The Eight Consciousnesses is a classification developed in the tradition of the Yogacara school of Buddhism. They enumerate the five senses, supplemented by the mind, the "obscuration" of the mind (manas), and finally the fundamental store-house consciousness, which is the basis of the other seven.
The eightfold network of primary consciousnesses[edit source | edit]
All surviving schools of buddhist thought accept – "in common" – the existence of the first six primary consciousnesses (Sanskrit: vijñāna, Tibetan: རྣམ་ཤེས་, Wylie: rnam-shes). The internally coherent Yogācāra school associated with Maitreya, Asaṅga, and Vasubandhu, however, uniquely – or "uncommonly" – also posits the existence of two additional primary consciousnesses, kliṣṭamanas and ālayavijñāna, in order to explain the workings of karma. The first six of these primary consciousnesses comprise the five sensory faculties together with mental consciousness, which is counted as the sixth. According to Gareth Sparham,
The ālaya-vijñāna doctrine arose on the Indian subcontinent about one thousand years before Tsong kha pa. It gained its place in a distinctly Yogācāra system over a period of some three hundred years stretching from 100 to 400 C.E., culminating in the Mahāyāna-saṁgraha, a short text by Asaṅga (circa 350), setting out a systematic presentation of the ālaya-vijñāna doctrine developed over the previous centuries. It is the doctrine found in this text in particular that Tsong kha pa, in his Ocean of Eloquence, treats as having been revealed in toto by the Buddha and transmitted to suffering humanity through the Yogācāra founding saints (Tib. shing rta srol byed): Maitreya[-nātha], Asaṅga, and Vasubandhu.
While some noteworthy modern scholars of the Gelug tradition (which was originally founded by Tsongkhapa's reforms to Atisha's Kadam school) assert that the ālayavijñāna is posited only in the Cittamatra philosophical tenet system, all non-Gelug schools of Tibetan buddhism maintain that the ālayavijñāna is accepted by the various Madhyamaka schools, as well. The Yogācāra eightfold network of primary consciousnesses – aṣṭavijñāna in Sanskrit (from compounding aṣṭa, "eight", with vijñāna, "primary consciousness"), or Tibetan: རྣམ་ཤེས་ཚོགས་བརྒྱད་, Wylie: rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad – is roughly sketched out in the following table.
The Eightfold Network of Primary Consciousnesses
Each of these Six Common Consciousnesses – referred to in Sanskrit as pravṛtti-vijñāna[θ] – are posited on the basis of valid straightforward cognition,[ι] on any individual practitioner's part, of sensory data input experienced solely by means of their bodily sense faculties.
The derivation of this particular dual classification schema for these first six, so-called "common" consciousnesses has its origins in the first four Nikāyas of the Sutta Pitaka – the second division of the Tipitaka in the Pali Canon – as first committed to writing during the Theravada school's fourth council at Sri Lanka in 83 (BCE).
Both individually and collectively: these first six, so-called "common" consciousnesses are posited – in common – by all surviving buddhist tenet systems.
The first five sense-consciousnesses along with the sixth consciousness are identified in the Sutta Pitaka, especially the Salayatana Vagga subsection of the Samyutta Nikaya:
"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."
"As you say, lord," the monks responded.
The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All.  Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range."
The Yogacara-school gives a detailed explanation of the workings of the mind and the way it constructs the reality we experience. It is "meant to be an explanation of experience, rather than a system of ontology".Vasubandhu is considered to be the sytematizer of Yogacara-thought. Vasubandhu used the concept of the six consciousnesses, on which he elaborated in the Triṃśikaikā-kārikā (Treatise in Thirty Stanzas).
Consciousness[edit source | edit]
According to the traditional interpretation, Vasubandhu states that there are eight consciousnesses:
According to Kalupahana, this classification of eight consciousnesses is based on a misunderstanding of Vasubandhu's Triṃśikaikā-kārikā by later adherents.[a]
Ālayavijñāna[edit source | edit]
The ālaya-vijñāna (Japanese: 阿頼耶識 araya-shiki) forms the "base-consciousness" (mūla-vijñāna) or "causal consciousness". According to the traditional interpretation, the other seven consciousnesses are "evolving" or "transforming" consciousnesses originating in this base-consciousness.
The store-house consciousness accumulates all potential energy for the mental (nama) and physical (rupa) manifestation of one's existence (namarupa). It is the storehouse-consciousness which induces transmigration or rebirth, causing the origination of a new existence.
Rebirth and purification[edit source | edit]
The store-house consciousness receives impressions from all functions of the other consciousnesses, and retains them as potential energy, bija or "seeds", for their further manifestations and activities. Since it serves as the container for all experiential impressions 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.[b]
The store consciousness, while being originally immaculate in itself, contains a "mysterious mixture of purity and defilement, good and evil". Because of this mixture the transformation of consciousness from defilement to purity can take place and awakening is possible.
Through the process of purification the dharma practitioner can became an Arahat, when the four defilements of the mental functions [c] of the manas-consciousness are purified.[d][e]
The equation of alaya-vjnana and tathagatagarbha was contested. It was seen as "something akin to the Hindu notions of ātman (permanent, invariant self) and prakṛti (primordial substrative nature from which all mental, emotional and physical things evolve). The critique led by the end of the eighth century to the rise of ...
[T]he logico-epistemic tradition [of Yogācāra] and [...] a hybrid school that combined basic Yogācāra doctrines with Tathāgatagarbha thought.
The logico-epistemological wing in part sidestepped 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.
Transformations of consciousness[edit source | edit]
The traditional interpretation of the eight consciousnesses may be discarded on the ground of a reinterpretation of Vasubandhu's works.
According to scholar Roger R. Jackson, a "'fundamental unconstructed awareness' (mūla-nirvikalpa-jñāna)" is "described [...] frequently in Yogacara literature.", Vasubandhu's work
According to Kalupahana, instead of positing additional consciousnesses, the Triṃśikaikā-kārikā describes the transformations of this consciousness:
Taking vipaka, manana and vijnapti as three different kinds of functions, rather than caharacteristics, and understanding vijnana itself as a function (vijnanatiti vijnanam), Vasubandhu seems to be avoiding any form of substantialist thinking in relation to consciousness.
Whatever, indeed, is the variety of ideas of self and elements that prevails, it occurs in the transformation of consciousness. Such transformation is threefold, [namely,]
The first transformation results in the alaya:
the resultant, what is called mentation, as well as the concept of the object. Herein, the consciousness called alaya, with all its seeds, is the resultant.
The alaya-vijnana therefore is not an eighth consciousness, but the resultant of the transformation of consciousness:
Instead of being a completely distinct category, alaya-vijnana merely represents the normal flow of the stream of consciousness uninterrupted by the appearance of reflective self-awareness. It is no more than the unbroken stream of consciousness called the life-process by the Buddha. It is the cognitive process, containing both emotive and co-native aspects of human experience, but without the enlarged egoistic emotions and dogmatic graspings characteristic of the next two transformations.
The second transformation is manana, self-consciousness or "Self-view, self-confusion, self-esteem and self-love". According to the Lankavatara and later interpreters it is the seventh consciousness. It is "thinking" about the various perceptions occurring in the stream of consciousness". The alaya is defiled by this self-interest;
[I]t can be purified by adopting a non-substantialist (anatman) perspective and thereby allowing the alaya-part (i.e. attachment) to dissipate, leaving consciousness or the function of being intact.
The third transformation is visaya-vijnapti, the "concept of the object". In this transformation the concept of objects is created. By creating these concepts human beings become "susceptible to grasping after the object":
Vasubandhu is critical of the third transformation, not because it relates to the conception of an object, but because it generates grasping after a "real object" (sad artha), even when it is no more than a conception (vijnapti) that combines experience and reflection.
A similar perspective is give by Walpola Rahula. According to Walpola Rahula, all the elements of the Yogācāra storehouse-consciousness are already found in the Pāli Canon. He writes that the three layers of the mind (citta, manas, and vijñana) as presented by Asaṅga are also mentioned in the Pāli Canon:
Thus we can see that 'Vijñāna' 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 'Vijñāna-skandha'. 'Manas' represents the aspect of its mental functioning, thinking, reasoning, conceiving ideas, etc. 'Citta' which is here called 'Ālayavijñāna', 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.
Understanding in Buddhist Tradition[edit source | edit]
China[edit source | edit]
Fa Hsiang and Hua Yen[edit source | edit]
Although Vasubandhu had postulated numerous ālaya-vijñāna-s, a separate one for each individual person in the para-kalpita, this multiplicity was later eliminated in the Fa Hsiang and Hua Yen metaphysics. These schools 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".
The presentation of the three natures by Vasubandhu is consistent with the Neo-platonist views of Plotinus and his universal 'One', 'Mind', and 'Soul'.
