Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Functions Of Eight Kinds Of Consciousness In Yogācāra

Functions Of Eight Kinds Of Consciousness In Yogācāra


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Functions Of Eight Kinds Of Consciousness In Yogācāra


The Yogācāra school of Buddhist thought was founded by the two brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu in the fifth century. The most famous innovation of the Yogācāra School was the doctrine of eight consciousnesses and it upheld the concept that consciousness (vijñāna) is real, but its objects of constructions are unreal. Though, in simple terms, Yogācāra means, “the school that practices the way of yoga,” but the practical methodology of yogic meditation merely reveals the meaning of the underline philosophy. The key emphasis of Yogācāra is on insight meditation which is actually considered to be a means of abandoning delusions about the self and about the world.

Key Words: Mind, Manas, Ālaya, Consciousness, Insight Meditation

Functions Of Eight Kinds Of Consciousness In Yogācāra

The Yogācāra school of Buddhist thought was founded by the two brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu in the fifth century. Origins before this could be traced only through traditions where Asanga was believed to be mentored by a man known as Maitreya who might not be historical.1 Yogācāra was already hundreds of years old by the time of Asanga.2 However, the “foundational scripture” of Yogācāra considered to be Asanga’s text entitled, “The Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning (Samdhinirmocanasutra)”.1,3 The original texts of Yogācāra no longer exist in their original Sanskrit version. But only Chinese and Tibetan translations are available at present. The gap between the original teachers and the written tradition has fostered misunderstanding about Yogācāra philosophy.3,4

Evolution of Yogācāra
Yogācāra (yō'gəkär'ə) [Sanskrit = yoga practice], is a philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism, also known as the Vijñānavada or Consciousness School.4,5 The founders of this school in India were thought to be Maitreya’s disciple Asanga (c.375–430) and Asanga's younger half-brother Vasubandhu (c.400–480).5,6 Here, we must remember that though the Maitreya Bodhisatta or Buddha was not a historical figure, but there is a possibility of historical existence of an Arahant named Maitreya who is believed to be the teacher of Asanga. If this is true then the historical Maitreya should be dated during (c.270–350). Vasubandhu also systematized the Abhidhamma of Buddhist philosophy. Before being introduced to the Yogācāra philosophy by his brother Asanga, he was a Sautrantika thinker and an expert in Abhidhamma.4,5,6

The Yogācāra school held that consciousness (vijñāna) is real, but its objects of constructions are unreal. The school's teachings are thus often characterized by the phrase “consciousness-only” (citta-matra) or “representation-only” (vijnapti-matra).6,7
The content of consciousness is produced not by independently existing objects but by the inner modifications of consciousness itself. A theory of eight kinds of consciousness was formed to explain how this process functions. The deepest level of consciousness is the “store-consciousness” (Ālaya-vijñāna), which is both individual and universal and contains the seeds or traces of past actions, which are projected into manifestation through the “defiled mind” and the six sense-consciousnesses (the five physical senses plus mind or thought). The school was transmitted to China as the Fa-hsiang. It eventually it got synchronized with the Madhyamika school.7,8,9

Yogācāra: A Reaction to the Concept of Sunyata
Yogācāra is influenced by the Prajnaparamita sutras, scriptures of Madhyamaka Buddhism or the Middle Way. Nagarjuna, the first-known author of Madhyamaka tradition, taught “sunyata” by upholding the view that emptiness was the ultimate reality and this insight destroyed all understanding. He rejected all theory and all philosophy as illusory, believing them to be definitively negated by the dialectic of emptiness.1 Emptiness or voidness, was intended to mean that the world is “empty of any imagined creator being or self entity or any notion of an absolute.”1,2,3

