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Ten Aspects of the Mahayana

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Ten Aspects of the Mahayana

as presented in Arya Asanga’s Mahayanasamgraha (Summary of the Great Vehicle) (10 themes found only in the Great Vehicle, to be realized in the sequence presented here; aspects 1-3 are upheld only by Yogachara School; 4-10 are upheld by all of Mahayana)

1. Alaya-vijnana (storehouse/repository/container consciousness) – 8 consciousness system; see below

2. Trisvabhava / trilakshana (3 natures / 3 characteristics) – paratantra (other-dependent – all manifestations of consciousness, born of alaya),

parikalpita (imputational/completely imagined/ conceptually grasped – as something established by way of its own character), parinishpanna (thoroughly established/ completely perfected/perfectly real);

parinishpanna is the absence of parikalpita in paratantra – this is suchness, ultimate essencelessness, the object of observation for purification


3. Vijnaptimatra (mere concept/consciousness-only/cognition-only) – realization of parinishpanna and that all objects of experience are therefore just manifestations of consciousness, born of alaya;

darshanamarga (path of seeing) is entered at first direct cognition of vijnaptimatra - this is 1st bodhisattva bhumi


4. Paramita (6 or 10 perfections) –

these paramitas are both the condition and the result of realization


5. Bodhisattva-bhumi (10 grounds/levels/stages of awakening beings) –

pramudita (joyous),
vimala (stainless),
prabhakari (luminous),
arcismati (radiant),
sudarjaya (unconquerable),
abhimukhi (directly facing),
durangama (far going),
achala (immovable),
sadhumati (good intellect),
dharmamegha (cloud of teachings) –

10 paramitas are practiced on 10 bhumis, successively, on bhavana-marga (path of cultivation);

this is applying vijnaptimatra (nonduality of subject and object) to each paramita

6. Bodhisattva-shila (precepts of awakening beings) – embracing and sustaining discipline and deportment, embracing and sustaining wholesome qualities, embracing and sustaining living beings

7. Mahayana samadhi (great vehicle concentrations/absorptions) – Heroic March, Ocean Seal, etc.

8. Nirvikalpa-jnana (nonconceptual/nonimaginative wisdom/knowledge) – same as prajna-paramita (perfection of wisdom); direct realization of suchness (6,7,8 are Mahayana version of the basic path)

9. Apratishtita-nirvana (non-abiding liberation/cessation/unbinding) – complete non-attachment to both samsara and nirvana; this is ashraya-paravrtti (transformation/conversion/revolution of the basis) – paratantra is converted from imputation to reality, alaya-vijnana is transformed into perfect mirror jnana

10. Trikaya (3 bodies of Buddha) – dharmakaya (inconceivable truth body), sambhogakaya (enjoyment/ bliss body – appears only to bodhisattvas), nirmanakaya (illusory/transformation body); these 3

bodies manifest at ashraya-paravrttiBuddhahood is ashaiksha-marga (path of no more learning)


Eight Consciousnesses of the Yogachara School as presented in Sandhinirmochana Sutra (ch.5), Lankavatara Sutra, Asanga’s Mahayanasamgraha (ch.1), Vasubandhu’s Vijnaptimatratasiddhi; early Buddhism taught only first 6 consciousnesses

1-5. Chakshur/shrotra/grahna/jihva/kaya-vijnana (eye/ear/nose/tongue/body consciousness)

6. Mano-vijnana (mental consciousness) – awareness/cognition/discernment which ascribes names to objects, directly perceives emptiness, misconceives duality, etc.; awareness of activity of klishta-manas

7. Klishta-manas (afflicted mind/intellect – the mental sense organ, afflicted with view of self, confusion regarding self, pride in self, attachment to self; it is the source of the imputational character; it conceives alaya to be the self of the person, until hinayana stream-entry or 1st bodhisattva bhumi

8. Alaya-vijnana (storehouse/repository/container consciousness) – the basis into which karmic actions leave vasana (permeations) or bija (seeds), which in turn give rise to sense organs, objects, the 7 other consciousnesses, and habits (the whole dependently arisen world of experience) – all pervaded by a sense of duality of perceiver and perceived;

alaya is what “flows” through deep sleep, transmigrates in rebirth, and connects body and mind – though it is not a permanent self; it continues until arhatship or 8th bodhisattva bhumi (when no more seeds are deposited and all stored seeds have come to fruition), when it is called fruition consciousness – at Buddhahood it is transformed into perfect mirror jnana

3 Characteristics of all Phenomena (in Chapters 6&7 of the Samdhinirmochana Sutra)

1. Imputational Character (parikalpita - completely imagined, mere fantasy, conceptually grasped, projected; this is a non-existent imputational character - there are existent imputational characters, like uncompounded space, which are also referents of words, but do not exist by way of their own character)

It is that which is imputed as (imagined as, posited by) a name or symbol (to the objects of conceptual activity, the signs of compounded phenomena) in terms of the own-being (svabhava - identity, essence, entity) or attributes (particulars) of phenomena in order to subsequently designate (impute) any convention whatsoever.

It is known in dependence upon names that are connected with signs (nimitta). It is a lack of own-being in terms of character (marks, characteristics, traits, features - lakshana-nihsvabhavata)…

It is posited as (defined by) names and symbols, but it does not subsist by way of its own character (by inherent definition).

(Jang-gya definition): It is the (false) establishment of an (other-dependent) phenomenon by way of its own-character (svalakshana) (from its own side) as the referent (ground, base of imputation) of a conceptual consciousness or of a word (name, designation, apprehension), and the (false) establishment of object (perceived, phenomena) and subject (perceiver, consciousness) as separate entities.