Chán[edit source | edit]
A core teaching of Chan/Zen Buddhism describes the transformation of the Eight Consciousnesses into the Four Wisdoms.[g] In this teaching, Buddhist practice is to turn the light of awareness around, from misconceptions regarding the nature of reality as being external, to directly see one's own nature. Thus the Eighth Consciousness is transformed into the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom, the Seventh Consciousness into the Equality (Universal Nature) Wisdom, the Sixth Consciousness into the Profound Observing Wisdom, and First to Fifth Consciousnesses into the All Performing (Perfection of Action) Wisdom.
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.
^Kalupahana: "The above explanation of alaya-vijnana makes it very different from that found in the Lankavatara. The latter assumes alaya to be the eight consciousness, giving the impression that it represents a totally distinct category. Vasubandhu does not refer to it as the eight, even though his later disciples like Sthiramati and Hsuan Tsang constantly refer to it as such".
^Each being has his own one and only, formless and no-place-to-abide store-house consciousness. Our "being" is created by our own store-consciousness, according to the karma seeds stored in it. In "coming and going" we definitely do not own the "no-coming and no-going" store-house 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 last from one moment to the next.
^心所法), self-delusion (我癡), self-view (我見), egotism (我慢), and self-love (我愛)
^By then the polluted mental functions of the first six consciousnesses would have been cleansed. The seventh or the manas-consciousness determines whether or not the seeds and the contentdrain from the alaya-vijnana breaks through, becoming a "function" to be perceived by us in the mental or physical world.
^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.
^The womb or matrix of the Thus-come-one, the Buddha
^It is found in Chapter 7 of the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor Zen Master Huineng and other Zen masters, such as Hakuin Ekaku, in his work titled Keiso Dokuqui, and Xuyun, in his work titled Daily Lectures at Two Ch'an Weeks, Week 1, Fourth Day.
^ abBerzin, Alexander (June, 2002; revised July, 2006). "Mind and Mental Factors: the Fifty-one Types of Subsidiary Awareness" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 14 February 2013. "Unlike the Western view of consciousness as a general faculty that can be aware of all sensory and mental objects, Buddhism differentiates six types of consciousness, each of which is specific to one sensory field or to the mental field. A primary consciousness cognizes merely the essential nature (ngo-bo) of an object, which means the category of phenomenon to which something belongs. For example, eye consciousness cognizes a sight as merely a sight. The Chittamatra schools add two more types of primary consciousness to make their list of an eightfold network of primary consciousnesses (rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad): deluded awareness (nyon-yid), alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundation consciousness, storehouse consciousness). Alayavijnana is an individual consciousness, not a universal one, underlying all moments of cognition. It cognizes the same objects as the cognitions it underlies, but is a nondetermining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa, inattentive cognition) and lacks clarity of its objects. It carries karmic legacies (sa-bon) and the mental impressions of memories, in the sense that both are nonstatic abstractions imputed on the alayavijnana. The continuity of an individual alayavijnana ceases with the attainment of enlightenment."
^ abcdefghijTsoṅ-kha-pa Blo-bzaṅ-grags-pa 1357-1419; Shotaro Iida (1993). "Introduction" (alk. paper). Yid daṅ kun gźi'i dka' ba'i gnas rgya cher 'grel pa legs par bśad pa'i legs par bśad pa'i rgya mdzo: Ocean of Eloquence: Tsong kha pa's Commentary on the Yogācāra Doctrine of Mind (in English & Tibetan) (1st ed.). Albany, NY, United States: State University of New York Press (SUNY). ISBN0-7914-1479-5. Retrieved 6 February 2013.More than one of |author= and |last= specified (help)
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms" (HTML). Primary Consciousness (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 14 February 2013. "Within a cognition of an object, the awareness of merely the essential nature of the object that the cognition focuses on. Primary consciousness has the identity-nature of being an individualizing awareness."
