The Lankavatara Sutra illuminates the truth of the storehouse consciousness, and asserts that there is an innate Buddha waiting in the mind of almost every sentient being, ready to act compassionately for the benefit of all beings.

The setting and context of the sutra are indebted to Astika precedents. The “Lanka” of the sutra is the island fortress of King Ravana, who ruled over asuras. The location appeared as the haven for villainy in the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The sutra’s contents are mostly a dialogue between the Buddha and the great bodhisattva Mahāmati.

The Lanka sutra is connected with the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana Sutra in both timing of composition and contents.1 The teachings found in the Lanka sutra are systematized in the Faith sutra.  The text did predate Bodhidharma, the Indian progenitor of Ch’an Buddhism in China, for Bodhidharma relied on the text when he journeyed from India to spread the message about Buddhism.2

The Buddha-nature doctrine of the Lanka sutra is a teaching of universal and personal unity. The Buddha-nature, from a psychological perspective, can be considered the storehouse consciousness. In spite of this, the storehouse consciousness of the Yogachara is not the storehouse consciousness of the Lanka and Faith sutras.3 Yogacharins conceive the storehouse consciousness as a pure, undefined state of mind. Conversely, the storehouse consciousness of the Lanka and Faith sutras is the cause of both purity and defilement.4 Additionally, the Yogacharins advocate the Vijnaptimatra, while the Lanka, Faith, and Flower Ornament sutras uphold Cittamatra. The difference is that the Vijnaptimatra is pure idealism while Cittamatra is idealistic realism.5 The idealism of Vijnaptimatra asserts that there are only ideas and no reality behind them. Cittamatra doctrine asserts that Citta (mind) is all there is, and is quite real itself, and that the world is the mere objectification of this mind.  The Lanka sutra also is compatible with the Madhyamaka.6  Discrimination, as an expression of the intellects and its need to categorize, is discouraged in the Lanka sutra, as it is by Nagarjuna and his ilk.7

The psychology of the sutra features the concepts of citta, manas, vijñana, manovijñana, and alayavijñana. Vijñana is the act of discernment by the various senses. There is eye-vijñana, ear-vijñana, and so on. There is also mind-vijñana, which is manovijñana. This discernment of vijñanas perpetuates dualistic thought patterns. Citta refers to thought, including the discerning acts of manovijñana. Thoughts tend to pile up and create future patterns. Alayavijñana refers to this “storehouse consciousness” tendency of citta.

These concepts—the tathagatagarbha and storehouse consciousness, mainly—have made the sutra particularly important to the development of Yogachara and Ch’an/Zen. The sutra focuses heavily on psychological constructs in the course of explaining the “mind-only” phenomena of reality.

Sanskrit:  Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra

1Suzuki, 2020, xxxix
2Suzuki, xxxix

3Suzuki, 2020, xl