Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 11



Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong

Hong Kong, 2009

Communication Address of Corresponding Author:


Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,

Salt Lake City, Sector-2,

Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.

Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.com

Mobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)



The Yogācāra school of Buddhist thought was founded by the two brothers,

Asanga and Vasubandhu in the fifth century. The most famous innovation of

the Yogācāra School was the doctrine of eight consciousnesses and it upheld

the concept that consciousness (vijñāna) is real, but its objects of

constructions are unreal. The key emphasis of Yogācāra is on insight

meditation which is actually considered to be a means of abandoning

delusions about the self and about the world. When the storehouse

consciousness is finally transformed into the grand-mirror-like wisdom, it

reflects the entire universe without distortion. This wisdom can perceive

many objects accurately and simultaneously.

Key Words: Mind, Manas, Ālaya, Consciousness, Insight,




The Yogācāra school of Buddhist thought was founded by the two brothers,

Asanga and Vasubandhu in the fifth century. Yogācāra was a synthesis

created in response to all existing schools of Buddhism during the third

century BC. Yogācāra extracted the common teachings from all the Buddhist

traditions and made an attempt to resolve the problems that most of them

were facing. The key epistemological and metaphysical insights of Yogācāra

evolved from the common Buddhist belief that knowledge comes only from

the senses (vijnapti). With a new insight, Yogācāra proposed that the mind,

itself, was an aspect of vijnapti.1,2,3,4

Asanga further recognized that though the mind can sense its own objects,

which are known as thoughts (apperception), but it cannot verify its own

interpretation. As the senses are constantly misinterpreted, our thoughts

(apperceptions) are also misinterpreted in the same way. These

misconceptions are instinctive and nearly universal because they are caused

by the desires, fears and anxieties that come with animal survival. This

results in an automatic assumption of substance for self and objects (atman

and dharma) which are created to suppress our fears.1,3,4,5

Various Types of Consciousness in Yogācāra

The most famous innovation of the Yogācāra School was the doctrine of eight

consciousnesses. Early Buddhism and Abhidhamma described six

consciousnesses, each produced by the contact between its specific sense

organ and a corresponding sense object. Thus, when a functioning eye

comes into contact with a color or shape, visual consciousness is produced.

Consciousness does not create the sensory sphere, but is an effect of the

interaction of a sense organ and its true object. If an eye does not function

but an object is present, visual consciousness does not arise. The same is

true if a functional eye fails to encounter a visual object.5,6,7,8,9

Arising of consciousness is dependent on sensation. There are altogether six

sense organs (eye, ear, nose, mouth, body, and mind) which interact with

their respective sensory object domains like visual, auditory, olfactory,

gustatory, tactile, and mental spheres. Here, the mind is considered to be

another sense organ as it functions like the other senses. It involves the

activity of a sense organ (manas), its domain (mano-dhātu) and the resulting

consciousness (mano-vijñāna). Each domain is discrete and function

independent of the other. Hence, the deaf can see and the blind can hear.

Objects are also specific to their domain and the same is true of the

consciousnesses like the visual consciousness is entirely distinct from

auditory consciousness. There are six distinct types of consciousness

namely, the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental


The six sense organs, six sense object domains and six resulting

consciousnesses comprise our eighteen components of experience and are

known as the eighteen dhātus. According to Buddhism, these eighteen

dhātus are the comprehensive sensorium of everything in the universe.6,7,8,9

As Abhidhamma grew more complex, disputes intensified between different

Buddhist schools along a range of issues. In order to avoid the idea of a

permanent self, Buddhists said citta is momentary. Since a new citta

apperceives a new cognitive field each moment, the apparent continuity of

mental states was explained causally by claiming each citta, in the moment

it ceased, also acted as cause for the arising of its successor. This was fine

for continuous perceptions and thought processes, but difficulties arose since

Buddhists identified a number of situations in which no citta at all was

present or operative, such as deep sleep, unconsciousness, and certain

meditative conditions explicitly defined as devoid of citta (āsaṃjñī-

samāpatti, nirodha-samāpatti). So, the controversial questions were: from

where does consciousness reemerge after deep sleep? How does

consciousness begin in a new life? The various Buddhist attempts to answer

these questions led to more difficulties and disputes. For Yogācāra the most

important problems revolved around questions of causality and


Yogācārins responded by rearranging the tripartite structure of the mental

level of the eighteen dhātus into three novel types of consciousnesses.

