The Ālaya-vijñāna Verse from the Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra

By David Reigle on November 30, 2015 at 4:49 am

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra is regarded as the primary source of the Yogācāra teachings given in the words of the Buddha. The ālaya-vijñāna (“foundational consciousness,” or “storehouse consciousness”) is described in its chapter 5 (Tibetan translation) or chapter 3 (Chinese translation). This prose chapter concludes with a verse spoken by the Buddha to highlight some important aspects of the ālaya-vijñāna. In this verse, the ālaya-vijñāna is referred to as the ādāna-vijñāna, the “appropriating consciousness.” This refers to its role of “appropriating” or “taking” a body at the time of birth.

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra remains lost in the original Sanskrit, and is now available only in its Chinese and Tibetan translations. Its verse on the ālaya-vijñāna or ādāna-vijñāna has been quoted in a number of Yogācāra texts, also now mostly available only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations. The original Sanskrit of this verse was first recovered as quoted in Sthiramati’s commentary on Vasubandhu’s Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi Triṃśikā, verse 15, by way of Sylvain Lévi’s pioneering 1925 Sanskrit edition of the Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi. Only long afterwards would we learn that Lévi had silently “corrected” the readings found in the Sanskrit manuscript he used. The manuscript readings turned out to be correct except for one, bālā. Lévi’s “corrections” only added new errors. Lévi gave this verse as follows (p. 34, here transliterated from his devanāgarī script):

ādānavijñānagabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālā eṣāmapi na prakāśite mohaiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

Not long after this was published Louis de la Vallée Poussin, recognizing the problems with the portion “bālā eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva,” emended it on the basis of its Tibetan translation (and a Sanskrit parallel in the Mahāvastu for mā haiva). Poussin gave his emended version in his 1928 French translation, Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-tsang, as follows (vol. 1, p. 173):

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo

ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi(to)

mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

In this emended form (accepting prakāśi) it was given by Étienne Lamotte in his 1935 French translation of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra (p. 58), in his 1936 French translation of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa (p. 247), and in his 1938 French translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (p. 14).

In 1989 reproductions of the original Sanskrit manuscript as well as the transcript of it used by Sylvain Lévi for his 1925 edition became available inThree Works of Vasubandhu in Sanskrit Manuscript., edited by Katsumi Mimaki, Musachi Tachikawa and Akira Yuyama. These showed that bālā is indeed in the manuscript and its transcript, but that Lévi had “corrected” their “eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva” to “eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva.” These confirmed Poussin’s emendations, except for bālāna.

Hartmut Buescher in his 2007 critical edition of Sthiramati’s Triṃśikāvijñaptibhāṣya (p. 104) gave the correct readings from the manuscript, and accepted Poussin’s emendation bālāna, as well as prakāśi rather than the manuscript’s prakāśito. He explained in footnotes that for metrical and grammatical reasons he adopted bālāna, a genitive plural form in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (see Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 8.117 ff.), rather than the manuscript’s bālā (regarding his comment that bālā looks more like bānā in the manuscript, to me it looks like bālā). He also explained that he adopted the aorist verb prakāśi (Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 32.47 ff.), since the manuscript’s prakāśito gives one too many syllables for the verse. He gives this verse as follows, essentially the same as Poussin’s emended version:

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyur [||] iti |

A second source for the original Sanskrit of this verse became available in 2013. It is quoted in Sthiramati’s Pañcaskandhakavibhāṣā, edited by Jowita Kramer, 2 volumes, and published in the important new series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In volume 2, the diplomatic edition, essentially a transcript of the manuscript, this verse appears as follows (p. 85):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā varttati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

As we see, Poussin’s emendation of bālā to bālāna is confirmed. The proposed emendation prakāśi is not supported by this manuscript. Like the manuscript of Sthiramati’s other text, this manuscript reads prakāśito, despite being one syllable more than the meter should have. In volume 1, the critical edition, this verse appears as follows (p. 94):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījaḥ |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

The editor had little choice but to retain prakāśito. This verse may be translated as follows:

“The appropriating consciousness, deep and subtle, flows with all its seeds like a current. This was not taught by me to the immature, so that they would not imagine it as a self.”


