The Thirty Verses
translation of & commentary on
Wim van den Dungen
in English and French
"Phenomena all have three kinds of
characteristics. First is the characteristic of mere conceptual grasping.
Second is the characteristic of dependent origination. Third is the
perfect characteristic of reality."
Samdhinirmocana Sūtra, chapter 4.
Short Biography of Vasubandhu
Translations into English
Vasubandhu (ca. 316 - 396)
started out as a zealous,
brilliant, sharp & astute Lesser Vehicle practitioner (Sarvāstivāda)
who, after beginning to doubt & critize the Vaiśesika tenets he perfectly mastered
Abhidharmakośabhāsyam), eventually converted to
Yogācāra, part of the Great Vehicle. This happened
thanks to his elder half-brother Asanga, a Mahāyāna scholar &
mystic, and author of the famous Five Treatises of Maitreya : (1)
the Mahāyāna-sūtrālamkāra (Ornament to the Scriptures of the
Great Vehicle), (2) the Abhisamayālamkāra (The Ornament to
the Realization), (3) the Madhyānta-vibhāga (Distinguishing
the Middle from the Extremes), (4) the Dharma-dharmatā-vibhāga
(Distinguishing Dharma and Dharmatā)
and (5) the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga (Analysis of the Lineage of
the [Three] Jewels).
Vasubandhu was a prolific writer, scholar & yogi who, together with
his brother, systematized the Yogācāra School, the second branch of
the Great Vehicle (next to Mādhyamika).
Together with Asanga, he defined the Yogācāra system. Of importance
for this school are :
• the Samdhinirmocana Sūtra (ca. 2nd
the Śrîmālādevî-simhanāda Sūtra (3rd century)
the Lankāvatāra Sūtra (4th
While in his early days Vasubandhu had called the Yogācāra system
difficult & heavy, in his mature years, he wrote The Thirty
Verses, a succinct, elegant & condensed summary of the heart
edifice. This is a remarkable text, often misunderstood as
expounding ontological idealism, the idea the subject constitutes
Specific studies mentioned in what follows are :
Clearly, Th. : Buddhist Yoga, Shambhala - Boston, 1995.
Brown, B.E. : The Buddha Nature, Motilal -
Lusthaus, D. : Buddhist Phenomenology, Routledge - New York,
BU : Waldron, W.S. : The Buddhist Unconscious, Routledge
Curzon - London, 2006.
CD : Jiang, T. : Contexts and Dialogue, University of Hawai
Press - Honolulu, 2006.
YI : Chatterjee, A.K. : The Yogācāra
Idealism, Motilal - Benares, 2007.
LY : Shunei, T. : Living Yogācāra, Wisdom Publications -
Wayman, A. & Wayman, H. : The Lion's Roar of Queen Shrî-Mālā,
Columbia University Press - New York, 1974.
Suzuki, D.T. : The Lankāvatāra Sûtra,
Motilal - Delhi, 1999.
MO : Wood, Th.E. : Mind Only, Motilal - Benares, 2009.
ST : Buescher, H. : Sthiramati's Trimśikāvijñaptibhāsya,
Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften - Wien,
Anacker, S. : Seven Works of Vasubandhu, Motilal
- Delhi, 2013.
"If all thought (by means of categories) is taken away from empirical
knowledge, no knowledge of any object remains (...)" -
Pure Reason, B307.
"... observations, and even more so observation statements and statements
of experimental results, are always interpretations of the facts
observed ; that they are interpretations in the light of theories
Popper, 1968, p.107f.
"Experiences arise together with theoretical assumptions not
before them, and an experience without theory is just as incomprehensible
as is (allegedly) a theory without experience ..." -
Feyerabend, 1993, p.168.
The Lesser (Foundational) Vehicle represents the individual approach
to the Buddhadharma. It focuses on purification of the stains. Historically, it did harbor elements leading to the
Greater Vehicle, for when Arhathood (the ultimate state of
liberation available to the Hīnayāna practitioner) is made real, other
sentient beings remain outside the salvic aim, as if Lord Buddha would not
have introduced the skillful means to assist all sentient beings !
Moreover, there was the question whether liberation was continuous, for
some claimed the Arhat or Foe Destroyer could fall back. These and many
other historical factors of lesser importance prompted the slow emergence
of a new shoot, one including all sentient beings in its
Mahāyāna, starting about a century BCE. In its incipience, salvic
was the main issue, but as this was directly associated with the activity
Bodhisattva, later Mahāyāna primarily focused on the latter, in
particular the realization of awakening, the state of a fully enlightened
The Great Vehicle was divided into two schools : the Mādhyamika and the
Yogācāra. The first was founded by Nāgārjuna (second to third century CE)
and focused on Middle Way philosophy ("Madhyamaka"), with "emptiness"
("śūnyatā") as its central concept. Emptiness is the absolute absence of
substance or inherent existence ("essentia") in all what exists.
This non-substantiveness is the case because of the dependent orgination
defining the existence of all things. Nāgārjuna logically proved there are
only "existentia", or phenomena ("samskrita"). The "noumenon" or
ultimate (absolute) reality is merely the absence of inherent existence in
all things ... This strict nominalism was revolutionary (not unlike the
impact of Willem of Ockham and Emmanuel Kant in the West). Madhyamaka
philosophy uncovered the strict nominalism implied by Lord Buddha's
"anātman" doctrine. Indeed, the Hindu "ātman" implied a universal soul
existing from its own side ("paramātman", "brahmātman"), not an
existential subjectivity integrating the depth of subjectivity implied in
the suffering, samsaric sentient being. Buddha wants to address this
suffering without introducing a supernatural ontological realm, but
existentially & phenomenologically, without essences but only existences.
Hence, the existential subject is central.
This concrete & existential approach to the predicament of humans is the
way of the practice of yoga ("Yogācāra"). It complements the philosophical
take of the Mādhyamika school. While the negative (non-affirmative) logic
defining emptiness is accepted, the yogis introduced various positive
theories, such as "knowing-only" ("vijñapti-mātra"), consciousness-only
("citta-mātra"), the three natures, the Buddha's bodies etc. During later
centuries, Indian & Tibetan Buddhism focused on the Mādhyamika school as
the main stream of the Mahāyāna, overlooking Yogācāra as an independent
branch in its own right, while integrating its ideas & terminologies ...
Indeed, without Yogācāra, Mahāyāna would not have reached its present
all-comprehensive vantage point. While in India, early Yogācāra was
predominantly epistemological, phenomenological & psychological, in China,
the philosophy of mind in general and Yogācāra in particular turned
ontological, promoting absolute idealism.
Yogācāra, the second of the two independent but complementary branches of the Mahāyāna, aims to
systematically understand the experiences resulting from the practice
("ācāra") of Buddhist meditative practice ("yoga"). To deliver all
sentient beings, i.e. end their suffering irreversibly, this understanding
is crucial. On the basis of this right view, the path of right practice is
entered, the mind turned, and the fruit of "nirvāna" attained.
Asanga & Vasubandhu systematized the foundational teachings of this
so-called "Mind-Only" school. Eventually, these
developed into a very systematized edifice of teachings, calling for
logic, epistemology, psychology, phenomenology, ontology (metaphysics),
and soteriology, thereby introducing new schemata & concepts. Extinct in
India by the end of the first millennium, it travelled to China, Korea,
Japan and Tibet. There it mingled with other elements like Zen, Tantra and
Ati-Yoga. Yogācāra is and should be regarded as a Great Vehicle system of
teachings in its own right. Together with, and not made dependent of,
Madhyamaka, this Yoga School is crucial to understand the full scope of
the Great Vehicle. Hence, the Tibetan approach, deeming it a lower tenet
than the Middle Way School is rejected.
From the start, Yogācāra accepted the conclusions of the earlier
Madhyamaka. The pivotal texts of the Mâdhamika school here are :
Nāgārjuna (2th CE) in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (A Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way) &
Shūnyatāsaptatikārikānāma (The Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness)
Chandrakīrti (ca. 600 – 650) in Mādhyamakāvatāra
(Entering the Middle Way) ;
Śāntideva (8th CE) in his Bodhicharyāvatāra (A
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) &
Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419)
in The Essence of Eloquence, The Great
Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
and The Ocean of Reasoning.
Nāgārjuna, the founder of
the Middle Way School, finds the supposed presence of self-powered, fixed,
self-subsisting substances leading to absurd conclusions. Dependent
origination means one accepts dynamic continuity without establishing
substantial identity. Yogācāra agrees. The Middle Way's prime focus is not
on the practice of meditation, but on the dereification of
concepts, ending substance-obsession, steering in-between the extremes of
affirming & denying (the project of strict nominalism). Yogācāra offers a
logical, epistemological, phenomenological & ontological account of
the crucial salvic role of the fifth aggregate, consciousness ("vijñāna"),
precisely because of "yoga", the path from right view to the fruit, true
peace. Yogācāra seems a philosophy, but is truly a
practice for every moment (in this sense it resembles Ati-Yoga like
Whereas the classical school of Yogācāra is represented by
Maitreya, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Paramātha & Sthiramati, the later "new"
school was initiated by Dharmapāla and Xuanzang (in China) and developed further in
Tibet (Śāntaraksita & Atiśa), where Yogācāra evolved to incorporate
Madhyamaka's self-emptiness and was itself integrated into
Tantra. In late Yogācāra (5th -
8th century), when the Tathāgatagarbha doctrine was fully part of the
edifice, absolute idealism appeared. From this point onward, Yogācāra
was defined as an idealist view (Mind-Only or Consciousness-Only).