Mano-vijñāna (empirical consciousness) became the sixth consciousness

processing the cognitive content of the five senses as well as mental objects

(thoughts, ideas). Manas became the seventh consciousness, which was

primarily obsessed with various aspects and notions of "self". Hence, it was

called "defiled manas" (kliṣṭa-manas). The eighth consciousness, ālaya-

vijñāna also known as "warehouse consciousness," was totally novel.6,7,8,9

Four Wisdoms from Eight Consciousnesses7,8,9

(1)The first five perceptual consciousnesses are transformed into the

Wisdom of Successful Performance. This wisdom is characterized by pure

and unimpeded functioning (no attachment or distortion) in its relation to

the (sense) organs and their objects.

(2) The sixth consciousness is the perceptual and cognitive processing

center. It is transformed into the Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation

which has two aspects corresponding to understanding of the “emptiness

of self” and that of the “emptiness of Dhammas”.

(3)The seventh consciousness defiles the first six consciousnesses with

self and self-related afflictions. It is transformed into the Wisdom of

Equality which understands the nature of the equality of self and of all

other beings.

(4) The eighth, the storehouse consciousness, is transformed into the

grand-mirror-like wisdom. This wisdom reflects the entire universe without

distortion. Like mirror can reflect many objects simultaneously, the

wisdom can perceive many objects accurately and simultaneously. This

can be achieved by proper transformation of the Ālaya-vijñāna to this

wisdom and is considered to be the state of the Buddhahood.

A similar principle is applied in the modern telescopes for observing the

universe. The lens of a modern telescope is replaced by a mirror in order to

avoid chromatic aberrations. Mirror of the telescope reflects the true image

of the space and universe.


In Yogācāra concept, true knowledge begins when consciousness ends. Thus,

“Enlightenment” is considered as the act of bringing the eight

consciousnesses to an end and replacing them with enlightened cognitive

abilities (jñāna). Here, the sixth consciousness (Manas) becomes the

immediate cognition of equality (samatā-jñāna) by equalizing self and other.

When the Warehouse Consciousness finally ceases it is replaced by the Great

Mirror Cognition (Mahādarśa-jñāna) that sees and reflects things truly as

they are (yathā-bhūtam).5,6,8

Thus, the grasper-grasped relationship ceases and the mind projects the

things impartially without exclusion, prejudice, anticipation, attachment, or

distortion. These "purified" cognitions remove the self-bias, prejudice and

obstructions that had previously prevented a person from perceiving beyond

his selfish consciousness. Since enlightened cognition is non-conceptual, its

objects cannot be described. So, the Yogācāra School could not provide any

description regarding the outcome of these types of enlightened cognitions

except for referring these as 'pure' (of imaginative constructions).3,5,8


1. Keenan, J.P. 1988. Buddhist Yogācāra Philosophy as Ancilla Theologiae.

Japanese Religions 15: 36.

2. Pensgard, D. 2006. Yogācāra Buddhism: A sympathetic description and

suggestion for use in Western theology and philosophy of religion. JSRI


3. Lusthaus, D. 2002. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical

Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch’eng Wei-shih lun. New

York: Routledge Curzon.

4. Suzuki, D.T. 1998. Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: India

Munshiram Manoharlal Pub Pvt Ltd.

5. Chatterjee, A.K. 1975. The Yogācāra Idealism. Varnasi, India: Bhargava

Bhushan Press, the Banaras Hindu University Press.

6. Tripathi, C.L.1972. The Problem of Knowledge in Yogācāra Buddhism.

Varnasi, India: Bharat-Bharati Press.

7. King, R.1994. Early Yogācāra and its relationship with the Madhyamika

school. Philosophy East & West 44: 659.

8. King, R. 1998. Vijnaptimatrata and the Abhidhamma context of early

Yogācāra. Asian Philosophy 8(1): 5.

9. Yin, J. 2009. Yogācāra school and Faxiang school. Hong Kong: The

Centre of Buddhist Studies, the University of Hong Kong.