The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alava-Vij'Nana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought

The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alava-Vij'Nana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought

The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alava-Vij'Nana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought

The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alava-Vij'Nana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought

Synopsis

This is the story of fifth century CE India, when the Yogacarin Buddhists tested the awareness of unawareness, and became aware of human unawareness to an extraordinary degree. This important study reveals how the Buddhist unconscious illuminates and draws out aspects of current western thinking on the unconscious mind.

Excerpt

Our lives in this world are prescribed in countless ways. As human beings, we have certain capabilities, such as speech, but not others, such as natural flight or sonic navigation. As males or females, we inherit obvious as well as some not so obvious biological and social conditions. As Americans, Chinese, Indians, or Russians, we are acculturated from birth into particular world-views, with all of their attendant behavioral norms, cognitive regularities, and moral imperatives. Our actions in this life have done little to create the conditions in which we are born and raised, which nevertheless strongly circumscribe the parameters of our daily experiences.

This is no less true for our capacities of mind. the range of our normal perceptions, our typical array of appetites and aptitudes, even our capacities for our highest worldly achievements - to the extent that these are species-specific - are in large part already inscribed by the time we are born as human beings. Most of us, for example, cannot choose whether or not to see the sun as yellow or to feel pain when injured, or to become fearful or angry when physically assaulted. Most of this happens automatically, without our conscious choice and relatively impervious to our conscious intentions. This "unconscious structuring of experience" has been recognized to varying degrees, and with varying degrees of sophistication, in different times and places.

The essay that follows is the story of one such time and place - fifth-century ce India - where an awareness of this area of unawareness, and the challenges it poses to conscious self-transformation, were developed to an extraordinary degree. So much so that the Indian Yogācāra Buddhists who first systematically conceptualized this awareness of unawareness, if you will, felt able to describe its dynamics and delineate its contours in considerable detail. They not only explicitly differentiated a dimension of unconscious mental processes - called "ālaya" vijñāna, the "basal, store, or home" consciousness - from the processes of conscious cognitive awareness - called prav tti-vijñāna. They also articulated a variety of experiential, logical, and exegetical arguments in support of this concept of unconscious mind, arguments which we will examine in considerable detail in the several Yogācāra chapters below, which form the core of this work.

This "Buddhist unconscious," however, did not arise out of a vacuum. the description of this "ālaya" consciousness, as well as the problematics driving

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