^ abBerzin, Alexander. "English Glossart of Buddhist Terms: 'All-encompassing Foundation Consciousness'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "An unspecified, nonobstructive, individual consciousness that underlies all cognition, cognizes the same objects as the cognitions it underlies, but is a nondetermining cognition of what appears to it and lacks clarity of its objects. It carries the karmic legacies of karma and the mental impressions of memories, in the sense that they are imputed on it. It is also translated as 'foundation consciousness' and, by some translators, as 'storehouse consciousness.' According to Gelug, asserted only by the Chittamatra system; according to non-Gelug, assserted by both the Chittamatra and Madhyamaka systems."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Consciousness'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "A class of ways of being aware of something that cognizes merely the essential nature of its object, such as its being a sight, a sound, a mental object, etc. Consciousness may be either sensory or mental, and there are either six or eight types. The term has nothing to do with the Western concept of conscious versus unconscious."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Nonstatic Phenomenon'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 7 February 2013. "Phenomena that are affected and supported by causes and circumstances and, consequently, change from moment to moment, and which produce effects. Their streams of continuity may have a beginning and an end, a beginning and no end, no beginning but an end, or no beginning and no end. Some translators render the term as 'impermanent phenomena.' They include forms of physical phenomena, ways of being aware of something, and noncongruent affecting variables, which are neither of the two."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Three Circles'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 7 February 2013. "Three aspects of an action that are all equally void of true existence: (1) the individual performing the action, (2) the object upon or toward which the action is committed, and (3) the action itself. Occasionally, as in the case of the action of giving, the object may refer to the object given. The existence of each of these is established dependently on the others. Sometimes translated as 'the three spheres' of an action."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Forms of Physical Phenomena'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "Nonstatic phenomena that can either (1) transform into another form of physical phenomenon when two or more of them come into contact with each other, such as water and earth which can transform into mud, or (2) be known as what they are by analyzing their directional parts, such as the sight of a vase seen in a dream. Forms of physical phenomena include the nonstatic phenomena of forms and eye sensors, sounds and ear sensors, smells and nose sensors, tastes and tongue sensors, physical sensations and body sensors, and forms of physical phenomena included only among cognitive stimulators that are all phenomena. Equivalent to the aggregate of forms of physical phenomena."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Cognition'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "(1) The act of cognizing or knowing something, but without necessarily knowing what it is or what it means. It may be either valid or invalid, conceptual or nonconceptual . This is the most general term for knowing something. (2) The 'package' of a primary consciousness, its accompanying mental factors (subsidiary awarenesses), and the cognitive object shared by all of them. According to some systems, a cognition also includes reflexive awareness."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Cognitive Sensor'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "The dominating condition that determines the type of cognition a way of being aware of something is. In the case of the five types of sensory cognition, it is the photosensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive cells of the ears, the smell-sensitive cells of the nose, the taste-sensitive cells of the tongue, and the physical-sensation-sensitive cells of the body. In the case of mental cognition, it is the immediately preceding moment of cognition. Some translators render the term as 'sense power.'"
^Berzin, Alexander (January, 2002; revised April, 2007). "A Brief History of Buddhism in India before the Thirteenth-Century Invasions" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 7 February 2013. "The Theravada and Sarvastivada Schools each held their own fourth councils. The Theravada School held its fourth council in 83 BCE in Sri Lanka. In the face of various groups having splintered off from Theravada over differences in interpretation of Buddha words (sic.), Maharakkhita and five hundred Theravada elders met to recite and write down Buddha’s words in order to preserve their authenticity. This was the first time Buddha’s teachings were put into written form and, in this case, they were rendered into the Pali language. This version of The Three Basket-like Collections, The Tipitaka, is commonly known as The Pali Canon. The other Hinayana Schools, however, continued to transmit the teachings in oral form."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Mental Consciousness'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 7 February 2013. "A primary consciousness that can take any existent phenomenon as its object and which relies on merely the previous moment of cognition as its dominating condition and not on any physical sensors."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Deluded Awareness'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "A primary consciousness that is aimed at the alayavijnana in the Chittamatra system, or at the alaya for habits in the dzogchen system, and grasps at it to be the 'me' to be refuted."
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Disturbing Emotion or Attitude'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "A subsidiary awareness (mental factor) that, when it arises, causes oneself to lose peace of mind and incapacitates oneself so that one loses self-control. An indication that one is experiencing a disturbing emotion or attitude is that it makes oneself and/or others feel uncomfortable. Some translators render this term as 'afflictive emotions' or 'emotional afflictions.'"
^Berzin, Alexander. "English Glossary of Buddhist Terms: 'Reflexive Awareness'" (HTML) (in English). Berlin, Germany: The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 6 February 2013. "(1) The cognitive faculty within a cognition, asserted in the Sautrantika and Chittamatra tenet systems, that takes as its cognitive object the consciousness within the cognition that it is part of. It also cognizes the validity or invalidity of the cognition that it is part of, and accounts for the ability to recall the cognition. (2) In the non-Gelug schools, this cognitive faculty becomes reflexive deep awareness -- that part of an arya's nonconceptual cognition of voidness that cognizes the two truths of that nonconceptual cognition."
^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:  (accessed: September 18, 2008)
Sources[edit source | edit]
Kalupahana, David J. (1992), The Principles of Buddhist Psychology, Delhi: ri Satguru Publications
Kochumuttom, Thomas A. (1999), A buddhist Doctrine of Experience. A New Translation and Interpretation of the Works of Vasubandhu the Yogacarin, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass
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:  (accessed: October 19, 2007)