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Buddhism Ālayavijñāna
by
William S. Waldron

Introduction

Ālaya-vijñāna (storehouse consciousness) refers to a level of subliminal mental processes that occur uninterruptedly throughout one’s life and, in the Buddhist view, one’s multiple lifetimes. It represents, in effect, one’s personal continuity along with the continuity of one’s accumulated karmic potential (hence, “storehouse”). Ālaya-vijñāna—along with Consciousness-Only (vijñapti-mātra) and the Three Natures (trisvabhāva)—is one of the distinguishing doctrines of the Yogācāra (“Practitioners of Yoga”) school of Indian Buddhism. The Yogācāra school flourished in India from the 3rd to 5th centuries of the Common Era and influenced all later types of Buddhism, particularly in Tibet and East Asia; the development of the concept of ālaya-vijñāna parallels this history. Initially, ālaya-vijñāna addressed a series of problems created by the Abhidharmic emphasis on the momentary nature of all mental processes, mostly concerning personal continuity: the continuity of karmic potential and the afflictions (kleśa) in a latent state, the gradual path to liberation, and the problem of rebirth. Once articulated, this underlying level of subliminal consciousness also allowed for a more robust explanation of the constructed nature of perception (“consciousness-,” “representation-,” or “appearance-only,” vijñapti-mātra) as well as the commonality of our experienced world (bhājana-loka). And since it represents the “store” of one’s past karma, ālaya-vijñāna is what must be eliminated, transformed, or purified on the path to liberation, when it becomes a “stainless consciousness” (amala-vijñāna). In some texts, it is even equated with tathāgatha-garbha (roughly, “buddha-nature”), a relationship later Tibetan and Chinese Buddhists developed along with other aspects of the Yogācāra traditions they received from India. More recently, ālaya-vijñāna has been compared with theories of unconscious mental processes in depth psychology and cognitive science.

General Overviews

The concept of ālaya-vijñāna arose out of a welter of controversies in Indian Buddhist Abhidharma traditions (2nd–5th century CE) and is accordingly complex and multifaceted. Both Nhat Hanh 2006 and Tagawa 2009, however, use everyday experience to skillfully illustrate the multiple functions ālaya-vijñāna plays within Yogācāra’s complex model of mind. Yamabe 2004 succinctly summarizes the basic issues in more strictly Buddhist terms, which are delineated in dense detail in Waldron 1994 and elaborated more discursively in Waldron 2003. La Vallée Poussin 1934 provides an early yet still useful synopsis of the concept for scholars familiar with Indian Buddhist terms and texts. Schmithausen’s 1987 traces the development of ālaya-vijñāna in all its permutations and associated concepts with painstaking detail and philological rigor; it is also noteworthy for its bibliography. Buescher 2008 both builds on and critiques Schmithausen’s work, with an equal eye toward detail.

  • Buescher, Harmut The Inception of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda. Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens Series 62. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.

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    A largely philological and historical study that reconstructs the chronology of early Yogācāra (also known as Vijñānavāda), placing ālaya-vijñāna at the core of Yogācāra’s new ontological model. Assumes substantial knowledge.

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  • Nhat Hanh, Thich. Understanding Our Mind. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 2006.

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    A simple and evocative introduction to the major concepts of Yogācāra from the point of view of a leading Buddhist teacher and monk. Very accessible, though often repetitious.

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  • Schmithausen, Lambert Ālayavijñāna: On the Origin and the Early Development of a Central Concept of Yogācāra Philosophy. 2 vols. Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1987.

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    A painstaking philological study seeking to identify the first instance of, and rationale for, the term ālaya-vijñāna in Indian Yogācāra texts. Assumes substantial knowledge. Includes a comprehensive bibliography, including the best of the voluminous Japanese scholarship on ālaya-vijñāna to date of publication.

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  • Tagawa, Shun’ei Living Yogācāra: An Introduction to Consciousness-Only Buddhism. Translated by A. Charles Muller. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009.

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    A nontechnical introduction, written in an accessible and engaging fashion, to the basic ideas of Yogācāra, heavily influenced by East Asian perspectives. Pages 29–60, especially, describe the psychological roles of ālaya-vijñāna in relation to other cognitive processes. A good start for nonspecialists.

