The Stable Consciousness

The five sense consciousnesses and the mind consciousness are not stable, because sometimes they arise and then they vanish, only to freshly arise again and again. As soon as we open our eyes the eye consciousness arises, but when we close our eyes it is not possible for the eye consciousness to arise. When we open our eyes again, it will arise again. When—in stormy weather, for example—we hear the sound of thunder, it means that an ear consciousness has arisen. As soon as the sound fades away, the corresponding ear consciousness vanishes. With the next sound of thunder another ear consciousness would arise afresh.

The stable consciousnesses, however, work differently. They are uninterruptedly present and function continuously while we are walking or sitting, whether we are distracted or concentrated, while we sleep or we work, and even during a fainting fit or being anesthetized. Whenever it may be, the clear essence of mind, the essence that retains memories clearly, never dissolves. That’s why these kinds of consciousness are called the stable consciousnesses.

The two kinds of stable consciousness include the klesha-mind (literally, the mind endowed with afflictions) and the all-base consciousness.

The Klesha Mind

Though the klesha-mind is characterized as the “mind endowed with afflictions,” it does not include all of the mental afflictions. Desirous attachment, anger, dullness, or similar afflictions are not referred to here, but only those that are included in the category of “holding on to a self.” These can be divided into two kinds: holding on to the self of the person and holding on to the self of phenomena.

The first of these appears in the form of the thought “I”: this is exactly what the klesha-mind is. When occasionally the conception of an “I” is very gross, this is not a function of the klesha-mind, but has instead to do with the sixth consciousness, the mind consciousness. The thoughts of the klesha-mind are not very clear to us. They consist of us continuously thinking of holding onto an “I”. It is a case of the most utterly subtle conception of an “I”, comparable to someone who continuously thinks “I” without ever for an instant forgetting it. These rigid and inflexible thoughts of self-cherishing arise involuntarily.

Since the klesha-mind’s subtle conception of an ‘I’ is never interrupted—no matter what we are doing—it is, as is the case with the all-base consciousness, classified as a stable consciousness. The klesha-mind’s continuous and uninterrupted thinking of an “I” is always accompanied by subtle mental events. It is not only the mere conception of an “I” that is just thinking “I”; in addition there is the unnoticed thought “I am important,” which is the “attachment to the I.” Simultaneously the conception of an “I” admits of ignorance and haziness, because the “I” is not realized as being false. Furthermore, the klesha-mind is suffused by a subtle pride that generally expresses itself in the thought “I am better than others.” These four mental events—the conception of an “I”, the attachment to the “I”, ignorance, and pride—continuously accompany the klesha-mind; this is why it is called “the mind endowed with afflictions.” It serves as the basis for the mind consciousness to build up the coarse grasping at a self, the force of which increases more and more.

Usually, mind is divided into the principal mind and mental events. Generally speaking, the eight collections of consciousness belong to the principal mind, which means the klesha-mind does as well. It is, however, continuously accompanied by the above-mentioned mental events. In this context the “subtle conception of an I” is also designated as the “view of the conception of an I.” It is called “view” in order to indicate that it includes a slight aspect of clarity.

The afflictions of desirous attachment, anger, and dullness are compounded of negative thoughts. The affliction grasping at a self, however, is not a negative thought, but instead a neutral one. It is the continuous attachment of thinking “That’s me,” and that thought is neither positive nor negative. It is not a question of negativity nor of virtue; nevertheless, grasping at a self can bring about the states of negativity or virtue. It is the cause for all positive and negative actions. In its own essence, however, grasping at a self is neutral.

In this context we can differentiate two kinds of neutrality. In any case, “neutral” means neither positive nor negative. However, something can indeed be neutral but still obscure the level of liberation, in which case it is called both “obscuring and neutral.” The klesha-mind, that is, our grasping at a self, is generally considered neutral. Nevertheless, it is a hindrance to attaining liberation. Though its essence is not negative, it does, however, obscure the ultimate fruition; hence it is “obscuring and neutral.” “Non-obscuring and neutral” is used to describe anything that is neutral and does not cause any obscurations to liberation as, for example, walking back and forth, sitting or any other kind of ordinary behavior of this type.

In our present situation, that of being an ordinary person, the klesha-mind, as a stable consciousness, is permanently present, no matter what we are doing, whether we are sleeping or awake. Besides, there will come a point in time when it will be abandoned.

Let’s first look at the noble ones (Skt. arya) of the first bodhisattva level. The moment they see the truth of dharmata directly, the klesha-mind is not present because what they are realizing is the nonexistence of a self.They’ve got a vastly clear appearance of the nonexistence of a self. At this moment the klesha-mind stops functioning. However, through the power of their karmic imprints the klesha-mind appears again when they don’t meditate. This is why their klesha-mind is still present during their post-meditational phase. From the point of view of the path of the hearers (Skt. shravaka) during the attainment of arhatship the nonexistence of a self of the person is totally realized, both within meditation as well as outside, during post-meditation. Thus, when a hearer achieves arhatship the klesha-mind is totally abandoned. From the point of view of the great vehicle (Skt. mahayana), the klesha-mind is totally abandoned on the eighth bodhisattva level. At this point it totally transforms, and above the eighth level it no longer exists as such.

It is very important to understand the actual way of being of the klesha-mind. Since its essence is neutral, this is precisely why, in spite of grasping at a self, it is possible to temporarily accumulate what is called “defiled virtue.” From the ultimate point of view, however, the klesha-mind has to be abandoned, because grasping at a self is the root of all mental afflictions—all of which, in turn, must obviously be abandoned. Abandoning the afflictions coincides with the abandonment of grasping at a self.