After Śāntaraksita (725 - 788), who attempted a
synthesis of Mādhyamika and Yogācāra,
no further doctrinal developments happened and the school became extinct
in India, but travelled to China & Japan, where it still continues (as
"hossō" at Kōfukuji Temple in Nara).
In a certain sense, the much later Tibetan debates between
Mādhyamika or "Rangtong" (self-emptiness) and Mahāmadhyamaka or
"Shentong" (other-emptiness) reminds of the discussions between Indian
Yogācāra and Mādhyamika, although differences pertain. In the non-partisan
Rimé movement (initiated in the 19th century by the Nyingma Mipham, 1846 -
1912), the ultimate view in both schools is deemed the same, i.e. each
path leading to the same ultimate state of abiding.
is the fifth aggregate ("skandha") next to matter ("rūpa), volition
("samskāra), feeling ("vedanā") & thinking ("samjñā").
"Mind" is the generic idea integrating volition ("samskāra), feeling
("vedanā"), thinking ("samjñā") & consciousness ("vijñāna").
This is the "nāmakāya" (mental body), organizing the transmigrating personality.
The physical body ("rūpa) dies, the mental body ("nāmakāya") does not end
with the end of the physical body (contrary to the claims of ontological
materialism - cf.
A Philosophy of the Mind and Its Brain, 2009).
takes the activities of each of the other aggregates for its objects.
These are its mental "dharmas" ("caittas"). Consciousness can also cognize its own activities. Consciousness
is a dynamical, multi-dimensional continuum of sensations & mentations,
defined by what happens on the sensitive surfaces of the five senses and
by what happens in the mind (other mentations).
In Abhidharmic tabulation, mentation (the activity of the discursive,
conceptual, thinking consciousness or "mano-vijñāna")
is a "sixth" sense-centered consciousness discriminating &
cognizing physical objects. This thinking consciousness
depends on non-sensuous mind-objects
& the faculty of mind ("mano-dhātu)
in the same way as the five sense-consciousnesses depend on their
respective sense-objects and sense (these are the 18 "dhātus"). These
"elements" are components of the stream of life. They are aggregate things, never separate elements,
nor entities forming aggregations.
|6.the faculty of
If one seeks to
understand reality (ontology), one needs to understand consciousness and
its act of cognition first.
Take away consciousness and no cognitive act or
knowledge are possible (Kant). Knower (self) & known (nature) have no
meaning outside consciousness. This is obviously the case for mental
objects, but also for sensate ones. Whatever is
observed (as a conscious sensation) is always already an interpretation of
perception (what happens at the sensitive areas of the senses). Experiences and the mental structures on which they co-depend
rise together (Popper, Feyerabend). Conceptualizing, we never face nature
as it ultimately
is, but merely nature as it conventionally appears to us.
Epistemological idealism can not really be refuted. If one tries, one
merely affirms it. To assert the object owes nothing to its being
perceived (naive realism) implies we must know what the object was before
being perceived, i.e. we must know something without knowing. This is
self-refuting. Likewise, to assert the knowing subject owes nothing to the
perceived object (naive idealism), implies we can actually know some real
thing without an actual, extra-mental object present. This too is
self-refuting. Indeed, for knowledge about objects to be possible,
the concept of a "thing-in-itself" ("svalaksana") cannot be avoided. It
must in some way be integrated into critical thinking, and this without
reintroducing a self-sufficient ground outside knowledge.
Consciousness stays with itself to delve into its own dynamical,
ever-evolving continuum. The practice of "yoga" is a deep study of all
possible states of consciousness.
Consciousness, mind, the capacity to cognize or know is not a passive
registrar merely taking note of the "sense-data" the senses register (as naive realism
would have it). On the contrary, it is an active agent,
transforming what it receives (from the senses and from itself). This
is affirmed by Western criticism (the so-called "theory-ladenness of
observation") and as well by Yogācāra. Consciousness has its own
structure, form, organization or content ("sākāra"). If contentless
("nirākāra"), then consciousness has no activity of its own, and what we
observe is the "thing-in-itself" (when we observe, the object observed
owes nothing to the fact of its being known by a subject of knowledge).
Contemporary epistemology, on the basis of logic & perceptual psychology,
rejects this. Yoga, with its specific perspective on absolute truth, does
is the actual conscious apperception (mental representation,
labeling, naming, designation or "prajñāpati") of a sensuous object
("vișayas"), then this sensation
is the product of (a) a sensuous perception by the senses ("indriyas")
and (b) conceptual interpretation (mentation). Indeed, as
S(ensation) = P(erception) times I(nterpretation), with -nominally- I ≠ 1 (A
Neurophilosophy of Sensation, 2003).
Sensate objects appearing to the mind are already designated and so co-dependent
on mental objects and on perception. Mental objects are obviously
always part of the mind. But although naive realism
cannot be rationally upheld, it cannot be the case that because we need an
instrument to perceive an object (which has to be accepted), the object
cannot exist from its own side without the instrument (which -in the case
of consciousness itself- is unprovable). Both realism & idealism have a
truth-core : idealism is correct in identifying the epistemological fact
knowledge is impossible without an active, categorized knower and realism
is correct in stating sensate knowledge to be knowledge must contain an
So although, in accordance with the principles of criticism (The Rules of the
Game of True Knowing, 1999 &
Clearings : On Critical Epistemology,
2008), we must divide the act of cognition in
knower & known, insofar as the moment of the actual act of cognition itself is
at hand, such an act of cognition is impossible outside a given consciousness
actually intending to know. The pre-conceptual intention to know comes logically first.
This intention is non-conceptual. Once this
intention to know engaged, subject & object rise as the bipolar unity
of that which perceives ("darśanabhāga") and that which is perceived
("nimittabhāga"). Then the object is that
within consciousness announcing itself with strong, natural
tenacity as an obstrusion, as a constraint or resistance bringing about a sensation of
arriving from without, as an object we must consider as if to exist from its own side
(although we never can know for sure this is the case or not).
Simultaneously, a definite stable sense of "knowing I" or "self" emerges.
Yogācāra is often called an example of idealism, meaning Mind-Only adheres
to the view the objective world exists because of the mind (classical
Before analyzing this, let us clarify the term "idealism".
Idealism puts forward the idea, realism the real. Both possess a
truth-core and are regulative ideas of reason (idealism of universal
consensus among all involved sign-interpreters and realism of
correspondence with an extra-mental reality). Together, they regulate the
production of knowledge.
(1) classical idealism : only consciousness
exists (idealist monism) and so consciousness is the foundation of the
existence of objects (ontological idealism).
Criticism rejects this form of idealism. There are no valid reasons to
suppose objective reality does not exist outside consciousness. We can
never be sure this to be the case or not. Judgment about
consciousness-independent reality has to be suspended.
(2) subjective idealism : the perceptual
experiences of the knowing subject are the only epistemic validators for
claims about the external world, in other words, there is no cognition of
any reality existing independently of cognition. Cognitive states occur as
part of a set of other cognitive states and within a cognitive system (cf.
Searle, 1996). Subjective idealism includes epistemological idealism,
affirming all we experience & know is mental (Boltzmann, Helmholtz &
Subjective idealism cannot be avoided. Our experiences are always "our
own", be they individual (First Person), shared (Second Person) or
communal (Third Person). Sensate objects are co-dependent on the content of consciousness.
Such epistemological idealism, found in Kant, neo-Kantianism and
contemporary criticism, must embrace critical realism, i.e. the
affirmation we must do nothing else but affirm objective objects are
backed by the extra-mental. This brings it very close to transcendental
idealism, a more systematized & epistemological version. Subjective idealism is especially helpful when analyzing -as in
depth psychology- unwanted psychological states (such as afflictive
(3) transcendental idealism : by reflecting
on itself, consciousness discovers the principles, norms & maxims ruling
knowledge, i.e. rules defining how knowledge is possible and can advance (The Rules of the
Game of True Knowing, 1999 &
Clearings : On Critical Epistemology,
Knowledge or what a certain knower knows about a certain known, is also the result of a creative,
constructive, content-producing activity from the
side of the knowing subject. Consciousness is active, not merely a passive
registrar but creative, constructive (cf. perspectivism). In terms of the
epistemic status of objects, we must (as a norm) assume or act
as if objects extra-mentally stimulate the sensitive areas of our
senses, and this while we know it is impossible to step outside our cognitive
apparatus and then directly experience if this is indeed the case or not. Attributing any
causation between such a stimulating agent and the sensitive areas of our
senses is also
impossible, for this calls for the categorial scheme determining causation allegedly fired-up by
these quasi-causal objective stimuli.
