ĀLAYA-VIJÑĀNA (Tib., kun gzhi rnam par shes pa ; Chin., a lai ye shi ) is the Sanskrit term denoting, roughly, "storehouse" consciousness, a conception of unconscious mental processes developed by the Yogācāra school of Indian Buddhism in the third to fifth centuries ce. Ālaya-vijñāna appears in such "Yogācāra" scriptures as the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, but is most systematically treated in the scholastic treatises of Asaṅga (c. 315–390) and Vasubandhu (c. mid-fourth to mid-fifth centuries). It originally addressed problems surrounding the continuity of karmic potential (karma-upacaya ) and the latent afflictions (anuśaya ) that had been generated by the abhidharma emphasis upon momentary, manifest processes of mind. How, after all, could these two essential aspects of one's samsaric existence—the potential for karma to ripen and for the afflictions to arise—be uninterruptedly present until their elimination far along the path to liberation if one's mind (or, more precisely, one's "mental stream," santāna ) were comprised solely of whatever phenomena (dharma ) were manifest at the present moment? Their manifest presence would preclude any salutary states of mind from arising, and thus prevent progress along the path, while their complete absence would be tantamount to liberation itself. The ālaya-vijñāna thus came to comprise the various potentialities that must continuously underlie each moment of the traditional six modes of cognitive awareness—now called manifest, arising, or functioning consciousnesses (pravṛtti-vijñāna ) in contradistinction to the continuous yet subliminal ālaya, the home, base, or storehouse consciousness (ālaya-vijñāna ).
Combining traditional analyses of consciousness (vijñāna ) as an awareness (not a faculty) that arises either in dependence upon karmic formations (saṃskārā ) or as a result of the concomitance of one's cognitive faculties and their correlative objects, ālaya consciousness is described in classical Yogācāra treatises as arising from moment to moment in dependence on the material sense faculties and the various cognitive and affective formations (saṃskārā ) that constitute one's ongoing existence, as well as on its own subliminal cognitive object: an indistinct (aparicchinna ) or imperceptible (asaṃvidita ) apprehension of an external world (bhājana-loka ). Ālaya-vijñāna is thus a complexly conditioned mode of cognitive awareness that simultaneously supports (āśraya ) and informs all occurrences of manifest consciousness.
Also consonant with traditional characteristics of consciousness (S II 65, 101; III 54), ālaya-vijñāna is said in the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra to "grow, develop, and increase" due to the seeds (bīja ) of karmic potential and the predispositions (vāsanā ) of the afflictions that have accumulated "since beginningless time" from the karmic activities associated with the six modes of manifest cognitive awareness. The potential or "seeds" for the future arising of afflictions or of karmically resultant dharma s, such as sensations or consciousness itself, are thereafter "stored" in this evolving ālaya level of mind.
While this subliminal ālaya consciousness thus enjoys a simultaneous and causally reciprocal relationship with the manifest modes of cognitive awareness, it still retained, in most Indian Yogācāra treatises, its original character as the locus of accumulated karmic potential and latent afflictions, virtually defining one's samsaric existence and serving, in effect, as the "subject" of saṃsāra (also similar to earlier notions of vijñāna ). Sentient beings therefore typically (mis)take ālaya consciousness as a substantive self (ātmadṛṣṭi ), a form of ignorance so continuously present that it too soon came to be conceived as a distinct strata of subliminal—and karmically neutral—afflictions called "afflictive mentation" (Skt., kliṣṭa-manas ; Tib., nyon mongs pa can gyi yid ; Chin., ran wu yi), now considered a "seventh consciousness," making ālaya-vijñāna the eighth.
More broadly, Asaṅga's Mahāyāna-saṃgraha describes how the "common aspects" (sādhāraṇa-lakṣaṇa ) of ālaya consciousness help to structure the arising of our common "world" (bhājana-loka ). Our distinctively human world appears similarly to us because we have accumulated similar karma, which results in both our similar cognitive faculties as well as whatever cognitive and affective formations similarly condition the arising of each individual's ālaya-vijñāna, such as the impressions of language (adhilāpa-vāsanā ). Together, these conditions delimit the range of stimuli that may instigate manifest consciousness, and thus also the very forms in which our common, species-specific world (loka ) typically appear. In this way, the ālaya-vijñāna— "the mind with all the seeds" (sarvabījaka-citta ) that represents our accumulated potentialities for karmic results— serves as the "com-mon support (samāśraya ) of all phenomenal experience (dharma)."
