A Philologist Presents His Case

The renowned Philologist, Lambert Schmithausen, published his groundbreaking work Ālayavijñāna: On the Origin and the Early Development of a Central Concept of Yogacara Philosophy in 1987. His publication brought the Ālayavijñāna into the mainstream since it had hitherto been relegated to isolated articles in philosophical journals. For the Lankavatarians amongst us, Schmithausen’s text may appear odd since his approach is strictly hermeneutical in nature and does not promote the Ālayavijñāna in language we are accustomed to. For instance, the familiar notion as “seedbed” or “receptacle” is by and large downplayed thus making way for a nuanced position that has caused disputes in scholastic circles. We will get to his primary definition momentarily but presently let us now assert that the very soul of his dissertation is relayed in the first five chapters with the remaining ones focusing on certain disagreements with other scholars. For our purposes, we will be addressing those first five.

At the very beginning he makes the assertion, “1.1 It should be kept in mind that (at least in the “orthodox” Yogacara School) the ālayavijñāna is strictly person-bound, each living being having its own ālayavijñāna.” It’s interesting to note this is not followed by any footnotes, whereas through most of the text there are endless ones (in some cases 5 or more per-line), en masse there are 1495. However one must search through the text in order to support this assertion. Firstly, a Lankavatarian is initially taken aback by the use of the phrase “strictly person-bound”, since we know that a purported person or personhood is in actuality comprised of the Five Aggregates, for without them there is no person to be found. Essentially, Schmithausen is referring to ātambhāva, or self-mode:

3.11.2 A passage of the Manobhūmi states that with regard to the basis-of-personal-existence (ātambhāva,) in spite of its being, as the Noble Ones know, ultimately unsatisfactory and therefore not Self, immature (i.e.. ordinary) people form the notion of ‘I’ or ‘mine ‘ or ‘[ this ] I am ‘. This would hardly seem to go beyond canonical statements if ātambhāva is taken to mean the totality of the psycho-physical constituents of personality, i. e. the five skandhas. The surrounding passages, however, point to a further development by taking ātambhāva in the narrower sense of constituents of personal existence in so far only as they are the result of karmic Maturation (or, more precisely, in so far as they are, though also caused by karman, primarily the result of delight in worldly existence (prapacābhirati).

The point Schmithausen keeps referring to again and again in his study is personal/corporeal [experience, thus constituting constitutive [dependent] existence]. Experience is the quotient to bear in mind when considering the notion of “each having their own ālayavijñāna.” Experience is different in each sentient being (In other words, there is not some giant cosmic-soul having one exclusive experience). It is that experience that shapes what form (and variety) of karmic-seeds will be implanted in the alaya-receptacle. The five aggregates pipe a different tune through individual synapses that shape karmic eventualities. This is what Schmithausen refers to as the corporeal factor:

1.3.2 Another issue which would seem to point to the existence of ālayavijñāna is that the perception of objects is said to be always accompanied by a perception of the surrounding world (bhājana) and of one’s own corporeal basis (āśraya).

Āśraya: In Sanskrit, lit. “basis.” In the SAUTRĀNTIKA school, the term is used idiosyncratically to refer to the “substratum” of existence. This substratum is the psychophysical entity that was presumed to exist independently from the momentary flow of the conscious continuum (SAṂTĀNA) and thus to provide the physical support for thought (CITTA) and the mental concomitants (CAITTA). This Sautrāntika teaching was critiqued by other Buddhist schools as skirting dangerously close to the proscribed notion of a perduring self (ĀTMAN). The term is also adopted subsequently in the YOGĀCĀRA school to refer to the “transformation of the basis” (ĀŚRAYAPARĀVṚTTI) of the mind, the path, and the proclivities, which transforms an ordinary person (PṚTHAGJANA) into a noble one (ĀRYA).

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 6176-6188). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

We will get to āśraya-paṭāvrtti (a term used in *Yogācāra works to describe the manifestation of inherent *Buddha-nature* once the mind has been cleared of adventitious impurities) in subsequent blogs but for now let’s attend to the āśraya-element that has some basis in Schmithausen’s dominant definition of ālayavijñāna:

2.13.2 An important point of the ālayavijñāna concept of my Initial Passage is that ālayavijñāna is conceived of as “sticking or hiding in the material sense-faculties.”

That question of the Initial Passage was covered in our most previous post. Let us just indicate for now at the conclusion of this blog that Schmithausen’s focus here is on corporeality and not the inner consciousness-dimension that the Alaya plays in Tathagatagarbha traditions. With that being said though, it does play a primary role as the defiled-twin of the Tathagatagarbha and in that sense bears a more corporeal imprint.

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