Category: Alaya, Samdhinirmocanasutra, Yogacara | No comments yet


The Universal Over-Soul

By Ingmar de Boer on October 5, 2013 at 10:13 am

The third fundamental proposition of the secret doctrine (SD
I, 17) postulates “the fundamental identity of all Souls
with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being an aspect
of the Unknown Root”. We might ask ourselves, what exactly
is this Over-Soul, and how can we relate it to other known
concepts in the philosopy of The Secret

1. The Over-Soul

The term Over-Soul refers to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay
The Over-soul, first published in 1841, in which he
describes the Over-soul as the source of higher inspiration in
man. From the essay:

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past
and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is
that great nature in which we rest as the earth lies in the soft
arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which
every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all
other; that common heart of which all sincere conversation is the
worship, to which all right action is submission; that
overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and
constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from
his character and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends
to pass into our thought and hand and become wisdom and virtue
and power and beauty. We live in succession, in division, in
parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the
whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every
part and particle is equally related; the eternal

In the third fundamental proposition, it is stated that the
Universal Over-Soul is “an aspect of the Unknown
Root”. The Unknown Root is what we have identified with the
Absolute, or space, symbolised by the plane or circumference of
the circle, i.e. the circle without a central point, the
immaculate white disk from the archaic palmleaf manuscript
described in SD I, 1. An aspect of the Root will be one of three
aspects. On the same page the Universal Over-Soul is described as
the “pure Essence of the Universal Sixth
principle”, while the seventh principle is the Root
itself. The principles are counted here from “dense”
to “fine”. On page 19 this sixth principle is
identified with brahmā. On page 13 (footnote), a
fifth universal principle is mentioned, under the name of
āśa, “to which
corresponds and from which proceeds human Manas”.

2. The Universal Soul

The statements on the Universal Soul in The Secret
are very confusing, to say the least. In the third
fundamental proposition we find that the Over-Soul is the sixth
universal principle. In another location in the Proem, SD I, 9-10
we find:

The Occultist […] regards the Adi-Sakti
[…], in her A’kasic form of the Universal Soul — as
philosophically a Maya, and cause of human Maya. But this view
does not prevent him from believing in its existence so long as
it lasts, to wit, for one Mahamanvantara; nor from applying
Akasa, the radiation of Mulaprakriti,* to practical purposes,
connected as the World-Soul is with all natural phenomena, known
or unknown to science.

From this we can distill that the Universal Soul is not the
First unmanifested Logos, but the Second. In SD I, 420 we find a
more unequivocal statement on the Universal Soul:

UNIVERSAL SOUL is not the inert Cause of
Creation or (Para) Brahma, but simply that which we call the
sixth principle of intellectual Kosmos, on the manifested plane
of being. It is Mahat, or Mahabuddhi, the great Soul, the vehicle
of Spirit, the first primeval reflection of the formless CAUSE

It is clear from this quotation that the Universal Soul is
identical to the Second Logos, the sixth universal principle,
Mahat, the “Universal Mind”. This means that the
Universal Soul is none other than the “Universal
Over-Soul” of Emerson.

3. The Anima Mundi or World Soul

In SD I, 365 and the first footnote on that page, we find
evidence that this principle, which we call here the Second Logos
(here referred to as Brahma), is also identical with Anima Mundi
or the World Soul:

In the Hindu Katakopanishad, Purusha, the
divine spirit, already stands before the original matter, “from
whose union springs the great soul of the world,” Maha-Atma,
Brahma, the Spirit of Life,* etc., etc.**[…]

* The latter appellations are all identical
with Anima Mundi, or the “Universal Soul,” the astral light of
the Kabalist and the Occultist, or the “Egg of

Then in SD I, 49 (and other locations), we find the statement
that ālaya is the Universal Soul and Anima

In the Yogacharya system of the contemplative
Mahayana school, Alaya is both the Universal Soul (Anima Mundi)
and the Self of a progressed adept.

Whenever HPB uses ālaya, she refers to the Second Logos
(unless otherwise indicated), although on the same page (SD I,
49) she states that the word ālaya has “two or even
three meanings”. In our discussion on Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II
, we have argued
what the two or three meanings might be, namely the jāti,
pravṛtti and karman aspects of ālaya.

