Copyright 1992 by Ron Epstein
The starting point of the Consciousness-Only
School is that everything is created from the mind as is "consciousness-only".
Everything, from birth and death to the cause of attaining nirvana, is
based upon the coming into being and the ceasing to be of consciousness,
that is, of distinctions in the mind. Consciousness-Only doctrine
is characterized by its extensive and sophisticated inquiry into the characteristics
of dharmas. For if we can distinguish what is real from what is unreal,
if we can distinguish what is distinction-making consciousness and not
mistake it for the originally clear, pure, bright enlightened mind, then
we can quickly leave the former and dwell in the latter. Ch'an Master
Han-shan (AD 1546-1623) has said, "When Consciousness-Only was made known
to them (i.e., those of the Hinayana vehicles), they knew that [all dharmas]
had no existence independent from their own minds. If one does not
see the mind with the mind, then no characteristic can be got at.
Therefore, in developing the spiritual skill necessary for meditative inquiry,
people are taught to look into what is apart from heart, mind, and consciousness
and to seek for what is apart from the states of unreal (polluted) thinking."
The founder of the Consciousness-Only School was the Bodhisattva Maitreya, who transmitted its teaching to the Venerable Asanga. He and his brother Vasubandhu were responsible for its early spread in India. The school was influential in Jung-Gwo (i.e., China) primarily because of the efforts of Tripitaka Master Hsuan-Tsang.