Original Purity and the Arising of Delusion

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Original Purity and the Arising of Delusion
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Citation: Hubbard, Jamie. "Original Purity and the Origin of Delusion." Online Publications of Jamie Hubbard, October 31, 2008 (originally written in 1994). https://sophia.smith.edu/~jhubbard/publications/papers/OriginalPurity.pdf

The varying answers given to the single question of whether the mind is pure by nature or defiled by nature form a convenient lenses through which to view the development of Yogācāra thought.[1] If the mind is pure, then where do the defilements originate? If it is defiled, where does purity originate? Though the classical formulation of Asaṇga and Vasubandhu sees consciousness as paratantric, the source of defilement yet only the support of purity (an important distinction that necessitates an external source of purity), another view which was taken up by Yogācāran thinkers is that of the originally pure mind (viśuddhi cittaprakṛiti); a third schema brings the structure of consciousness together with that purity as seen, for example, within the *Mahāyāna śraddhotpādaśāstra (The Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith).

The Defiled Mind
The Yogācāra formulation of the eight vijñānas is basically a chart of consciousness, of how delusion arises within that consciousness, and of the conversion of that consciousness to wisdom (jñāna). The ālaya-vijñāna or eighth consciousness is the storehouse consciousness because it appropriates or unifies the data of the other seven consciousnesses (ego or manas, the mind or mano, and the five sense-vijñāna). By this act of appropriating and storing the ālaya becomes the source of delusion because, as the basis of the evolution of discriminating consciousness (vijñāna-parināma), it is the source of deluded thinking (parapañca). However, the ālaya is not the sole cause of vijñānaparināma, as is the basis of production in the Upanishadic sense; rather, it too is the result of the evolution of discriminating consciousness inasmuch as it is "perfumed" by that same evolution. The ālaya and the other consciousnesses arise together in a symbiotic or synergistic relationship. Thus the structure of consciousness, for Asaṇga and Vasubandhu, arises co-dependently. Yogācāra thought, however, does not stop with the mere detailing of the arising of delusion, it also sought to contextualize wisdom within the theory of consciousness and to this end the three svabhāvas are taught.
     According to this theory, the evolution of discriminating consciousness or consciousness in the mode of prapañca is termed parikalpita-svabhāva, "false imaginings." This mode of consciousness falsely projects existence on the non-existent, i.e., the rope which is mistaken for a snake, the hair in the eye of a man with cataracts, meaning as external to consciousness, and subject-object duality. Paratantra-svabhāva is the co-dependent nature of ālaya, arising in synergy with the other vijñāna. This is the most important of the three svabhāvas, as it is the co-dependent nature of consciousness which allows for the conversion of consciousness to wisdom. The third svabhāva, pariniṣpanna-svabhāva, is the absence of unreal imaginings, the abeyance of "extroverted consciousness."
     As mentioned above, it is important to understand the pivotal role played by the paratantric nature, the synergistic or co-dependant structure of consciousness. It is because of this nature that nonconsciousness can function in either an enlightened (pariniṣpanna) or deluded (parikalpita) mode. Thus all three natures are neither different nor identical. As Asaṇga states:

"They are neither different nor identical. In one mode of being (parayana) paratantra is itself dependant on others. In another mode of being, it is parikalpita, and in another mode of being, it is pariniṣpanna."[2]

      Thus it is also that paratantra is conceived to have two natures, one defiled (sa_kleśabhāgapatita-paratantrasvabhāva) and the other pure (vyavadānabhagapatita-paratantra).[3] For Asaṇga and Vasubandhu it is precisely the co-dependent, paratantric nature of the ālaya that allows for both ignorance and enlightenment. Vasubandhu has identified the ālaya as paratantra-svabhāva, contextualizing consciousness in terms of co-arising in order to account for both phenomenal consciousness and wisdom. There is here no "original purity of mind" serving as a support or base. This is clear when we consider Asaṇga's interpretation of the following passage from the Mahāyānābhidarmasūtra:

