6. Conscious Mind
7. Subconscious/Limited Egoistic Self
8. Karma store
9. Buddha nature/Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
The first five ‘consciousnesses’ are our basic senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, which we use to take in information from outside ourselves in order to understand what is going on in the world. Imagine the moment of birth. The baby at that moment is aware of sound, of smell, touch, taste and sight. Like the baby we become attached to the world to such a degree that, for many, the world in all its complexities continues to hold our attention and we remain ignorant of the working of the deeper ‘layers’ of consciousness.
Eventually the baby grows and learns that what it is seeing is, say, ‘blue’ or what it is feeling is ‘hot’. This is the sixth consciousness or the mind as we are used to thinking of it, which functions to enable us to make sense of what is coming to us through our senses. It is primarily through the interaction of these first 6 consciousnesses that we perform our daily activities.
The seventh consciousness is directed towards our inner, spiritual world. It is in the 7th consciousness that the conditioning we experience as we grow up is stored. It is through this consciousness that we have our sense of who we are, our gender, our national identity and so on. Attachment to a self distinct and separate from others has its basis in this consciousness as does our sense of right and wrong. We might see the appearance of various therapies and counselling in the West as a response to the desire on the part of many to free themselves from some of the conditioning that has taken place in life and which is stored in the 7th consciousness.
Western culture really only has an understanding of the first 7 consciousnesses. The concept of an eighth consciousness storing all our internal causes and internal effects (our karma) is generally not in use in daily life. And the concept of a ninth consciousness being the fundamental workings of life itself throughout the universe is definitely not part of our culture! The ninth consciousness in Buddhism is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo or the Law of life.
The eighth and ninth consciousnesses are operating at the level of the fundamental interconnectedness of all of life. If our eyes could see our karma and the 9th consciousness we would see all of life as deeply interconnected. The perception created in the 7th consciousness of a fixed and isolated self is thus false. This is one of the deep seated delusions regarding the nature of the self. The narrow ego of the 7th consciousness resists life expansion. A human life which is ‘touching’ the eighth consciousness is cracking the shell of the limited ego and becoming open to its greater self. The seventh consciousness is also the seat of the fear of death. Locked in the 7th consciousness the narrow ego assumes it will perish and cease to exist at death. Such a life is unable to see that the eighth consciousness is an enduring flow of life energy that will migrate between lifetimes.
The delusion that the 7th consciousness is one’s true self is fundamental ignorance, a turning away from the interconnectedness of all beings. It is this sense of oneself as separate that gives rise to discrimination, destructive arrogance, and the acquisition of material possessions and wealth that far surpass what any one human being could possibly need.
The eighth consciousness is a vast storehouse of all the causes and effects, which affect the way that the world comes to us. It is where we accumulate our karma, both positive and negative. It accounts for our looks, our circumstances, our reactions, our good or bad fortune, our work, our relationships, our health, in fact, every aspect of living. As causes are made in thought or word or deed, so internal effects are stored in this level of consciousness.
Because the internal cause and effect exists deep inside, on a level of life, which is interconnecting with all of life, eventually external causes and effects appear in response to the karma in the eighth consciousness. It is the existence of the eighth consciousness that explains the great differences which exist between say ‘identical’ twins in their experiences of life. It explains how things that happen to a young child appear to have no cause in this lifetime. It is this eighth consciousness or karma, which migrates between lifetimes. It is our karma from previous lifetimes which we are born with, which then causes the world to come to us on the basis of our internal causes in all the different aspects of life.
If life were only these eight consciousnesses things would be fatalistic and bleak. One cause would create its effect, which would condition all future causes and their effects and so on, leaving us stuck on a particular path with particular tendencies. We cannot gain access to this 8th karmic consciousness with our minds, which are too shallow. Will-power and effort alone will not enable us to change deep-seated karmic tendencies.