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  • La Vallée Poussin, Louis de “Note sur l’ālayavijñāna.” In Mélanges chinoise et bouddhiques. Vol. 3, pp. 145–168. Brussels, Belgium: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1934.

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    An early academic analysis of the basic doctrines and texts describing ālaya-vijñāna.

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  • Waldron, William S. “How Innovative Is the Ālayavijñāna? The Ālayavijñāna in the Context of Canonical and Abhidharma Vijñāna Theory.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 22.3 (1994): pp. 199–258.

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    This dense two-part article details the development of ālaya-vijñāna in Indian Buddhism, supported by copious citations and footnotes. Assumes a working knowledge of Indian Buddhist texts and terms. The second half appears in Journal of Indian Philosophy 23 (1995): 9–51. Available online.

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  • Waldron, William S. The Buddhist Unconscious: The Ālaya-vijñāna in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

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    An analysis of the development of ālaya-vijñāna in light of early Buddhist and Abhidharmic analyses of mind. It includes translations of crucial Yogācāra texts, including extensive passages from the Yogācārabhūmi and Mahāyāna-samgraha.

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  • Yamabe, Nobuyoshi “Theories of Consciousness.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr., 174–178. New York: Macmillan, 2004.

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    An incisive summary of the background, rationale, and extrapolations of the concept of ālaya-vijñāna. An excellent introduction to the Buddhist framework within which ālaya-vijñāna developed.

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Ālaya-Vijñāna in India

The concept of ālaya-vijñāna evolved in Indian Buddhism over a period of several centuries (2nd–5th century CE) and is treated in varying lengths in different Buddhist texts. The most important of these are (1) the Yogācāra-bhūmi (Stages of yogic practice), a 2nd–4th century compilation attributed to the scholar/saint Asaṅga (b. c. 315–d. 390 CE); (2) the Mahāyāna-saṃgraha (Compendium of Mahayana) written by Asaṅga; (3) Karma-siddhi-prakaraṇa (Treatise establishing action) by Asaṅga’s half-brother Vasubandhu (4th–5th century CE); and (4) Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi (Establishing appearance-only), two associated texts also by Vasubandhu.

Yogācāra-bhūmi

The Yogācāra-bhūmi (Stages of yogic practice) is an encyclopedic text traditionally attributed to Asaṅga (b. c. 315–d. 390 CE), whom scholars now consider its compiler or editor. Composed over a number of centuries, the text spans the development of yogic practice and analysis of mind from pre-Mahayana Buddhist traditions (c. 2nd–3rd century CE) into mainstream Mahayana (4th century CE). Schmithausen 1987 has dubbed the sections of the Yogācara-bhūmi that treat ālaya-vijñāna most systematically as the Ālaya Treatise. This is made up of the Proof Portion, which sets forth the doctrinal rationales for ālaya-vijñāna in eight “proofs,” and the Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti Portions, which, respectively, describe the activity or perpetuation (pravṛtti) of ālaya-vijñāna and its eventual cessation (nivṛtti) upon liberation.

Proof Portion of the Ālaya Treatise

The terse text called the Proof Portion sets forth eight doctrinal, experiential, and exegetical reasons why there must be a subliminal level of mental processes (ālaya-vijñāna), reasons that require substantial knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and history to understand. The Proof Portion of the Yogācara-bhūmi is only found in its Chinese and Tibetan translations (T.31.1606.701b4–702a5; Peking edition: #5554, Si. 12a2–13b5; Derge edition: #4053, Li. 9b7–11a5). It is, however, in substantial agreement with the Sanskrit text of corresponding passages in the Abhidharmasamuccaya bhāṣyam (Asaṅga 1976, 11.9–13.20). Hakamaya 1978 offers a critical edition of the Proof Portion and a translation into Japanese. Griffiths 1986 translates and analyzes the Proof Portion in light of the larger mind-body problems associated with the attainment of cessation (nirodha-samāpatti). Waldron 2003 (pp.102–107; cited under General Overviews) discusses the Proof Portion in the context of the historical development of ālaya-vijñāna.

  • Asaṅga. Abhidharmasamuccaya bhāṣyam. Edited by Nathmal Tatia. TSWS 17. Patna, India: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, 1976.