Although in its systematic treatments the ālaya-vijñāna is largely commensurate with traditional Indian Buddhist analyses of samsaric consciousness, as we have seen, the very metaphors used to describe the ālaya-vijñāna —an evolving "repository" form of mind (citta ) that receives and "stores" karmic seeds and thereby serves as both support and cause (hetu ) of all dharmas —invited its interpretation as a foundational mind serving as the sole basis or ground from which the entire phenomenal world arises. These tendencies were particularly pronounced in certain Chinese and Tibetan traditions, influenced no doubt by the explicit identification—in scriptures such as the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and, more importantly, the apocryphal Awakening of Faith —of ālaya-vijñāna with tathāgatha-garbha, the womb or matrix of the Tathāgatha. Although this identification went largely unchallenged in later Chinese Buddhism, it is not found in the classic treatises of Indian Yogācāra. The sixth-century Indian translator Paramārtha's response to this discrepancy was to preserve the ālaya-vijñāna as a defiled eighth consciousness, which is eliminated upon awakening, while interpolating into his translations an additional, undefiled ninth consciousness, an *amala-vijñāna, which persists after the ālaya-vijñāna ceases. One of seventh-century Xuanzang's aims in retranslating Yogācāra texts was to recover the earlier, and to his mind orthodox, interpretation of ālaya-vijñāna as a locus of defiled consciousness unrelated to the notion of tathāgatha-garbha. Similar tendencies occurred in the Tibetan schools that teach "extrinsic emptiness" (gzhan stong ), which extrapolating upon Indian Yogācāra models, posited a primordial ālaya wisdom (Skt., *ālaya-jñāna ; Tib., kun gzhi ye shes ) prior to and apart from all defiled and discursive modes of consciousness (Skt., vijñāna ; Tib., rnam shes ), such as ālaya-vijñāna.
These varying notions of post- (or non-) samsaric forms of consciousness, typically expressed as transformations of vijñāna into jñāna, echo similar ideas found in the earliest Buddhist texts in which the consciousness of a buddha or arhat is no longer bound by grasping or appropriation (anupādāna ), but is said to be "non-abiding" or "unsupported" (appatiṭṭhita-viññāṇa ; D III 105; S I 122; S II 66, 103; S III 54).
In sum, this core Yogācāra concept touches upon some of the central concerns of Buddhist soteriology and analyses of mind, but its interpretation varies considerably depending upon which century, which school, and even which text one is investigating.
Cook, Francis, trans. Three Texts on Consciousness Only. Berkeley, Calif., 1999. English translations from the Chinese of three Yogācāra treatises: two by Vasubandhu—the Triṃśika (Thirty verses) and the Viṃśika (Twenty verses); and one by Xuanzang—the Cheng wei-shi lun (Demonstration of consciousness only).
Hakamaya, Noriaki. Yuishiki Shisō Ronkō. Tokyo, 2001. A collection of fifty articles by a leading Japanese scholar analyzing many Yogācāra texts and concepts, including the ālaya-vijñāna, from a text-critical perspective.
Hakeda, Yoshito, trans. The Awakening of Faith, Attributed to Aṣvaghosha. New York, 1967. An apocryphal treatise immensely influential in Chinese interpretations of Yogācāra.
Keenan, John, trans. The Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning (The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra ). Berkeley, Calif., 2000. A translation of Xuanzang's Chinese rendition of this indispensable Yogācāra text.
Lamotte, Étienne, trans. La somme du Grand Véhicle d'Asaṅga (Mahāyāna-saṃgraha ). Louvain, Belgium, 1938–1939. A definitive translation accompanied by extensive selections from its traditional commentaries.
Pruden, Leo, trans. Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa: Treatise on Action by Vasubandhu. Berkeley, Calif., 1980. An English translation of Lamotte's French translation of Vasubandhu's most abhidharmic treatment of the ālaya-vijñāna.
Schmithausen, Lambert. Ālayavijñāna. Tokyo, 1987. This groundbreaking and painstaking philological study reconstructs the initial occurrence and subsequent development of the ālaya-vijñāna within Indian Yogācāra texts.
Stearns, Cyrus. The Buddha from Dolpo. Albany, 1999. A study of the founder of the Tibetan zhen stong view and the theory of primordial laya wisdom.
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, trans. Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. London, 1932. A translation and study of this important Yogācāra scripture.
Waldron, William S. "Buddhist Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Thinking about 'Thoughts without a Thinker.'" Eastern Buddhist 34, no. 1 (2002): 1–52. Analyzes the ālaya-vijñāna in relation to scientific perspectives on the evolution and arising of consciousness.
Waldron, William S. The Buddhist Unconscious: The Ālaya-vijñāna in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. New York and London, 2003. Treats the antecedents to an early development of the ālaya-vijñāna, up to Asaṅga's Mahāyāna-saṃgraha.
William S. Waldron (2005)