Lecture about Buddhist Psychology 4 │ Thirty Verses on Consciousness-Only Seen through Eyes of Healing __ Ven. Seogwang


Thirty Verses on

Seen through the Eyes of Healing

Verse One:
Knowledge is the Beginning of Ignorance

All kinds of phenomena arise based on the misconception  that “you” and “I” are independent of each other. The various phenomena that we perceive differently are simply due to the fact that you and I are only aware of the duality and perceptions of two parties, “you” and “I”. Verse one of the Thirty Verses on Consciousness-Only (Vijñapti-mātra) explains how the mind functions. In the Śūraṃgama-sūtra, there is a scene in which Buddha and Ven. Ānanda talk about where the mind is located. Buddha points out that if the mind is in the body, that is a contradiction. Ananda then says the mind is outside the body, but the Buddha says that is also a contradiction. Then the Buddha tells Ananda that if in his next response he says the mind is somewhere between inside and outside, that is also a contradiction.

When the mind first comes into existence, it always begins with a contact between the subject doing the cognizing and the object of his cognition. In that place where the mind arises, there is always a person who sees, a person who hears, and a person who feels. On the other hand, there also exists the object of their cognition. Therefore, our experiences and perceptions always cause a separation of subject and object. There is a state of mind that divides the one doing the perceiving from the object being perceived. This always occurs when the mind is divided (or not at one with its surroundings). We always recognize this duality when we perceive something. I recognize something, and there is also the object that I recognize. When we think we know something, that knowing begins with “I” as the subject who knows and the object we know. Therefore, “knowing” differs depending of whether you are the subject or the object. Accordingly, from the standpoint of another person, he/she becomes the subject and “I” become the object. However, the reality is that subjects and objects are not as independent as we think; they actively interact with each other. My thoughts and emotions influence the thoughts and emotions of another person, and their thoughts and emotions influence mine. 

For example, I have a cup of water here. If I get thirsty and drink the water, it becomes part of me. Now the water and I cannot be separated. Emotions and thoughts work the same way. When the thoughts and emotions of two parties interact, they can no longer be separated. The two parties are now in an interdependent relationship. Buddhism calls this “dependent co-arising” or “interdependent arising” (Skt. pratītya-samutpāda). Everything arises from conditions; there is nothing that arises out of nothing; there is nothing that arises of itself. Thus, there is nothing that is self-contained, independent, or which has its own separate and independent nature. Everything that exists (tangible or intangible) arises from an interdependent relationship with something else. I eat rice everyday, but until I eat it, the rice and I are separate entities. However, after eating the rice, it is not possible to separate it from myself. It becomes part of my body. As they say in English, “You are what you eat.”

Late Goryeo Seon Master Muhak said: “Pigs only see pigs, and Buddhas only see Buddhas.” The same principle is at work here. “It is you that you see. It is you that you hear.” How do you separate the rice you eat from yourself? The moment you eat it, it becomes one with you. The same is true for ideas, thoughts, knowledge, etc. The meaning of mind-only consciousness is interpreted differently according to what one feels and how one sees.

Accordingly, we should cultivate a mind that is “not fixed on anything” (應無所住 而生其心 a famous phrase from the Diamond Sutra). It means “to arouse a thought without letting it settle or become fixed upon any particular thing.” According to Heze Shenhui (668–760, founder of the Heze School), the first half of the quote reveals the essence of all things (“original tranquility”), and the latter half reveals the spontaneous function of illuminating things with wisdom (“the non-abiding mind,” “unfixed mind” or “non-mind”). It is also identified with the line in the Heart Sutra, “form is exactly emptiness (空卽是色).” We already know that we are perceiving duality. Because our perceptions are already contaminated by duality, that is the beginning of pain.

The “truth as it is” is that both you (object) and I (subject) are interdependent, but we perceive separation and disconnection because of our dualistic way of thinking. So, what causes us to perceive dual knowledge and dual experience? You and I may see and or hear the exact same thing, but we see it, hear it, and understand it from different perspectives. But how does this dual knowledge [awareness] and experience affect us in everyday life? What I think I know is not everything there is to know. What I see, understand, judge, and think is not all there is. I understand everything I see, but I see and understand in my own way. I may think one way, but another person may not be aware of that. What I perceive, remember, and understand is only one part of the whole picture. For me to believe that I know everything is foolish. Other people can easily perceive things differently from me, and most likely do. Therefore, we need to expand the scope of our awareness. We should never be adamant about what we think we know, understand and experience because it is always contaminated by our very narrow and incomplete perspective. We should always leave room for doubt.   

