Sep 17, 2022
Dominic Kearne

Scheme of the Eightfold-Consciousness

Teachings from the Yogacara School

In this part we take a look at the different types of consciousness that affect our day to day (and past) lives.



Previously, we saw how the Buddha showed the non-local nature of consciousness by drawing the eighteen dhatus.

The Yogacara made a further analysis of this scheme by taking the last triad relating to mental consciousness:

Mental objects…. Mental sense organ…. Mental consciousness (mano)

This ‘mano’ was further analysed into two parts:

Mano – mental consciousness which includes all other sense consciousness (seeing, hearing, touching, remembering etc.), and positing a seventh:

Manas – reflective consciousness. In its purity this is often referred to in Zen as the Heart Mirror. It is that reflective consciousness that just sees things as in a mirror. This arises when a strong basis for mindful awareness is established.

However it is a two edged sword.

When the mirror is defiled by wrong seeing it conceives itself as separate from everything else and thus the delusion of ‘I’ has arisen.

If we remember from the story of the Sixth Chinese patriarch the two verses written up on the monastery wall. The first read:


The body is the Tree of Enlightenment,

The Heart a bright mirror on a stand.

Carefully wipe this mirror every day,

So that no dust may alight.


This ‘mirror’ is the manas.

The Yogacarins went on to posit an eighth consciousness called the ‘Store consciousness’ or Alaya vijnana.

The reason for this is because of the problem of explaining how it is that beings have consistent personality traits and to solve a problem from the doctrine of karma.

Intentional actions of body, speech and conceptual thought create karmic outflows but these outflows may not appear immediately, they may appear after a long time even aeons. So where are they stored?

The answer is the Alaya – or seed store.

Although the Buddha did not say that karma is the only cause of phenomena (five other forms of causality are given in the Pali Canon), it was believed that karma influences our experience of phenomena.

Confucius gave the example of three people who witness the same event. One bursts out laughing as it is the funniest thing seen for a long time! One bursts into tears at the tragedy and the third walks right past it quite indifferent.

The event is not created karmically but the three people’s experience of it is.

We cannot see into the Alaya as phenomenal experience continually arises from it. Not only that but our intentional actions re-seed the Alaya. The types of seed also lend it a flavour which accumulates over time to create traits and characteristics.

Some schools of Yogacara thought that there was only one Alaya and all phenomenal experience arises from it for all of us.

So to speak the Alaya lies below and the other seven consciousness lie above in the phenomenal world of existence.

In deep meditation the surface of the Alaya becomes apparent. The arising and passing of phenomena is visible in the manas or reflective consciousness. So what the student is doing in meditation is realising the surface of the Alaya in manas.

According to practice over time the karmic seeds stop being created as insight destroys wrong views of self and other. This drains the Alaya and thus it is said that in the end the Alay vanishes for the Enlightened.

Thus the Sixth Patriarch completed the above verse by his own:


There is no Tree of Enlightenment,

The bright mirror has no stand.

When there is nothing whatsoever,

What dust can alight where?


We can perhaps see that these two verses do not contradict rather complement each other as they are spoken from two ways of seeing: inter-dependent seeing – and the absolute.

Text copyright to Martin Goodson

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