After centuries of descriptive
criticism, we are left with a normative stance
: if knowledge is to be possible, we must assume an external,
extra-mental object exists and somehow persistently confronts the
active subject of knowledge. Kantian transcendental idealism was still
descriptive and aimed to define synthetic judgements a priori.
Contemporary criticism is normative and no longer aims at eternalized
knowledge, but merely at conventional, historical knowledge all involved
sign-interpreters consider, for the time being, as valid.
"Critical epistemological idealism, as
opposed to metaphysical idealism, need not insist on metaphysical or
ontological implications, but merely claims that the cognizer shapes
his/her experience to such an extent that s/he will never be able to
extricate what s/he brings to an experience from what is other to the
cognizer. Like can only know like, so what is truly other is essentially
and decisively unknowable precisely because it is other, foreign, alien,
BP - p.5.
(2) objective idealism : the reality of
every actual experience hic et nun, integrates & transcends the
experienced object as well as the experiencing consciousness. While
integration can be conceptually backed, transcendence not. The latter
belongs to the non-conceptual, nondual mode of cognition. While indeed the
fruit of the Buddhadharma, one cannot argue one's way into this
prehension. It can only be part of meditative experience or a datum of the fully
enlightened mind of a Buddha.
• absolute (metaphysical) idealism : "leges cogitandi sunt leges essendi"
: the laws of thinking are the laws of reality (cf. Spinoza). The ultimate
understanding of the logical structure of the world is an understanding of
the logic of the absolute mind. This structure of the absolute mind, or ultimate
reality, can be known (cf. Hegel). Absolute idealists are ontological
idealists & monists (classical idealists), for ultimately, the One Absolute Spirit lays the groundwork for
Nature, making the extra-mental non-existent, by knowing the truth, the
knower constitutes the known. Ultimate reality is in any case
Absolute idealism transgresses the boundaries of conceptual knowledge. Its
claims are made from an absolute vantage point. Such a position cannot be
• pluralistic (metaphysical) idealism : a
plurality of individual consciousnesses together is the grounding
substratum underlying the existence of the observed world. This makes
possible the existence of the universe (cf. Leibniz). This is the
format. Weaker forms are possible, integrating relativity, quantum & chaos.
If conventional propositional statements of fact are required, we must
affirm the possibility of extra-mental, exterior objects. This form of
idealism may or may not embrace ontological idealism.
Xuangzang, turning Yogācāra into an absolute idealism, points out that (a) the existence or reality of self & nature
cannot be ascertained independent of consciousness and (b) despite
this, there might or might not be "dharmas" exterior to the mind. These
are two strong points to be retained.
avoids describing what cannot be reasonably objectified
(namely the extra-mental), and taking a normative stance, makes clear that
if we want to rationally (logically) guarantee the possibility &
development of knowledge, we must accept extra-mental exteriority.
Moreover, this is what we are constantly doing anyway !
Ontological realism (like ontological realism) are merely methodological
tools used in practical epistemology to solve concrete problems. As
metaphysical positions they cannot be validated. Quite on the contrary,
only the critical (demarcating) integration of both is a viable road to take. Realism suffers from repressing subjectivity and
idealism suffers from lack of realism. Criticism understand "the real" and
the "ideal" as
regulative ideas only, not constituting knowledge but merely regulating it
so it can expand.
As we cannot -to know any object- step outside the knower (assume an
Archimedean vantage point overseeing all), it remains possible that all of our knowledge
is merely a universal illusion. On this, the conceptual, thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna") cannot
reasonably decide. So the question whether exterior "dharmas" exist or
not, cannot be answered ; all possible answers, belonging to the
communicative activity of intersubjective sign-interpreters, are
intra-mental. However, we must accept the theory-laden facts
about objective state of affairs (put down in propositional statements) also
possess a theory-independent face (are able to produce the letters of
recommendation of reality-as-it-is), but we cannot possibly conceptually
know for sure whether this is the case or not. The extra-mental is
assumed to manifest via facts, and without the latter no knowledge is
possible. But facts are not one-to-one representations of reality, but
Janus-faced hybrids, turned towards our theoretical constructs, and, so
must we assume, reality-as-it-is.
This is the neo-Kantian,
critical version of
transcendental idealism, retaining elements from subjective idealism (and
epistemological idealism). We
cannot affirm there is a quasi-causal
relationship between the "Ding-an-sich" and the categorial scheme (as Kant
did). Such description of the cognitive act is self-defeating. But we can
do nothing else but affirm we must, for knowledge to be possible, accept the extra-mental
In general, classical idealists do not really grasp the importance of this
and even Xuanzang (who claimed there might or might
not be "dharmas" exterior to the mind) writes : "On
the basis of the manifold activities of inner consciousness that serve as
conditions for one another, the cause and effect are differentiated. The
postulation of external conditions is not of any use." (Ch'eng wei shih lun,
Another facet of Yogācāra's originality lies in its introduction of two
consciousnesses lying outside the realm of the ordinary thinking
mind. Ordinary, nominal consciousness is not aware of these (they are
subliminal) and only spiritual emancipation allows one to gain awareness
here. This means Yogācāra introduced the subliminal (unconscious) mind
nearly two millennia before Freud, Jung & Assagioli. A crucial difference
pertains however : in Western depth-psychology, the unconscious cannot be made
conscious, it largely stays subliminal. For Yogācāra, the structure of consciousness does not precludes
the complete awakening of consciousness. On the contrary, the soteriology
explicitly aims at total illumination of all of consciousness, and human
suffering is understood precisely as the absence of this ...
"Human consciousness is by nature the processive
advance to an ever more perfect self-consciousness in which it
finally awakens to the plenitude of its identity with the
That the latter grounds and posits the phenomenological mind with seeds (bījas)
of both ignorance and wisdom, specifies the mind's active self-emergence
as the necessary opposition between the two. Only in the expansive
illumination of wisdom, gradually dilating the restrictive vision of
ignorance, does human consciousness attain the awareness of its own
To explain "karma" (touching morality and rebirth), as well as selfhood in
the light of the interrupted nature of the ordinary mind ("mano-vijñāna"),
two other subliminal types of consciousnesses were added to the
Abhidharmic sixfold : "manas" (the seventh) and "ālaya-vijñāna" (the
eighth). How can "I" be responsible for my afflicted and afflicting deeds
if "I" am merely a process ? How can the next tenant of this mindstream
"I" call my own experience the consequences of what "I" do if this "I"
does not exist as a self-powered entity ? And even more crucial, how can a
process-self be conceptualized ?
Whereas the coarse, sense-centered thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna")
appropriates the coarse, external objects of the five senses ("visayas"),
directing the attention of sense organs toward their objects, and has a
crude, unstable deliberative function, interrupted in certain states (like
in dreamless sleep), "manas", the seventh consciousness, is an uninterrupted, subtle mind related to
the view of the existence of self and deliberating all the time.
The delusion of a substantial self generated by this "manas" is due to an
ignorance unique to it, namely the sense of being disconnected from
anything else (independence). This "āvenikī avidyā" is the root-cause of
all of our suffering. Being thus an uninterrupted continuum, "manas" is very
resistant to being transformed. It knows no end and can only be "turned".
Whereas the thinking mind works with the senses cognizing their objects,
"manas" attaches itself to, identifies with "ālaya-vijñāna" since beginningless times,
regarding this root-consciousness as its inner self (i.e. identifying with
it). In other words, "manas" clings to "ālaya-vijñāna",
leading to the misidentification of the conscious dynamical continuum as a
static substance, i.e. a subliminal continuum mistakenly cognized as a
substratum or substantial identity (as in the Upaniśadic version of the
"ātman"). At this point, the empirical, momentary "ego" of the thinking
is turned by "manas" into a solid, enduring identity, selfhood or
identity, mistakingly grasped at as if disconnected from the rest, from
the others. This mind then cherishes itself, considering "number one" as
of first importance (and not as last). As long as this unique ignorance of
"manas" has not been altered (by turning or revolutionize it -
"aparāvritti"), "manas" is always "kleśā-manas", suffering
In Sanskit, "ālaya" means "house", "storehouse" or "receptacle". This
base-consciousness or root-consciousness ("mūla-vijñāna") is also called
"ripening" or "retributive" consciousness ("vipāka-vijñāna"),
for all content "deposited" there dynamically generates future effects. It does not
depend on any specific object, and so it is the base, or foundation of the fifth
aggregate, grounding the other seven consciousnesses. It does not
deliberate or judge and so is morally neutral (accepts wholesome &
unwholesome alike). The "ālaya-vijñāna" includes "manas" as one kind and
"mano-vijñāna" as another kind. Because "ālaya-vijñāna" does
not deliberate at all, it is not a "vijñāna" in the
strict sense of the word, but as it is the base of the others, it is
included as one.
Unlike Western depth-psychology, Yogācāra is not
interested in ceasing mental suffering happening in the thinking,
empirical, coarse (ego) mind as the result of supposed unconscious
processes (like repression causing complexes, neurosis or psychosis).
