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Eight consiousness system and relation to Enlightenment/Nirvana and Buddhahood

manomanmanoman New
edited October 2019 in Buddhism Basics

I have a few questions about the Mind in Buddhism.

What is the relation between the eight consciousness system and Buddha-nature/Buddhahood. How are the Buddha nature and the eight consciousness system related. I read for example that of course the alaya consciousness which transmigrates after death is everchaning and not a permanent entity (but nevertheless eternal or infinite because samsara is infinite?). I also read that after no seeds are left, this consciousness transforms into wisdom or Great mirror like wisdom etc.. but what then? How does Buddha nature fit in this system? Is it the amala consciousness (ninth consciousness which is the unconditioned permanent Buddha nature)? What comes after transforming and transcending the alaya consciousnes? I read about this concept of amala consciousness in Nichiren, are there other schools or books or maps that deal with this? How should the eight consciousness system be understood? Are all these eight within the MINDfield etc.? And what happens after buddhahood/nirvana? How does anatta fit in all of these teachings? Can Buddhas 'experience' after attainment of Buddhahood and Nirvana and 'communicate' with others or travel to worlds etc..?

So I read about the topic of mind and mental continuum or mindstream on Study Buddhism (

In general, there are four types of temporal continuums.

"The first type is a continuum that has both a beginning and an end. For example, this body that we now have has a beginning, when we were conceived, and an end, when we will die. And it continues from moment to moment while we are alive, without any break. That’s easy to understand.

The second type has no beginning, but has an end. This is more difficult to understand. Examples are uncontrollably recurring rebirth – in other words, samsara – and ignorance or unawareness about how we and everything exists. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call that “confusion about reality.” Samsara and confusion about reality, which fuels samsara, have no beginning. But, they can have an end. When that lack of awareness that is perpetuating our samsaric existence is replaced by awareness – in other words, when that confusion is replaced by correct understanding – and perfect concentration is maintained without any break on that correct understanding, then our confusion comes to a true end, and so does our uncontrollably recurring rebirth. Correct understanding and incorrect understanding – knowing and not knowing – cannot coexist at the same moment on one mental continuum.

The third type of temporal continuum is one that has a beginning, but no end. An example would be the disintegration of a glass. When I break a glass, that disintegration, that ending of the glass, has a beginning. It starts when the glass breaks, but it has no end, does it? It is going to go on forever: that glass will always be broken. A million years in the future, that glass will still be broken. It is not going to come back. The disintegration of the glass, then, has a beginning, but no end.

The fourth type is something that has no beginning and no end. A mental continuum is an example of something with no beginning and no end. This is what we need to understand when we are trying to understand the Buddhist teaching on rebirth: we are dealing with a continuum of mental activity that has no beginning and no end.
We need to be careful, here, and make a clear distinction. Any individual mental continuum has no beginning and no end. But, each mental continuum can have two phases. One phase is the samsaric phase, when that mental continuum undergoes uncontrollably recurring rebirth under the influence of confusion about reality, and therefore is filled with the various forms of suffering. This first phase has no beginning, but can have an end. The second phase is the nirvanic or liberated phase, when that mental continuum continues to manifest birth and death, but totally free of confusion about reality, so that it contains no suffering at all.
This second phase will have a beginning, but no end. Different schools of Buddhism offer several interpretations of this second phase. Let us simplify the discussion here and present only one point of view. The nirvanic phase may continue for a limited period as merely being liberated from samsara. During this merely liberated period, the mental activity will still be limited; it will not yet be omniscient. But, eventually, the merely liberated period will come to an end with the attainment of enlightenment and the nirvanic phase will then have an unending period as an omniscient Buddha. And so, if we consider these phases and periods all together, then any individual continuum of mental activity has no beginning and no end."

So does this mean when the alaya vijnana or the mental continuum in general is transcended and transformed into Buddha nature with its qualities one becomes a Buddha which have the quality of permanence, omniscience, deathlessness, birthlessness etc? But can we speak of a changing mental continuum like the alaya vijnana of Buddhas or have their altogether transcended these concepts of an everchanging mental continuum and replaced it with eternal/permanent Buddhahood? How should I understand all this? Are there any books or commentaries about this?


  • Edit: Could a Buddha/enlightened being for example manifest at its will on different worlds without the Constraint of rebirth through its nirmanakaya for example

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited October 2019

    This might help...

    However from what I gather the only way for one to truly come to an understanding to sit...

    for when the intellect ventures into where it does not belong, it becomes lost in its own confusion

    In other words... too much intellectualising will tie the mind up in [k]nots...

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Some of these questions are imponderable. The remainder are unnecessary.
    Just sit.
    Just be.

    Be present.
    Be Mindful.
    Follow the 4, the 8 and the 5.

    All rolled into one, they are merely this:


  • I think in the Mahamudra the Buddha nature is related to qualities of awareness called the 5 indiryas. These appear in this description more from a Pali Canon perspective And then you can also read the Pali Canon from a Mahamudra perspective. Mahamudra is related to Tibetan Buddhist tantra which deals with Buddha nature. You can also find information on the Buddha nature (I don't know about online) in a sutra merged with tantra perspective in the Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa. Sorry but I don't know how relates to the 8 consciousness though. Your copied text was very interesting from the standpoint of an analysis of different types of phenomena and their classification.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    From what I understand different schools have different takes on it. The Madhyamika philosophical school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama's position, has a different understanding of alaya consciousness. I think they only talk about 7 consciousnesses, the last 2 are combined maybe?

    I don't spend much time trying to understand it because it all seems pretty speculative and unrelated to my practice or any place I expect my practice to ever be at.

    Consciousness itself is an interesting topic to me. Since Buddhists themselves haven't been able to come to an agreement about it over the centuries what hope do we have. That doesn't mean we can't try, it just means its better to put your energy first on your practice and make sure that is being done.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited November 2019

    I think your questions are interesting from a scholarly point of view. The thing is, do you want to be a scholar of Buddhism? If you do, then scholastic contacts will serve you best. Certainly the answer is not within my reach. There is a clue in the URL you posted: advanced studies.

    But I also don’t think this level of knowledge is required for the practical application of the buddha’s teachings. For the most part, practice and the sutras point the way along a path leading to enlightenment, but it’s easy to wander away led by curiosity where exploring the nature of things seems to become so important.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited November 2019

    And what happens after buddhahood/nirvana?

    We will be able to stop asking questions and start providing answers.
    What fun!

    1. Improved and new behaviour:
    • social cohesion
    • psychological health
    • dispersion of negative into appropriate channels
    1. New thoughts and ways of thinking:
    • encouragement of learning
    • improvement of human aspiration and potential
    • development of deeper understanding on all levels
    1. Collection, concentration and sharing of virtue:
    • the store of goodness is attracted and accumulated
    • personal contact disperses the quality throughout
    • ​the sum total of goodness is increased

  • How should I understand all this?

    Do not bother until you can apply a better form of attention ...

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