The Basis Consciousness
passage below from the Sutra Explaining the Thought is one of the earliest descriptions
of the "basis consciousness" (alaya-vijnana), a doctrine that was central
to the Yogachara school and that was also influential in other Mahayana countries,
particularly Tibet and China. The basis consciousness is the most fundamental
level of mind, and it is said to be comprised of the "seeds" of past
actions and mental states.
The seeds become part of the continuum of the basis
consciousness, which is moved along by their force. If one cultivates positive
actions and thoughts, for example, one's mind will become habituated to positive
actions and thoughts. The converse is true of those who engage in negative actions
Under appropriate conditions, the seeds give rise to corresponding
thoughts and emotions, and these are the phenomena of ordinary experience. Mind
and its objects are said to arise together, and so there is no substantial difference
between subject and object. Because of this, phenomena are said to be "cognition-only"
(vijnapti-matra), meaning that all we ever perceive are mental impressions, and
not things in themselves.
[Buddha:] `Initially in dependence upon two types
of appropriation--the appropriation of the physical sense powers associated with
a support and the appropriation of predispositions which proliferate conventional
designations with respect to signs, names, and concepts--the mind which has all
seeds ripens; it develops, increases, and expands in its operations....
is also called the "appropriating consciousness" because it holds and
appropriates the body in that way. It is called the "basis consciousness"
because there is the same establishment and abiding within those bodies....It
is called "mind" because it collects and accumulates forms, sounds,
smells, tastes, and tangible objects.