(Svabhava: inherent existence, entity, substance, essence, own-being, intrinsic being, selfexistence, self-nature; basically equivalent to svalakshana:

natural existence, own-character) 2. Other-Dependent Character (paratantraother-powered, dependent origination; objects of conceptual activity, bases of the imputational character, signs (or that which has the signs) of compounded phenomena)

It is simply the dependent origination (dependent co-arising) of phenomena .

It is known in dependence upon strongly adhering to the other-dependent character as being the imputational character (being superimposed on the imputational character). It is a lack of own-being in terms of self-production (birth - utpatti-nihsvabhavata)…It arises through the force (dependent on the power) of other conditions and not by itself.

(Asanga’s definition): It is all the consciously constructed differentiations (vijnapticoncepts) that have alaya as their seed…

They correspond to the (6 sense organs, 6 sense objects, 6 consciousnesses). 3. Thoroughly Established Character (parinishpanna - completely perfected, perfectly real, consummate; its realization is equivalent to realizing that all objects of experience are mere consciousness;

this is vijnaptimatrata - mere concept, consciousness-only, perception-only, ideation-only, cognition-only, mere representation of consciousness, mere denomination, pure information, only constructs of consciousness; it is realized directly and non-conceptually on the Path of Seeing)

It is the suchness (tathata - thusness) of phenomena. Through diligence and proper mental application (it is realized)…

It is the other-dependent char. not thoroughly established as being the imputational char. It is known in dependence upon absence of strong adherence to the other-dependent character (dependent co-arising, interdependent origination) as being the imputational character.

It is an ultimate lack of own-being (essence - paramartha-nihsvabhavata)…It is the selflessness of phenomena…the object of observation for purification…ultimate truth. Other-powered (characters) are permanently and forever thoroughly not established as (having) the imputational (character), and are without that inherent nature; just that non-establishment or lack of inherent nature is to be viewed as the thoroughly established character.

(Jang-gya definition): It is the emptiness (absence) of an (other-dependent) object’s establishment by way of its own character as the referent of a conceptual consciousness or of a term (word) and the emptiness of its being a separate entity from the consciousness apprehending it (of object and subject being different substantial entities, of subject-object duality,

of perceiver-perceived duality). (The thoroughly established character is the absence of the imputational character in the other dependent character.

Other-powered characters are not established by way of their own character as the referents of conceptual consciousnesses or as the referents of words.)

Mind-Only (Chittamatra / Vijñaptimatra / Yogachara) Reading List "The three realms [the desire, form, & formless realms; all of existence) are mind-only (chitta-matra)." Avatamsaka Sutra, Chapter 26: the Ten Stages (pages 746, 751, 1047)

"I have explained that consciousness is fully distinguished by [the fact that its] object of observation is cognition-only (vijnapti-matra)…

The appearances of the forms of sentient beings and so forth are not different from the mind. However, because childish beings with distorted understanding do not recognize these images as cognition-only, just as they are in reality, they misconstrue them… What is the onepointed mind?

It is the realization that: 'This image which is the focus of samadhi is cognition-only.'

Having realized that, it is mental attention to suchness." Samdhinirmochana Sutra, Chapter 8: the Questions of Maitreya (pages 155, 157)

"There are those who have fallen into the dualistic way of thinking, being unable to comprehend the truth of mind-only (chitta-matra); they desire to discriminate a world which is of mind itself.

Body, property, and abode have their existence only when measured in discrimination." Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2: Collection of all the Dharmas (page 47 plus many others)

Samdhinirmochana Sutra:

Lankavatara Sutra:

Principles of Buddhist Psychology – David J. Kalupahana, 1987 (pp. 149-171) (Madhyantavibhaga, section 1, from Sanskrit)

Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes (Madhyantavibhaga, from Tibetan) – with commentary by Thrangu Rinpoche, 2000

Distinguishing Dharma and Dharmata (Dharmadharmatavibhaga, from Tibetan) – with commentary by Thrangu Rinpoche, 1999

Seven Works of Vasubandhu – trans. by Stefan Anacker, 1984 (includes above texts plus more)

Vijñaptimatratasiddhi: Thirty Verses of Vasubandhu – commentary by Tenshin Reb Anderson, 1994 Understanding Our Mind (formerly called Transformation at the Base), plus "sequel": Buddha Mind, Buddha BodyThich Nhat Hanh, 2001, 2007 (new verses based on Vasubandhu) Hsuan-Tsang Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses (600-664 CE): Ch’eng Wei-Shih Lun: Doctrine of Mere Consciousness by Hsuan Tsang – trans. by Wei Tat, 1973 Three Texts on Consciousness Only – trans. by Francis H. Cook, 1999 General:

A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience – Thomas A. Kochumuttom, 1982 (includ. trans. of Vasubandhu) Buddhist Thought in IndiaEdward Conze, 1962 (pp. 250-260) Cutting Through AppearancesGeshe Lhundrup Sopa and Jeffrey Hopkins, 1989 (pp. 249-278) (formerly called Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism 1976, pp. 107-121)

Chan and Zen:

The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma – trans. by Red Pine, 1987 (Wake-up Sermon, pp. 47-75) Sun Face Buddha: the Teachings of Ma-Tsu – trans. by Cheng Chien Bhikshu, 1992 (pp. 62-68) – Mazu

Case 88 – The Surangama’s Not Seeing

Case 91 – Nanquan’s Peony

(* = Kokyo’s most highly recommended texts on Mind-Only)