Yogācāra is a reaction to the “sunyata” concept. Though Yogācāra is often seen as a complete break from the doctrine of emptiness and substituting a new idealism in its place, but this was not the actual intention behind the formation of Yogācāra school.10 The goal of the first Yogācāra philosophers was to move beyond the limits of emptiness.9,10 Asanga wanted to “revive” the Nagarjuna and Madhyamaka philosophy. He wanted to create a strong view of the structure of consciousness through an investigation into meditation and use it to rethink the notion of emptiness so that it did not stop with the destruction of all views.1 Vasubandhu gives his definitive explanation of emptiness in the very beginning of his writing, the Madhyantavibhaga. In the emptiness or voidness itself, something exists and persists. This conclusion is not found explicitly in Madhyamaka.10 Yogācāra was also a response to non-Mahayana schools including Theravada and Sarvastivada.10,11

Significance of Yogācāra
Yogācāra was a synthesis created in response to all existing schools of Buddhism during the third century BC. Yogācāra extracted the common teachings from all the Buddhist traditions and made an attempt to resolve the problems that most of them were facing. The key epistemological and metaphysical insights of Yogācāra evolved from the common Buddhist belief that knowledge comes only from the senses (vijnapti).4,5,6 With a new insight, Yogācāra proposed that the mind, itself, was an aspect of vijnapti. Asanga further recognized that though the mind can sense its own objects, which are known as thoughts (apperception), but it cannot verify its own interpretation. As the senses are constantly misinterpreted, our thoughts (apperceptions) are also misinterpreted in the same way. These misconceptions are instinctive and nearly universal because they are caused by the desires, fears and anxieties that come with animal survival. This results in an automatic assumption of substance for self and objects (atman and dharma) which are created to suppress our fears.4,6

Yogācāra departs from the common Buddhist understanding not only in its view of the problem, but also in its view of the solution. We cannot perceive correctly the perception that we do not perceive reality correctly. So, we never can actually verify our apperception with perfect accuracy.4,6 Yogācāra talks about “grasper/grasped” rather than “subject/object” respectively and also introduces a causal relationship. We grasp because we desire; desire comes from a sense of need. What we fundamentally lack is a self, thus we seek to preserve what we do not have. Because we strive to survive, we do not naturally challenge the assumption of our own being. The solution is to disown the phenomena within our minds as our own. Sensations of pleasure and pain, belief, ignorance, language and reason are the strategies employed to preserve the self which come at the expense of our unending sense of need.4,6

Various Types of Consciousness in Yogācāra
The most famous innovation of the Yogācāra School was the doctrine of eight consciousnesses. Early Buddhism and Abhidhamma described six consciousnesses, each produced by the contact between its specific sense organ and a corresponding sense object. Thus, when a functioning eye comes into contact with a color or shape, visual consciousness is produced. Consciousness does not create the sensory sphere, but is an effect of the interaction of a sense organ and its true object. If an eye does not function but an object is present, visual consciousness does not arise. The same is true if a functional eye fails to encounter a visual object.10,11,12

Arising of consciousness is dependent on sensation. There are altogether six sense organs (eye, ear, nose, mouth, body, and mind) which interact with their respective sensory object domains like visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental spheres. Here, the mind is considered to be another sense organ as it functions like the other senses. It involves the activity of a sense organ (manas), its domain (mano-dhātu) and the resulting consciousness (mano-vijñāna). Each domain is discrete and function independent of the other. Hence, the deaf can see and the blind can hear. Objects are also specific to their domain and the same is true of the consciousnesses like the visual consciousness is entirely distinct from auditory consciousness. There are six distinct types of consciousness namely, the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental consciousness. The six sense organs, six sense object domains and six resulting consciousnesses comprise our eighteen components of experience and are known as the eighteen dhātus. According to Buddhism, these eighteen dhātus are the comprehensive sensorium of everything in the universe. 10,11,12,13

