Under the seventh consciousness, very close to the base of the wave, there’s an eighth level of consciousness called alaya-vijñana or “storehouse consciousness,” in which the seeds of karma are stored. Every action we create has an effect, and the seeds of that effect are in the storehouse consciousness. The alaya-vijñana is the central tenet of the Yogachara or “Mind Only” school of Buddhism, which states that the “triple world”—that is, the totality of existence—is only mind. The myriad things are only consciousness. There are no objects, and no subject to experience objects.

When one attains buddhahood or enlightenment, the eight consciousnesses are transformed into the four wisdoms. In Zen, we call this “changing names; not changing essence.” When the eight consciousnesses are transformed into the four wisdoms, the first five consciousnesses—eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body—are transmuted into the wisdom of accomplishment. The sixth consciousness—mind—becomes wondrous observing wisdom. It is like the mirror of samadhi. When a flower appears in front of it, it reflects a flower. When the flower disappears, the reflection disappears. It doesn’t cling to or constantly recreate that flower. The ego consciousness—the seventh level—is transformed into the wisdom of equality. The ten thousand things and oneself are seen as the same reality. And finally, the eighth consciousness becomes the great perfect mirror wisdom.

But that’s not the whole story, because the wave is also part of a great ocean that includes everything. This great ocean is the one bright pearl, the Diamond Net of Indra. Usually we perceive the universe—that ocean—as a multitude of discrete waves. We look out of our own wave at this vast ocean and we see big waves and small ones, fat and thin, male and female, important and not so important, hungry and well fed, dying and being born. Some of them disappear and new ones appear. We look at the wave that we are and we say, “Here I am and there they are, all those other waves. They are separate and distinct from me.” We haven’t yet realized the great ocean out of which the waves arise. We haven’t yet realized the interdependence of all of these waves, their mutual identity.




A monastic asked Zhaozhou, “Does a newborn baby also have the sixth consciousness?” Does she have the ability to discriminate? A newborn baby is equipped with the six consciousnesses—the eyes can see and the ear can hear, but she doesn’t yet discriminate among the six sense objects. She knows nothing of good and evil, long and short, right and wrong, gain and loss.

In his commentary to this koan Master Yuanwu said:

Those who study the Path must become again like infants. Then praise and blame, success and fame, unfavorable circumstances, unfavorable environments—none of these can move them. Though their eyes see form, they’re the same as a blind person. Though their ears hear sound, they’re the same as a deaf person. They’re like fools, like idiots. The mind is motionless as Mount Sumeru. This is the place where patch-robed monastics and practitioners really attain true power.

An old master said, “My patched garment covering my head, myriad concerns cease. At this time, I don’t understand anything at all.”

Only if you can be like this, Yuanwu says, will you have a small share of attainment.

Though adepts are like this, nevertheless they can’t be fooled at all. They are without artifice, without clinging thoughts. They’re like the sun and the moon moving through the sky, without ever stopping, without every saying, “I have so many names and forms.” They’re like the sky everywhere covering, like the earth everywhere supporting: since they have no mind, they bring up and nurture myriad beings without saying, “I have so many accomplishments.” Since sky and earth are mindless, they last forever—what has mind has limits. A person who attains the Path is like this too. In the midst of no activity, they carry out their activities, accepting all unfavorable and favorable circumstances with a compassionate heart.