Seeing Afar

Yogic Perception, Extramission, and Intellectual History


  • Jed Forman Simpson College



Intellectual History, Perception, Buddhism, yoga, India


“Piercing gazes” or “penetrative stares” are common idioms in English. Yet, on reflection, these phrases oddly suggest an extramissive, projective connotation of vision, countering our learned understanding that sight passively receives light. Nevertheless, these projective connotations are highly intuitive. Exploring Indian debates on yogic perception through a cognitive science lens, this paper argues that extramissive theories of sight constitute our most basic intuitive understanding of vision. Yogis are said to have extra powerful extramissive visual rays that allow them not only to apprehend distant objects but penetrate spiritual truths. Buddhists, by contrast, reject that the senses are extramissive. Still, they retain extramissive connotations when they explain yogic perception as a type of mental—rather than sensorial—feat. The explicit Buddhist rejection of extramission alongside their implicit retention of extramissive metaphors corroborates the thesis that extramission was highly intuitive within an ancient Indic milieu. Indeed, it likely constitutes a pan-human intuition.

Author Biography

Jed Forman, Simpson College

Jed Forman received his doctorate from the University of California Santa Barbara after conducting research in India on both Fulbright and American Institute for Indian Studies grants. His research focuses on Buddhist epistemology. In addition to several publications, Jed is co-author of Knowing Illusion, released this year, which investigates Tibetan interpretations of Buddhist Madhyamaka philosophy. His in-progress monograph examines theories of yogic perception across Indian and Tibetan traditions. After holding the Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellowship at University of California, Berkeley, he is currently the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Assistant Professor in Buddhist Studies at Simpson College.


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How to Cite

Forman, J. (2022). Seeing Afar: Yogic Perception, Extramission, and Intellectual History. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 7(1-2), 66–88.