Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 355–372 | Cite as

The Tantric Context of Ratnākaraśānti’s Philosophy of Mind

  • Davey K. Tomlinson


The conflicting positions of the two early eleventh century Yogācāra scholars, Ratnākaraśānti and his critic Jñānaśrīmitra, concerning whether or not consciousness can exist without content (ākāra) are inseparable from their respective understandings of enlightenment. Ratnākaraśānti argues that consciousness can be contentless (nirākāra)—and that, for a buddha, it must be. Mental content can be defeated by reasoning and made to disappear by meditative cultivation, and so it is fundamentally distinct (bheda) from the nature of consciousness, which is never defeated and never ceases. That mental content is thus separable from the nature of consciousness is unimaginable to Jñānaśrīmitra, who argues that all mental content cannot be so defeated, nor can it disappear completely, and who concludes that Ratnākaraśānti’s commitment to this idea can be based on nothing but faith (śraddhā). Contra Jñānaśrīmitra, I will suggest that Ratnākaraśānti’s view is based not only on faith, but is also driven by a certain (often implicit) theory of buddhahood, the implications of which he is committed to working out. Because Ratnākaraśānti’s theory of buddhahood is developed in part in his tantric work, our understanding of his position benefits from our reading it in this context, wherein buddhahood and the most effective techniques for attaining it are explored.


Ratnākaraśānti Jñānaśrīmitra ākāra ānanda Buddhist tantra Buddhist philosophy of mind 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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