"The Bhagavan in the Abhidarmasūtra has said that 'the beginningless realm (element, anādikālikodhātu) is the common support of all dharmas. Because of this, there exists all destinies (gāti) and the access to nirvāna.'"[4]

      Although this was understood by the Ratnagotravibhāga to refer to tathāgatagarbha[5] for both Asaṇga and Vasubandhu the "beginningless realm" refers to the ālaya-vijñāna. We must be careful, though, for although this sounds like the ālaya would then be identified with the tathāgatagarbha (especially in the light of the "swinging door" aspect of the ālaya as paratantra described above, which remind one of the ideas of nirmalā and samalā-tathatā found in the Ratnagotra), for Asaṇga and Vasubandhu the ālaya was the cause (hetu) of defiled dharmas only.[6] The above verse was then interpreted to mean that though the ālaya wasn't the source of purity, it could support pure dharmas. Thus, rather than the "uncovering" of an already existent purity (the tathāgatagarbha model) the purification of consciousness involves in a conversion of the basis (āśraya-parāvṛtti) in which the ālaya is cut off, destroyed, and replaced with the mirror-wisdom (ādarśa-jñāna).
      How then does the conversion come about if the ālaya is only the source of defiled dharmas? The answer to this question lies in the complex formula of the "four pure dharmas" (caturvidhovyavādanadharma). What this basically involves is the fact that it is in the nature of the paratantric ālaya to be able to support pure dharmas (though it cannot originate them) and thus be converted to pariniṣpanna. According to Asaṇga, these pure dharmas are the outflow of the pure dharmadhātu (dharmadhātu-niṣyanda). Through the hearing (śrutavāsanā) of the true teachings we are led to the realization of the purity of the object (ālambana-vyavadāna), which, as an outflow of purity, is pariniṣpanna. This in turn gives rise to the purity of the path (mārga-vyavadāna), the realization of tathatā or undefiled purity (vaimalya-vyavadāna) and original purity (prakṛti-vyavadāna).[7] Thus we see a dynamic process moving from the dharmadhātu to its expression in the teaching of the dharma and then back again. Although the ālaya itself is incapable of starting the process, it can support the pure dharmas or outflow and thus realize conversion to purity. It is important to note here that prakṛti-vyavadāna is not originally part of consciousness, for then we would have the same structure as found within the tathāgatagarbha literature.[8] In other words, if parkṛtivyavadāna included consciousness, then we would be talking of a pure consciousness being the cause of śrutavāsanā, and this is not the case for Asaṇga and Vasubandhu, who hold consciousness as the cause (hetu) of defilement only.

The Pure Mind
      Although Vasubandhu described consciousness as paratantric and the source of only defiled dharmas, requiring the hearing, śrutavāsanā, of the teachings emanating from the dharmadhātu in order to realize enlightenment, there was another trend in Yogācāra thought that viewed consciousness itself as originally pure. This is an old tradition, for references to a luminous, pure mind (viśuddhicittaprakṛiti) can be found in the Nikāyas and it was propounded by the Mahāsaṃgika, though rejected by the Vaibhasika and Theravāda.[9] In particular, the teaching of defilements as accidental and extraneous (āgantuka) to this originally pure mind seems to have led to Abhidharmic debates. These doctrines were, however, picked up by Mahāyāna followers, especially in tathāgatagarbha and Yogācāra literature. I feel that it is here, in this ancient context of the "originally pure mind," reformulated after the advent of Mahāyāna concepts such as śūnyatā and dharmakāya had become widely accepted, that we will find the context of meaning which gave birth to the notion of the tathāgatagarbha.[10]
      The concept of the pure mind was also very important to tathāgatagarbha literature, such as the Śrīmālādevī sūtra and the Ratnagotravibhāga. And, just as the ālaya was said to the basis or support (āśraya) of all dharmas, the tathāgatagarbha or pure mind is commonly said to be the support (āśraya) of all dharmas within the tathāgatagarbha literature:

"Therefore, O Lord, the Matrix of the Tathāgata is the foundation, the support, and the substratum of the immutable elements (properties) which are essentially connected with, indivisible from [the Absolute Entity] , and unreleased from Wisdom. [At the same time], this very Matrix of the Tathāgata is also, O Lord, the foundation, the support, and the substratum of the [worldly] elements that are produced by causes and conditions, which are by all means disconnected, differentiated [from the Absolute Essence], and separated from Wisdom."[11]

      There is, however, an important difference in the ālaya and the tathāgatagarbha (equivalent to cittaprakṛti) in their function as āśraya or support of both phenomena and enlightenment. Unlike the ālaya, cut off or ended in the transformation from delusion to wisdom, the tathāgatagarbha is essentially pure, and merely covered with accidental defilements, the removal of which constitutes the state of suchness, tathatā. Thus scholars have come to term the process of enlightenment in tathāgatagarbha literature as one of "arithmetical subtraction," i.e., removing the adventitious covering to reveal that which has always existed, purely and eternally. In the Yogācāra tradition described above, wisdom is engendered through a conversion of consciousness from discriminating (parikalpita) to pure (pariniṣpanna), in which the previously existing ālaya is described as "cut off" and "destroyed". Although both systems refer to this as "conversion of the basis" (āśraya-paravṛti), the difference lies in the fact that in the tathāgatagarbha theory, the basis is pure from the beginning and is merely revealed when the defilements are removed. Thus "A" (the basis or āśraya) is "A" both before and after enlightenment. In Yogācāra, “A” (the basis or āśraya) is changed to "B" (wisdom) in the state of wisdom, "A" no longer exists, and the states "A" and "B" are considered disjunctive and heterogeneous.[12]
      Because the emphasis in the teaching of the pure mind or tathāgatagarbha is on purity, defilements are always considered accidental (āgantuka). This, however, raises the question of how these accidental defilements obscure the purity and how they are to be removed. As it was precisely these questions which the Yogācāra explication of phenomenal consciousness was formulated to answer, it wasn't long before the two ideas came together.

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  1. [Note 1, which is attached to the title in the original, reads:] This was originally written in 1994; the publisher seems to have fallen into a black hole, so I am putting it up myself; I have not changed it (other than fonts and some formatting issues) in order to keep the historical in perspective. I think that I still agree with myself.
  2. Mahāyānasaṃgrahaśāstra, T. 31.139b, quoted in John Keenan, unpub. diss. (Wisconsin, 1980), A Study of the Buddhabhūmyupadeśa: The Doctrinal Development of the Notion of Wisdom in Yogācāra Thought, p. 207.
  3. Ibid., p. 209.
  4. Ibid., p. 183
  5. Jikido Takasaki, A Study of the Ratnagotra-vibhāga (Uttaratantra), (Rome, 1966) pp. 290-291.
  6. Keenan, pp. 183-184.
  7. Hakamaya, Noriaki, "The Realm of Enlightenment in Vijñapti-mātratā: The Formulation of the 'Four Kinds of Pure Dharmas'," in Journal of the IABS, vol. 3, no.2 (1980).
  8. Keenan, pp. 216-218.
  9. Diana Paul, unpub. diss. (Wisconsin, 1974), A Prolegomena to the Śrīmālādevī sūtra and the Tathāgatagarbha Theory, pp. 73-80.
  10. There was also an early confluence of tathāgatagarbha and Yogācāra texts, as is evident from the Mahāyānasūtralaṃkara, a Yogācāra text which frequently speaks of the pure mind and is the only śastra quoted by the Ratnagotravibhāga. Although traditionally listed as one of the five texts of Maitreya-Asaṇga, because of its combination of Yogācāra and tathāgatagarbha thought, John Keenan puts its composition somewhere "between the initial Yogācāra statement of the Saṃdhinirmocana and the Mahāyānābhidharma and the later classical formulation of Asaṇga and Vasubandhu" (Keenan, p. 152).
  11. Takasaki, p. 292.
  12. Ibid., pp. 41, 60.