When I was first learning Yogacara Psychology, I had a negative reaction to the seventh consciousness, called “Manas.” The “lower five” consciousnesses are mostly analogous to the five physical senses:
- Sight Consciousness
- Sound Consciousness
- Smell Consciousness
- Taste Consciousness
- Touch Consciousness
I say, “mostly analogous,” because yogacara emphasizes the interdependence of both the faculty of sight and the object of sight to give rise to sight consciousness, and the interdependence of all eight consciousnesses.
Today I want to say a little about the functioning of what I think of as the “higher three” consciousnesses. I call them the “higher three” only to distinguish them from the more familiar other five. They are not “higher” in any sense of better or more refined. They do seem more subtle in their operations, though. The “top two” of Manas and Repository Consciousness are subtle enough that the earliest pre-yogacarin psychologists did not even include them. Only the problem of the perception of continuity, that is to say, “When I wake up in the morning, I think I am the same person who fell asleep last night,” prompted psychologists to take a closer look at the mind’s functioning.
These three are:
- Conceptual or Mind Consciousness
- Repository Consciousness or “Alaya Vidjnana”
I want to make two notes here:
Different naming conventions appear across yogacara literature and sutras. Sometimes Conceptual Consciousness is called “mind consciousness,” but sometimes Manas is called “mind consciousness.” This can cause confusion. Just be aware that the terms are not uniform when you are reading. I try to be consistent in referring to Manas without translation.
Conceptual Consciousness is usually included among the “sense consciousnesses.” In the far east, it is common to speak of humans as having six senses, of which the sixth is the capacity for mental formation. For the purpose of speaking about Manas, I have divided them 5-3 instead of the traditional 6-2.
Okay, so that is a lot of introductory material. On to the actual topic of discussion.
The function of Manas is to grasp or attach to things. This can sound very negative from a Buddhist point of reasoning, but another way to think of it is “sticky.” Manas is the glue that binds together.
If Repository Consciousness is a sort of undifferentiated reality that provides the object of sight, sound, etc., then Manas is what enables conceptual consciousness to make concepts out of the repository. This manas, however, doesn’t stop binding things together. It’s just sticky. That is its function. It also binds to the concepts themselves.
The favorite concept of Manas, the jelly to Manas’ peanut butter, is the concept of Self, or atman.
The functioning of Manas is, to paraphrase the Christian scriptures, the root of all “attachment,” as we use it in Buddhist dogma. However, in the same way that money, while being the “root of all kinds of evils,” is not itself evil, so also Manas is not itself a bad thing.
We should be kinder to Manas. We should befriend Manas. We should have compassion on our own attachment-faculty.
When I first learned yogacara psychology, I thought of Manas as a sort of analogue to the “sin nature” that Saint Paul writes about in the Greek New Testament.
That wasn’t fair.
Manas isn’t bad. It isn’t evil. It isn’t sinful. It just is. It is itself a concept that describes a normal function and process of consciousness. It isn’t something to overcome or defeat. It is us.