Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 321–338 | Cite as

Conceptuality and Non-conceptuality in Yogācāra Sources

  • Jowita Kramer


This paper investigates the Yogācāra notions of “conceptuality”, represented by terms such as vikalpa, on the one hand, and of “non-conceptuality” on the other. The examination of the process of thinking as well as its absence has played a central role in the history of Yogācāra thought. The explanations of this process provided by Yogācāra thinkers in works such as the Yogācārabhūmi, the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra and the Mahāyānasaṃgraha appear to be mainly concerned with the contents and the components of thoughts, categorizing them into different classes. These lists are far more than arbitrary collections. Instead they are meant to represent exhaustive summaries of a person’s conceptual experience. The first part of the paper focusses on conceptuality, exploring (mostly Abhidharmic) definitions of the relevant terms and ideas. The second part is mainly an investigation of the question which parts of the Buddhist path to liberation were considered to involve conceptual activity and which were described as non-conceptual.


Conceptuality Non-conceptuality Yogācāra vikalpa nirvikalpa Abhidharma 


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I would like to thank Ralf Kramer, Lambert Schmithausen, Jonathan Silk and Bill Waldron for very valuable comments on previous drafts of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Indology and Tibetology, University of MunichMunichGermany

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