Meditation, Idealism and Materiality: Vivid Visualization in the Buddhist ‘Qizil Yoga Manual’ and the Context of Caves

Karen O'Brien-Kop

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    This paper examines the topic of Yogācāra idealism through a little studied Buddhist meditation manual, the so-called ‘Yogalehrbuch’ or ‘Qizil Yoga Manual’, a primarily Buddhist Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text with Mahāyāna Yogācāra strands. What does this unique Central Asian text say about Buddhist meditation practices called yogācāra or yoga? It centres on methods of vivid visualization that are somewhat specific to the Central Asian region of Kucha on the Silk Road. To understand the Manual’s practice and definition of yogic meditation, this paper considers how some of the hyper-real visualizations in the dhātuprayoga section relate the mind to reality and whether Yogācāra meditation can be said to propose idealism as a metaphysical theory about the nature of reality. The paper also asks whether neurocognitive research insights can be useful in understanding what some regard as a ‘hallucination-like’ quality of some visualizations, which destabilise distinctions between appearances and reality. Furthermore, it argues that analyzing the materiality of meditation, particularly the environment of the cave, helps us to better understand the text’s techniques of yogic visualization. The paper concludes that the ‘Qizil Yoga Manual’ facilitates soteriological idealism and suggests that factoring in the material contexts of meditation is useful, both in deciphering the text’s meditation methods and in discussing the metaphysical theory of idealism.

    © 2022, The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Indian Philosophy
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2022


    • Yoga
    • Yogācāra
    • Yogalehrbuch
    • Idealism
    • Qizil
    • Buddhism
    • Material Religion
    • Meditation

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