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    (Commentary on compendium of Abhidharma.) The Sanskrit text of this important Yogācāra treatise. The “proofs” of ālaya-vijñāna appear on pp. 11.9–13.20.

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  • Griffiths, Paul J. On Being Mindless: Buddhist Meditation and the Mind-Body Problem. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1986.

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    A philosophical analysis of the problem of cessation of mental processes in deep meditation (nirodha-samāpatti) as discussed by three contemporaneous schools of Indian Buddhism, including Yogācāra. Addressing this problem was one of the key rationales for postulating ālaya-vijñāna (pp. 76–106, 129–138).

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  • Hakamaya, Noriaki. “Araya shiki sonzai no hachi ronshū ni kansuru shobunken.” Kamazawa Daigaku Bukkyō gakubu Kenkyū kiyō 16 (1978): 1–26.

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    (Materials for the eight proofs of the existence of Ālaya-vijñāna.) A critical textual study of the Tibetan and Chinese texts of the Proof Portion and a translation into modern Japanese.

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Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti Portions of the Ālaya Treatise

The Pravṛtti (activity or perpetuation) and Nivṛtti (cessation) Portions of the Yogācara-bhūmi present the most Abhidharmic treatment of ālaya-vijñāna of any Yogācāra text, describing it in terms of its objects (ālambana), characteristics (ākāra), conditions (pratyaya), and associated mental functions (caitta). These sections are only extant in their Chinese and Tibetan translations (T.30.1579.579c23–582a28; Peking ed. #5539, Zi. 4a5–11a8; Derge ed. #4038, Shi. 3b4–9b3). Hakamaya 1979 presents a critical edition and Japanese translation of these sections. Waldron 2003 (cited under General Overviews) offers an analysis and English translation of these sections in the context of the historical development of ālaya-vijñāna.

  • Hakamaya, Noriaki. “Viniścaya-saṃgrahaṇī ni okeru āraya shiki no kitei.” Tōyō bunka kenkyū jo kiyō 79 (1979): 1–79.

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    (The definition of Ālaya-vijñāna in the Viniścaya-saṃgrahaṇī.) A critical textual study of the Tibetan and Chinese texts of the Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti Portions and their translation into modern Japanese. This article analyzes the treatment of ālaya-vijñāna in the Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti Portions as the essential concept (the “keystone” dharma) that is necessary for resolving several classic Abhidharmic problems.

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Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra

The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra (The sutra that unravels the hidden intent) introduced the basic Yogācāra ideas of Consciousness-Only (vijñapti-mātra), the Three Natures (trisvabhāva), and ālaya-vijñāna, which it briefly discusses in relation to the six forms of consciousness (vijñāna). Keenan 2000 and Powers 1994 translate the entire sutra, but like most Buddhist texts, it is difficult to read without further explanation and annotation. Lamotte 1935 provides much useful contextualization and commentary.

Mahāyāna-saṃgraha

The Mahāyāna-saṃgraha (Compendium of Mahayana by Asaṅga is one of the most important Indian Yogācāra texts, summarizing and explaining major Mahayana ideas and practices from the Yogācāra perspective. Its entire first chapter is devoted to explaining and justifying the concept of ālaya-vijñāna in light of early, Abhidharmic, and Mahayana Buddhism. The text has been heavily commented upon by subsequent scholars, most notably Vasubandhu. The classical text of the Mahāyāna-saṃgraha is only extant in its Chinese and Tibetan translations (T.1594; Peking ed. #5549; Derge ed. #4048). The English translation in Keenan 1992 lacks annotation and thus is mainly useful for scholars. On the other hand, Lamotte 1938 provides a translation of the entire text along with copious passages from the two major commentators, while Lamotte 1935 translates most of the first chapter (up to I.28) accompanied by full translations of the two major commentaries. Waldron 2003 (cited under General Overviews) analyzes Chapter 1 in the context of the historical development of ālaya-vijñāna. Nagao 1982 translates the entire text into Japanese and provides comments throughout based on extensive East Asian commentaries.

  • Keenan, John P., trans. The Summary of the Great Vehicle. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Translation and Research, 1992.

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    An English translation of Paramārtha’s Chinese translation of this key text (T.1593). Lacking annotations, it is difficult to understand without sufficient background.