Without understanding how the mind works and how perceptions are created, all we do is create and live in a self-centered world that is dictated by what “I” see and hear. The beginning of knowledge is also the beginning of ignorance. Because knowledge is always a dualistic phenomenon, ignorance begins when I alone think I know something without being aware that others experience and see it differently.

Why Does Love Cause Pain? 

Let’s take one example of how the beginning of knowledge is the beginning of ignorance. Let’s try to understand love based on the teaching in Verse 1 of the Thirty Verses on Consciousness-Only. When I first experienced love, I thought that those who are in love are connected to each other; that they are not two, but of “One Mind.” Therefore, communication between them travels both ways. However, as time goes by, a gap seems to appear between those who give love and those who are loved. This gap between subject (lover) and object (loved) becomes greater and greater until love disappears.

Think about your own past experience of love. Obviously, at the moment when you felt truly in love, there was no “I” or “you” (subject or object). There was only love. This is similar to what the Laṅkâvatāra-sūtra (Sutra on the Buddha’s Entry to Sri Lanka) says: “There is an act, but there is no actor.” In other words, in a moment of true experience and true awareness, the parties involved are not separate and “there is no duality.”  This is also true when we are excited about something. We experience excitement as it is happening, but forget/discount the other person or people involved. We only recall it as a beautiful memory.

However, when we begin to differentiate between the one who loves and the person who is loved, love can be transformed into such painful emotions as hatred, jealousy, anger and resentment. Afterward, love reveals all those feelings that are not love. Instead of love, we now have ideas, judgments, beliefs, and prejudices about love.

Verse Two:
Knowing can be divided into three dimensions.

The cognition of subject and object can be divided into three dimensions as follows: ① Container consciousness; the eighth consciousness, or ālaya-vijñāna taught by the Yogâcāra School. ② Self-consciousness. ③ The first five consciousnesses that correspond to the sense perceptions and a sixth mano consciousness that is the thinking region of consciousness thought.

We say that the mind is created through the perceived separation of  subject and object, and the knowledge and experience that come from this duality of thought. Therefore, the mind is a stream of moments of experience in which things occur and then disappear. Buddhist psychology divides the mind’s components into three types according to the way one’s mind is flowing.

First, the container (or “store-house”) consciousness is the eighth consciousness, a distinctive concept of the Yogâcāra School. The concept of “container consciousness” arose out of early doctrinal conflicts surrounding the continuity of both karmic potential and latent afflictions. These conflicts were generated by Abhidharma’s emphasis on the momentary processes of mind.

Second, self-consciousness corresponds to the character of ego: Ego, as a mind (consciousness) that thinks and plans.

Each of the roles consciousness plays will be covered in detail later. For reference, these divisions of consciousness are meaningless today, but in the early days when Buddhism was first introduced to Western psychology, there were scholars who explained container consciousness and self-consciousness by comparing them to Jung’s concepts of group unconscious and individual unconscious. We must be careful about this, but it could be understood as a similar theory in Jungian psychology of racially/culturally inherited psychic material present in the individual unconscious, which is commonly known as the “collective unconscious.”

However, I think it is more appropriate to classify the mind into four dimensions as opposed to the traditional understanding of three dimensions in terms of the function and action of knowing. In other words, I think it is easier and makes more sense to divide the third dimension into two; one consisting of the sixth consciousness and the other consisting of the five consciousnesses. That is because the sixth consciousness corresponds to the emotions, and the five consciousnesses correspond to the five senses. In short, the two have different characters and implications. 

Ven. Seogwang She studied psychology at Ewha Women᾿s University’s Graduate School and earned her master᾿s degree in psychology of religion from Boston University. She received her Ph.D. in transcendental ego psychology from Sofia University. Currently, she works as a professor at Dongbang Culture University. She also serves as the director of the Institute of Korean Meditation and Psychotherapy

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