Buddhism is more of a science than a religion, more than westerners may realize. Some who practice it may do so out of intellectual interest, and for a good reason—understanding the mind is essential to how Buddhists operate, whether that be through practice or meditation. Most study and practice it for the benefits discussed in the conclusion of this blog. By identifying the different parts of the consciousness and understanding how they interact with one another, meditation becomes easier and intellectually stimulating.
According to Buddhism, consciousness is continuous. We are energetic beings. According to Newton’s first law of physics, energy never dies it just changes form. There are eight consciousnesses and it can be broken down to four layers: sense, mano (mentality), manas (ego), and alaya (the karmic store). This translates to the Body + Mind. The store consciousness goes on forever.
Mano consciousness is the 6th consciousness and it uses up most of our energy. It is the “working” consciousness that makes judgments and plans. The mano consciousness is not possible without the brain as an organ. That is how it connects itself to the body consciousnesses as well, since they are all one in the same. Through this first level of mind consciousness, we are able to think through the various cognitive processes including the interpretations (inference) and intellectualization of our perceptions. All of these mental functions take a drastic amount of energy and are necessary for living. It is possible to economize this energy by training in the habit of mindfulness, which keeps us in the present and allows our mind consciousness to relax in the middle, like Buddhist practitioners do.
The sense consciousnesses come from the way we use our five physical sense faculties: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. These are sometimes called “gates” or “doors” because of how our perception relies on sensory contact. The sense consciousnesses involve three elements: the sense organ, the sense object, and our perception of what we are sensing (the perceived). The mental experience begins with our perceptions through the 5 sensory organs. It is wise to keep these guarded and to be mindful of what you let in. The mind is easily tainted, and everything gets stored.
The deepest layer of consciousness is the 8th consciousness, the alaya or store consciousness. It is a place where all information is kept, held, and preserved, and is the subconscious of the individual and collective. Information, known in Buddhist tradition as bija (energy seeds), forms a new seed the first time you come across it and stores it away to process it. All seeds—our likes, dislikes, and decisions—are tucked away in our store consciousness, giving people the illusion of free choice. These seeds make you who you are by influencing your next thoughts. Depending on how strong the seeds are equals how strong the thought is going to become. Thoughts eventually become the individual’s destiny. Thoughts 🡪 Actions/Speech 🡪 Habits 🡪 Personality 🡪 Destiny. The alaya consciousness is very deep and subtle. It arises from moment to moment together with the functions of sense faculties and the various cognitive and affective formations constitute one’s on-going existence.
The hardest level of consciousness to dissolve is the 7th consciousness, the manas, or ego. This is the root of who a person thinks it is as a separate self: the belief in a person. This is a hindrance to attaining The First Stage of Enlightenment as a Stream-Enterer.
To become a Stream-Enterer, the first three of ten fetters must be eliminated. The first fetter is having Personal Existence View, i.e. self identity and self-identity protections, and a self-image and self-image projections, and not realizing non-self (the fact that there is no permanent self). To become fully Enlightened as an Arahant, all of The Ten Fetters must be eliminated, including the other half of the ego, described by The Buddha as the eighth fetter of Conceit. Conceit is having arrogance, pride, judgement, and the measuring and comparing of others as inferior or superior (much like a pecking order commonly found in the animal realm).
Manas goes beyond mind consciousness; it is the idea that there is a self separate from non-self elements, clinging to stored consciousness as a separate entity. Manas consciousness is always subliminally operating—it never lets go of stored consciousness and is always embracing, holding onto, or sticking to it, until it is eradicated from the mind. Through manas consciousness, store consciousness is seen as the object of its love, appropriating it as its own. As the graphic below shows, the 8th consciousness is the ocean. The other 7 consciousnesses make up the wave. The center of the wave rides the ego. All are part of the same ocean whether some consciousnesses believe or are aware of it or not.
We are nothing more than the eight consciousnesses, fueled by craving and fettered by ignorance (the unknowing of true reality). It is craving and residual memories that act as the “stored consciousness,” being transferred from one existence to the next throughout the realms of existence. It is craving that is the cause of rebirth in The Cycle of Rebirth (Cycle of New Existence).
So why do we need to know all this? If you know all these then you know your own mind and natural laws of existence. If you know your own mind, then you are aware of every thought. If you are aware of every thought, you can change your thoughts from unwholesome to wholesome and pure. If you can control your own thought in such a way that you are geared toward only the right path, then you are on your way to contentedness, peace and Sainthood.
Why do people commit crimes, sins, and misery? It is because they cannot control their own thought. Everyone is the master of their own thought. That is why we hear positive thinkers say things such as, “whatever you think, you can achieve it.” Therefore, if you are not aware of your own thought, then it is not strong enough. In summary, studying all these makes us aware of our own thoughts. Those that are aware stay away from bad deeds and negative karma. Keep in mind practicing meditation helps with this awareness and is of extreme importance for self-control and self-care.