Depth-psychology rose to eliminate the effect of disturbed relationships
with the unconscious. The latter was a hypothetical construct invented to
end this supposed effect. For Freud, sexuality in its most extended sense
(as "libido sexualis") lay at the root of these disturbances.
Psychoanalysis was intended to restore the natural position of the "ego",
enhance its common sense when facing reality. Freud was a realist. For
Jung, a vast storehouse of archetypes were called in to accommodate the
process of individuation or optimal maturation of the ego. Jung tends
towards idealism. For Assagioli, the root-cause of egoic suffering was the
disrupted communication with the super-conscious "higher self". He was a
transcendentalist. Each time, the ego (or thinking mind) remainded the
focus of attention. The
Buddadharma wants to eradicate suffering once and for all. Its "target" is
not the well-being of the empirical ego only, but the total awakening of
consciousness (the moment of "mahābodhi"). In other words, the
goal is to make the totality of the unconscious permanently conscious !
The well-being of the ego is merely the outcome of this total
illumination, for only this supreme state ends suffering irreversibly.
The cause of all possible suffering is ignorance, and according to the Yogācārins
its manifestation assumes two forms : (a) the tenacious conviction the ego
exists independently & autonomously ("ātmagrāha") and (b) the adherence to
the false idea objects exists substantially ("dharmagrāha"). The first
causes the vexing passions ("kleśāvarana"), associated with
self-cherishing, the second is a barrier hindering ultimate knowledge
("jñeyāvarana"), and is based on the phenomenology of failing to perceive
the mutual interdependence of all phenomena in their ultimate dependence
on root-consciousness, superimposing the false imagination ("parikalpita")
of substance, misapprehending dependent reality ("paratantra").
Fundamentally, these two causes of suffering, independent "self" (subject)
and independent "nature" (object), originate in (a) intellectual or acquired
self-grasping, i.e. the extrinsic impact of wrong views & teachings (about
self & nature) infecting the conceptualizations of the thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna")
and (b) innate self-grasping, i.e. the instrinsic, "natural" or
innate belief in the substantial reality of self and nature.
The latter is the cardinal ignorance and rooted in "manas". It hinders the
wisdom of egolessness ("nairātmya"), causing "manas" to attach itself to
the "ālaya" as the substantial core of personal identity or personhood.
Thanks to this "belief in self" ("ātmadristi"), there is a self-conceit
("ātmamāna") and self-love ("ātmasneha"), whereby "manas" considers itself
as better as all others, causing a deep attachment to a unique selfhood.
Given "manas" is the support ("āśraya") of the thinking mind and the five
sensorial consciousnesses, its persistent misapprehension of the root of
consciousness causes their own functions to falter too. Especially "ātmagrāha"
dominates consciousness as a whole. So even if intellectual self-grasping
ends, awakening is not the case. Moreover, because "manas" supports
"mano-vijñāna", intellectual self-grasping is likely to return if innate
self-grasping has not ended. So foremost, one needs to tackle innate
self-grasping. Knowing how to end intellectual
self-grasping is a preparatory exercise.
Yogācārins seek the fruit, Buddhahood. So epistemology, phenomenology &
psychology serve soteriology, the direct recognition of the
ultimate. Buddhist philosophy is fine. Its right view is based on
excellent understanding ("prajñā")
ending the intellectual self-grasping of the thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna"),
sustained by the subliminal identification ("manas"). The process of
spiritual emancipation implies a steady advance from the thinking mind to
full mind-capacity, in the process leaving not a single consciousness out.
The crucial factor in this process being "manas". This needs to be
transformed from impure & affliction-bound (ego-affirming) into pure &
"Evolving out of and grounded upon it, the manas
has a constant and spontaneous awareness of the
Âlaya-vijñāna. But instead of recognizing it as
the unconditional reality, the universal absolute consciousness, the
generic animating principle of all sentient beings, the manas
appropriates it as the determinate center of its own, discrete
ātman). It does so through the
influence of an ignorance unique to it (āvenikī avidyā) and
perpetually continuous (nityācarini) with it since beginningless time."
This commentary aims, on the basis of the Trimśikā,
to understand Yogācāra in terms of its epistemology, phenomenology,
psychology & soteriology. In this most remarkable text,
Vasubandhu allows these various registers to play out.
• epistemology : knowledge implies a knower
and a known and these are always part of consciousness (epistemological
• phenomenology : the study of and return to
the momentary nature of the phenomenon of knowledge hic et nunc was
a typical Abhidharmic preoccupation the
Yogācāra took over ;
• psychology : the study of afflictive and
non-afflictive states of mind is necessary to end afflictive obscurations
(the first of the two cessations resulting from meditative practice) ;
• soteriology : the
Yogācāra edifice serves the purpose of spiritual
emancipation, nothing else. This is the "turning of the basis", allowing
the practitioner to experience base-consciousness directly (i.e. unclouded
by any reification by "manas"), eventually clearing all reifications,
resulting in awakening, the end of suffering.
In my reading, the text retains a qualified transcendental
idealism. The qualification was identified by Xuanzang when he wrote
there might or might not be "dharmas" exterior to
the mind (Ch'eng wei shih lun, 88). Contemporary criticism
contents we must think such objects exists. The texts clearly calls
a (subjective) epistemological idealism in matters psychological & soteriological.
In the commentary, this is adjusted by integrating the principles, norms &
maxims of contemporary critical philosophy (balancing transcendental
idealism with transcendental realism or critical realism).
"Thus the key Yogācāra phrase vijñapti-mātra
does not mean (as is often touted in scholarly literature) that
'consciousness alone exists', but rather that 'all our efforts to get
beyond ourselves are nothing but projections of our consciousness'.
Yogācārins treat the term vijñapti-mātra as an epistemic caution,
not an ontological pronouncement. Having suspended the ontological query
that leads to idealism or materialism, they instead are interested in
uncovering why we generate and attach to such a position in the first
place. Insofar as either position might lead to attachment, Yogācāra
clearly and forthrightly rejects both of them." - BP,
can be read without any reference to classical idealism (idealist monism &
ontological idealism). Issues related to any possible ontological reading
(like the manifestation of the objective world on the basis of subliminal
seeds only) need therefore not be attended.
Some of the details of Vasubandhu's life
can be found in biographies in Chinese & Tibetan.
The earliest, complete account, the Biography
of Master Vasubandhu, was compiled into Chinese by
Paramārtha (499 - 569) when in China. The earliest Tibetan is that
of Bu-ston (1290 - 1364). References are also found in the works of
the Jonangpa Tāranātha (1575 - 1634) & other writers (Hsüan-tsang,
Vāmana). A lot of myth too.
Vasubandhu (ca. 316 - 396) was born in Purusapura ("the City of Man", present-day Peshawar), in what was then the kingdom of Gāndhāra. No
longer the heart of a great empire, it had become a border land in
decline. According to Paramārtha, his father was a Brāhmana of the
Kauśika "gotra", a court priest. So no lack of Vedic culture there.
Vasubandhu's mother was called "Viriñcī". The couple had a previous son,
Asanga. According to Tāranātha, Vasubandhu was born one year after the
latter became a Buddhist monk. In his youth, Vasubandhu received the
Brahminical lore, in particular Nyāya and Vaiśesika, both "astika",
orthodox schools of Hinduism. Nyāya is syllogistic logic. Vaiśesika an
atomistic ontology. These influenced his logical thinking & style.
Upon entering the Buddhist Sarvāstivāda order, Vasubandhu did not change
his name (it means "the kinsman of abundance"). At first, his mind was impressed by
the comprehensiveness of the Vaibhāsika scholastic (doctrinical) system, the late phase
of the Sarvāstivāda ("the theory of all exists"), Kasmiri Sarvāstivada
orthodoxy. Starting around 150 CE, Sautrānika-Sarvāstivāda
("those who uphold the sūtras") began to criticize Vaibhāsika-Sarvāstivāda.
They did not uphold the Mahāvibhāsa Śāstra, but rather the Buddhist
At some point, Vasubandhu came into contact with these Sautrāntikas, who
rediculed the elaborate scholastic constructions and posed pertinent
questions about providing a coherent account of the Buddha's core
teachings, namely impermance ("anitya"), dependent origination
("pratītya-samutpāda"), action ("karma") & and no(t)-self ("anātman"). He nevertheless went to Kashmir
to study the Vaibhāsika in-depth. He stayed there for four years (342 -
346) and got doubly convinced the Vaibhāsika failed. After having to fake
lunacy to be able to return home, he lived as an independent, and publically lectured about
(brought together as the Abhidharmakośa). As it were "off the
record", he wrote a commentary on
this text, the Abhidharmakośabhāsyam, in fact a critique of
Vaibhāsika dogmatics from a Sautrāntika perspective ! It became
"the standard Abhidharma work for the unorthodox
in India" - SW,
p.18, my italics.
