Mind as Māyā



 B. The Mind in Terms of Phenomena

  1. The Storehouse Consciousness

 The Mind as phenomena (sasāra) is grounded on the Tathāgatagarbha.

What is called the Storehouse Consciousness is that in which “neither birth nor death (nirvāa)” diffuses harmoniously with “birth and death (sasāra),” and yet in which both are neither identical nor different. This Consciousness has two aspects which embrace all states of existence and create all states of existence. They are: (1) the aspect of enlightenment, and (2) the aspect of nonenlightenment. 

“The Storehouse Consciousness” (ālaya-vijñāna): According to the Yogācāra school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, the system of perception, mind, ego-consciousness, and subconscious mind is divided into eight categories: the five sense perceptions, vijñāna [mind], mano-vijñāna [ego-consciousness], and ālaya-vijñāna [Storehouse Consciousness]. The relationship that exists between the Storehouse Consciousness and Suchness—whether they are identical or nonidentical—has been a subject of great contention among the sectarian scholars. What is essential here, according to the text, is that the Storehouse Consciousness be defined as the place of intersection of the Absolute order and of the phenomenal order, or enlightenment and nonenlightenment, in man.

We now touch upon the other, phenomenal-side, of the apparent Mind-bifurcation. In Reality there is no dualistic-split, although within the spectrum of consciousness there is clear dissociation from Mind’s Essential-Pure-Stature into the darkest abyss of the Alaya-receptacle, a sort of schizoid affair that we discussed in our Lanka series. It is best now to further elaborate upon this dissociating phenomenon.

The Lankavatara Sutra frequently refers to this (alaya-inclusion mine) level as maya-, “magical illusion.” This level is ordinary phenomenality as experienced by a mind which has not yet begun to recognize its errors. It corresponds precisely to Plotinus’s Soul, especially Lower Soul or Nature, the illusory realm of unlimited subjective discrimination which Plotinus describes as “non-being … a weak and dim phantom … a falsehood … a shadow … a passing trick [cf. maya-] … phantasms within a phantasm ” (Enn. II.5.5; III.6.7; VI.3.8). The concepts are so closely related that Plotinus and the Buddhist authors often use the same metaphors to describe it. The Awakening of Mahayana Faith, for example, says:  

All things, therefore, are just like the images in a mirror which are devoid of any objectivity that one can get hold of. (3Bc2a)

And Plotinus:  

[Particulars are] nothing but phantoms in a phantom, like something in a mirror … like things in a dream or water or a mirror. (Enn. III.6.7)  

The correspondence in conceptions of the highest level arose in part after Vasubandhu. He identified the parinis.panna or highest level as the Storehouse Consciousness (alayavijñana). As such it is partly like Plotinus’s One and partly like Plotinus’s middle realm of Mind. Like the One, it is said to be unaware of all “clinging and sensation … indifferent to its associations … [and] not affected by the darkness of ignorance ” (Trimsikaka-rika- 3–4).16 In this passage Vasubandhu is describing “the pure (amala) state ” of the Storehouse; this aspect corresponds to Plotinus’s One. He goes on, however, to attribute to the Storehouse an impure and differentiated aspect which “is always flowing like a torrent ” (Trimsikakarika) and in which karmic seeds ripen. This aspect of the Storehouse is the active source of the differentiation of the lower realms.  

[McEvilley, Thomas (2012-02-07). The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies (p. 572-573). Allworth Press. Kindle Edition.]

This Maya-maze is the creation of perpetually re-generated Mind-angst in the soiled receptacle that is the Alaya. It’s a particularized-episodic-dementia that is the antithesis and exact debasement of the Supreme turn-about in the Mind—not towards Its Best Self, but back into the diseased loins of unimaginable darkness—a veritable house of awaiting horrors; yea, the scarred-twin of the Tathagata-garbha. The premier proponent of this indomitable position is the great translator, Paramārtha:

Technically known as the ālaya-vijñāna, this underlying structure in the evolution or developing process of consciousness (vijñāna-pariṇāma) represents the capacity of consciousness to construct future acts on the basis of past habits and behavior. The ālaya-vijñāna is defined functionally as the activity of consciousness that maintains certain modes of behavior and perception and certain ideologies or conceptions. In Buddhist terminology, the ālaya-vijñāna is metaphorically called the receptacle for karma because it is the result (vipāka) of past karma in the form of “impressions” (vāsanā) or habits, which condition future karma as “seeds” (bīja) or stimuli. (Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-century China: Paramārtha’s Evolution of Consciousness, Diana Y. Paul)