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  • Lamotte, E. “L’Ālayavijñāna (Réceptacle) dans la Mahāyāna-saṃgraha. Asaṅga et ses commentateurs (Chapitre II).” In Mélanges chinoise et bouddhiques. Vol. 3, pp. 169–255. Brussels, Belgium: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1935.

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    A French translation of most of Chapter 1 (despite the title) of Mahāyāna-saṃgraha, based on Chinese and Tibetan texts, including full translations of the two major commentaries by Vasubandhu and Asvabhāva. Extremely useful.

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  • Lamotte, Étienne, trans. La Somme du Grand Véhicule d’Asaṅga (Mahāyāna-saṃgraha). Louvain, Belgium: Museon, 1938.

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    A French synoptic translation based on both Chinese and Tibetan translations, including key passages from the two major commentaries. Very thorough and reliable.

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  • Nagao, Gaijin. Shōdaijōron: Wayaku to Chūkai. 2 vols. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982.

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    Japanese translation of and commentary on the Mahāyāna-saṃgraha, based largely on the subsequent East Asian commentarial tradition. An English translation may become available in 2011.

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Karma-siddhi-prakaraṇa

The Karma-siddhi-prakaraṇa (Treatise establishing action) marks a transition between Vasubandhu the Abhidharmist and Vasubandhu the Yogācārin. It addresses problems in karmic theory largely generated by Abhidharmic analyses of momentary mental processes and proposes the concept of ālaya-vijñāna to resolve them. Compared to the two previous texts, the treatment of ālaya-vijñāna in Karma-siddhi-prakaraṇa is relatively brief. The Karma-siddhi-prakaraṇa is also only extant in its Tibetan and Chinese translations (Peking ed. #5563; Derge ed. #4062; T.1608, 1609). Anacker 1972 succinctly outlines the problem and the Yogācāra solution, while Anacker 1984 provides a full translation with copious annotations. Lamotte 1936 not only offers a full translation of the text but also provides detailed background to the text and a masterful synopsis of Buddhist thinking on the mechanisms of karma. Though difficult to obtain, Muroji 1985 is useful for tracing parallel ideas in other texts of Vasubandhu.

  • Anacker, Stefan “Vasubandhu’s Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa and the Problem of the Highest Meditations.” Philosophy East-West 22.3 (1972): 247–258.

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    This is a succinct analysis of the problem of the continuity of karmic potentiality during the attainment of cessation (nirodha-samāpatti) and the Yogācāra response to it, that is, the notion of ālaya-vijñāna.

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  • Anacker, Stefan Seven Works of Vasubandhu. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984.

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    A translation and study of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa is one of the seven works of Vasubandhu in this volume (pp. 83–156, especially pp. 111–117). The translation differs in places from Lamotte 1936.

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  • Lamotte, Étienne. “Le Traité de l’Acte de Vasubandhu: Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa.” In Mélange chinois et bouddhiques. Vol. 4, pp. 151–288. Brussels, Belgium: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1936.

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    More than a mere translation, this work is a virtual compendium on the problem of karma in Abhidharmic and early Mahayana thinking. Pages 66–71 treat ālaya-vijñāna specifically. Translated by Leo M. Pruden as Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa: The Treatise on Action by Vasubandhu (Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1988).

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  • Muroji, Yoshihito G. The Tibetan Text of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa of Vasubandhu with Reference to the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyam and the Pratītya samutpāda vyākhyā. Kyoto: n.p., 1985.

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    A critical edition of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa in Tibetan that provides parallel passages from two other texts by Vasubandhu. Difficult to obtain.

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Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi

Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi (Establishing appearance-only) refers to Vasubandhu’s two famous verse texts: the Twenty Verses (Viṃśatikā) and the Thirty Verses (Triṃśika). The latter outlines the entire Yogācāra tradition, from an analysis of deluded experience to the stages of realization culminating in Buddhahood. Verses 2b–5a summarize the basic concepts related to ālaya-vijñāna: its characteristics and objects, its associated mental factors, etc. Each of the translations or studies listed here treats ālaya-vijñāna primarily in relation to these few verses. Yamada 1977 provides a useful preliminary outline of the Thirty Verses, dealing briefly with ālaya-vijñāna. Lévi 1925 presents an edited Sanskrit version of the two verse texts, including the important commentary on Thirty Verses by Sthiramati (Triṃśika-bhāṣyam), all of which is translated, contextualized, and explicated in Lévi 1932. Modern translations of the texts may also be found in Anacker 1984 and Kochumuttom 1982. Beuscher 2007 provides a much-needed, modern critical edition of this crucial Yogācāra text. For Chinese translations and studies of the text, see Ālaya-vijñāna in China.