As Abhidhamma grew more complex, disputes intensified between different Buddhist schools along a range of issues. In order to avoid the idea of a permanent self, Buddhists said citta is momentary. Since a new citta apperceives a new cognitive field each moment, the apparent continuity of mental states was explained causally by claiming each citta, in the moment it ceased, also acted as cause for the arising of its successor. This was fine for continuous perceptions and thought processes, but difficulties arose since Buddhists identified a number of situations in which no citta at all was present or operative, such as deep sleep, unconsciousness, and certain meditative conditions explicitly defined as devoid of citta (āsaṃjñī-samāpatti, nirodha-samāpatti). So, the controversial questions were: from where does consciousness reemerge after deep sleep? How does consciousness begin in a new life? The various Buddhist attempts to answer these questions led to more difficulties and disputes. For Yogācāra the most important problems revolved around questions of causality and consciousness.10,11,12,13
Yogācārins responded by rearranging the tripartite structure of the mental level of the eighteen dhātus into three novel types of consciousnesses. Mano-vijñāna (empirical consciousness) became the sixth consciousness processing the cognitive content of the five senses as well as mental objects (thoughts, ideas). Manas became the seventh consciousness, which was primarily obsessed with various aspects and notions of "self". Hence, it was called "defiled manas" (kliṣṭa-manas). The eighth consciousness, ālaya-vijñāna also known as "warehouse consciousness," was totally novel. 10,11,12,13,14

Understanding our mind—Eight kinds of consciousness and their functions11,12,14
The Eight Kinds of Consciousness Transformation into four types of Wisdom Functions of
these Eight Consciousnesses Comparison with the Computer Data Processing System
First five consciousnesses -
1. eye - visual
2. ear - auditory
3. nose - olfactory
4. tongue - gustatory
5. body - tactile Wisdom of Successful Performance Data Collection Centre:

Windows to the external world or contact with the external environment to collect information Raw Data Input
Sixth or Mind consciousness

6. Mind Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation Sense Centre:

Performing the functions of cognition and differentiation
Data Processing:
The CPU (central processing unit)

Forming conceptions out of perceptions.
Seventh consciousness

Manas consciousness

Wisdom of Equality Thought Centre:

Plays the role of thinking on a self-centered basis.
Data analysis

As the result of ‘self-centered’ situation, all the selfish thoughts, egotistic opinion, arrogance, self-love, etc. would arise.
Eighth consciousness

Ālaya consciousness

Grand-round-mirror-like Wisdom Store Centre

The new seeds are perfumed from time to time Data Storage

Each seed has infinite power to produce a manifestation.

The Eighth Consciousness (Ālaya Consciousness) 11,12,13,14
Warehouse Consciousness was defined as the receptacle of all seeds, storing experiences as they "enter" until they are sent back out as new experiences. This is the same way as a warehouse handles inventories. It was also called vipāka consciousness, where vipāka means the "maturing" of karmic seeds. Seeds gradually matured in the repository consciousness until karmically ripe and can reassert themselves as karmic consequences. Ālaya -vijñāna was also called the "basic consciousness" (mūla-vijñāna) as it retains the karmic seeds that both influence and are influenced by the other seven consciousnesses. For example, when the sixth consciousness is dormant (while one sleeps, or is unconscious), its seeds reside in the eighth consciousness. They "restart" when the conditions for their arising are present. The eighth consciousness is a mechanism for storing and deploying seeds of which it remains unaware. The Warehouse Consciousness acts as the pivotal karmic mechanism, but is itself karmically neutral. Each individual has its own Warehouse Consciousness which is nothing more than a collection of ever-changing "seeds." It is continuously changing and therefore not a permanent self. So, there is no universal collective mind in Yogācāra.

Four Wisdoms from Eight Consciousnesses10,11,12,13,14
(1) The first five perceptual consciousnesses are transformed into the Wisdom of Successful Performance. This wisdom is characterized by pure and unimpeded functioning (no attachment or distortion) in its relation to the (sense) organs and their objects.
(2) The sixth consciousness is the perceptual and cognitive processing center. It is transformed into the Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation which has two aspects corresponding to understanding of the “emptiness of self” and that of the “emptiness of dharmas”.
(3) The seventh consciousness defiles the first six consciousnesses with self and self-related afflictions. It is transformed into the Wisdom of Equality which understands the nature of the equality of self and of all other beings.
(4) The eighth, the storehouse consciousness, is transformed into the grand-mirror-like wisdom. This wisdom reflects the entire universe without distortion. Like mirror can reflect many objects simultaneously, the wisdom can perceive many objects accurately and simultaneously. This can be achieved by proper transformation of the Ālaya-vijñāna to this wisdom and is considered to be the state of the Buddhahood.

