Edmund Husserl’s Transcendence of the Early Buddhist Theory of Consciousness


  • Saman Pushpakumara Senior Lecturer Department of Philosophy and Psychology University of Peradeniya Sri Lanka




Subjectivity, consciousness, phenomenology, intentionality, transcendental ego.


Edmund Husserl, the founding father of western philosophical movement known as phenomenology, formulated a theory of consciousness writing Logical Investigations (1900). The Gautama the Buddha, as far back as the 6th century B.C., had provided an analysis of the conscious phenomena. Many scholars who trace parallels between the Buddhist view of consciousness and Husserl’s phenomenology of the structures of consciousness deal mostly with the similarities between the two, and such a comparison could also be regarded as a worthwhile contribution to the field of comparative philosophy.This paper argues that Husserl's analysis of consciousness, despite its limitations, as elaborated by Derrida, (and also by Heidegger), is more advanced than the Buddha's formulation. Husserl articulated his phenomenology of consciousness as a result of his encounter with Cartesian cogito, (or the Cartesian psychology) on the one hand and the positivistic foundation of empirical sciences on the other. Husserl’s notion of phenomenological consciousness was situated within an industrially advanced capitalist society and nurtured by scientific epistemology, despite his criticism of its underlying positivism, which set the basis for his philosophy of internal consciousness. He lived in a controversial era, the rise of National Socialism in Germany, which has to be taken seriously when assessing his philosophy of consciousness.  The Buddha, in contrast, theorized his notion of consciousness within a backward, slow-moving, agricultural and feudal setting .He developed his notion of consciousness as a normative concept as a basis for achieving the spiritual objective he envisaged. While acknowledging the fact that no other philosophy that existed during the Buddha’s time had articulated such a meticulous and in depth analysis of the phenomenology of consciousness, his analysis seems to be less advanced when assessed and compared with the twentieth century phenomenology of Husserl. The present study will be carried out having used original and secondary sources of Husselian and Buddhist phenomenologies. This study will contribute significantly to future research on similar topics.


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