Nivṛtti and Pravṛtti Portions

As was stated in our last blog, the ālayavijñāna can be construed as both defiled garbha and as a pure sustainer of all phenomena. There is a treatise known as the Viniścayasaṃgrahaṇī of the Yogācārabhūmi, or better referenced as the Ālaya Treatise. There are two ideations within it known as the Nivṛtti and Pravṛtti Portions which break-down the ālayavijñāna in a more systematic Abhidharmic context. They are defined as follows:

Pravṛtti: moving onwards, advance, progress coming forth, arising, appearance, manifestation.

Nivṛtti: ceasing from worldly acts, inactivity, rest, repose and withdrawal from mundane associations.

As a path of embracing and thus ensuring the enfoldment of phenomena, Schmithausen offers his analysis:

Unambiguously connected with Saṁdh is the reference to the twofold upādāna in the Pravṛtti Portion, where this concept has been integrated into the analysis of the continued arising (pravṛtti) of ālayavijñāna from the point of view of its objective support (ālambana):

Briefly stated, ālayavijñāna arises-and-continues by means of a twofold objective support: as a cognition (vijñapti) of the upādāna within, and as a cognition of the surrounding [world] outside in a form that is uninterrupted (/not clearly delimitated / not clearly discerned) (aparicchinnāikāra).

(Schmithausen, The Genesis of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda : Responses and Reflections, pg.286)

Upādāna: In Sanskrit and Pāli, “clinging,” “grasping,” or “attachment”; the ninth of the twelve links (NIDĀNA) of dependent origination (PRATĪTYASAMUTPĀDA), which is preceded by craving (TṚṢṆĀ) and followed by becoming (BHAVA).

Upādāna is a stronger, and more sustained, type of attachment, which is said to be of four types: (1) clinging to sensuality (RĀGA), which is strong attachment to pleasing sensory objects; (2) clinging to false views and speculative theories (DṚṢṬI); (3) clinging to faulty disciplinary codes and superstitious modes of conduct (ŚĪLAVRATAPARĀMARŚA); and (4) clinging to mistaken beliefs in a perduring self (ĀTMAVĀDA), viz., the attachment to the transitory mind and body as a real I and mine.

(Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 70706-70713). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

We can see how, in the Pravṛtti Portion, the ālayavijñāna continually serves as the ongoing perpetuation of samsara. The ālayavijñāna thus provides continuity from moment to moment within a given lifetime and from lifetime to lifetime, all providing the link between an action performed in the past and its effect experienced in the present, despite protracted periods of latency between seed and fruition. ((Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism.)

Waldron’s assessment is most extensive:

The Pravṛtti Portion is divided into four sections, each of which explains how ālayavijñāna arises (or is perpetuated; pravṛtti) in conjunction with specific concomitant or causal conditions. Ālayavijñāna arises 1) with its own cognitive objects (ālambana); 2) in relation to the mental factors with which it is conjoined or associated (saṃprayoga); 3) through its mutual conditioning relationship (anyonyapratyayatā) with other forms of cognitive awareness (pravṛttivijñāna); and 4) with mental processes that arise simultaneously (sahabhū) with it. Together, these constitute, in systematic Abhidharmic terms, the causal conditions that influence the continual arising, the perpetuation, of the form of cognitive awareness that Yogācārins call ‘ālaya’ vijñāna, the ‘home’ or ‘store-house’ consciousness. (Waldron: Ālayavijñāna as Keystone Dharma: The Ālaya Treatise of the Yogācarabhūmi)

At the opposite side of the spectrum, the Nivṛtti Portion indicates that the ālayavijñāna is wrought with corruption. Schmithausen:

4.7.1 The situation is altogether different in the Nivrtti Portion. In this text, the spiritually negative aspect of ālayavijñāna has become predominate. It is expressly taught to be a) the Truth of Suffering (dukkha-satya) of the present life, Le. the container or hypostasis of Badness in the sense of uneasiness constituting samsara-dukhatā, b) the cause of the Truth of Suffering in the next life , i.e. the cause, by way of receiving and passing on karmic Impressions, of a new ālayavijñāna which is the result of karmic Maturation, and c) the cause of the Truth of the Origin [of Suffering] (samudayasatya) in the present life, i.e. the cause of Defilements (kleśa) (and karman ) on account of its comprising Badness (dauṣṭhulya ) in the sense of latent wickedness. (Schmithausen: Ālayavijñāna: On the Origin and the Early Development of a Central Concept of Yogācāra Philosophy)


In contrast to the momentary arising or perpetuation (pravṛtti) of the cognitive dimensions of ālayavijñāna in the Pravṛtti Portion, the Nivṛtti Portion discusses its cessation (nivṛtti) in the long-term, saṃsāric dimension. Ālayavijñāna is virtually equated here with the roots of the defilements (saṃkleśamūla) and the mass of accumulated karmic seeds, appropriations (upādāna), and spiritual corruptions (dauṣṭhulya) that bind beings in the vicious cycle of death and rebirth. As such, it comprises those very processes – kleśa and karma – that effectively constitute saṃsāric existence and whose cessation (nivṛtti) therefore is tantamount to liberation.

In the Nivṛtti Portion the ālavavijñāna is virtually equated with the mass of accumulated karma, defilements (saṃkleśa), appropriations (upādāna) and spiritual corruptions (dauṣṭhulya) which keep beings entrapped in saṃsāra. Since it possesses all the seeds, the ālayavijñāna is the root of the defilements in this world:

  • it is the “root of the coming-about (nivṛtti) of the animate world (sattva-loka) because it is what brings forth (utpādaka) the sense faculties with [their material] bases and the arising cognitions.”
  • It is likewise the root of the inanimate world (bhājana-loka) and
  • the cause of the continuance of the afflictions (kleśa-pravṛtti-hetu

(Waldron, The ālayavijñāna in the context of canonical and Abhidharma vijñāna theory )

A Lankavatarian would concur with this Nivṛtti Portion in that the Alaya-receptacle needs to be emptied of its karmic-load thus assuring final liberation for the mind adept. All obstructive and destructive seeds need to cease their formation. This is also known as following Nivṛttimārga, or the path of withdrawal from all defiled dharmata. Associatively, once this form of via negativa is commenced, wholesome dharmas are cultivated, and thus the ālayavijñāna comes to an end. As the basis is revolved or transformed (āśraryam parivartate) the ālayavijñāna is eliminated (prahīa), and thus so are all the defilements, appropriations, and spiritual corruptions, and with them the cause of future rebirth. (Waldron, The ālayavijñāna in the context of canonical and Abhidharma vijñāna theory)

As an interesting footnote:

According to the ‘Nivṛtti Portion’ ālayavijñāna, essentially fraught with corruption (dauṣṭthulya), definitively ceases at the moment when arhatship is attained, and therefore cannot serve as a principle of life and sentience for the rest of the arhat’s life. According to this text, the arhat’s body merely continues [for some time] like a nirmāṇa (i.e., supranormally produced being or apparition).  (Schmithausen, The Genesis of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda: Responses and Reflections, pg.285

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