He travelled around, lectured and had, up to this time, little regard for
Yogācāra, the branch of Mahāyāna of his brother Asanga. He told people he deemed the
system so difficult & burdensome, it could only be carried by an elephant
(Bu-ston). When challenged by his brother's students, he found the logic &
practice of the Mahāyāna well-founded and regretted his former disregard
for it. The story goes he wanted to cut-off his tongue ... Instead, he converted
and preached the new faith. The brothers worked together. Asanga asked
Vasubandhu to use his superior mental consciousness to advance the
Mahāyāna. After entering the Great Vehicle, Vasubandhu read & wrote
extensively, with prodigious output, writing new treatises every year. In
fact, Asanga & Vasubandhu are regarded as the founders of the Yogācāra
School, the second branch of the Mahāyāna. So vast was his output, that at
some point some conjectured many Vasubandhu's must have existed. Recent
scholarship makes this unlikely.
In 1922, Sylvain Lévi discovered a Sanskrit version of the Trimśikā
in Nepal. It
has thirty verses ("kārikās") and is an exposition
of the fundamentals of the Yogācāra School, in other words :
"... an integral and highly influential presentation
of the essential thought of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda presented in 30
stanzas." (ST, p.VII).
This treatise is so important
in terms of its authority, precision & succinctness, it became the
core of the Ch'eng wei shih lun, the Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi-śāstra,
The Treatise on the Establishment of the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only,
a major 7th century text of the Chinese traveller, scholar, translator &
yogācārin Hsüang-tsang (Xuanzang, 602 - 664). In this work, the tenets of this
second Mahāyāna School matured into an ontological idealism. Placing the Trimśikā
at the heart of this vast edifice of metaphysical idealism, points to the
importance of these verses in the work of Vasubandhu. The earliest Chinese
translation of the Trimśikā is the Chuan shih lun or
Evolution of Consciousness of Parāmartha (499 -569).
Thirty Verses on Representation
Translation & Commentary
The Trimśikā (Thirty Verses) is extant in
Sanskrit. It can be found in the Trimśikā-vijñapti-bhāsya
(Commentary on Trimśikā-vijñapti) of Sthiramati (510 - 570).
Lévi who, in 1922, found this text in Nepal, was the first to edit the
Lévi, Sylvain : Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi : Deux Traités de Vasubandhu : Vi.mśatikā et
Tri.mśikā, Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion - Paris, 1925, pp.1-11.
Lévi, Sylvain : Un système de philosophie bouddhique. Matériaux pour
l'étude du système Vijñaptimātra, Librairie Ancienne Honoré
Champion - Paris, 1932, p.175 : "Corrections au Texte Sanscrit".
These editions "no longer satify the contemporary
philological requirements for a text to be considered reliable."
The critical edition (TS) of the text used here was published by Buescher,
H. : Sthiramati's Trimśikāvijñaptibhāsya, Verlag der
Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften - Wien, 2007 (the separate
version of the Trimśikā can be found on pp.147-149). This Sanskrit
text is the one reproduced and translated here.
Additional versions found are :
• Wood, Th.E. : Mind Only, Motilal - Benares, 2009, pp.49-56.
Lusthaus, D. : Buddhist Phenomenology, Routledge - New York,
2006, pp.275 -304.
Darie, N. : Thirty Verses in Sanskrit, English, Vietnamese and
Regarding possible variations, ST says : "In
the present edition, these various inconsistencies have been silently
homogenized : no anusvāra will occur in pausa, no gemination
of consonants after r, no avagraha to interfere with ā-sandhi
; but avagrahas and doubled consonants will be found, where they
should be placed, and sibilants will be emended according to common
standards ..." (ST, p.15).
ātmadharmopacāro hi vividho ya.h
vijñānapari.nāme 'sau pari.nāma.h sa ca tridhā ॥ 1 ॥
The metaphors "self" and
"nature", functioning in so many ways, take place in the transformation of
consciousness ; this transformation is of three kinds :
VERSE 1 states "self" & "nature" to be both "upacāra".
Emphasizing both are figurative & conceptual constructs,
"upacāra" has been translated as
"metaphorical expression", but may also mean "usage". Both
self (subject) & entities (object) refer to an already
mentally constructed phenomenon. Not to be
taken as actual realities, they are something linguistic. They are names
or generic ideas reflecting the complex functionalities for which they
stand. They are images cast in words suggesting something else.
Although the object (the entity-of-fact) appears as part of or
taking place in the ongoing dynamical transformations of consciousness
("parināma"), and therefore cannot be divorced from the cognitive system of
the observer, one cannot properly conceptualize the term "object" without at
least including the act of presuming, in every actual act of cognition, the
actual existence of an extra-mental reality (critical realism in
transcendental idealism). The fact, without such a presumption, one cannot
coherently think the act of cognition itself, shows the limitations of valid
conventional knowledge and its shared, collectively "hallucinated" world-view.
Without it, facts are spurious phenomena and science a mere fabrication of
Such presumption of the extra-mental precludes classical idealism. It is not
grounded in a discription of the cognitive act from outside (like a preset
ontology), but -by way of transcendental
analysis of the cognitive act itself- in the normative principles, norms & maxims necessary for this act
to exist and proliferate.
The constituents of the aggregate of consciousness ("vijñāna") are various
mentations ("vijñapti"), a single mind being a single stream of these
cognitive acts. All of these mental acts are, in every moment, intimately connected with the activity of the other four
aggregates (body, will, affect & thought). Every cognitive act calls for a knower (perceiving aspect,
"darśanabhāga") and a known (perceived aspect,
both merely "taking
place" in the alterations or transformations ("parināma") of consciousness.
The knower is a grasper ("grāhaka"), the known a grasped ("grāha").
Consciousness (the subject) is always consciousness-of (the object). Every
mental phenomenon refers to a content or direction toward an object. This is
the intentionality of consciousness (cf. Brentano), the idea consciousness
somehow contains its content, the latter as it were being always manifesting
"in" consciousness. All objects appearing as "part" of the mind does not imply
no extra-mental objects exist. This point needs to be made again and again. Even if we accept extra-mental objects to
stimulate the sensitive surfaces of our senses (and how to reasonably deny
this ?), these perceptions are transformed (by neuronal recodation, thalamic
projections & sensoric association areas) into sensations of which a
given knower is conscious and they "appear" to this and not to any other mind
(first person experience).
Hence, with the fundamental intentionality of consciousness no ontological
idealism is predicated, merely the phenomenological primacy of consciousness ;
what is "known" is always apprehended by a knower. Then, it can
be shared with another (second person) and/or with a community of
sign-interpreters (third person) by way of language (argumentation) &
As the cognitive act is an activity of
consciousness, the constituents of this act (self & nature) exist
(must be logically identified & and proven functional) as part of the
realm of mind. Consciousness is like a field in which
all possible cognition takes place, a stream of continuous
meaningful change, a mirror or polished surface faithfully
reflecting back the objects appearing on it. Consciousness constitutes
cognition, grounds itself. How can cognition exist outside consciousness ?
In the parlance of contemporary philosophy of mind, this is the first person
perspective of consciousness. This primacy however does not imply extra-mental
objects, by the power of the evidence of facts, never appear in the field of
consciousness. We must assume this to be so, but are never conceptually
knowledgeable about this (cf.
Criticosynthesis, 2008), except -so the Buddhadharma promises- when our
mind turns and becomes the mind of a Buddha.
Consciousness has been likened to a field,
a stream or a reflecting surface.
• As a circular field, consciousness is given a range or extent,
cohesive gathering of mental events. A circle has only a one single
center : the empirical sense of self-hood, or ego, designated on the basis
of the activities of the senses, volition, affect, thought & sentience
itself. This ego (or monkey-mind) cherishes its own free will, promotes
"number one" (self-cherishing) and is in every moment re-constituted by this reflex of
centration of the conscious field to a single point. When ego does not yet
recognize altriusm to be the fulfillment of egoism (cf. Levinas), it grasps at itself as
solid, lasting & permanent (at least as far as the gross physical body goes)
and cherishes this, making more suffering very likely. When educated & refined consciousness reflects upon itself, it discovers the
principles, norms & maxims of its own possibility, extention &
manifestation. The first principle of consciousness is its
absolute primacy. All of our existence happens "in its field" ;
this is the First Person Perspective ; the
fact that in every moment of cognition, the knower rises simultaneously
with the known and vice versa. This is the base or view of the Yogācāra.
• As a stream, the process-nature of consciousness is underlined.
Moment-by-moment, consciousness changes, but the sentient, cognizing
impulse is carried-through. Change, becoming, impermanence ("anitya") are fundamental, while
dynamical continuity lies in the ever-changing relationships, interdependencies &
work between all what exists (other-poweredness). Since beginningless
time, this stream contains defilements ("āsravas"). By following the way
("mārga") of the Buddha, laying down appropriate mental disciplines &
practices, attentuation, interruption & finally cessation of these impurities is
realized. The purification of this defiled stream is called "the turning of the base"
("āśraya-parāvritti"), the path leading from the right view to
the fruit of Buddhahood.
