A further look at the Vijñānas

The Sagathakam posits numerous statements concerning the Vijñānas, as does the Lanka as a whole. Doing a search here at Unborn Mind Zen you will discover a rich source of connotations concerning the vijnanic system. This blog offers a further observation through the lens of hermeneutics. Florin Giripescu Sutton in his monumental work, Existence and Enlightenment in the Lankavatara Sutra, makes reference to a paper by Edward Hamlin entitled, Discourse in the Lakāvatāra-Sūtra, Journal of Indian Philosophy 11 (1983): 267-313. For a good treatment of Sutton’s work as well as a great technical breakdown of the Vijñānas, see The Complete Lanka and Discussion, available in our Unborn Mind Library. But for now the focus is on Hamlin’s paper with his hermeneutical treatment of the vijñānas. He begins by elucidating:

The Laṅkāvatāra-Sūtra, though it has played a pivotal role in the Mahāyāna tradition, continues to baffle and frustrate its readers by confronting them with a philosophical discourse which is at once disjointed, contradictory, and highly digressive.

We have seen just how digressive it could be with our treatment of the Sagathakam this past month, so much so that this will be our last blog of this particular series since we’ve already covered the major tenants that have been reiterated again and again. I felt it best at this junction to inject Hamlin’s deliberation of the vijnanic system. So without further ado, let us jump right in. Three of the quotes here are screen shots since they contain certain symbols. The first concerns his definition of the term itself:

Usually our understanding of the term considers it as “consciousness”, “awareness” or knowing, so the above lends further refined developments. It certainly does highlight how the vijnanic system does discriminate to such an extent that the result is indeed a “fragmented worldview.” For example, the Alaya-vijnana is fragmented to such an extent that there is very little chance of transcending samsara:

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the system, next to the alaya, is the manovijñāna, or conscious volition. It is the agent that initiates impressions upon what is perceived. A good overview of the term was included recently. Hamlin fine-tunes it even further:

While the five primary sense-vijñāna apprehend the sense-field “like a mirror reflecting objects,” the sixth vijñāna, manovijñāna, is what delimits the boundaries of each object and thus sets the stage for the appearance of a world. Simply: “the function of the manovijñāna is to recognize… “‘ (LVS, p. 43). It is impossible to separate the operation of the “perceiving” vijñānas from that of this crucial sixth.

Likewise, the manovijñāna cannot operate without the underlying activity of the perceptual centers. There is no such thing as “pure sense”; nor is there such a thing as “intuition of pure form”. We see objects, not a formless blur; by the same token, the forms we think of all have an imagic content. It is in this sense that the sense-faculties are engaged in a constructive process in tandem with manovijñāna: consciousness as presented here is a perpetual synthesis, a recompounding of dharmas which maintains the illusion of a steady horizon of objects.

In actuality, there really is no “steady horizon”, as all that is apparent is cloaked with the vibrantly fluctuating array of images that passes-off as pure dharmata when instead its one big raging mass of phantasmagoric impressions misrepresented and falsely perceived in the manovijñāna. Closely allied and working in conjunction with the mano is the manas:

Whereas manovijñāna divides the world into a web of objects, manas polarizes this world around a falsely-discriminated ego or self. Manas develops attachments and aversions to the “things” which manovijñāna isolates. In this sense manas contributes substantially to the establishment of the “worldhood” of the world: it furnishes perspective, the absolute focus of an ego from which the “world” recedes as horizon.

In short, manas is the active center of ego-reifying activity, a process which works directly through the perceptual and cognitive discrimination of the world as such. Manas will presently lead us to the concept of vikalpa, or “discriminating knowledge”.

Manas, then, is the false-self or ego-centered identity that confirms and as stated, polarizes the objective environment. In this sense it is the corrupted judge (vikalpa) over all defiled dharmata.

As stated earlier, the Ālaya-vijñāna is the repository of all the images produced by the other seven vijñānas, hence perpetuating the cyclic journey through samsaric mind-fields. For an excellent “mystical” analysis of the term in conjunction with the Tathagata-garbha, see the blog, The Other. For now let us follow Hamlin’s hermeneutic lead:

The  Ālaya-vijñāna is certainly one of the most difficult concepts in the Laṅkāvatāra – and also one of the most controversial. Historically, its close cognates and relatives include the tathāgatagarbha popularized by the Ch’an writers and the dharmadhātu of the mainstream Yogācārins.

The Ālaya-vijñāna, so it would seem, is the medium through which the various vijñānas operate; it is a substrate of some kind. But is it a substance? If so, how can it stand above māyā? Isn’t substantia merely an illusion of the manovijñāna itself?

Hamlin posits here a fascinating observation: is the Alaya as “substantive” of let us say, the Tathagatagarbha? Well, as the latter’s defiled twin (see hyperlink above), it still does partake of the original-substance of the One Unborn Mind. Hamlin is wrong in equating “substantia” as “merely illusional” (see The One Substance)—through the alayaic lens, yes, pure substance is littered with all sorts of defiled garbha, but in Itself Mind Is Pure:

Let us conclude with Hamlin’s observation of the term “māyā” in the general framework of the Lanka:

The ultimate conclusion of the Laṅkāvatāra’s deconstruction of māyā seems inevitable: “Things are not as they are seen, nor are they otherwise”. A dream is neither real (in that it reflects no external world of individuated objects) nor non-real (in that we have a concrete experience of it as we dream).

All we are is a dream within a dream of the One:

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