4. Corrections to Earlier Findings

So, we have to correct two errors in our earlier posts. Part
of the table in Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II


Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal
Spiritual Soul]
, Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima

with the remark: “It may be noted that these conclusions
do not in every respect meet the ones from The Three
. The differences concern the terms Universal Soul and
Anima Mundi. It will be necessary to clear up these differences
in a later stage.” We know now, that this part of the table
should have looked like:

Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi

In the post entitled The Three Logoi (3), the Universal
Soul is categorized under the Third Logos, while it should have
been under the Second. The corrected text would

  • First Logos, the One, the Ever Unmanifest, represented by
    ūlaprakti, the Plotinic
    and Orphic Hen, Hyparxis, Universal Good, the Christian
    Father-aspect, Divine Will.
  • Second Logos, the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, the
    Verbum, the Plotinic Nous, the Demiurge, HPB’s Anima Mundi,
    Creative Intelligence, Mahat, Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
    Universal Intelligence, Divine Mind, Divine Wisdom, the
    Son-aspect, the Christ, Brahmā, Īśvara,
    Avalokiteśvara (manifested).
  • Third Logos, the Light of the Logos, Fohat,
    Daiviprakṛti, the Plotinic Psuchē, Universal Soul
    (the Plotinic Anima Mundi)
    , the Nous of Anaxagoras, Divine
    Activity, the Holy Ghost.

5. The Sacred Four

In stanza IV, śloka 5 (SD I, 98) the four highest
universal principles are described. Here, the seventh (first)
principle is called darkness, the sixth (second) adi-sanat, the
fifth (third) svâbhâvat, the fourth (fourth) the
formless square. The first three are “enclosed within the
boundless circle”, and together they are called the
sacred four or the tetraktis.

absolute - 8

In the following table, the four highest Universal
(“Cosmic”) principles are summarized, as described in
various sources.

Principle 7th 6th 5th 4th
Proem to the SD the ONE principle, the Absolute, THAT, Sat, Be-ness, SPACE,
the Root, Parabrahman, Brahman (neutrum)
Universal Over-Soul, Universal Soul,
SD I, 98 (st. IV śl. 5) darkness adi-sanat svâbhâvat formless square
SD II, 596 The Unmanfested Logos Universal (latent) Ideation Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy
Cosmological Notes in BL p. 378; spelling cf.
Blavatsky’s Secret Books, p. 64
svayambhuva nārāyaṇa yajña vāc
snyugs dkon mchog nam ‘mkha (Skt. ākāśa) ‘od (Skt. prabhā, āloka)
Latent Spirit Ensoph Universal Mind Virāj, Universal Illusion Cosmic Will
Additional terms Mother-space, the Eternal Parent, Eternal Mother (1886 Ms),
First Logos
Second Logos Father-Mother, Fire-Mist  

Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Darkness, Logos, Mahat, Rootless Root, Space, Svabhavat, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part II

By Ingmar de Boer on August 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm

The Yogācāra system is presenting us with 8 vijñāna’s, evolving from one basic form of consciousness, which is the ālayavijñāna. A common translation of vijñāna in the context of Yogācāra Buddhism would be “consciousness”, however, the concept of vijñāna as part of the epistemology of Yogācāra Buddhism, is a specific type of consciousness, a faculty of the mind, which is the counterpart of a specific source of knowledge. The basic principles of this epistemology are comparable to the Saṃkhya philosophy, where every organ of perception has its counterpart in a specific faculty of the mind.

In Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki’s Studies in the Lankavatarasutra (p. 186), three modes or aspects (lakṣaṇa) of vijñāna are presented:

1. jāti: remaining in its original nature
2. pravṛtti: evolving
3. karman: producing effects

In the state of pralaya, which we could think of as the state before the beginning of the evolution of a human entity, the vijñāna’s are absorbed in ālayavijñāna, which is then in its jāti state, its “original nature”. (cp. Suzuki, The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, p. xvii-xviii) When the human entity starts to evolve, the vijñānas arise from ālayavijñāna, which is then at the same time in another state, called pravṛtti, i.e. evolving. In yoga philosophy, the terms pravṛtti and nirvṛtti (or nivṛtti) are connected with evolution and involution, pravṛttimārga and nirvṛttimārga being the outward and inward arc of an evolutionary cycle. They indicate cyclic development, first directed outward, where the entity expresses itself through form, and then inward, where the entity gradually becomes a master of its form, and eventually becomes independent of it. The cycle has a turning point in the middle, where development starts turning inward, which in the Laṅkāvatāra is called parāvṛtti, which is litterally “turning back”. (cp. The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, p. xvii) At this point of revolution, there is an opportunity for the deep mystical realisation of the relation of the entity with its form. This realisation takes place, according to the Laṅkāvatāra, “in the Ālaya, which is the basis of all things”, as Suzuki formulates it. (Studies p. 184)

eandinvolution - 5
In Suzuki’s Studies (p. 186-187) we find:

The Pravṛttivijñāna is a collective name for all the particular Vijñānas that evolve out of Ālaya, when they are considered from the point of view of evolution, while the Ālaya is the Vijñāna or Citta that remains undisturbed in its native abode.

