feb 7 at 11:32
  • It is an interesting answer and adds another perspective which I think is valuable and the scholarship is welcome. – Yeshe Tenley Feb 7 at 15:23
  • the one mind is not something separate from us @PeterJ – user2512 Feb 7 at 16:57
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    @sorta_buddhist Okay. Point taken. I think I didn't read it sympathetically. I added an edit in order to change my vote. Pardon my ungenerous first reaction. . – user14119 Feb 9 at 11:05
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That’s a very commonly misunderstood idea. Yogacara is not solipsism. What the sutra is referring to is how discrete dharmas (e.g. stuff in the world) is “transformed” by latent seeds in the storehouse consciousness, by the self conceit, and by the executive function of mind consciousness. Things exist independent of our own minds. We just never see them as such because our own conditioning is reflected back to us. In essence, we don’t live in a world of true forms; instead we live in a world comprised solely of the delusions existing in our own minds.

These delusions can take on a seemingly infinite number of forms, but can generally be reduced to existential matters (e.g the hindrances, experience, the three cankers, etc) and fundamental perceptual errors (like the inability to perceive shunyata existing within the field of perception). Yogacara, practically speaking, seeks to unburden us of those two sets of conditioning. In fact, Zen koans, a yogacara practice if there ever was one, operate on those two axises. Some address existential matters, other seek to reorient perception. As we begin to see through our conditioning, bit by bit, the world is revealed in its “thusness”.

So to answer your question, yes, other minds exist independently of our own, but so do bus seats, granola bars, and flat wear. You’ve just never seen them - only the warped image that your own mind creates.

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  • I downvoted this even though it has many good parts because of the sentence that “things exist independent of our own minds” which is not in keeping with yogacara and is also problematic for the more definitive doctrines beyond yogacara. In other words, yogacara does not go far enough and the sentence above does not go even as far as yogacara. Still, it is probably upaya for some and the answer is welcome. – Yeshe Tenley Feb 7 at 15:26
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    Fair enough. I was trying to stay out of the weeds as I was more interested in demonstrating that Yogacara isn’t solipsism. Indicating that things don’t exist - and why - would more or less short circuit the answer. – user17214 Feb 7 at 21:32

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