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Eight Couniousness

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Its nature is exclusively the non-obscuring indeterminate, and it interacts with the Five Universally Interactive Dharmas.

Before its transformation into wisdom, the eighth consciousness always arises together with the seventh consciousness and the Five Universally Interactive Dharmas: attention, contact, feeling, conceptualization, and deliberation. The nature of the eighth consciousness is said to be "non-obscuring" because it does not obscure True Thusness. The eighth consciousness can also be said to be "unobscured" because its own nature is not obscured by the mind-dependent dharmas that arise with it. It is indeterminate because, being passive, it does not make the distinctions of wholesome and unwholesome or any other distinctions.

The eighth consciousness contains seeds, karmic potentials created by previous karmic activities. The seeds ripen and become actual dharmas as they are "perfumed" by the karmic activity of the first seven consciousnesses. The image here is built on an analogy with of sesame seeds, which take on the fragrance of the sesame plant's flowers or of any fragrance with which they come into contact.

The Three Realms with their Nine Grounds come into being in accord with the power of karma.

Although the eighth consciousness does not create karma because it is totally passive in function, the seeds stored within it ripen to create actual dharmas that are the Three Realms and the Nine Grounds. [The Nine Grounds are explained above in the explanation of the second line of the verse describing the first five consciousnesses.]


Because of their confused attachments, those of the Two Vehicles don't comprehend it;

And based upon those attachments, there arise the disputes of the shastra masters.

Only the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are capable of direct awareness of the eighth consciousness, because its states are so subtle. That is why those of the Hinayana vehicles deny its existence. The Treatise on Consciousness-Only gives scriptural references to it from both Mahayana and Hinayana scriptures together with logical arguments for the necessity of its existence.

How vast and unfathomable is the threefold alaya!

Alaya means "storehouse". Because it is a "storehouse" of seeds, storehouse consciousness (alayavijnana) is one of the names by which the eighth consciousness is known. "Threefold" refers to three aspects of the eighth consciousness: it contains seeds, it is 'perfumed', and the seventh consciousness takes it to be the self.

Generated by the winds of states, seven waves arise from its depths.

"Its depths" refers to the extent of the eighth consciousness, which is compared to the ocean. The first seven consciousnesses arise from the eighth consciousness in the same manner as waves arise on the surface of the sea. The wind represents "states", the causes and conditions for the consciousnesses arising. The causes and conditions "perfume" seeds in the eighth consciousness, causing them to sprout, to become actual dharmas. The first seven consciousnesses and the Dharmas Interactive with the Mind associated with them all come into being from seeds stored in the eighth consciousness.

It undergoes perfuming and contains the seeds both of the body with its organs and of the material world.

The body with its perceptual organs and the entire physical world also arise from seeds contained in the eighth consciousness.

After going and before coming, it's in control.

At death the first seven consciousnesses are reabsorbed into the eighth consciousness. At birth they are regenerated as separate consciousnesses. "After going and before coming" refers to the intermediate state between death and rebirth. Dureing that period the eighth consciousness is "in control."

The line could also be interpreted as meaning that at death the eighth consciousness is the last to leave the old body, and at birth it is the first to begin functioning.

Before the Unmoving Ground attachment to the storehouse is finally relinquished.

The Unmoving Ground is the Eighth Ground. Prior to the eighth ground, that is, on the seventh ground, the seventh consciousness relinquishes its innate attachment to the eighth or storehouse consciousness being the self. This takes place as the seventh consciousness transforms itself into the Wisdom Whose Nature is Equality.

Upon completion of the vajra Path, it is empty of the ripening of results.

The vajra Path, "the Path of indestructible substance", refers to the eighth through tenth grounds and, in addition, the stage of Equal Enlightenment. Due to the absence of self and because the Bodhisattva contemplates the emptiness of both self and dharmas during this period, no fresh defiling karma is created, but "the ripening of results" continues: seeds planted in the past continue to ripen into actual karmic retribution. However, at Buddhahood the eighth consciousness is finally emptied of ripening seeds of future karma. In other words, no seeds remain in the mind that could give rise to future outflows or impurities.

The Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom and the undefiled consciousness are produced at the same time,

At Buddhahood the transformation of the eighth consciousness into the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom is complete, and consciousness can be said to be totally undefiled. It is this pure "consciousness" that is called True Thusness.

And in the ten directions universally illuminate Buddha-fields as countless as motes of dust.

The light of wisdom emitted from the Dharma Body of the Buddha illumintes everywhere.

The ten directions are north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, above, and below.

A Buddha-field or Buddhaland refers to where a Buddha resides, a "land" created by the power of great compassion to aid in teaching living beings and in taking them across to Buddhahood.