Ālayavijñāna: The Hallmark of the Yogācāra

Our next chapter in question for this present sutra is Number Five in the Tibetan Translation and Number Three for the Chinese. We have been following John Keenan’s numbering sequence. Basically the difference between the translations is that the Tibetan breaks-down the chapters according to the individual Bodhisattvas, whereas the Chinese bundles them together.

Chapter Three: Ventures into Consciousness

(JK) At that time the Bodhisattva Viśālamati addressed the Buddha and said: “World-honored One, you have spoken about bodhisattvas skilled in the secrets of mind, thought, and [sense] consciousness.  Why do you speak of these bodhisattvas as being skilled in the secrets of mind, thought, and [sense] consciousness? What do you mean by describing them in this fashion?”

Then the World-honored One addressed the Bodhisattva Viśālamati and said: “It is very good, Viśālamati, that you are able to question the Tathagata about this profound theme. You raise this question because you desire to benefit and gladden unlimited sentient beings, because you have compassion for the world and all its gods, men, angels, and so forth, so that they may be led to realize meaning, benefit, and happiness. Attend, then, and I will explain the meaning of the secrets of mind, thought, and [sense] consciousness.

Viśālamati: meaning one with vast intelligence

because you have compassion for the world and all its gods, men, angels, and so forth: This is in reference to the six-realms of impermanence wherein even gods and devas are in need of the inner-resources for transformation, namely the Buddhagnosis that is incurred through the salvific agencies of the Tathagatas.

Next, we have the two forms of appropriation:

“Viśālamati, you should understand that sundry sentient beings fall into sundry destinies in their transmigrations through the six destinies. Whether egg-born, womb-born, moisture-born, or magically born, they issue from birth. From the very first instant [of their births], the maturation, evolution, unification, increase, and growth of their minds, together with all their seeds, depend upon two appropriations. The first is their appropriation of the material senses in the body. The second is their appropriation of the propensity toward verbal fabrication in discriminating images and words. In the worlds of form, [sentient beings] have these two appropriations, but not in the world of no-form.

This bespeaks material appropriation in which material forms “appropriate” material bodies, which in turn have a direct impact on the developing sensate faculties. Whereas the non-formal world harbors no such appropriation. In line with the development of these material appropriations, we next have the first inception of the Alaya-receptacle in “Sutra-form”.

“Viśālamati, this consciousness is also termed the appropriating consciousness, because it is taken up together with the body. It is also termed the receptacle consciousness, because this consciousness joins itself to and lies hidden [in that body] in a common security and risk. It is also termed mind, because this consciousness mines and accumulates material forms, sounds, odors, tastes, and touches”

Then the World-honored One recited these verses to emphasize his meaning:

The appropriating consciousness is profound and subtle indeed;
all its seeds are like a rushing torrent. Fearing that
they would imagine and cling to it as to a self, I have not
revealed it to the foolish.

The initial inception of what would come to be referred to as Alayavijñana, has been contested by scholars, in particular Lambert Schmithausen and Hartmut Buescher. Buescher asserts that it first makes it appearance here in this sutra:

The sūtra explicitly documents itself as the text that marks the historical origin of a new type of consciousness. The rarity of such instances may be taken to demonstrate the far-reaching consequences, which the introduction of a fundamentally new concept of consciousness implied for a buddhological audience. (Hartmut Buescher, The Inception of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda, pg. 141)

By employing the term ādānaviñāna (appropriating consciousness) at the prominent place in the gāthā at the end of Saṃdh V, where the subliminal consciousness is explicitly introduced (not without warning against phenomenological immaturity) as a conceptual innovation, the direction of the sutras ontological concern gets clearly indicated as one that had been all too neglected in Mahāyāna. The Tathāgata’s gāthā must have been felt as a direct affront to the Mādhyamikas. In other words, from a rhetorical point of view, the assertive connotation of ādānaviñāna has in a more powerful way been able to express Saṃdha’s programmic intention than the suggestive strength of alaya-vijñana—the latent home-ground embodying the virtuality of intentional assertions—had been.

However, as regards the philosophical significance of the new concept of a subliminal consciousness, it is certainly the term alayavijñana, which directly designates the factually innovative aspect. This aspect consisted in a truly existing latent consciousness as separate from, yet interacting with, the actualized consciousness processes. Therefore, little wonder that alayavijñana subsequently received—and still receives—the most elaborate scholastic attention. (ibid, pg. 172)

Schmithausen argues that the Alaya-receptacle had first been introduced in the earlier Yogācārabhūmi, apparently well before the composition of the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra. He refers to this as the “initial passage.”

When [a person] has entered [Absorption into]
Cessation (nirodha (samapam), his mind and
mental [factors] have ceased; how, then, is it that
[his] mind (vijnana) has not withdrawn from [his]
body? – [Answer: No problem;] for [in] his [case]
alayavijiiana has not ceased [to be present] in the
material sense-faculties, which are unimpaired:
[aIayavijiiana] which comprises (/possesses/has
received) the Seeds of the forthcoming [forms of]
mind (pravrttivijnana), so that they are bound to
re-arise in future (i.e., after emerging from
absorption).
(From (Part 1) of the Yogācārabhūmi)

It needs to be stressed here that Schmithausen’s identification of this initial passage “goes against the majority of modem scholars who hold that the SN is an earlier text than the YBh, and thus contend that SN, whose fifth chapter discusses the storehouse consciousness, contains the earliest treatment of this concept.” (From Elena France Hanson’s thesis, Early Yogācāra and its Relation to Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka: Change and Continuity in the History of Mahayana Buddhist Thought, pg. 210

I stand by William Waldon’s contention in his The Buddhist Unconscious, that “In all probability parts of the Yogācārabhūmi pre-date the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, while other parts were composed or compiled afterward.”

It is indeed at this junction that we will turn and examine in a more thorough fashion, the origins and further development of the Alaya-receptacle. As stressed in the opening blog of this series, this will be a joint-enterprise, thus a new categorization was added with this blog posting and shall remain the dominant one in forthcoming blogs.

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