The basic postulate of the school is that consciousness itself is the fundamental and only reality, and that the apparent diversity of the empirical world is the product of instability and obscuration in the individual field of consciousness. The standard form of the doctrine distinguishes eight functions or aspects of consciousness, the most fundamental being the ālaya-vijñāna (‘Receptacle Consciousness’, or storehouse consciousness) which is the foundation of personal identity. Due to the effect of previous actions (karma) the ālaya becomes tainted and unstable, and proceeds to manifest itself in a dualistic form whereby the notions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ arise. This is the second aspect, the ‘defiled consciousness’ (kliṣṭa-manovijñāna). The division of consciousness is carried further through its operation in the six sense-modalities (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, and thought) which completes the list of eight functions. An image commonly used to describe this scheme is that of the ocean: its depths are like the ālaya, and the operation of the six senses are compared to the waves which disturb its surface stirred by the wind of karma. For the Vijñānavāda enlightenment is achieved through the recognition of the ālaya as the only reality and the consequent cessation of dualistic imaginings.
The Vijñānavada introduced a doctrine of ‘three aspects’ (trisvabhava) to describe the ways in which the ālaya manifests itself.
The doctrine of ‘Mind-Only’ had a profound influence in all Mahāyāna Buddhist countries and became especially popular in the Far East.
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