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The Eight Consciousnesses (Sanskrit: Aṣṭavijñāna, from aṣṭa "eight" and vijñāna "consciousness") are concepts developed in the tradition of the Yogacara school of Buddhism. They enumerate the five senses, supplemented by the mind (manas), the "obscuration" of the mind (klesha), and finally the fundamental store-house consciousness (Sanskrit: ālayavijñāna, from ālaya "abode, dwelling"; Tibetan: kun gzhi rnam shes; Chinese: 阿賴耶 Japanese: araya-shiki), which is the basis of the other seven.

The Eight Consciousnesses (Aṣṭa Vijñāna)

All Eight Consciousness (Tibetan: rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad)[1] are "aggregates" or skandha.

The first five are the sensate "consciousnesses":

  • First consciousness: "Eye-consciousness" (Tibetan: mig-gi rnam-shes); seeing apprehended by the visual sense organs;
  • Second consciousness: "Ear-consciousness" (Tibetan: rna’i rnam-shes); hearing apprehended by the auditory sense organs;
  • Third consciousness: "Nose-consciousness" (Tibetan: sna’i rnam-shes), smelling apprehended through the olfactory organs;
  • Fourth consciousness: "Tongue-consciousness" (Tibetan: lce’i rnam-shes); tasting perceived through the gustatory organs;
  • Fifth consciousness: "Body-consciousness" (Tibetan: lus-kyi rnam-shes); tactile feeling apprehended through skin contact, touch.

These first five along with the sixth are identified in the Sutta Pitaka:

  • Sixth consciousness: "Ideation-consciousness" (Tibetan: yid-kyi rnam-shes); the aspect of mind known in Sanskrit as the "mind monkey"; the consciousness of ideation.

The Yogacara School that espoused the Cittamatra Doctrine proffer two more consciousnesses:

  • Seventh consciousness: "The manas consciousness ""Obscuration-consciousness" (Tibetan: nyon-yid rnam-shes); (Sanskrit: klistamanas = klesha "obscuration", "poison", "enemy"; manas "ideation", "moving mind", "mind monkey" (volition?); a consciousness which through apprehension, gathers the hindrances, the poisons, the karmic formations (c.f. sankhara).
  • Eighth consciousness: "store-house consciousness" (Tibetan: kun-gzhi rnam-shes; Sanskrit: ālāyavijñāna); " The seed consciousness (bi^ja-vijn~a^na); "the consciousness which is the basis of the other seven.[2] The seven prior consciousnesses are based and founded upon the eighth. It is the aggregate which administers and yields rebirth; this idea may be ultimately traceable to the "luminous mind" of the agamas.

Store consciousness

Store consciousness accumulates all potential energy for the aggregate of the 'bodymind' (Sanskrit: namarupa), the mental (nama) and physical (rupa) manifestation of one's existence, and supplies the substance to all existences. It also receives impressions from all functions of the other consciousnesses and retains them as potential energy for their further manifestations and activities. Since it serves as the basis for the production of the other seven consciousnesses (called the "evolving" or "transforming" consciousnesses), it is also known as the base consciousness (mūla-vijñāna) or causal consciousness. Since it serves as the container for all experiential impressions (termed metaphorically as bija or "seeds"), it is also called the seed consciousness (種子識) or container consciousness.

According to Yogacara teachings, the seeds stored in the Store consciousness of sentient beings are not pure ( note that each being has his own one and only, formless and no-place-to-abide Store consciousness . Also note that of each of us, our "being" is created by our own Store consciousness according to the karma seeds stored in it , and in that sense , in "coming and going" we definitely do not own the " no-coming and no-going" Store consciousness, rather we are owned by it. Just as a human image shown in a monitor can never be described as lasting for any instant, since "he" is just the production of electron currents of data stored and flow from the hard disk of the computer, so do seed currents drain from the Store consciousness, never lasting from one moment to the next. ) , and through the process of seeds purging, the dharma practitioner can became a Arahat when the four defilement Mental Function(心所法)-- self-delusion (我癡), self-view (我見), egotism (我慢), and self-love (我愛), of the seventh consciousness are purified. By then the polluted Mental Functions of the first six consciousnesses would have been cleansed, since the seventh or the Manas consciousness dictates whether or not the seeds drain from the eighth Seed consciousness, and whether or not the content breaks through becoming a "function" to be perceived by us in the mental or physicial world. Furthermore,in contrast to an Arahat, a Buddha is one with all his seeds stored in the eighth Seed consciousness. Cleansed and substituted, bad for good, one for one, his polluted-seeds-containing eighth consciousness( Alaya Consciousness) becomes an all-seeds-purified eighth consciousness (Pure consciousness 無垢識 ), and he becomes a Buddha.

According to Walpola Rahula, all the elements of the Yogacara storehouse-consciousness are already found in the Pali Canon.[3] He writes that the three layers of the mind (citta, manas, and vijnana) as presented by Asanga are also used in the Pali Canon: "Thus we can see that Vijnana represents the simple reaction or response of the sense organs when they come in contact with external objects. This is the uppermost or superficial aspect or layer of the Vijnanaskanda. Manas represents the aspect of its mental functioning, thinking, reasoning, conceiving ideas, etc. Citta which is here called Alayavijnana, represents the deepest, finest and subtlest aspect or layer of the Aggregate of consciousness. It contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future possibilities."[4]

According to the Lankavatara Sutra and the schools of Chan/Zen Buddhism, in contrast with the Yogacara position, the store consciousness (alayavjnana) is identical with the tathagatagarbha (i.e., the womb or matrix of the Thus-come-one, the Buddha), and is fundamentally pure.[5]