  • Anacker, Stefan. Seven Works of Vasubandhu. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984.

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    Translations and a study of seven key texts of Vasubandhu, including Vijñapti-matratā-siddhi (Twenty Verses and Thirty Verses) on pp. 157–189.

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  • Buescher, Harmut Sthiramati’s Trimśikavijñaptibhāṣya. Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007.

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    A critical Sanskrit edition, with a new title, of Vasubandhu’s important text. For scholars only.

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  • Kochumuttom, Thomas A. A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience: A New Translation and Interpretation of the Works of Vasubandhu the Yogācārin. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982.

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    Translations and a study of four key texts of Vasubandhu, including the Vijñapti-matratā-siddhi (Twenty Verses and Thirty Verses), pp. 127–196, 254–275.

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  • Lévi, Sylvain. Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi: Deux Traités de Vasubandhu; Viṃśatikā (La Vingtaine) accompagnée d’une explication en prose et Triṃśika (la Trentaine) avec le Commentaire de Sthiramati. Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études. 245. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1925.

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    Sanskrit text of the Twenty Verses and the Thirty Verses, along with Sthiramati’s important commentary on the latter (Triṃśika-bhāṣyam).

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  • Lévi, Sylvain. Matériaux pour l’Étude du Système Vijñaptimātra. Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1932.

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    A useful but early study of the history and development of Yogācāra traditions, along with French translations of the Twenty Verses and the Thirty Verses, as well as Sthiramati’s commentary on the latter.

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  • Yamada, Isshi. “Vijñaptimātratā of Vasubandhu.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1977): 158–176.

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    A useful outline of Vasubandhu’s Triṃśika, peppered with untranslated Sanskrit terms.

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Ālaya-Vijñāna and Buddha-nature

In the Yogācāra texts listed above, ālaya-vijñāna represents a form of deluded consciousness that preserves or “stores” the potential, the “seeds,” for future karmic fruition. In these texts, ālaya-vijñāna must be eliminated or purified in order to be transformed into Buddha wisdom (jñāna). In some texts, though—most notably, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Vaidya 1960) and the apocryphal Awakening of Faith (T.1666; Hakeda 1967)—the ālaya-vijñāna (at least part of it) is identified with the originally pure potential for buddha-nature (tathāgatha-garbha), which is, however, obscured by adventitious defilements. Davidson 1985 provides a brilliant analytic framework for understanding the processes of transformation in Indian Yogācāra in general. Frauwallner 1951 discusses the differences between the defiled ālaya-vijñāna and the “stainless” consciousness of awakening (amala-vijñāna), a topic treated in both Paul 1984 and Buswell 1989 for early Buddhist traditions in China (see Ālaya-vijñāna in China). The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Descent to Laṅka Sūtra) is translated in Suzuki 1932, while its doctrines are summarized in Suzuki 1930 and more historically contextualized in Sutton 1991. Brown 1991 interprets the relationship between tathāgatha-garbha and ālaya-vijñāna in quasi-Hegelian terms.

  • Brown, Brian. The Buddha Nature: A Study of the Tathāgatha-garbha and Ālaya-vijñāna. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

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    Largely a study of key tathāgatha-garbha (buddha-nature) texts, it also addresses ālaya-vijñāna in the Cheng Wei Shi Lun (Demonstrating consciousness-only) and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Descent to Laṅka Sūtra). It interprets these ideas in largely Hegelian terms, relatively outside the mainstream of Buddhist studies.

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  • Davidson, Ronald M. “Buddhist Systems of Transformation: Āśraya parivṛtti/parāvṛtti among the Yogācāra.” PhD. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1985.

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    The only work that effectively encompasses the various dimensions of classical Yogācāra “systems of transformation” in its Indian historical milieu. Chapter 4 (pp. 199–227) focuses on ālaya-vijñāna. It assumes substantial background.