To make sure that we understand correctly, the Laṅkāvatāra firmly underlines its standpoint concerning ālaya on p. 34-35:

[…] there is no cessation [of Ālaya] in its original form. Therefore, Mahāmati, what ceases to function is not the Ālaya in its original self-form, but is the effect-producing form of the Vijñānas. […] If, however, there is the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna [in its original form], this doctrine will in no wise differ from the nihilistic doctrine of the philosophers.

If we translate the first sentence of this fragment more in the light of our understanding of the cyclic process, the result could be something like:

[…] and there is no cessation in its aspect of self-origination (svajāti). That which ceases, Mahāmati, is not the aspect of self-origination, but it is the aspect of activity (karman) of the Vijñānas.

[…] sa ca na bhavati svajātilakṣaṇanirodhaḥ | tasmānmahāmate na svajātilakṣaṇanirodho vijñānānāṃ kiṃ tu karmalakṣaṇanirodhaḥ |

The term used here for self-origination is svajāti, own-birth or self-birth, not jāti, birth, indicating the idea of auto-creation and auto-re-creation, showing a quite profound universal philosophical concept. Interestingly, that which is said to “cease” is the karman aspect and not the pravṛtti aspect. In the Book of Dzyan it is stated that evolution never ceases, and that pralaya and the birth of the new universe are just phases of the ever moving evolutionary process. (Note, that in this case the term pravṛtti would have a slightly different meaning than when it is seen as the complement of nivṛtti.)

In SD I, 49 we see that HPB recognized different aspects to the term ālaya:

What are the doctrines taught on this subject by the Esoteric “Buddhists”? With them “Alaya” has a double and even a triple meaning.

In SD I, 48, at least two aspects (our jāti and pravṛtti) are spoken of:

Again in SD I, 48, following Emil Schlagintweit (Buddhism in Tibet, p. 39), we have the jāti and pravṛtti aspects (or perhaps even the jāti and karman aspects):

[…] the basis of every visible and invisible thing, and that, though it is eternal and immutable in its essence, it reflects itself in every object of the Universe “like the moon in clear tranquil water” […]

These paradoxes show ālaya remaining in its original nature, and at the same time evolving. This principle explains the phrase in the Book of Dzyan, why in the cosmic night “the alaya of the universe was in paramartha”, in SD I, 47 (stanza 1 śloka 9):

BUT WHERE WAS THE DANGMA WHEN THE ALAYA OF THE UNIVERSE (Soul as the basis of all, Anima Mundi) WAS IN PARAMARTHA (a) (Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness) AND THE GREAT WHEEL WAS ANUPADAKA (b)?

In HPB’s commentary between brackets, we see that she defines ālaya as the “Soul”, “the basis of all” (Tibetan: kun gzhi), which she identifies with the Anima Mundi. This term refers to Hellenistic philosophy, and connects our investigation into ālaya directly to the third “fundamental proposition” of The Secret Doctrine. Again in SD I, 48, we find:

Alaya is literally the “Soul of the World” or Anima Mundi, the “Over-Soul” of Emerson, and according to esoteric teaching it changes periodically its nature.

The third fundamental proposition, in the Proem, SD I, 17 under (c), states:

The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former — through the Cycle of Incarnation (or “Necessity”) in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. [etc. etc.]

Here we also have the other two aspects, pravṛtti and karman, as Cyclic and Karmic Law. In the case of the universal over-soul, being “an aspect” of the unknown root, we can ask ourselves which aspect of the unknown root (SPACE) it is. Is it a manifested or unmanifested, or even a manifesting or unmanifesting aspect of the Logos? This is not sufficiently clear from this fragment. In the Theosophical Glossary under Alaya, we find the following definition:

Alaya (Sk.) The Universal Soul (See Secret Doctrine Vol. I. pp. 47 et seq.). The name belongs to the Tibetan system of the contemplative Mahâyâna School. Identical with Âkâsa in its mystic sense, and with Mulâprâkriti, in its essence, as it is the basis or root of all things.

Here we see that ālaya is identified with the First Logos (mūlaprakṛti) in its essence, “as it is the basis or root of all things” (Tibetan: kun gzhi).

