A Buddhist Explanation of Episodic Memory: From Self to Mindby Monima Chadha

Asian Philosophy


Philosophy / Religious studies


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Asian Philosophy: An International

Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East

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A Buddhist Explanation of Episodic

Memory: From Self to Mind

Monima Chadha

Published online: 08 Jan 2014.

To cite this article: Monima Chadha (2014) A Buddhist Explanation of Episodic Memory: From Self to Mind, Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East, 24:1, 14-27, DOI: 10.1080/09552367.2014.869093

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09552367.2014.869093


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A Buddhist Explanation of Episodic

Memory: From Self to Mind

Monima Chadha

In this paper, I argue that some of the work to be done by the concept of self is done by the concept of mind in Buddhist philosophy. For the purposes of this paper, I shall focus on an account of memory and its ownership. The task of this paper is to analyse

Vasubandhu’s heroic effort to defend the no-self doctrine against the Nyāya-Vaiśes:ikas in order to bring to the fore the Buddhist model of mind. For this, I will discuss

Vasubandhu’s theory of mind in the early Abhidharma as well as post-Abhidharma period to show the continuity in his work. 1. Introduction

The Buddhist attempts to revise our ordinary ways of thinking and our ordinary conceptual scheme, in which the self (minimally conceived of as the referent of ‘I’) occupies a prime position, in order to provide an intellectually and morally preferred picture of the world that lacks such a self. Anātmavāda, or the no-self doctrine, is interpreted in various ways within the classical Indian Buddhist tradition, and among its Hindu critics. As a matter of fact, anātmavāda (insofar as we can speak of it in the singular) is still a matter of debate among contemporary Buddhist philosophers. Most modern scholars agree that the Buddhist doctrine of no-self is not merely aimed at rejecting a given theory of self in the Indian debate—that the self is an immaterial, eternal and (essentially?) conscious entity; they also agree that the no-self theory minimally dictates that the referent of ‘I’ is not a persisting entity. However, the ontological status of persons, i.e., whether they are conventionally or ultimately real and whether the no-self doctrine implies a deep rejection of self/person as the subject/ owner of experiences and thoughts, is not universally agreed upon. For example,

Siderits (2003) and Ganeri (2007) argue that persons are conventionally real, since they are partite entities like streams and heaps. Siderits goes further to claim that persons are conceptual constructions and do not exist ‘independent of our subjective wants, needs and interests’ (2003, p. 8). Duerlinger argues that Vasubandhu— regarded as one of the most important Abhidharma philosophers—does not reject

Correspondence to: Monima Chadha, Philosophy Section, School of Philosophical, Historical and International

Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Email: monima.chadha@monash.edu

This research has been partially supported by Contemplative Studies Fellowship 2013, of the Mind and Life


Asian Philosophy, 2014

Vol. 24, No. 1, 14–27, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09552367.2014.869093 © 2014 Taylor & Francis

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O vie do ] a t 0 5:1 8 1 4 O cto be r 2 01 4 the view that persons ultimately exist, for he believes that persons are the same in existence as collections of skandhas or aggregates (Duerlinger, 2003, p. 21). Dreyfus (2011, pp. 130–131), in fact, goes even further to argue that the no-self doctrine is consistent with the claim that ultimately real persons are subjects of experience. His argument rests on the distinction between the subject, that is, the continuum of momentary mental states with their first-personal self-givenness (which are central to being a person) and the self, which is an illusory reification of subjectivity as being a bounded agent enduring through time. This suggests that some of the work that needs to be done by the concept of self, i.e., to explain the ownership of experiences, can be done by the concept of person in Buddhist philosophy. But I think it is a mistake; Buddhists do want to argue that there is no one subject/owner of experiences, there are perhaps many minds/mental states that can play the role of an owner of experience, but there is no point talking about a singular subject/owner as a self or a person. In this paper, I argue that some of the work to be done by the concept of self is done by the concept of mind in Buddhist philosophy, as developed during the