Alayavijnana: The storehouse of memory

“The world starts from memory, memory in itself as retained in the Alaya universal mind. When we are removed from the influence of false discrimination the whole Vijnana system woven around the Alaya as center experiences a turning-about toward true perception.” (Suzuki, 1998)

“And there what is mind (Citta)? It is Alayavijnana, containing all seeds, impregnated with the impressions of the mind, the elements and all that the mind perceives . . .” (Asanga)

D. T. Suzuki (1998)

Discrimination is born of “habit-energy” or “memory” (vasana), which lies latently preserved in the alayavijnana, or all-conserving consciousness. (1998, p. 175)

Vasana comes from the root vas meaning “to dwell,” “to remain behind,” or “to perfume,” and in the Mahayana sutras it is used in the two senses combined, that is, in the sense of a perfuming energy that leaves its essence permanently behind in the things it has perfumed. The Chinese translators generally use “habit” or “long usage” or “repeated experience” for this term. Vasana, therefore, is a kind of super-sensory energy mysteriously emanating from every thought, every feeling, or every deed one has done or does, which lives latent in the storehouse called Alayavijnana. It is often characterized as “erroneous” or “evil.” Vasana is morally evil and logically erroneous inasmuch as it creates an external world and causes us to cling to it as real and final. In modern psychology, we can say that vasana corresponds to memory in its widest sense. This perfuming or leaving-behind of impressions is sometimes known as sowing seeds. (1998, p. 178)

Alayavijnana is alaya+vijnana, and alaya is a storehouse where things are hoarded for future use. . . . Strictly speaking, the Alaya is not a vijnana as it has no discerning power in it; it indiscriminately harbours all that is poured into it through the channel of the vijnanas. The Alaya is perfectly neutral, indifferent, and does not offer to give judgments. (1998, p. 176)

This storehouse consciousness alone has no power to act by itself. It is altogether passive, and remains inactive until a particularizing agency touches it. . . .

Ordinarily, all our cognitive apparatus is made to work outwardly in a world of relativity, and for this reason we become deeply involved in it so that we fail to realize the freedom we all intrinsically possess, and as a result we are beset on all sides. To turn away from all this, a turning-about (paravrittasraya) must take place in our innermost consciousness.  This turning-about according to the Lanka, takes place in the Alayavijnana. (Introduction to the 1978 edition of The Lankavatara Sutra)

What we ordinarily know as the Alayavijnana is its working through the relative mind, or Manovijnana. The Mahayana calls this consciousness corrupted or defiled (klishta) and tells us to be cleansed of it in order to experience a turning-about for the attainment of ultimate reality. (Suzuki, 1998)

* * * *

The Alaya is super-individual (Suzuki, 1998):

As was stated before, vasana is memory, for it is something left after a deed is done, mental or physical, and it is retained and stored up in the Alaya as a sort of latent energy ready to be set in motion. This memory or habit-energy is not necessarily individual; the Alaya being super-individual holds in it not only individual memory but all that has been experienced by sentient beings. When the sutra says that in the Alaya is found all that has been going on since beginningless time systematically stored up as a kind of seed, this does not refer to individual experiences but to something general, beyond the individual, making up in a way the background on which all individual psychic activities are reflected. Therefore, the Alaya is originally pure, it is the abode [womb or matrix] of Tathagatahood, where no defilements of the particularising intellect and affection can reach; purity in terms of logic means universality, and defilement or sin means individuation, from which attachments of various forms are derived. In short, the world starts from memory, memory in itself as retained in the Alaya universal mind is no evil, and when we are removed from the influence of false discrimination, the whole Vijnana system woven around the Alaya as centre experiences a turning-about toward true perception (paravritti). This is the gist of the teaching of the Lankavatara. (p. 184)

The Lankavatara Sutra (1932)

LIII (p. 126)

“According to my teaching, Mahamati, the getting rid of the discriminating Manovijnana—this is said to be Nirvana.”