• As a reflecting surface, the fundamental impartiality of consciousness is
pointed out. At the base ("mūla-vijñāna"), consciousness does not interfere with any
sensate or mental object appearing on its surface. It merely accepts &
reflects. It exists in the eternity of the moment. The complete elimination of all adventitious
elements is the two-fold cessation (of afflictive affects and mental
delusions). Then and only then is "ālaya-vijñāna" the "Great Mirror
cognition" ("Mahādarśa-jñāna") of a fully awakened Buddha ("Tathāgata"),
Regarding the "ātman", two kinds of attachment is identified : one innate and
another resulting from actual mental discrimination. The former is always
present in the individual and does not depend on wrong intellectual views. The
latter does not operate spontaneously, but depends on false teachings and
mental activity. Innate self-grasping has a constant and continuous aspect,
pertaining to the seventh consciousness (arising together with the eighth
consciousness and grasping its mental image as the real -substantial- self).
It also has a sometimes interrupted aspect pertaining to the sixth
consciousness and the aggregates. Both seventh ("manas") and eighth
consciousness ("ālaya-vijñāna") are constant and never interrupted until
awakening is reached. Every moment of consciousness is thus a manifest
"dharma" grounded in the continuous series of subliminal flux of
VERSE 1 has often been interpreted as affirming metaphysical (ontological)
idealism, the view of the subject as absolute mind, actually constituting
(generating, creating, causing) the object, much like in the style of the
Ancient Egyptian Gods & Goddesses, who out of the substance of their mind &
speech constituted the material & immaterial world-order (cf.
The Theology of Memphis, 2003).
The history of absolute idealism (and recently, absolute materialism) is one
of unwarranted exclusion and this cannot be otherwise for both are extremes.
Allowing ontology minimally (cf.
Metaphysics, 2012), this commentary seeks epistemological,
phenomenological & psychological insights assisting the practice of yoga. It
embraces transcendental idealism, the undelving by self-reflection of
the principles, norms & maxims making knowledge and its progress possible. In
this it accepts the crucial importance of consciousness & information. It
promotes critical realism, the normative rule we must assume
facts (the known) possess an extra-mental factor other than consciousness,
in casu perception-based sensations, the material operator. Is it possible
for perception not to begin with a stimulating event outside the
observer arousing definite action on the side of the sensitive areas of the
five sense organs of the observer ? We are not able to explain how knowledge
is possible if we do not assume this stimulating event to be extra-mental.
But we cannot verify this. We must accept it for knowledge (and thus science
and common sense) to be possible, and so we do.
But, remaining humble scientist devoid of unwarranted "hubris", we do
not thereby stop realizing valid conceptual knowledge may well be a collective
hallucination. We have no means to know this. Why ? Because one cannot step
outside consciousness to observe what is outside or inside consciousness, for
all possible vantage-points are always within the cognitive system of
consciousness. This knowledge keeps all scientific endeavor within the bounds
of elegant sincerity. Every extreme is thereby avoided, also that of
ontological materialism, militant atheism and exacerbating mentalisms
(promoted by fundamentalist religions) ...
VERSE 1 begins by introducing a basic duality close to what yogis need to
properly understand, namely not to take object (fact, nature) and subject
(theory, self) at face value. They are metaphors, and like all mentations,
take place in the transformations of consciousness. So next to the
co-dependent functionalities between nature and self, we are told this basic
duality takes place in three transformations of consciousness, of which -in
all sentient beings- two are unconscious.
VERSE 2 - 16
Abdhidharma of the Eight
Yogācāra Scheme of Eight Consciousnesses :
The Eight Consciousnesses
consciousness (C) : cognitive awareness
indirect, inner, formal, critical &
unconscious cognitive processes
Together, the five sense-consciousnesses
and the thinking mind constitute the set of all traditional Abhidarmic
momentary processes of conscious cognitive awareness ("pravritti-vijñāna").
These six consciousnesses discern ("vijñapti") cognitive objects
("visaya"). But these states of consciousness, like all elements ("dharmas")
"as they really are" ("yathābhūtam"), only last for a moment. All
"dharmas" arise ("jāti"), abide ("sthiti") & vanish ("jarā-laksana"). All
existing things are impermanent ("anitya"). So how to understand
continuity within overall becoming, how to reason the laws of
determination (like causality) needed to explain rebirth as taught by the
Buddha, make sense of certain cessations in deep meditation, simply
understand the conscious life of the self or the operations of Nature ?
Tackling these matters as part of daily yoga practice initiated the school
of yoga practice. The problem with the Abhidharmic scheme is the fact conscious cognitive awareness can be
interrupted, i.e. suddenly stop and then start again. By
closing the eyelids during the waking state, eye-consciousness stops.
During a coma, while fainting, in dreamless sleep and certain meditative states, the
thinking mind is also temporarily suspended. Then it reappears. Where does
it go when it exits and from where does it come when returning ? The
Yogācārins sought to explain how merit ("punya") is possible, if not in
this life, then no doubt in the next. They wanted to explain the path of
yoga on the basis of the right view (of the Madhyamaka of Nāgārjuna). Of
course, unlike materialism today, they do not reduce the aggregate
of consciousness to the aggregate of form (matter). Consciousness is not
viewed as caused, generated or produced by the brain. Consciousness
interacts with the brain (form), just as it interacts with the other
aggregates (of volition, affect, thought and itself). The Yogācārins want
to explain the mentioned continuities on the basis of consciousness
itself. This is not an anachronism, for even in our times, when
materialists like Dawkins, Dennett and C° in vain try to raise
materialism to the level of absolute truth, exceptional neurologists like
Eccles (1994) and philosophers like
Popper (1981) conjecture -as did Descartes before them- an
interactive dualism between mind & brain (cf.
A Philosophy of the Mind and Its Brain, 2009). Such interactionism is
also envisaged in the Buddhadharma. It is the only view in harmony with
rebirth (evidently, for materialists, the mind dies when the brain dies).
If the Buddha, who had no problem in eliminating unnecessary wrong Vedic
views, had considered rebirth superfluous, the Buddhadharma would not have
subscribed to it. Instead, it developed its own version of it, one quite
distinct from the idea of reincarnation or "metempsychosis" (cf.
Pythagoras). The Yoga School's eighth consciousness played a crucial role
in the maturation of this. Especially Tibetan Buddhism refined the actual
During deep meditation, unconscious cognitive processes or latent tendencies were found,
explaining how the moment-to-moment transfer occurs. Adding these deep
the Abhidharma. Happening simultaneously with one another and with the
sense-oriented thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna"), two
unconscious aspects are identified, called suffering mind
and root-mind ("ālaya-vijñāna"). These conceptualize the
"awareness of unawareness" (BU,
p.xi), i.e. the subliminal or unconscious mind. Both aspects
are intimately connected and this uninterruptedly.
VERSE 2 - 4
vipāko mananākhyaś ca vijñaptir vișayasya ca ।
tatrālayākhya.m vijñāna.m vipāka.h sarvabījakam ॥ 2 ॥
maturation, mentation and the perception
of sense-fields. Among them, maturation is that called
"store-consciousness", it has all the seeds.
The dynamical features of the consciousness of
sentient beings is a continuous
process of three simultaneous and interdependent alterations or
transformations of consciousness called : maturing consciousness
("vipāka-vijñāna"), mentation ("manas") &
thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna").
Maturation refers to the heart of the soteriological concern : finding a mechanism
to store, mature and deploy the results of actions of body ("kāya-karman"), speech
mind ("manas-karman"), i.e. the operations of karmic seeds ("bījā"). This maturation happens in
storehouse-consciousness ("ālaya-vijñāna"). As a receptacle of
all seeds, it keeps them and when ripe, deploys them as karmic
consequences. As base-consciousness ("mūla-vijñāna"), it retains and
deploys the seeds both influencing and influenced by the other
Why the mental processes represented by
storehouse-consciousness must be a distinct dimension of mind is argued on
two grounds :
"... (1) the continuous, diachronic functions
traditionally attributed to vijñāna cannot be fulfilled by the six
modes of cognitive awareness ; and that (2) even such synchronic processes
as immediate cognitive awareness itself are not fully tenable unless a
form of mind such as the ālaya-vijñāna simultaneously underlies and
supports them." -
So the present active processes of consciousness cannot comprise
everything happening in the mind ("citta") at any given moment. All mental
factors ("caitta") operating within the mind are (mental) "dharmas" and
therefore momentary events arising in conjunction with consciousness.
The core operation of the eighth consciousness, the first unconscious
transformation of consciousness, is to continuously
(ongoingly) transform the effects of these actual activities of the other seven
consciousnesses into stored potential reactions or reactors (seeds)
dynamically perpetuating (maturing) as specific possibilities or
propensities of future becoming. This fundamental consciousness stores the
seeds as the well-formed flow of a specific interdependent network of
regenerating seeds, always reasserting new streams of specific cognitive
fields or mental
factors ("caittas"). Indifferent to white or black seeds (karmically neutral),
storehouse-consciousness perdures from moment to moment. It memorizes the
complete history of an individual mindstream, and has been defiled by
wrong deeds from lifetimes without number. Morally neutral, it never
forgets anything and, automatically, leaves not a single action without future reaction.
asa.mviditakopādisthā navijñaptikañ ca tat
sadā sparśamanaskāravitsa.mjñācetanānvitam ॥ 3 ॥
Its appropriations and perceptions are not
discerned consciously, yet it is always associated with contact, mental
attention, feeling, cognition and volition.
address the situation of sentient beings entrapped by suffering. They see
individual minds defiled by the wrong actions from countless lifetimes, causing massive deposit of seeds in
base-consciousness, shaping a propensity field containing a specific
karmic network of relationships. One may wonder how
the propensities of this vast reservoir of negativity may be turned ...