In Yogācāra concept, true knowledge begins when consciousness ends. Thus, “Enlightenment” is considered as the act of bringing the eight consciousnesses to an end and replacing them with enlightened cognitive abilities (jñāna). Here, the sixth consciousness (Manas) becomes the immediate cognition of equality (samatā-jñāna) by equalizing self and other. When the Warehouse Consciousness finally ceases it is replaced by the Great Mirror Cognition (Mahādarśa-jñāna) that sees and reflects things truly as they are (yathā-bhūtam).8,9,11,14 Thus, the grasper-grasped relationship ceases and the mind projects the things impartially without exclusion, prejudice, anticipation, attachment, or distortion. These "purified" cognitions remove the self-bias, prejudice and obstructions that had previously prevented a person from perceiving beyond his selfish consciousness. Since enlightened cognition is non-conceptual, its objects cannot be described. So, the Yogācāra school could not provide any description regarding the outcome of these types of enlightened cognitions except for referring these as 'pure' (of imaginative constructions). There was also another Yogācāra innovation in the field of consciousness. This was the notion that a special type of cognition can emerge and develop after the attainment of enlightenment. This post-enlightenment cognition was called “pṛṣṭhalabdha-jñāna”. It is concerned with how an Enlightened One can engage himself in assisting other sentient beings in overcoming the suffering and ignorance. 6,8,11,13,14

Though, in simple terms, Yogācāra means, “the school that practices the way of yoga,”2 but the practical methodology of yogic meditation merely reveals the meaning of the underline philosophy. Insight meditation is actually a means of abandoning delusions about the self and about the world. The original teachings reveal the insights of Yogācāra and represent the greatest philosophical achievement of the east, which surpasses the accomplishments of Western philosophy.14 So, a great deal of understanding is required if we want to completely understand and assimilate the inner concepts of Yogācāra.

1. Keenan, J.P. 1993. Yogācāra in Buddhist Spirituality. Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetan and Early Chinese, eds. Yoshinori, Takeuchi, et al. World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest. New York: Crossroad 8:203-12.
2. Koller, J.M., Koller, P. 1991. A Sourcebook in Asian Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall: 306.
3. Radhakrishman, S., Moore, C.A. 1957. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Ewing, NJ: Princeton University Press.
4. Keenan, J.P. 1988. Buddhist Yogācāra Philosophy as Ancilla Theologiae. Japanese Religions 15: 36.
5. Pensgard, D. 2006. Yogācāra Buddhism: A sympathetic description and suggestion for use in Western theology and philosophy of religion. JSRI 15:94-103.
6. Lusthaus, D. 2002. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch’eng Wei-shih lun. New York: Routledge Curzon.
7. Suzuki, D.T. 1998. Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: India Munshiram Manoharlal Pub Pvt Ltd.
8. Chatterjee, A.K. 1975. The Yogācāra Idealism. Varnasi, India: Bhargava Bhushan Press, the Banaras Hindu University Press.
9. Tripathi, C.L.1972. The Problem of Knowledge in Yogācāra Buddhism. Varnasi, India: Bharat-Bharati Press.
10. King, R.1994. Early Yogācāra and its relationship with the Madhyamika school. Philosophy East & West 44: 659.
11. King, R. 1998. Vijnaptimatrata and the Abhidhamma context of early Yogācāra. Asian Philosophy 8(1): 5.
12. Yin, J. 2009. Yogācāra school and Faxiang school. Hong Kong: The Centre of Buddhist Studies, the University of Hong Kong.
13. Larrabee, M. J. 1981. The One and the Many: Yogācāra Buddhism and Husserl. Philosophy East & West 31: 3-15.
14. Wayman, A. 1996. A defense of Yogācāra Buddhism. Philosophy East & West 46(4): 447.

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