The Mind Consciousness

The five sense consciousnesses are the thought-free consciousnesses. They directly perceive the object and cannot create thoughts. The consciousness involving thoughts is the mind consciousness. It is the thinker who entertains all the different thoughts. The mind consciousness does not have a specific gate through which to leave as the sense consciousnesses of the five gates do, because there is no definite location with which it can be associated. The scholars and siddhas of Buddhist philosophy call it “the sixth, the mind consciousness,” because when they expound on the consciousnesses they generally present the five sense consciousnesses first and then, as the sixth, the mind consciousness. Thus when they talk of the sixth consciousness as such, the “six” has no other meaning than a merely numerical one.

Usually we create many thoughts such as “I am fine” or “I am miserable.” In this way as well, positive thoughts of loving-kindness and compassion arise, as also do negative thoughts such as those of anger or desire. When we are extremely happy, of course it is a case of having happy thoughts, and when we are sad, unhappy thoughts arise. All this kind of thinking is called the mind consciousness.

The mind consciousness has different defining characteristics than the above-described five kinds of sense consciousness, each of which is based on a clear form, a sense faculty. That raises the question, upon which basis does the mind consciousness arise? It arises immediately after a sense consciousness. Thus a preceding eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body consciousness serves as its basis. In the case that there is no arising of any of the five sense consciousnesses, the mind consciousness can also arise after the preceding moment of a mind consciousness. In that way one mind consciousness arises immediately after the other, and its “sense” faculty is not a clear form, but consciousness. Thus mind consciousness is based on any preceding moment of consciousness, no matter which kind of the six collections of consciousness it is.

What kind of object does the mind consciousness perceive? The Buddhist scholars call the specific object of perception of the mind consciousness “phenomena,” Within the sphere of phenomena each kind of sense object can appear as an object of the mind consciousness; thus any form, sound, smell, taste, and physically tangible object can also appear as an object of the mind consciousness, not only all the outer but also all the inner objects. These objects can all appear, but they do not appear directly. The mind consciousness creates an image of the perceived objects, which means the external visual form is not seen by the mind consciousness, but instead a mental image similar to that perceived by the eye consciousness appears to the perspective of the mind consciousness. Or, an appearance similar to the sound that is perceived by the ear consciousness appears to the perspective of the mind consciousness. In the same way, there appear mental images similar to the smells, tastes, or physically tangible objects that are perceived by the remaining sense consciousnesses. This is why the mind consciousness apprehends all of the outer objects, but cannot perceive them clearly.

The mind consciousness does not recognize clearly, does not see clearly, nor does it perceive the sense objects clearly. Nevertheless, it is endowed with extraordinary qualities that are not shared with the sense consciousnesses. Its special qualities are the many different thoughts that appear within it. In this way, among all the six collections of consciousnesses, the mind consciousness has the busiest job! The five sense consciousnesses merely perceive. The mind consciousness, however, judges this mere perception immediately afterwards with thoughts such as “That’s good” or “That’s bad.” For this reason the mind consciousness is especially important for us as human beings.

For as long as we circle within samsara, the mind consciousness plays the most important part in this. It is also extremely important in terms of our dharma practice. When for example, we visualize a deity, from whose perspective do we meditate? It is not the eye consciousness that meditates on the form, because the five sense consciousnesses cannot meditate. It is the mind consciousness that meditates, in so much as it brings the form to consciousness. When we know this, we understand why it is that during the meditation on a deity the visualization does not appear so clearly. Mind does not take an object directly; instead, it perceives its own self-created mental images of the apprehended objects. Thus, whether your visualization is clear or not depends on the stability of your mind.