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  • Frauwallner, Erich “Amalavijñānam und ālayavijñānam.” In Beiträge zur indischen Philologie und Altertumskunde: Walther Schubring zum 70; Geburtstag dargebracht von der deutschen Indologie. pp. 148–159. Hamburg, Germany: Cram, de Gruyter, 1951.

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    Discusses the distinction between the defiled ālaya-vijñāna and the purified amala-vijñāna in Yogācāra texts and doctrines. Very philological.

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  • Hakeda, Yoshito, trans. The Awakening of Faith, Attributed to Aśvaghosha. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

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    This apocryphal text, attributed to Aśvaghosha (T.1666), is the effective locus classicus in East Asian Buddhism for the equation of ālaya-vijñāna with tathāgatha-garbha (buddha-nature). See Part 3, chapter 1.B.1. (pp. 36–46).

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  • Sutton, Florin G. Existence and Enlightenment in the Laṅkāvatāra-Sūtra: A Study in the Ontology and Epistemology of the Yogācāra School of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York, 1991.

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    A thorough study of the major doctrines of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, which frequently (but not consistently) identifies ālaya-vijñāna with tathāgatha-garbha (buddha-nature). Chapter 2.3 (pp. 237–260) discusses the sutra’s distinctive interpretation of ālaya-vijñāna, along with the other forms of ordinary consciousness (vijñāna).

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  • Suzuki, D. T. Studies in the Lankāvatāra Sūtra (One of the Most Important Texts of Mahayana Buddhism in which Almost All Its Principle Tenets are Presented, including the Teaching of Zen). London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1930.

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    A classic study of this important sutra, in which ālaya-vijñāna is equated with tathāgatha-garbha (buddha-nature). See especially II.II(B) (pp. 169–201).

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  • Suzuki, D. T. The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra: A Mahāyāna Text, Translated for the First Time from the Original Sanskrit. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1932.

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    An early but still useful translation of the main Indian sutra connecting ālaya-vijñāna with the tathāgatha-garbha tradition. See especially chapter 2.4 (pp. 33–35), chapter 2.9 (pp. 39–45), chapter 2.18 (p. 55), chapter 6.82 (pp. 190–193), and chapter 6.86 (pp. 202–204).

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  • Vaidya, P. L., ed. Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. Darbhanga, India: Mithila Institute, 1960.

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    A modern edition of the Sanskrit version of the sutra. There are also a Tibetan version (Peking ed. #775) and multiple Chinese versions (T.670, 671, 672).

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Ālaya-Vijñāna in China

There is extensive traditional Chinese scholarship documenting the textual sources and doctrinal justifications for ālaya-vijñāna. The great translator Xuanzang (600–664) translated numerous Yogācāra texts into Chinese, including Vasubandhu’s Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi (Establishing appearance-only), comprising the Twenty Verses and the Thirty Verses. He also compiled various Indian commentaries on the latter into a text of his own, the Cheng Wei Shi Lun (Establishing consciousness-only), which became one of the foundational texts for East Asian Yogācāra. Epstein 1997–1998 translates and interprets Xuanzang’s most succinct summary of the Yogācārin model of mind, whereas Ganguly 1992 translates Xuanzang’s version of the Thirty Verses, incorporating select sections from the Cheng Wei Shi Lun as commentary. Lusthaus 2002 offers a more philosophically oriented translation of Xuanzang’s version of the Thirty Verses, within his massive study of the transmission of Yogācāra into China. Cook 1999 translates Xuanzang’s versions of the two verse texts as well as the whole of the Cheng Wei Shi Lun, which, notably, includes an extensive discussion of the “proofs” for ālaya-vijñāna. LaVallée Poussin 1928–1929 not only translates the entirety of the Cheng Wei Shi Lun but also provides parallel passages to its doctrines drawn from numerous Indian Buddhist texts. For broader historical contextualization, Weinstein 1959 outlines the development of ālaya-vijñāna from the Indian Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra to Xuanzang’s Cheng Wei Shi Lun. Paul 1984 analyzes earlier translations of Yogācāra works into Chinese by the Indian Paramārtha (b. 499–d. 569), discussing ālaya-vijñāna and its purification into amala-vijñāna. Buswell 1989 provides a general historical overview within Chinese Buddhism of the relationship between ālaya-vijñāna and tathāgatha-garbha.

  • Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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    A study of the important apocryphal text, the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra (Adamantine absorption), which relates ālaya-vijñāna to tathāgatha-garbha (buddha-nature). Chapter 3 (pp. 74–122) contains a useful synopsis of their relationship in early Chinese Buddhism.

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  • Cook, Francis H., trans. Three Texts on Consciousness-Only. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1999.

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    New translation of Xuanzang’s Chinese translations of Vasubandhu’s two verse texts in Vijñapti-matratā-siddhi as well as Xuanzang’s own Cheng Wei Shi Lun. Chapter 3 (pp. 47–111) of the Cheng Wei Shi Lun focuses on ālaya-vijñāna, its characteristics, etc. This includes an extensive discussion of the “proofs” for ālaya-vijñāna, outlining the doctrinal problems toward which the idea of ālaya-vijñāna was addressed while noting and refuting the views of other Buddhist schools.

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  • Epstein, Ronald, trans. “Verses Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses”. Vajra Bodhi Sea: A Monthly Journal of Orthodox Buddhism. 1997–1998.

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    An accessible translation and interpretation of the Yogācāra model of mind based on Xuanzang’s short text Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses (T.1865).

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  • Ganguly, Swati, trans. Treatise in Thirty Verses on Mere Consciousness. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992.

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    An English translation of Xuanzang’s version of Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses, along with selected passages from the Cheng Wei Shi Lun. Pages 77–88 discuss ālaya-vijñāna.

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  • Lusthaus, Dan. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch’eng Wei-shih Lun. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.

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    A fascinating and idiosyncratic exploration of philosophical issues raised by Yogācāra in general and Xuanzang’s Cheng Wei Shi Lun in particular, with an evocative translation of the Thirty Verses, comparing Vasubandhu’s Sanskrit with Xuanzang’s Chinese translation.

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  • Paul, Diana Y. Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China: Paramārtha’s ‘Evolution of Consciousness.’ Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984.

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    A translation and study of the works of one of the most important Indian translators of Yogācāra texts, Paramārtha (499–569). Chapter 4 (pp. 93–111) deals with Yogācāra philosophy of mind and the transformation of ālaya-vijñāna into amala-vijñāna, “stainless consciousness.”

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  • La Vallée Poussin, Louis de, trans. Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-tsang. Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1928–1929.

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    A translation of Xuanzang’s massive commentary on Vasubandhu’s treatise into French, with copious citations from and correlations with other Indian Buddhist texts. This text (pp. 94–220) deals extensively with ālaya-vijñāna, its characteristics and “proofs,” citing parallels with other Indian Buddhist doctrines. Extremely useful for scholars of Indian Buddhism.

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  • Weinstein, Stanley. “The Ālaya-vijñāna in Early Yogācāra Buddhism: A Comparison of Its Meaning in the Saṇdhinirmocana-sūtra and the Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi of Dharmapāla.” In Transactions of the International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, pp. 46–58. Tokyo: Tōhō Gakusha Kaigikiyō, 1959.

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    A useful article charting the development of ālaya-vijñāna from the Indian sutra to the Chinese treatise.

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Ālaya-Vijñāna in Tibet

Tibetan scholars have exhaustively studied Yogācāra doctrines, including ālaya-vijñāna, documenting its textual sources and analyzing its doctrinal justifications. They also developed a notion of ālaya “wisdom” (ālaya-jñāna; in Tib. kun gzhi ye shes), similar to tathāgatha-garbha (buddha-nature). Sparham 1993 is a book-length study and translation of Tsongkhapa’s analysis of ālaya-vijñāna in the Mahāyāna-saṃgraha, whereas Wilson 1984 translates and studies a later work of Tibetan scholasticism based on Tsongkhapa’s text. Sheehy 2006 translates and analyzes an important Tibetan text on the transformation of ālaya-vijñāna into Buddha Wisdom (jñāna) from the Kargyü sect, one of a set of treatises by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (b. 1284–d. 1339), on the transformation of consciousness, which are translated and introduced in Brunnhölzl 2009. Germano and Waldron 2006 delineates the development of the Indian notion of ālaya-vijñāna into the Tibetan notion of ālaya (in Tib. kun gzhi) as primordial awareness in the Nyingma sect.

  • Brunnhölzl, Karl, trans. Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2009.

