Alayavijnana – Store Consciousness – Edward Conze

The following is an introduction by Beezone.


Discrimination is the result of memory (VASANA…habit energy) accumulated from the unknown past. VASANA (memory) literally means ‘perfuming’ or ‘fumigation’, that is, it is a kind of energy that is left behind when an act is accomplished and has the power to rekindle the old and seek out new impressions.

Through this ‘perfuming’ reelection takes place which is the thing as discrimination, and we have a world of opposites and contraries with all its practical consequences. The triple world, so called, is therefore the shadow of a self-reflecting and self-creating mind. Hence the doctrine of “MIND ONLY” (cittamatra)

VASANA (habit energy) is so contaminated with ignorance and wrong judgments and all sorts of attachments, it reacts upon an external world in a way detrimental to the realization of truth. The state of realization is obtained by a means of revulsion (Paravritti) at the deepest seat of consciousness know as the Alayavijnana.

Alayavijnana is a kind of mental receptacle where all the memory of one’s past deeds and psychic activities is deposited and preserved in a form of energy called VASANA or habit energy.


This is one of the most important conceptions in the system of Vijnanas (Mind).

Vasana comes from the root VAS meaning “to dwell”, “to stay” or “to perfume” and used in combination, that is, in the sense of a perfuming energy that leaves its essence permanently behind in the things it has perfumed. The Chinese have translated it “habit”, “long usage” or “repeated experience”. Vasana is therefore a kind of super-sensuous energy mysteriously emanating from every thought, every feeling, or every deed one has done or does, which lives latently in the storehouse called Alayavijnana.

Vasana is morally corrupt and logically erroneous inasmuch as it creates an external world and causes us to cling to it as real and final. In modern psychology, we can say that vasana corresponds to memory in its widest sense. This perfuming or leaving impressions is sometimes known as BIJA (memory/sowing seeds).

Psychologically vasana is memory, for it is something left after a deed is done, mental or physical, and it retained and stored in the Alaya as a sort of latent energy ready to be set in motion. this memory or ‘habit-energy’, or ‘habitual perfuming is not necessarily individual’ the Alaya being super-individual holds in it not only individual memory but all that has been experienced by sentient beings. When the sutra says that in the Alaya is found all that has been going on sine beginningless time systematically stored up as a kind of seed, this does not refer to individual experiences, but to something general, beyond the individual, making up in a way the background on which all individual psychic activities are reflected. Therefore, the alaya is originally pure, it is the abode of Tathagatahood (Buddhahood), where no defilement’s of the particle arising intellect and affection can reach; purity in terms of logic means universality, and defilement’s or sins means individuation, from which attachments of various forms are derived.

In short, the world starts from memory, memory in itself as retained in the Alaya universal mind. When we are removed from the influence of false discrimination the whole Vijnana system woven around the Alaya as center experiences a revulsion toward true perception (paravritt). This is the gist of the teaching of the Lankavatara.

“ Store-consciousness”

The Yogacara concept of a “Store-consciousness” is of interest less for its actual value, than for the motive behind it. Asanga postulated an overpersonal consciousness which is the foundation of all acts of thought. The impressions of the whole of past experience are stored up in it, all deeds and their fruits. It is not an individual soul, bound to a psycho-physical organism, but it is the objective fact which in our ignorance and self-love we mistake for an individual soul, or self. As worked out by the Yogacarins, the concept of a Store-consciousness is far from intelligible, and it has led to little more than ardent discussions.

That such a concept, unsatisfactory as it is, should have been worked out at all, indicates an important difficulty in the Buddhist system of thought. The Anatta-doctrine had claimed that there was in fact no individual self, or permanent ego, which could account for the self-contained unity of an individual. What appears as an individual is really a series of momentary Dharmas which continuously succeed each other. But there remained the relative unity of each series, and its distinction from the others. There remained the observation of commonsense that I remember my own inner experiences so much better than those of others, which, in fact, I do not remember at all. There remained the teaching of karma, according to which I experience the fruit of my deeds, and am not punished or rewarded for the deeds of another. There remained the observation that some of my own past experiences are, as it were, stored up for a time in a kind of unconscious, and influence my actions at a later date. The illusion of individuality may indeed be due to craving, but it is strongly fortified by ordinary observation. One could, of course, brush all this aside, and refer the enquirer to the state of Nirvana in which all these observations would appear in quite a different light.

To all those who have not gone so far, the belief in individuality must, however, seem so plausible that they would expect it to have some kind of objective foundation somewhere. Here was the weak spot in the Buddhist armour, and the problem has harassed the Buddhist theoreticians throughout their history. The heresy of a belief in a self invaded even the ranks of the Order. The followers of one of the eighteen traditional sects—the Sammitiyas—were known as Pudgala-vadins, “Upholders of the belief in a person.” They attempted to retain some form of belief in a self, or a soul, without quite doing so. They spoke of an indefinable principle called the pudgala, the person, who is neither different nor not different from the five Skandhas. It persists through the several lives of a being until he reaches Nirvana. It has a sort of middle position between our true and our empirical self. On the one hand it accounts for our sense of personal identity (like the “empirical self”), and on the other it lasts into Nirvana (like the “true self”). Among all controversial issues, this one was considered as the most critical of all. Throughout the centuries the orthodox never wearied of piling argument upon argument to defeat this admission of a Self by the Pudgalavadins. But the more tenaciously and persistently one tries to keep something out of one’s mind, or out of a system of thought, the more surely it will come in. The orthodox, in the end, were forced to admit the notion of a permanent ego, not openly, but in various disguises, hidden in particularly obscure and abstruse concepts, like the Subconscious Life-continuum (bhavanga) of the Theravadins, the continued existence of a very subtle Consciousness of the Sautrantikas, the Root-Consciousness of the Mahasanghikas, etc. The Store-Consciousness of the Yogacarins is conceived in the same spirit. As soon as the advice to disregard the individual self had hardened into the proposition that “there is no self,” such concessions to commonsense became quite inevitable.

Once the Yogacarins had given way to the desire to probe into the origins of our illusions, they found themselves carried into an ocean of boundless speculation. Beginning with the Store-Consciousness, they set themselves the task of deducing the actual world from it, and to trace the exact process of evolution by which the ultimate subject became estranged from itself and unfolded itself into an objective world. In doing so, they built up an extremely involved and complicated system of speculative metaphysics which has no direct bearing on the practice of emancipation. They departed from the theoretical simplicity of the past, which was more concerned with undoing illusions than with explaining them. The bulk of Yogacara philosophy, though occasioned by the difficulties inherent in the Anatta-doctrine, represents really an invasion of Buddhism by the Samkhya system of Hindu philosophy which, at about the time of Asanga, was used by Patanjali (ca 450 A.D.) for his theoretical exposition of the Yoga methods still current in India. A complete change had taken place in the mental climate of India between the time of the Abhidharma, and the centuries which saw the growth of the Yogacarins. In the old times the monks were very little concerned with the universe in general. Mental states and psychological methods were all that mattered if one wanted to know oneself. Now, however, when no longer individual but universal salvation is sought after, mental states are considered in their relation to the evolution of the cosmos to which more and more attention is directed. This shift in emphasis began with the Yogacaras, and became more and more marked in the Tantric developments to which we will turn soon.