In CW XII, 635 (ES Instruction III), we read:

Alaya, the Universal Soul, of which the Manvantaric aspect is Mahat.

and in CW XII, 607:

[…] Buddhi is a ray of the Universal Spiritual Soul (ALAYA).
We might derive from these two statements, that the cyclic (“Manvantaric”) aspect of ālaya, which we have called pravṛtti, in cosmic terms is mahat, and in individual terms buddhi. Earlier (in The Three Logoi (3)) we have identified Mahat as the Second Logos. The Universal Soul is apparently in this case the “non-Manvantaric” aspect of ālaya or what we have called the jāti aspect, which must be the First Logos. Then the karman aspect must be the Third Logos. Now we can set up the following table:

Aspect of ālaya

Corresponds to


1. jāti

remaining in its original nature

First Logos

2. pravṛtti


Second Logos

[Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi] Mahat, [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal Soul]

3. karman

producing effects

Third Logos


Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Lankavatarasutra, Logos, Mahat, Sutras, Universal Mind | 1 comment


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part I

By Ingmar de Boer on August 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The term ālaya is a key term in The Secret Doctrine, which is connected to Yogācāra and Zen Buddhism. HPB uses it as the “basis of everything”, reflecting the Tibetan equivalent kun (all) gzhi (basis), apparently based on the paragraph “The contemplative Mahāyāna (Yogāchārya) system” in Emil Schlagintweit’s 1863 work Buddhism in Tibet. (p. 39-41) Schlagintweit refers to “the Gandavyūha, the Mahāsamaya, and certain others”. Those works will be interesting objects of study, to see exactly how the term ālaya is used there. In one of the most important Yogācāra scriptures, the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, ālaya is also used in the sense of the “basis of everything”, and it is certainly interesting to see how the term is used there, as we might do in the following article, first from a philological perspective, in part I, and secondly from a philosophical perspective, in part II.

The Laṅkāvatārasūtra was written (or consolidated) around 350-400 CE. Apart from a compiled Sanskrit version, we have three different Chinese translations and two different Tibetan translations. In 1932 the first English translation was made by Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki. He sees the terms ālaya and ālayavijñāna primarily as the “storehouse consciousness” where karmic remains, the vāsana’s, are stored as latent karmic seeds, until some time in the future, when they are reactivated to initiate actual karma. We can now go through all the different translations to see how the term ālaya is rendered in each case.

The Sanskrit Version

The Sanskrit word ālaya is composed of the preposition ā- (from) and the verbal element laya, which can be traced back to the root lī, to cling. A common meaning of ālaya is a “house” or “dwelling”. (Monier-Williams) Derived senses are “receptacle” and “asylum”. These may all be consistent with “storehouse”. As a noun, laya means a place of rest, residence, house, dwelling. It also means rest, repose, a pause, and lying down, cowering. According to Monier-Williams, the verb from the root lī basically means to adhere, to cling, to press closely, to lie, to recline, to settle. This root lī might be connected to another Sanskrit root, lip/limp/rip, to smear, which is related to the English “to leave” in the sense of “leave behind”. We can imagine that the sense of “house” has evolved from the basic sense “to cling”.

The Chinese Tripitaka

The earliest extant Chinese translation is that of Guṇabhadra, dating back to 443 CE, labelled Sung (Song) by Suzuki, after the ruling dynasty at that time. The other two translations are analogically labelled Wei and T’ang. Suzuki has prepared a Sanskrit-Chinese-Tibetan index of terms used in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra. From this index we can learn that the three Chinese versions all have 藏 (zàng) for ālaya, but only Wei and T’ang have in some places phonetic renderings.

The Chinese interpretation 藏 (zàng) simply means storehouse, depository. So, the common interpretation of ālaya, cf. Suzuki, as “storehouse”, is following the Chinese interpretation.

The Dūnhuáng Findings

There are also a number of Chinese fragments of the Laṅkāvatāra among the Dūnhuáng findings, of the Song and T’ang editions. In some of these we can see that at least since the early 11th century, which was when the Mògāo cave complex at Dūnhuáng was sealed off, the T’ang manuscript was very faithfully copied. The first occurence of the character 藏 (zàng) in the T’ang manuscript is identifiable in some of the fragments, for example in Or.8210/S.6:

Lank - Tang - Dunhuang Mss Or.8210 - S.6 - 2

In the fragments of the Song edition, quite a few characters are different from the text in the Taishō edition of the Chinese Tripitaka. The Taisho text (T16n670) of the Song edition seems to be a modernised version, though at first glance textually it seems to be as faithfully copied as the T’ang version. Also in these fragments we can verify the use of the character 藏 (zàng), for example in Or.8210/S.5311:

Lank - Song - Or 8210 S 5311 - alaya - 2

According to the International Dunhuang Project database, this manuscript (Or.8210/S.5311) dates back to the 7th century. In connection with the Tibetan translation by chos grub, who based his Tibetan translation on the Song edition, it is interesting to know that the same rendering of ālaya was used in earlier Song manuscripts.

