Alayavijnana - Store Consciousness
By Venerable Dr.Walpola Rahula
In the Yogacara (Vijnanavada) School of Buddhism, alayavijnana is one of the most
important doctrines developed by Asanga (fourth century A.C.). He divides the
vijnanaskandha (Aggregate of Conciousness) the fifth of the five skandhas, into
three different aspects or layers, namely, citta, manas and vijnana. In the Theravada
Tipitaka as well as in the Pali Commentaries, these three terms - citta, manas,
vijnana - are considered as synonyms denoting the same thing. The Sarvistivada
also takes them as synonyms. Even the Lankavatarasutra, which is purely a Mahayana
text, calls them synonyms although their separate functions are mentioned elsewhere
in the same sutra. Vasubandhu, too, in his Vimsatikavijnapti-matratasiddhi considers
them as synonyms. Since any one of these three terms - citta, manas, vijnanas
- represents some aspect, even though not all aspects, of the fifth Aggregate
vijnanaskandha, they may roughly be considered as synonyms.
However, for Asanga, citta, manas and vijnana are three different and distinct
aspects of the vyjnanaskandha. He defines this Aggregate as follows:
'What is the definition of the Aggregate of Consciousness (vijnanaskandha)? It
is mind (citta), mental organ (manas) and also consciousness (vijnana).
"And there what is mind (citta)? It is alayavijnana (Store-Consciousness)
containing all seeds (sarvabijaka), impregnated with the traces (impressions)
(vasanaparibhavita) of Aggregates (skandha), Elements (dhatu) and Spheres (ayatana)
. . .
'What is mental organ (manas)? It is the object of alayavijnana always having
the nature of self-notion (self-conceit) (manyanatmaka) associated with four defilements,
viz. the false idea of self (atmadrsti), self-love (atmasneha), the conceit of
'I am' (asmimana) and ignorance (avidya) ...
'What is consciousness (vijnana)? It consists of the six groups of consciousness
(sad vijnanakayah), viz. visual consciousness (caksurvijnana), auditory (srotra),
olfactory (ghrana), gustatory (jihva), tactile (kaya), and mental consciousness
Thus we can see that vijnana represents the simple reaction or response of the
sense-organs when they come in contact with external objects. This is the uppermost
or superficial aspect or layer of the vijnanaskandha. Manas represents the aspect
of its mental functioning, thinking, reasoning, conceiving ideas, etc. Citta,
which is here called alayavijnana, represents the deepest, finest and subtlest
aspect or layer of the Aggregate of Consciousness. It contains all the traces
or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future potentialities.
The Sandhinirmocana-sutra also says that alayavijnana is called citta (Tibetan
It is generally believed that alayavijnana is purely a Mahayana doctrine and that
nothing about it is found in Hinayana. But in the Mahayanasangraha Asanga himself
says that in the Sravakayana (= Hinayana) it is mentioned by synonyms (paryaya)
and refers to a passage in the Ekottaragama which reads: 'People (praja) like
the alaya (alayarata), are fond of the alaya (alayarama), are delighted in the
alaya (alayasammudita), are attached to the alaya (alayabhirata). When the Dharma
is preached for the destruction of the alaya, they wish to listen (susrusanti)
and lend their ears (srotram avadadhanti), they put forth a will for the perfect
knowledge (ajnacittam upasthapayanti) and follow the path of Truth (dharmanudharma-pratipanna).
When the Tathagata appears in the world (pradurbhava), this marvellous (ascarya)
and extraordinary (adbhuta) Dharma appears in the world.'
Lamotte identifies this Ekottaragama passage with the following passage in the
Pali Anguttaranikaya (A II, p.131): Alayarama bhikkhave paja alayarata alayasammudita,
sa Tathagatena analaye dhamme desiyamane sussuyati sotam odahati annacittam upattapeti.
Tathagatassa bhikkhave arahato sammasambuddhassa patubhava ayam pathamo acchariyo
abbhuto dhammo patubhavati.
Besides this Anguttara passage, the term alaya in the same sense is found in several
other places of the Pali Canon. The Pali Commentaries explain this term as 'attachment
to the five sense-pleasures", and do not go deeper than that. But this also
is an aspect of the alayavijnana.
In the Lankavatarasutra the term tathagatagarbha is used as a synonym for alayavijnana
and is described as 'luminous by nature' (prakrtiprabhasvara) and 'pure by nature'
(prakrtiparisuddha) but appearing as impure 'because it is sullied by adventitious
defilements' (agantuklesopaklistataya). In the Anguttaranikaya, citta is described
as 'luminous' (pabhassara), but it is 'sullied by adventitious minor defilements'
(agantukehi upakkilesehi upakkilittham). One may notice here that alaya-vijnana
(or tathagatgarbha) and citta are described almost by the same terms. We have
seen earlier that the Sandhi-nirmocana-sutra says that alayavijnana is also called
citta. Asanga too mentions that it is named citta.
It is this alayavijnana or citta that is considered by men as their "Soul',
'Self', 'Ego' or Atman. It should be remembered as a concrete example, that Sati,
one of the Buddha's disciples, took vinnan (vijnana) in this sense and that the
Buddha reprimanded him for this wrong view.
The attainment of Nirvana is achieved by 'the revolution of alayavijnana' which
is called asrayaparavrtti. The same idea is conveyed by the expression alayasamugghata
'uprooting of alaya' which is used in the Pali Canon as a synonym for Nirvana.
Here it should be remembered, too, that analaya 'no-alaya' is another synonym
The alayavijnanaparavrtti is sometimes called bijaparavrtti 'revolution of the
seeds' as well. Bija here signifies the 'seeds' of defilements (samklesikadharmabija)
which cause the continuity of samsara. By the 'revolution of these seeds' one
attains Nirvana. Again the Pali term khinabija, which is used to denote an arahant
whose seeds of defilements are destroyed', expresses the same idea.
Thus one may see that, although not developed as in the Mahayana, the original
idea of alayavijnana was already there in the Pali Canon of the Theravada.