The Eight Consciousnesses (Sanskrit: , from "eight" and "consciousness") are a concept in the doctrine of the Yogacara school of Buddhism. They enumerate the five senses, supplemented by the mind (manas), the "obscuration" of the mind (klesha), and finally the fundamental store-house consciousness (Sanskrit: , from "abode, dwelling"; Tibetan: kun gzhi rnam shes; Chinese: 阿賴耶識 Japanese: araya-shiki), which is the basis of the other seven.
The Eight Consciousnesses (Vijñāna)
All Eight Consciousness (Tibetan: rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad
) are "aggregates" or skandha
The first five are the sensate "consciousnesses":
- First consciousness: "Eye-consciousness" (Tibetan: mig-gi rnam-shes); seeing apprehended by the visual sense organs;
- Second consciousness: "Ear-consciousness" (Tibetan: rna’i rnam-shes); hearing apprehended by the auditory sense organs;
- Third consciousness: "Nose-consciousness" (Tibetan: sna’i rnam-shes), smelling apprehended through the olfactory organs;
- Fourth consciousness: "Tongue-consciousness" (Tibetan: lce’i rnam-shes); tasting perceived through the gustatory organs;
- Fifth consciousness: "Body-consciousness" (Tibetan: lus-kyi rnam-shes); tactile feeling apprehended through skin contact, touch.
These first five along with the sixth are identified in the Sutta Pitaka:
- Sixth consciousness: "Ideation-consciousness" (Tibetan: yid-kyi rnam-shes); the aspect of mind known in Sanskrit as manas or the "mind monkey"; the consciousness of ideation.
The Yogacara School that espoused the Cittamatra Doctrine proffer two more consciousnesses:
- Seventh consciousness: "Obscuration-consciousness" (Tibetan: nyon-yid rnam-shes); (Sanskrit: klistamanas = klesha "obscuration", "poison", "enemy"; manas "ideation", "moving mind", "mind monkey" (volition?); a consciousness which through apprehension, gathers the hindrances, the poisons, the karmic formations (c.f. samskara).
- Eighth consciousness: "store-house consciousness" (Tibetan: kun-gzhi rnam-shes; Sanskrit: ālāyavijñāna); the consciousness which is the basis of the other seven. The seven prior consciousnesses are based and founded upon the eighth. It is the aggregate which administers and yields rebirth; this idea may be ultimately traceable to the "luminous mind" of the agamas.
Store consciousness accumulates all potential energy for the aggregate of the 'bodymind
' (Sanskrit: namarupa
), the mental (nama
) and physical (rupa
) manifestation of one's existence, and supplies the substance to all existences. It also receives impressions from all functions of the other consciousnesses and retains them as potential energy for their further manifestations and activities. Since it serves as the basis for the production of the other seven consciousnesses (called the "evolving" or "transforming" consciousnesses), it is also known as the base consciousness
) or causal consciousness
. Since it serves as the container for all experiential impressions (termed metaphorically as bija
or "seeds") - referred to as samskaras
in Indian religions - it is also called the seed consciousness
識) or container consciousness
In distinction to the Yogacara teachings, the Lankavatara Sutra and the schools of Chan/Zen Buddhism, teach that the store consciousness (alayavjnana) is identical with the tathagatagarbha (i.e., the womb or matrix of the Thus-come-one, the Buddha).
The Yogacara is essentially psychological standing in contrast in this respect to the Madhyamaka school which is epistemological. But the Alayavijnana of the Yogacara is not the same as that of Lanka and the Awakening of Faith. The former conceives the Alaya to be purity itself with nothing defiled in it whereas the Lanka and the Awakening make it the cause of purity and defilement.
From the point of view of the mind-only perspective, it is because the store consciousness, while being originally immaculate in itself, contains a "mysterious mixture of purity and defilement, good and evil" that the transformation of consciousness can take place and enlightenment can be experienced. In this analysis, mental and physical manifestations are nothing but discriminations of Mind and all aspects of the first seven enumerated consciousnesses are just the reflections of the store consciousness (Alaya) also known as the Tathagatagarba.
Later Developments of the doctrine of Ālaya-vijñāna
Although Vasu-bandhu had postulated numerous ālaya-vijñāna-s ('storehouse-consciousnesses'), a separate one for each individual person in the para-kalpita, this multiplicity was, according to Philosopher Thomas McEvilley, later eliminated in the Fa Hsiang
and Hua Yen
metaphysics, which inculcated instead the doctrine of a single universal and eternal ālaya-vijñāna. This exalted enstatement of the ālaya-vijñāna is described in the Fa Hsiang as " primordial unity
". McEvilley also concluded that the presentation of the three natures by Vasu-bandhu as consistent with the Neo-platonist views
of Plōtinos and his universal 'One', 'mind', and 'soul'.
Muller (1995: unpaginated) in discussing Wonhyo (元曉) and the Treatise on Awakening Mahāyāna Faith (AMF; Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun; 大乘起信論) holds that:
The AMF was a text that was perfect for utilization by someone of Wŏnhyo's inclinations, since it was written to clarify issues about the nature of human consciousness and the proper course toward enlightenment which had hitherto been interpreted divergently by different schools of East Asian Buddhism. The author of the AMF was deeply concerned with the question of the respective origins of ignorance and enlightenment. If enlightenment is originally existent, how do we become submerged in ignorance? If ignorance is originally existent, how is it possible to overcome it? And finally, at the most basic level of mind, the alaya consciousness (藏識), is there originally purity or taint? The AMF dealt with these questions in a systematic and thorough fashion, working through the Yogacāra concept of the alaya consciousness. The technical term used in the AMF which functions as a metaphorical synonym for interpenetration is "permeation" or "perfumation (薫)," referring to the fact that defilement (煩惱) "perfumates" suchness (眞如), and suchness perfumates defilement, depending on the current condition of the mind.
- Norbu, Namkhai (2001). The Precious Vase: Instructions on the Base of Santi Maha Sangha. Shang Shung Edizioni. Second revised edition. (Translated from the Tibetan, edited and annotated by Adriano Clemente with the help of the author. Translated from Italian into English by Andy Lukianowicz.)
- Epstein, Ronald (undated). Verses Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses. A translation and explanation of the "Verses Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses by Tripitaka Master Hsuan-Tsang of the Tang Dynasty. Source: (accessed: October 19, 2007)