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Mind, Consciousness, Enlightenment, a Vijnanavadinís perspective

by Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, Mar 30, 2011

Singapore -- In Buddhism, the human personality is considered to be made up of five groups (skandhas)``, namely, Form, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formation and Consciousness. In the grouping of Consciousness, six kinds are classified. They are the consciousness of Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, sense of Touch and Mental or Intellectual consciousness.

The dynamic nature of consciousness and existence can be compared to a river which, while continuously flowing still preserves its relative identity. The Theravadins called this stream ‘bhavanga-sota’, the subconscious stream of existence or of becoming in which all experiences or contents of conciousness have been stored since beginningless time, to reappear in active, waking consciousness whenever the conditions and mental association call them forth. The observation of this continuity is what give rise to our self-consciousness, which to the Vijnanavadins is a function of our Mind (manas), the seventh class of Consciouness. It is different from the co-ordinating and integrating of sense-impression in the Thought or Mental consciouness (mano-vijnana).

Thus the object of the seventh class of consciousness (manas) is not the sense world, but the ever flowing stream of becoming or our depth consciousness, which is neither limited by birth and death nor by individual form of appearance. Birth and death are only the doors between one life and another with the continuous stream of consciousness flowing through them. This consciousness contained on its surface the causally conditioned state of existence and also the sum total of all experiences of a beginningless past.

To the Vijnanavadins, this is the eighth, the Universal or Storehouse Consciousness (alaya-vijnana). The sixth consciousness which is term the Intellectual or Empirical consciousness (mano-vijnana), sort and judges the result of the five kind of sense consciousness, followed by attraction or repulsion and the illusion of our objective world.

The eighth, the Universal Consciousness is compared to the ocean, which on the surface, current and wave forms, while its depth remains motionless, pure and clear. It transcends all limits, it is pure, unchanging, undisturbed by our ego, without distinctions, desires and aversions.

Between the Universal Consciousness and the individual Intellectual Consciousness is the Spiritual Consciousness (manas), which takes part in both sides. It is the centre of balance and reference for these two consciousnesses and is of double characteristic. It is the cause for the conception of egohood in the unenlightened individual being who mistake this relative point for the real and permanent centre of his personality. It is our intellect, our mental consciousness (mano-vijnana) which conceives our seventh consciousness (manas) as our Ego. In this state, it is termed the ‘defiled mind’, the nature of which consists in an uninterrupted process of ego creating thoughts and discrimination. On the positive side, the intuitive side of manas is one with the Universal Consciousness participating in Transcendental Intelligence. When manas is directed from the Universal Consciousness towards the individual or self consciousness, it becomes a source of error. When directed from the
Empirical towards the Universal Consciousness, it becomes a source of highest knowledge.

This can be compared to the vision of a man, who observes the different forms and colors of a landscape and feel himself different from it. There is the ‘I’ and the object observed. The other, is a vision of another who gazes into the vast expense of space or heaven, which free him of all object perception and thus from the awareness of his own self as he is only conscious of the infinity of space. The ‘I’ here loses its position through a lack of contrast or opposite with nothing to grasp or differentiate itself.

Selfhood and Universe are only the inside and outside of the same illusion. The realization of oneness and completeness has the characteristics of universality and has all the characteristic of individual experience without presuming an ego entity. It also escaped the dualistic concept of unity and plurality of ‘I’ and ‘not I’.

Manas is that which either binds us to the world of the senses or which liberates us from it.  It is the principle through which the Universal consciousness experiences itself and through which it descends into the multiplicity of things, into the differentiation of senses and the sense objects, out of which arises the experience of the material world, the process of becoming, the progressive limitation of the unlimited. Liberation hence consists in the reversal of this process, in the progressive annihilation of these limitations. Annihilation here does not mean the suppression of sense consciousness, but a new attitude towards them, consisting in the removal of arbitrary discriminations, attachments and prejudices, i.e., the elimination of karmic formations which create the illusion of samsara, of birth and death. When there is a turning away from the outside world of objects to the inner world of oneness and completeness we have enter into the stream of liberation.

A bridge is shown here which leads from the ordinary world of the sense perception to the realm of timeless knowledge. In the process of enlightenment the five groups of form, feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness are transformed into the corresponding qualities of Enlightenment consciousness (bodhicitta).

With the knowledge and realization of the teaching (dharma), the narrow ego bound individual consciousness grow into the state of cosmic consciousness, represented by the figure of Vairocana, the Radiating One, the Illuminator. Form is converted into the universal body in which the forms of all things are potentially present, according to their true nature, as the exponents of Sunyata or egolessness, by the consciousness of the Mirror like Wisdom, which reflects the forms of all things without clinging, without being touched or moved by them. It is represented by the figure of Aksobhya. Here, one destroyed the subject and the subjective conception of the world in favor of the object.

Similarly, self centre feeling is converted into the feeling for others, into compassion for all that lives, essentially, looking at all beings as identical to oneself through the Wisdom of Equality, as embodied in the figure of Ratnasambhava. We destroy the object, the separating differentiation of the outer world of appearance in favor of the subject.

Perception and Intellectual discrimination are converted into transcendental faculty of inner vision in the practice of meditation. It is the special function of Amitabha, the Dhyani Buddha of Infinite Light, the Wisdom of Discriminating Clear Vision. Clear Vision here is not concerned with intellectual analysis, but with Intuitive clear vision, uninfluenced by logical or conceptual discriminations. It is a direct state of spiritual awareness. We destroy the subject and the object in the final experience of Emptiness.

On the basis of such visions, the ego-bound karma creating mental formation is converted into the karma free activity of the saint, whose life is no more motivated by desire or attachment but by universal compassion, embodied in the figure of Amoghasiddhi, the Lord of the All Accomplishing Wisdom.  We neither destroy the subject nor the object. We have reached the ultimate freedom and return to this world for the benefit of all living being.

As one Zen master said: Before one studies Zen the mountains are mountains and the water are water. If one get an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a master, then to him the mountains are no more mountains and the water are no more water; but later when he have attained satori, the mountains are again mountains and the water are again water.

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