I've been reading Peter Harvey's Introduction the Buddhism and I've come across the concept of storehouse consciousness. It's in relation to Yogācāra and Chan Buddhism - originally with Yogācāra. It contains karmic seeds (not sure what they are to be fair). Can anyone give me an explanation of this concept. At the moment it seems to me to be some sort of real existence that underpins reality but I'm sure that's not it.

I appreciate that there is an explanation on wikipedia about it but I'm not finding that hugely illuminating.


6 Answers 6


In Mind-Only school of Buddhism, there is something called the 8 consciousnesses. The 8th consciousnes, aka the alaya storehouse consciousness, similar to an "Akashic record."

It is an easily misunderstood concept according to the Surangama Sutra and the late Zen Master Huai-Chin Nan's lectures because apparently one can easily become confused about it.

Shakyamuni Buddha (Gautama) said:

The storehouse consciousness [alaya] is very deep and subtle; All its seeds are like a torrential flow. I do not explain it to the ignorant, For fear they will cling to it and consider it a self.

It poses as the last barrier to Complete Enlightenment aka Buddhahood and also has to be transformed. There is not much information available in English on this topic because it such a high-level topic and is irrelevant for most people who are at a very low leve of cultivation, according to Master Nan. Also, according to Master Nan, there is no point in going into it much because no one has samadhi in the first place and when you come even close to transforming the skandha of consciousness, you will be receiving lessons from angels and bodhisattvas on the matter anyway... so no need to be learning about all that late-game stuff! Focus on what's immediately before you namely, learning to meditate and attain samadhi and bodhi!

With that as a warning, here is an article written by Zen Master Nan's student, Bill Bodri, that goes at length on the alaya consciousness.

The book by the author of that article, How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization, goes into this topic and many other supplementary and complementary topics at length in delicious scientific detail. I read it 10 years ago and since then I have become enamoured with the spiritual path. Since then I have read thousands of spiritual and religious content and it is still the highest level book available. I highly reccommend it.

  • 1
    Your quote is taken from meditationexpert.com/zen-buddhism-tao/… -- I was wondering in which sutta the Buddha was alleged to have said that (I searched accesstoinsight.org for "alaya" and "storehouse" and didn't seem to find matching results) but www.meditationexpert.com claims that he said, "I do not explain it to the ignorant For fear they will cling to it and consider it a self" and "Shakyamuni threfore gave very few teachings on the alaya consciousness"; and so maybe that's a teaching from "esoteric Buddhism".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 13:51
  • 1
    Surangama Sutra. It's an extremely long set, all volumes available on Scribd. It's hard to translate so I wouldn't expect to gain much benefit from it by reading it straight. All in all, this is a very conflicting topic among the Buddhists (whether this sutra is real or not, etc.) and I would suggest getting a copy of How to Measure instead, it has a lot of other concepts that make the spiritual path clear as day.
    – Ahmed
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 15:50
  • The Lankavatara Sutra is shorter and goes into great (some might say nit-picking) detail.
    – user10515
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 7:50
  • I think that quote is fake because Buddhas have no fear
    – user8527
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 23:33

Shinshu Buddhism also refers to this http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania.blogspot.com/2011/12/alaya-storehouse-consciousness-and.html

The alaya consciousness or storehouse consciousness is the place where all the actions and experiences in this life and the previous lives generated by the seven consciousnesses are stored as karma, being the only consciousness which comes along with every birth. This consciousness influences at the same time the workings of the other seven consciousnesses.

We take this alaya consciousness with us in all our births in the various realms of existence. It contains the seeds of various types of karma, and it is the storehouse of the habitual evil karmic tendencies that we have cultivated for eons. Because of the karmic seeds contained in the alaya consciousness one may die a premature death, be stricken with unexpected disease or inexplicable misfortune, overcome by strong desires, aversions and obsessions, can think and do things that one should never even imagine, etc. So strong is the influence of the alaya consciousness. .. When Shinran is recorded as saying in chapter 13th of Tannisho: “a person may not wish to harm anyone and yet end up killing a hundred or a thousand people”, he is in fact referring to the influence of past karma contained in the alaya consciousness.


So this storehouse consciousness sounds like the karma dump or receptacle where all the seeds of previous intentions and actions reside. It sounds like just a different way of categorizing one of the basic principals of karma and the seeds that generate more illusory experiences. It is only creating a category for where the karma remains until it manifests.

THere is further info that might be useful further down on the page of the link above.

Hope this helps some.


We are made up of 5 aggregates : form ( body , matter ) , sensation ( feeling ) , mental activity , perception , consciousness , According to Mind school Of Mahayana , consciousness has 8 levels , the 8 th consciousness is called alaya or storehouse consciousness . Every thought , action , words , repeated many time will be stored as karmic seeds . When we wake up every morning , we resume our thinking as it is never disrupted because our 7 th consciousness or Mana bring them out . Based on the time to our death we sow , there are 2 types : the farther karmic seeds and the close karmic seeds ( such as we die in calm states or in angry mood ). If based on the seriousness of our deed , there are 2 types : lighter karmic seeds & heavier karmic seeds . After death , 5 aggregates is disbanded , the heaviest karmic seeds or the close karmic seeds will meet a foetus in a female body and an being develops
It similar to the situation like this : suppose the government give each tax payer an tax return of $ 100 . People will spend this money according to their habit , those who like drink will buy wine , those who love food will go to restaurant to enjoy food , those used to save will save it . So the same with karma , which parents , which situation we will be reincarnate in to depends on our karmic seeds . Seeds means Inclination , potential . Modern physics proves particles ( electrons , protons ... ) -are not particles , they are potential , inclination , always in constant flux . We can say the same with karmic seeds .


The alaya-vijnana has two basic functions: First it answers the question how do the actions, or karma, that I enact in my life today effect me later. That later can be within moments, later in life, and later into our next life, rebirth. The alaya-vijnana maintains both the result of past actions and karmic potentials (vasana) or habit energies in which we will enact sometime in the future, that how karma works. These imprints of our actions in the alaya-vijnana are called bija, usually translated as seeds. For example, if I act out or say something out of anger it is due to some past karma that imprinted anger into my subconscious and that had effected my behavior. The other function of the alaya-vijnana is rebirth. For the yogacarins it is the alaya-vijnana which is a continuous subconscious mental stream that transmigrates at death and into the mother's womb at conception. Essentially, it is our karmic energy that is being transmitted not our person. The yogacarins did not pull this out of their hat. There understanding was based on earlier teachings and practice. In fact, the Pali Abhidharma of the Theravadan's postulate the Bhavanga which is also an subconscious mental stream of karma was probably what the yogacara based their alaya-vijnana on.


Think of the storehouse consciousness as the infinity inside your skin holding all sensory inputs -- which includes thoughts and dreams -- of your entire life. It is what remains of you after your body is dust. You want to fill that infinity of personal storage with as much beauty, goodness, love, courage, positivity, humor, joy, honesty, meritorious intention, compassion, endurance and discernment as you possibly can because it is and remains literally the stuff of existence for all existence forever.


people have five senses connected to their human organs .they work in normal natural way that one can explain in medical terms.but if we look closely the linkage which they keep each other intact is the key to the understanding of the human mind. apart from these glands there is a misterical software that governs these glands. the store house conscience has the link to this entire function. that will also answer the question of reincarnation or Atman. and the yogacara system has some explanation on this but incomplete.

  • Hello Kumar and welcome to Buddhism SE. If you want to improve your answer then put in some references to back it up. We have also some guidelines for new users that you might find useful.
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    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 10:26

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