Mahamati said: “Does not the Blessed One establish eight Vijnanas?”

The Blessed One replied: “I do, Mahamati.”

Mahamati said: “If eight Vijnanas are established, why do you refer to getting rid of the Manovijnana and not of the [other] seven Vijnanas?”

The Blessed One said: “With the Manovijnana as cause and sustenance, Mahamati, there rise the seven Vijnanas. [the five senses, manas, and alayavijnana]. Again, Mahamati, the Manovijnana is kept functioning as it discerns a world of things and becomes attached to it, and by means of manifold habit-energy it feeds the Alayavijnana. The Manas is evolved along with the notion of ‘me and mine’ (ātmātmīya), to which it clings and on which it reflects. The Manas has no body of its own, nor its own traits–the Alayavijnana is its cause and sustenance. Because the world, which is of Mind itself, is imagined to be real and beings attach themselves to it as such, the whole psychic system evolves through mutual conditioning. Like the waves of the ocean, Mahamati, the world which is a manifestation of Mind is stirred up by the wind of objectivity; it rises up and submerges, evolves and dissolves. Thus, Mahamati, when the Manovijnana is gotten rid of, the seven Vijnanas are also gotten rid of.

So it is said:

179. I enter not into Nirvana by means of being [a particular way], of effort, of individual traits; I enter into Nirvana when the Manovijnana, which is born of discrimination, ceases.

180. With the Manovijnana as its cause and sustenance, the Manas secures its use; the Manovijnana causes the Alayavijnana to function and is sustained [by it].

181. Like a great flood that becomes still and subsides, the Vijnana-system in its various forms ceases to work with the annihilation of the Manovijnana.

(p. 277) 96. Nothing has ever been brought into existence: all that is seen before us is
delusion. It is due to delusion that things are imagined to have come into existence.
The ignorant are delighted with the dualism of discrimination.

97. As habit-energy (vasana) grows in various forms the mind is evolved like the waves; when memory is cut off, there is no evolving of mind.

98. The mind is evolved dependent upon a variety of conditions, just as a painting
depends upon the wall. If otherwise, why is not the painting produced in the air?1

99. If Mind evolves at all depending on individual forms as conditions, then Mind
is condition-born, and the doctrine of Mind-only (Cittamatra) will not be held true.

100. Mind is grasped by mind, it is not a something produced by a cause. Mind is
by nature pure; habit-energy has no existence in [Mind, which is like] the
sky.

101. An individual mind is evolved by clinging to Mind in itself; there is no visible world outside [Mind itself]; therefore, [it is declared that] Mind-only (Cittamatra) exists.

(p. 278) 102. Mind (citta 2) is the Alayavijnana; Manas is that which has reflection as its
characteristic nature. It apprehends the various sense-fields, for which reason it is
called a Vijnana.

103. Citta is always neutral; Manas functions in two ways; the functioning Vijnana is
either good or bad.

(Suzuki’s notes)
1 The Sanskrit as it stands is unintelligible; I have followed the T’ang. This gatha (verse) may be regarded as a question to which the following few verses are a reply.
2 Citta, which is generally translated “mind,” either with the “m” capitalised or not, is used in this text in two different senses. When it stands in the series of Citta, Manas, and Vijnanas, it means the empirical mind. It is also used in a general sense meaning mentation. Besides this, citta has an absolute sense denoting something that goes beyond the realm of relativity and yet that lies at the foundation of this world of particulars. When the Lanka speaks of “Mind-only,” it refers to this something defined here. It is important to keep this distinction in mind. See also my Studies in the Lankavatara, p. 176 and elsewhere.

 

Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text. Translated for the first time from the original Sanskrit. (http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm)

Suzuki, D. T. (1978). The Lankavatara Sutra; a Mahayana Text. Boulder, Colorado.

Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. Munshirm Manoharlal Pub Pvt Ltd. (originally published in 1929).

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