Storehouse-consciousness is not a
"consciousness" like the other seven. The latter are always discerning ("vijñapti").
The eighth consciousness is "asamvid ... vijñaptikam", beyond conscious
discernment, i.e. unconscious, subliminal.
It operates without the conscious, thinking mind (and its five
sense-consciousnesses) being aware of this. But
these activities are always associated with the other aggregates, implying
all possible mental activities are stored in it : sense-activity, volitions,
affects, thoughts and sentient self-reflection.
In base-consciousness, mental factors ("caittas") occur as a stream, but
these mostly cognize what happens in the other seven consciousnesses, not
the seeds. The grasping (appropriation) & perceptions of this
base-consciousness is not discerned by the conscious mind
Besides storing the seeds,
"ālaya-vijñāna" deploys them while itself remaining, as
long as ignorance ("avidya") persist, largely unaware of this. To cognize
what happens in one's own base-consciousness is one of the specific aims
of the Yogācārins. Unlike Western depth psychology, direct access to the
deemed possible and necessary. The enlightened mind directly witnesses
base-consciousness. Meditation also allows to partially do this. But
Bodhi-mind no longer identifies with the objects appearing in
the mirror (no longer reifies them as existing from their own side), but
cognizes them as process-based happenings "of what exists as it is".
Bodhi-mind is the surface of the mirror itself.
upekșā vedanā tatrāniv.rtāvyāk.rtañ ca
tathā sparśādayas tac ca vartate srotasaughavat ॥ 4 ॥
There, sensation is equanimous,
undefiled and morally indeterminate. The same for contact, etc. It
continues like the current of a river.
Given the actions
undertaken by the other seven consciousnesses, base-consciousness is
indifferent to what kind of effect it stores in the form of potential
seeds of becoming. In itself pure or not impeded, it just stores whatever
the cause of the action, whatever aggregate is bringing it forth.
Morally indeterminate, it does not judge what it stores, be it good or
("kusila") or bad ("akusila"). Both are stored. Although
"ālaya-vijñāna" is produced by "karma", it does not
itself produce it. The fruition of prior "karma" or "vipāka" is in itself
karmically neutral (does not produce "karma"). It holds the karmic seeds,
but is thereby not contaminated (just like objects appearing in a mirror
do not alter its reflective surface).
"A previously recorded tape can now play back what
was recorded before without at the same time re-recording any new
material, i.e., making new recordings and registering new impressions.
Hence, though playing something recorded previously, it is now
'non-recording'. Liberation would mean to erase the tape, i.e., put the
out of commission (vyavriti)."
BP, p. 327.
From instant to instant, like a current, the ongoing continuity of
base-consciousness reshapes its own identity, never retaining a single
one. In the image of The Awakening of Faith, base-consciousness is
like a sea hit by wind creating waves on its surface. This activity of the
wind is the ignorance of a mind moved by adventitious conditions
(reifications of subject & object). These waves therefore obscure the true
surface of the sea. When the winds stop, the original surface or
original enlightenment of the base is revealed,
"though it was always present" (BP,
Chinese interpretations are consistent with the doctrine of Buddha-nature
("tathāgatagarbha") joining Yogācāra later and associated with the Third
Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. Buddha-nature is not part of the Trimśikā,
while the Dharmakāya is mentioned.
When nevertheless integrated, the original enlightenment
of "ālaya-vijñāna" is the true nature of the
Nature Body of the Dharmakâya shared by all the Buddhas and present in
every mindstream since always. This is the view of Buddha-nature or
Tathāgatagarbha as a
supramundane Buddha Within the consciousness of every sentient
being. This enlightened true nature of the
Nature Body of a Buddha is self-empty (Prāsangika), but inseparable from its countless
supramundane enlightened properties since beginningless times (Mahāmadhyamaka),
in other words, empty of anything other than that
supramundane, uncontaminated existence. Believed to be present in the mindstream of every sentient being,
this true nature is the "thusness"
of a Buddha, his or her enlightened way of mere (spontaneous) existential
to be confused
with a static, self-powered & essential (ontic) personhood ("pudgala"
VERSE/VERSETS 5 - 7
tasya vyāv.rttir arhattve tad āśritya
tadālamba.m manonāma vijñāna.m mananātmakam ॥ 5 ॥
Its reversal takes place in the state of
Arathood. Based on it, there functions, with it as object, the
consciousness called "manas", which consists of mentation.
The reversal of
"ālaya-vijñāna" occurs in the state of Arathood.
The "turning around of the basis" or "revolution at the basis" ("āśraya-parāvritti")
points to the radical cognitive & psychological change of awakening,
removing the false ideations leading to substance-obsession (of subject &
object). Is is an "undoing of the particular hold of
latent impressions ("habit-energues") - thus it is the dis-evolvement of
the store-consciousness, which is only a metaphor for these. This means
that all colorations given by particular 'seeds', and all
'habit-energies', will be eliminated, and there's only an awareness of
whatever the moment actually presents."
SW, p.189, note 2.
This radical turn of mind happens when Arathood is made real. We know
Vasubandhu began his spiritual quest as a Lesser Vehicle practitioner. In
this vehicle, the fruit is the state of Foe Destroyer or Arhat.
Abhidharmic Philosophy is the intellectual flower of this Vehicle and
considerably influenced both branches of the Mahāyāna.
Technically, liberation (personal "nirvāna")
involves the breaking of a succession of "fetters" ("samyojana"),
ten in number. These Ten Fetters represent the sum total of all subtle causes
of personal suffering, i.e. of all emotional and person-based mental delusions.
These foes generate hindrances to spiritual progress.
These Five Hindrances are the result of the persistent unmerited actions
of body, speech and/or mind. These are :
(1) sensual desire ("kâmachanda) : presenting
alluring sense objects causing craving instead of a clear reflection, this
is compared with colored dyes in a pot of water, preventing one to one's
face (its end is like a debtor paying his last dues) ;
(2) aversion or ill will ("vyâpâda") :
thoughts against, censure, judgment, disliking and malice towards others,
compared with boiling water (its end is like a sick person recovering from
(3) sloth & torpor ("thînamiddha") :
dullness, boredom and lack of energy, sluggishness, sleepiness, compared
with water covered over with slimy moss and water plants (its end is like
a prisoner getting out of prison) ;
(4) restlessness & worry
("uddhacca-kukkucca") : agitation and distracting thoughts inhibiting
calmness, remorse, anxiety, compared with water shaken by the wind,
trembling & forming ripples (its end is like a slave freed) ;
(5) doubt ("vicikicchâ") : absence of trust
or confidence, lack of faith and unwise, virulent skepticism, compared
with muddy water set in a darkened room (its end is like a desert
traveller coming back home).
The hindrances point to what kind of practice is necessary to make the
aspirant find the path. They define five types of wrong minds. Their
presence brings to the fore what should be eliminated from the mindstream.
If these wrong minds are cultivated or have become habitual, spiritual
progress is impossible.
The Ten Fetters are
the underlying tendencies in the mind acting as the root-cause of the
Five Hindrances (to spiritual practice). In the
Mahāyāna, the Ten Fetters became Two Obstructions : afflictive emotions &
habit-energy ("kleśāvarana") and of the knowable ("jñeyāvarana").
The Arhat is a Foe Destroyer, ending all
personal suffering for all times. This is possible because a liberated mind no
longer reifies the empirical ego, i.e. has fully realized the impermanence of the
aggregates of illusion ("skandhas"),
the selflessness (or emptiness) of person.
For Yogācārins this
means "manas" has become free from any kind of essentialization or
substance-obsession. Instead of focusing on the "I" and turning it into an
hypostasis, the seventh consciousness functions to uninterruptedly
equalize self with others. This implies
"ālaya-vijñāna" is no longer taken as an object by "manas". It has
ceased and been replaced by "ālaya-jñāna" or the living enlightened
all-comprehensive wisdom of a Buddha, manifesting four qualities :
permanence ("nitya"), steadfastness ("dhruva"), calmness ("shiva") and
• Five Lower Fetters :
(1) separate selfhood, (2) sceptical doubt, (3) attachment to rules and rituals
for their own sake, (4) sexual desire, (5) ill will ;
• Five Higher Fetters :
(6) desire for existence in the world of form, (7) desire for existence in
the formless world, (8) conceit, (9) restlessness and (10) ignorance.
The stages of liberation are marked by the weakening and finally the eradication of these
fetters. Liberated practitioners are identified according to the resultant
degree of liberation achieved.
Prior to the supramundane insight or wisdom accompanying the stages of
liberation or levels of personal enlightenment, one walks the "mundane path"
(consisting of the Eight Jhânas). The "supramundane path" ("lokottaramârga") is
the dedicated practice of the Eightfold Path.