From this point of view it is because the store consciousness, while being originally immaculate in itself, contains a "mysterious mixture of purity and defilement, good and evil" that the transformation of consciousness can take place and enlightenment can be experienced. [6] In this analysis, mental and physical manifestations are nothing but discriminations of Mind and all aspects of the first seven enumerated consciousnesses are just the reflections of the store consciousness (Alaya) also known as the Tathagatagarba. [7]

Later Developments of the doctrine of Ālaya-vijñāna

Some buddhists also suggested the Amala, Hrdaya consciousnesses or an eleven consciousnesses theory.[8][9]

Lusthaus (undated) in mapping the development and doctrinal relationships of ālaya-vijñāna, tathāgatagarbha, Yogācāra, ātman, Abhidharma, prakṛti and the Mindstream states:

Several Yogācāra notions basic to the Abhidharma wing [of Yogācāra] came under severe attack by other Buddhists, especially the notion of ālaya-vijñāna, which was denounced as something akin to the Hindu notions of ātman (permament, invariant self) and prakṛti (primordial substrative nature from which all mental, emotional and physical things evolve). Eventually the critiques became so entrenched that the Abhidharma wing atrophied. By the end of the eighth century it was eclipsed by the logico-epistemic tradition [of Yogācāra] and by a hybrid school that combined basic Yogācāra doctrines with Tathāgatagarbha thought. The logico-epistemological wing in part side-stepped the critique by using the term citta-santāna, "mind-stream", instead of ālaya-vijñāna, for what amounted to roughly the same idea. It was easier to deny that a "stream" represented a reified self. On the other hand, the Tathāgatagarbha hybrid school was no stranger to the charge of smuggling notions of selfhood into its doctrines, since, for example, it explicitly defined the tathāgatagarbha as "permanent, pleasurable, self, and pure (nitya, sukha, ātman, śuddha). Many Tathāgatagarbha texts, in fact, argue for the acceptance of selfhood (ātman) as a sign of higher accomplishment. The hybrid school attempted to conflate tathāgatagarbha with the ālaya-vijñāna.[10]

Although Vasubandhu had postulated numerous ālaya-vijñāna-s ('storehouse-consciousnesses'), a separate one for each individual person in the para-kalpita, this multiplicity was, according to Philosopher Thomas McEvilley, later eliminated in the Fa Hsiang and Hua Yen metaphysics, which inculcated instead the doctrine of a single universal and eternal ālaya-vijñāna. This exalted enstatement of the ālaya-vijñāna is described in the Fa Hsiang as "primordial unity". McEvilley also concluded that the presentation of the three natures by Vasu-bandhu as consistent with the Neo-platonist views of Plōtinos and his universal 'One', 'mind', and 'soul'.

Muller (1995: unpaginated) in discussing the Interpenetration (通達) and Essence-Function (體用) of Wonhyo (元曉) and the Treatise on Awakening Mahāyāna Faith (AMF; Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun; 大乘起信論) holds that:

The AMF was a text that was perfect for utilization by someone of Wŏnhyo's inclinations, since it was written to clarify issues about the nature of human consciousness and the proper course toward enlightenment which had hitherto been interpreted divergently by different schools of East Asian Buddhism. The author of the AMF was deeply concerned with the question of the respective origins of ignorance and enlightenment. If enlightenment is originally existent, how do we become submerged in ignorance? If ignorance is originally existent, how is it possible to overcome it? And finally, at the most basic level of mind, the alaya consciousness (藏識), is there originally purity or taint? The AMF dealt with these questions in a systematic and thorough fashion, working through the Yogacāra concept of the alaya consciousness. The technical term used in the AMF which functions as a metaphorical synonym for interpenetration is "permeation" or "perfumation (薫)," referring to the fact that defilement (煩惱) "perfumates" suchness (眞如), and suchness perfumates defilement, depending on the current condition of the mind.[11]

See also


  1. Berzin, Alexander (2002, 2006 revised). Mind and Mental Factors: The Fifty-one Types of Subsidiary Awareness. Source: [1] (accessed: January 9, 2008)
  2. Nhat Hanh (2001), pp. 1 ff.
  3. Padmasiri De Silva, Robert Henry Thouless, Buddhist and Freudian Psychology. Third revised edition published by NUS Press, 1992 page 66.
  4. Walpola Rahula, quoted in Padmasiri De Silva, Robert Henry Thouless, Buddhist and Freudian Psychology. Third revised edition published by NUS Press, 1992 page 66, [2].
  5. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, pages 96-97.
  6. The Lankavatara Sutra, A Mahayana Text, Suzuki's introduction at p. xxvi, available online: [3].
  7. Id. at p. xxv.
  8. zh:s:佛學大辭典/九識
  9. 识-法相词典- 佛教百科 佛教百科
  10. Lusthaus, Dan (undated). What is and isn't Yogācāra. Source: [4] (accessed: December 4, 2007)
  11. Muller, Charles A. (1995). "The Key Operative Concepts in Korean Buddhist Syncretic Philosophy: Interpenetration (通達) and Essence-Function (體用) in Wŏnhyo, Chinul and Kihwa" cited in Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University No. 3, March 1995, pp 33-48.Source: [5] (accessed: September 18, 2008)


  • Norbu, Namkhai (2001). The Precious Vase: Instructions on the Base of Santi Maha Sangha. Shang Shung Edizioni. Second revised edition. (Translated from the Tibetan, edited and annotated by Adriano Clemente with the help of the author. Translated from Italian into English by Andy Lukianowicz.)
  • Epstein, Ronald (undated). Verses Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses. A translation and explanation of the "Verses Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses by Tripitaka Master Hsuan-Tsang of the Tang Dynasty. Source: [6] (accessed: October 19, 2007)

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