The Tibetan Versions

In his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra (1930), Suzuki already mentioned that there are two different Tibetan translations. (pp. 12-15)

The Tibetan “version 1”, which is published in the Tibetan Tripitaka Peking edition (TTPE), Vol. 29 No. 775. It seems to be translated directly from Sanskrit. In the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) we find a text from the Lhasa Kanjur, still not completely entered, labelled KL0107, corresponding to Vol. 29 No. 775 from the Peking Tripitaka catalogue. In this Tibetan version the terms ālaya and ālayavijñāna are rendered kun gzhi and kun gzhi rnam par shes pa.

The Tibetan “version 2” was translated by “the monk chos grub” on the basis of the Chinese Song version, around the beginning of the 9th century. It can be found, for example, in the digital library of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC). This version also renders ālaya and ālayavijñāna as kun gzhi and kun gzhi rnam par shes pa.

The Mahāvyutpatti Sanskrit-Tibetan glossary was probably composed between 800 and 838, which is around the same time the Chinese Song edition was translated into Tibetan by chos grub (version 2). Here, ālaya (entry 2017) is also connected to kun gzhi.

The primary sense of the word gzhi is ground, foundation, original cause, exciting cause, or even axiom. Another sense however is residence, abode. (Jäschke) Perhaps this combination has motivated the Tibetan translators to choose kun gzhi, the “basis of everything”, instead of a compound with, for example, the element khang, house, or mdzod, storehouse. Most probably they were familiar with the Sanskrit term as well, which, like the Chinese term, contains the element of house, abode, storehouse etc., which makes their choice for kun gzhi even more significant.

The Tibetan word gzhi, or gzhi ma, might be traced back to the reconstructed Proto-Sino-Tibetan root *ƛăj, meaning earth or ground, cf. the Starling Database, established by the late Sergei Starostin. Tibetan gzhi would then be related to the modern Chinese word 地 (dì), meaning earth.

At the time the Tibetan translation was made by chos grub, Buddhism in Tibet was still in the process of becoming what we now call Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism. The developing religious culture may have already used the term gzhi, or kun gzhi, to indicate its “ground of being”, which became an important concept in the rDzogs Chen subschool of the rNying Ma lineage. For the Chinese translators the Tibetan situation was of course not a force to reckon with, so the interaction between Buddhism and the existing substratum might provide an explanation for the difference, between the semantic fields of Sanskrit ālaya and Chinese 藏 (zàng) on the one hand, and Tibetan kun gzhi on the other.

For completeness we should mention that Schlagintweit, in his Buddhism in Tibet (p. 39) presents yet another Tibetan word for ālaya, which is snying po, which generally means heart or essence. HPB, following Schlagintweit (p. 39), also presents “Nyingpo” and “Tsang” as Tibetan renderings of ālaya, in The Secret Doctrine (SD I, 48), where tsang evidently corresponds to our Chinese character 藏 (zàng).


The above data relating to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra are summarized in the following table.

Edition Language Date Translator Form Meaning
Nanjio Sanskrit ca. 350-400 ālaya
SongTaishō 670 Chinese 443 Guṇabhadra 藏 (zàng) 藏: storehouse; depository
WeiTaishō 671 Chinese 513 Bodhiruci 藏 (zàng), 阿黎耶, 黎耶 (both phonetic)
T’angTaishō 672 Chinese 700-704 Śikṣānanda 藏 (zàng), 阿賴耶, (phonetic)
TTPE Vol. 29 no. 775 Tibetan unkown date, from Sanskrit unknown kun gzhi kun gzhi: basis of all
TTPE Vol. 29 no. 776 Tibetan 9th c., from Chinese Song ed. zhu chen gyi lo tsa ba ‘gos chos grub (fǎ chéng) kun gzhi
English 1932 Suzuki storage house, all conserving


Category: Alaya, Lankavatarasutra, Sutras | 1 comment