Four stages mark this supramundane path :
"stream-enterer" ("shrotâpanna") : has eradicated the first three fetters. He
has only seven rebirths in the human or god realms before liberation ;
"once-returner" ("sakridâgamin") : reborn once more, has weakened the fourth &
fifth fetter ;
• the "non-returner"
("anâgamin") : has broken all the first five fetters and
is reborn in the god realm from where liberation is attained ;
• the Arhat or "Worthy One"
: has broken all ten fetters and won liberation in
this life. In the Mahāyāna, the realization of Arhathood only overcomes
the psychological obstructions ("kleśāvarana") and not the cognitive
obstructions ("jñeyāvarana"). The Arhat has realized the self-emptiness of
persons, but not the self-emptiness of phenomena.
Based on the eighth consciousness, the Yogācārins
identify the functioning of a seventh consciousnesss taking the former as
its object. It is characterized by a specific type of afflictive
mentation. This seventh consciousness
("klista-manas"), the second transformation
actively altering consciousness, suffers since beginningless time by being
substance-obsessed with itself. It is attachment-consciousness ("ādāna-vijñāna").
This suffering, afflicted mind ("klista-mānas") ignorantly takes the
root-mind as its own object, grasps at it as a false idol existing from its own
side, and reifies both the grasper (itself) & the grasped (its
objects). If the root-mind is a
mirror, then the suffering mind identifies with the objects reflected in
this mirror. This "manas" (and here we read Lower Vehicle concerns) is the
root of all substantialization of the self, the foundation of all
kleśaiś caturbhi.h sahita.m niv.rtāvyāk.rtai.h sadā ।
ātmad.rșțyātmamohātmamānātmasnehasa.mjñitai.h ॥ 6 ॥
It is always accompanied by four
afflictions, defiled but morally indeterminate and known as the view of
self, delusion of self, pride of self and love of self.
The seventh consciousness, or second
unconscious transformation of consciousness, is defined by grasping at
and is always accompanied by four
specific steps in the logic of substantial selfhood.
• The view of self represents
the actual false conceptual overlay or superposition involved : one grasps
at oneself as existing independently & separately from the rest of the
world. The view initiates the process of ignorance. Innate (unconscious),
it is automatic and reinforced by (conscious) conventional education.
Without this wrong view, there is no samsaric mind.
• The delusion of self
is the actual sense of independent & separate selfhood resulting
from the view. This is the psychological experience of existing as a
person existing from its own side. This is delusional because, under
critical analysis (Nāgārjuna), such a substantial self cannot be found.
• The pride of self
ensues from the delusion of self. Contrary to the delusion of self,
which is a conscious but passive false ideation, pride of self is
conscious and active. Here the ego thinks itself as unique and
standing-out, and acts accordingly, causing reinforcing negative "karma". It considers its own volitions, affects, thoughts &
reflections as of first importance and understands the other as a function
of itself, something to be used & abused. It "owns" its objects and is convinced of its self-importance.
Here a solipsism is at work. The other is a something, not a someone.
• The love of self
or self-cherishing is the culminating mental error of self-affirmation
rooted in the wrong view & delusion of self. The needs of the self are
attended before considering others, considered as radically
different & alien. Self & others are not equalized, quite on the contrary,
both are differentiated as much as possible, affirming the unique
character of the self and the contexts with which it identifies (family,
friends, nation, etc). This self is protected before anything else. The
other becomes a subservient entity to be manipulated. Instrumental and
strategic action prevails, and true (symmetrical) communication is absent.
For Vasubandhu, the wrong view of self is the root-error to be eradicated
by the path. Ending this uninterrupted catastrophic activity of the seventh
consciousness is the sole purpose of the extended analysis of mind.
Indeed, on the basis of this, the samsaric mind affirms the substantial
nature of others too. In this way, desubstantializing both self & others
becomes the soteriologic aim, initiated by cutting-through the ignorance
causing the wrong view of self.
yatrajas tanmayair anyai.h
sparśādyaiś cārhato na tat ।
na nirodhasamāpattau mārge lokottare na ca ॥ 7 ॥
Wherever it arises, so do contact and
the others. It does not exist in the Arhat, in the attainment of
cessation, nor in the supramundane path.
"Manas" operates together with the other
aggregates. The self-affirming nature of this afflictive consciousness
touches the senses, the will, the emotions, our thoughts and all sentient
activities. It permeates all conscious activity and identifies with
This seventh consciousness is innate
and non-conceptual. Its mentations are ante-rational, belonging to
the earliest stages of the genesis of the cognitive system, namely the
mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational cognitive modes.
3 STAGES OF COGNITION
and 7 MODES OF THOUGHT
between ante-rationality and reason
between rationality and intuition
The Book of Lemmas, 2015 : Fundamentals of Epistemology and Ontology
All aggregates thus come under the spell
of the false ideation ("ātma-grāha" &
"dharma-grāha") of the seventh consciousness,
attributing inherent existence to mere processes (of self & nature).
Hence, the conscious, thinking mind identifies with the activities of the
body and the mind. They all become "mine" and used to reinforce the sense
of an enduring & separate selfhood. This sense contradicts
the unavoidable end of the self, and so objects are appropriated to ease
the self's fear of annihilation.
The seventh consciousness ends in three cases : when the afflictions end,
when cessation is made real (of both substantial self and substantial
nature) and when the mindstream has awakened.
"Manas", the afflicted mind, ceases with the extinction of the
"kleśāvarana", the final soteric moment of the Lower Vehicle practitioner
or Arhat. It does not vanish, but only equalizes self with others,
The mind of suffering also ends with the attainment of cessation
("nirodha-samāpatti") involving the end of afflictive emotions (related to
grasping at a self or "ātma-grāha"
) and the cessation of deluded cognitions (related to grasping at nature
or "dharma-grāha"). This "nirodha-samāpatti" is not the cessation
of the conscious, thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna") or "āsamjñī-samāpatti",
merely ending the generation of thoughts (cf. VERSE/VERSET 16). So
"nirodha-samāpatti" refers to the end of all emotional afflictions &
mental delusions (rooted in self-graping "manas"). Formless, it
is beyond the worlds of desire & form.
The third case in which there is no afflictive activity of "manas" is beyond the formless realm
("ārūpya-dhātu") and so beyond the three worlds of desire, form & formless
("lokuttara"), supramundane. It points to breaking away from the samsaric
cycle, i.e. to full awakening or Buddhahood.
With the end of the seventh consciousness is thus meant the cessation of its
deluded activity, not the end of "manas" per se. When consciousness
is completely purified (Buddhahood), "manas" is only busy equalizing
self & others and so becomes the basis for (absolute) "bodhicitta",
the self-empty mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient
VERSE 8 - 14
Conscious Mano-vijñāna &
the 50 Caittas
The Trimśikā lists 50 mental
factors ("caittas") associated with the thinking mind ("mano-vijñāna").
They are categorized as follows :
• 5 general or omnipresent
factors : always persent in every cognitive act (the aggregates) ;
• 5 specific or object-contingent factors :
only happen in specific cogitations ;
• 10 advantageous factors : causing positive
(wholesome, advantageous, good) karmic results ;
• 6 primary afflictions : the roots of
negative (unwholesome) karmic results ;
• 20 secondary afflictions : components of
negative "karma" related to the thinking mind and stimulated by
the primary afflictions ;
• 4 indeterminate factors : mental applications that
may be conductive to good or bad karmic results (their karmic meaning does
not depend on the "dharmas" themselves).
dvitīya.h pari.nāmo 'yam t.rtīya.h
șa.dvidhasya ya ।
vișayasyopalabdhi.h sā kuśalākuśalādvayā ॥ 8 ॥
This is the second transformation. The
third is the sixfold perception of the sense-field, which is wholesome,
unwholesome or neither.
"Manas" was the second unconscious
transformation of consciousness. "Mano-vijñāna"
is the third conscious alteration or system of proces
consciousnesses (of which some are conscious & some unconscious). This third
transformation involves the actual conscious apperception of the sixfold
objects : the five sense-consciousnesses and the cogitations of the
thinking mind itself.
Whereas "ālaya-vijñāna" is not a product of negative "karma" (non-covered)
and karmically neutral (non-recording), "manas" is associated with "kleśa"
(is a defiled, covered "manas" or "klistamanas") and also karmically
neutral (although producing negative "karma", the operations themselves
the six objects
receptacle of conscious activity
"Mano-vijñāna" is conscious and actual and so not karmically
neutral, i.e. has the capacity to produce positive, negative or neutral
karmic effects. It is wholly sense-oriented (whereas "manas" turns towards
"ālaya-vijñāna" as its object). The fact the unconscious mind,
contrary to the conscious, is
karmically neutral is in tune with the Abhidharmic notion only actualities
("dharmas") produce "karma", whereas mere potentialities (the seeds taken
as object by self-deluded "manas") are not "dharmas" and so cannot cause
any kind of karmic effect, although they do cause retributive effects
based on previous karma (inflicted by past conscious activities of body,
speech & mind).
FOR THE REST OF THE TRANSLATION WITH
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