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    An excellent and extensive study of a set of texts by the Third Karmapa on the transformation of the eight ordinary forms of consciousness into Buddha Wisdoms (jñāna), within the context of buddha-nature theory.

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  • Germano, David F., and Waldron, William S. “A Comparison of Ālaya-vijñāna in Yogācāra and Dzogchen.” In Buddhist Thought and Applied Psychological Research: Transcending the Boundaries. Edited by Nauriyal, D. K., Drummond, Michael S., and Lal, Y. B., 36–68. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2006.

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    Traces the development of the notion of ālaya-vijñāna in Indian Yogācāra to the concept of ālaya as primordial awareness in the Nyingma Dzogchen tradition.

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  • Sheehy, Michael R. “Rangjung Dorje’s Variegations of Mind: Ordinary Awareness and Pristine Awareness in Tibetan Buddhist Literature.” In Buddhist Thought and Applied Psychological Research: Transcending the Boundaries. Edited by D. K. Nauriyal, Michael S.. Drummond, and Y. B. Lal, 69–92. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2006.

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    A translation and analysis of an important text by the Third Karmapa that develops and synthesizes Yogācāra theories of mind, addressing the transformation of vijñāna (and ālaya-vijñāna) into jñāna (Buddha Wisdom).

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  • Sparham, Gareth, trans. Ocean of Eloquence: Tsong kha pa’s Commentary on the Yogācāra Doctrine of Mind. Albany: State University of New York, 1993.

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    A book-length study consisting of a translation and commentary on Tsongkhapa’s analysis of ālaya-vijñāna as found in Asaṅga’s Mahāyāna-saṃgraha. Closely examines the doctrinal “proofs” of ālaya-vijñāna.

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  • Wilson, Joe. “The Meaning of Mind in the Mahāyāna Buddhist Philosophy of Mind-Only (Cittamātra): A Study of a Presentation by the Tibetan Scholar Gung-Tang Jam-Bāy-Yāng (Gung-Thang-ʻJam-Paʻi-Dbyangs) of Asaṅga’s Theory of Mind-Basis-of-All (Ābayavijñāna) and Related Topics in Buddhist Theories of Personal Continuity, Epistemology, and Hermeneutics.” PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1984.

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    A translation and study of a late Tibetan commentary on Tsongkhapa’s treatise on ālaya-vijñāna (see Sparham 1993), the most extensive Tibetan text on the topic.

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Ālaya-Vijñāna and Western Psychology

The resemblances between ālaya-vijñāna and Western ideas of unconscious mind have intrigued scholars for several generations, but few have written on it at length. Kalupahana 1987 gives a characteristically idiosyncratic reading of Yogācāra psychology and ālaya-vijñāna from a Jamesian point of view. Jiang 2006 and Waldron 1988 tackle ālaya-vijñāna in terms of Freud and Jung but require deeper analysis. Waldron 2002 more convincingly engages cognitive science to interpret ālaya-vijñāna in modern terms.

  • Jiang, Tao, Contexts and Dialogue: Yogācāra Buddhism and Modern Psychology on the Subliminal Mind. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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    Compares Yogācāra depth psychology with the theories of Freud and, to a lesser degree, Jung.

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  • Kalupahana, David J. The Principles of Buddhist Psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

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    An interesting though idiosyncratic interpretation of Yogācāra theories of mind in the light of earlier Buddhist thought, interpreted through William James’s theories. Includes translations of both the Thirty Verses (Triṃśika) and the Twenty Verses (Viṃśatikā).

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  • Waldron, William S. “A Comparison of the Ālayavijñāna with Freud’s and Jung’s Theories of the Unconscious.” In Annual Memoirs of the Otani University Shin Buddhist Research Institute 6 (1988): 109–150.

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    A conceptual comparison of ālaya-vijñāna with theories of unconscious mental processes in depth psychology, citing texts in both traditions. Difficult to obtain.

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  • Waldron, William S. “Buddhist Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Thinking about ‘Thoughts without a Thinker.’” Eastern Buddhist 34.1 (2002): 1–52.

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    A dense philosophical essay that brings Buddhist thought in general and Yogācāra thought in particular (including ālaya-vijñāna) into dialogue with modern cognitive science and philosophy of mind. Not for beginners.

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LAST MODIFIED: 09/13/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0003

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