William S. Waldron

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:


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.

Article.  4933 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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