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.
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.
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.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. Understanding Our Mind. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 2006.
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.
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.
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.
Tagawa, Shun’ei Living Yogācāra: An Introduction to Consciousness-Only Buddhism. Translated by A. Charles Muller. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009.
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.
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.
An early academic analysis of the basic doctrines and texts describing ālaya-vijñāna.
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.
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.
Waldron, William S. The Buddhist Unconscious: The Ālaya-vijñāna in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
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.
Yamabe, Nobuyoshi “Theories of Consciousness.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr., 174–178. New York: Macmillan, 2004.
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.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese