What is the Vijñāna-Skandha in Buddhism?

Vijñāna-skandha, which is Sanskrit for “aggregate of thought”, is a doctrine within Buddhist philosophy that refers to one of the five skandhas, or aggregates, that make up the individual.

The five skandas are: form (rūpa); feelings (vedanā); perception (saṃjñā); volitional factors (saṃskāra); consciousness (vijñāna). The last of these, Vijñāna, refers to consciousness or awareness that includes cognition of objects presented to the senses and mental phenomena such as knowledge, understanding, and intelligence. 

The earliest Buddhist sources distinguish six forms of vijñāna corresponding to the six senses: eye-consciousness (contact made between visible forms and the eye itself), ear-consciousness (contact between sounds and the ear), nose-consciousness (contact between smells and the nose), taste-consciousness (contact between tastes and the tongue), bodily consciousness (contact between tangible objects and the body), and mental consciousness (the sense that is capable of both direct perception and thought).

The Buddhist school that pushed vijñāna to its limits was Vijñānavāda (Sanskrit for “The Way of Consciousness”; also called Yogācāra meaning “yoga-practice”) that emerged in the fourth century CE in India.

Vijñānavāda affirmed idealism by asserting that consciousness is the fundamental and only reality. Alaya-vijñāna (“Receptacle Consciousness” or “storehouse consciousness”) is the most fundamental form of this consciousness and the foundation of personal identity. Any dualistic of notion splitting the “self” and “other” is mistaken and is the result of negative effects produced by karma.

Recommended Resources

Keown, Damien. 2004. A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press


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