Another factor to bear in mind with the Alaya is that it fosters a “retributive consciousness”:  what thou doest thou shall be repaid in full consequence of one’s actions, accompanied with having to forfeit something worthwhile in return. Paramārtha goes into considerable detail here in his work, Chuan shih lun (CSL), or the Evolution of Consciousness which is a translation and commentary on the Triśikā of Vasubandhu. Thankfully though, in Paramātha’s assessment, there is a blessed respite:

Paramātha’s innovation, namely the ninth consciousness, which is transcendent and pure ( amala-vijñāna), eventually terminates the functions of the seed-system of the ālaya-vijñāna, replacing it with the absolute nature of reality, the amala-vijñāna. This new structure of consciousness, also called “Consciousness-Only”, is what remains when the seeds of defilement are no longer produced. The ālaya-vijñāna is the subconscious receptacle for karmic seeds stored for subsequent release, but the [continuum] of this karmic cycle and rebirth ceases when the functioning of the ālaya-vijñāna ceases. What remains is the [absolutely-real], the amala-vijñāna, the [seedless] state of consciousness. “If an objective world does not exist, what produces any effects? For example, seeds can produce a sprout. If the seed does not exist, how can a sprout emerge? Therefore, there is no production [of effects]. The nature of the absolute (pariniṣpanna-svabhāva) is called ‘the state devoid of substantial nature’ with respect to the nature [imputed on to a thing] because it neither exists nor does not exist [as some sort of substantial entity].” 

The ālaya-vijñāna and its processes of producing “sprouts” of attachment and delusion no longer function when the [wisdom] of the amala-vijñāna has been attained, according to Paramārtha’s interpretation of the Triṃśikā. The nature of the amala-vijñāna is [different from the nature] of the ālaya-vijñāna. One set of activities of consciousness does not simply transform its content from misconceived notions to knowledge of reality; rather the entire mechanism of that the ālaya-vijñāna represents [no longer functions]. Pure consciousness is identified with reality (pariniṣpanna) or Suchness in Paramārtha’s exegesis. (ibid, Diana Y. Paul)

The only addendum that I would like to add to Diana Y. Paul’s excellent analysis of Paramārtha’s position is that while the “seeds bearing bitter fruit” from the ālaya-vijñāna are nullified in the Amala-consciousness, “bodhi-seeds” are forthcoming from within the “Dharma-womb” of the Tathagata-garbha. This is the seedbed of the beloved Bodhi-child—THAT child of Absolute Suchness that is gradually refined and nourished through the Tathagatas’ righteous mystical-seed into the full-blooming Bodhi of Tathagatahood—the very pinnacle of the Buddha-principle. The following concluding quote for this section adds an empirical-note to an otherwise highly mystically-charged endeavor:

As the Awakening of Faith explains, the identity between the mind and undifferentiated suchness is destroyed through the operation of the activating consciousness, creating intellection and dualistic thought. A split is then felt between oneself and the objects in one’s environment; through the inception of the succeeding evolving consciousness this differentiation proliferates throughout the sense-spheres as well. The continuation of that process gradually leads the by then utterly deluded individual to concretize those perceptions into concepts-that is, to generalize the sense contacts unique to a particular moment along lines which accord with his past experience and understanding. Those concepts are invested with a measure of reality because of their obvious utility in ordering the mass of sense-experience. Furthermore, because of the influence of conventional language governed by standardized vocabulary and grammatical rules, those concepts are endowed with an objectivity which is entirely consistent within the conceptual realm. Once those concepts are introduced into the processes of ideation, the whole of one’s thought becomes crystallized. Finally, the concepts which had been employed for convenience now overwhelm the individual: all conscious activity and all sense-experience are now dominated by understanding which is rooted in those concepts. Even sense perception, otherwise a neutral process, is colored by conceptual understanding so that objective sense-awareness becomes impossible: pleasant objects become a focus for greed, unpleasant objects for hatred, and neither pleasant nor unpleasant objects for delusion. 

The only way out of this morass is through the complete demolition of the conceptual scaffolding upon which all mentation is constructed. This is precisely the function of thoughtlessness or no-mind practice. Thoughtlessness in no way implies an absence of conscious activity. To remain simply without thought is to grasp at blankness; it is little different from the insentience of rocks and plants. Thoughtlessness refers rather to the absence of defilements during conscious activity. The maintenance of this pure state of awareness frees the mind from the constraints produced by ignorance and defilement and restores the basic suchness of the mind. In this way, the original objectivity of sense-perception returns, the impulsion of the defilements during sense-contact ceases, and spontaneous interaction with the world becomes possible again. (The Collected Works of Chinul, Robert E. Bushwell, Jr. pg. 69-70)

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