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May 03, 2010


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Second, in Mahayana Zen consciousness can be analyzed in many configurations of types, such as two types, three types, eight types of consciousness, etc.

When consciousness is analyzed as being of two types, it is often a variation of looking at the Store-consciousness (8th alaya-vijnana) in relation to the other 7 consciousnesses. Here's D.T. Suzuki presenting one such analysis (from the introduction to the Lankavatara Sutra, linked on the right side of this webpage):

"The whole system of mental functions is called in the Lanka Cittakalapa or Vijnanakaya; Citta and Vijnana are here used synonymously. In this mental system eight modes of activity are distinguished: Alayavijnana, Manas, Manovijnana, and the five sense-Vijnanas. When these eight Vijnanas are grouped together under two general heads, the one group is known as Khyati-Vijnana (perceiving Vijnanas) and the other as Vastuprativikalpa-vijnana (object-discriminating Vijnana). But in fact the Vijnanas are not separable into these two groups, for perceiving is discriminating. When an individual object is perceived as such, that is, as solid, or as coloured, etc., discrimination has already taken place here; indeed without the latter, the former is impossible and conversely. Every Vijnana performs these two functions simultaneously, which is to say, one functioning is analysable into two ideas, perceiving and discriminating. But it is to be observed that this double activity does not belong to the Alayavijnana."

The "perceiving" consciousness (Khyati-Vijnana) is consciousness in its liberated state free of the aggregates because it is in the mirror state in which it freely perceives all things (dharmas) as the appear in the mirror of mind-consciousness (citta-vijnana). As things appear in the mirror, they are discriminated and that process of discrimination is the object-discriminating consciousness (Vastuprativikalpa-vijnana)that engages with (or is itself the engaged) aggregates.

Nirvana and samsara are an identity in the Mahayana because the liberated state of perceiving consciusness as the the empty mirror of Nirvana is as Suzuki poinnts out identical with the object discriminating consciousness that appears in the mirror as Samsara. Because there is a subtle objectification remaining in the idea of "two" types of consciousness either conceived as Nirvana and Samsara, or the mirror and the objects appearing in the mirror, in Zen enlightenment is not reached until the mirror is shattered.

The process of shattering the mirror is taught (for example by Zen masters Huineng and Hakuin) as the transformation of the Eight Consciuosnesses into the Four Wisdoms. The first wisdom is the transformation that illuminates or manifests the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom. Hakuin points out that this stage by itself is dark like pure black lacquer. The other three transformation of wisdom "shatter" the mirror's dark uniformity in successive steps leading to full engagement with the aggregates in a liberated, enlightened, and illuminated manifestation of Nirvana in the midst of Samsara.

First, the word upaya is fun to look at. As "upayA" it means "to come near," "approach," "arrive at," and "to get into any state or condition." So becoming engaged is a good meaning for it as becoming engaged in the five aggregates, or more precisely, the five aggregates becoming engaged in each other in a literal manner, is the source of ignorance. That is, we come to believe that there is some "thing" that we call our "self" that engages with or gets into the condition of the fivbe aggregates.

But as "upAya" the word means "coming near" in the sense of "that by which one reaches one's aim, a means or expedient (of any kind), way, stratagem, craft, artifice." This is the "expedient means" that all Mahayana Buddhists know well.

Interestingly, upAya also indicates a somewhat different take on "coming near" in the sense of how to come near to an enemy. In this sense it means "a means of success against an enemy (four are usually enumerated, sowing dissension, negotiation, bribery, and open assault)." This makes me laugh to see how politics is the embodiment of these two forms of upaya: expedient means to help people or as one of the four ways to defeat one's perceived enemies.

From the Mahayana Buddhist view, we turn ignorance into enlightenment by turning upaya around from upayA to upAya. At first, in the elementary view of Buddhism, upayA seems to be the problem as it rests on the idea that there is something engaging with the aggregates, and in this sense upayA is ignorance and not liberation. However when we awaken to the fundamental nature of reality we see that self is empty, the aggregates by which the self is created are empty, and all the dharmas (thing-events) by which the aggregates are constructed are empty, and thus we don't abandon the aggregates in a literal sense of creating unconsciousness, and instead we engage (upAya) with the aggregates and this is enlightenment and the Way of the Bodhisattva. This is how in the Mahayana we say that ignorance is enlightenment: both are engagement with the agregates, one as upayA the other as upAya. Before enlightenment we engage with the aggregates as simple upayA, and after enlightenment we engage with the aggregates as Bodhisattva upAya.

Brilliant! Great article. Many thanks.

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