The Nature, Consciousness, Intent, and Mind

by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Q: What are the differences between the nature, the consciousness, the intent, and the mind?

A: Newborn babies are active and lively, and they have no concept of self, others, living beings, or a life span. You could call what they have the "nature." As soon as they start to nurse, their "consciousness" increases. After learning to nurse, they learn to wear clothes, because without clothes they feel cold and they feel embarrassed. When they become aware of hunger, thirst, cold, and heat, that's the "intent." Then when they grow up and start wanting this and wanting that, they have a "mind." These are basically four kinds of minds, but they could also be said to be one, because they are interrelated and cannot be separated. They are the same family. Although there are four names, their fundamental nature is the same. Their basic defiled cause is "karma."

To expand upon this, what is the "Buddha"? Our "nature" is the Buddha. What is the spirit? The "consciousness" is the spirit. The "intent" is the discriminating mind, and the "mind" is what constantly engages in idle thinking. Further, the "nature" is originally perfect and bright, with no concept of self or others, and no falling into a second or third level of truth. But as soon as there is "consciousness," one falls into a second or third level of truth, and one makes discriminations. The "intent" also makes discriminations, and it is also called the sixth consciousness. It is relatively turbid, while the seventh and eighth consciousnesses are more pure. There are eight kinds of consciousness: the six consciousnesses of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and intent, and the seventh and eighth consciousnesses. Fundamentally, consciousness is not of eight kinds, although there are eight kinds in name. We could say that there is a single headquarters with eight departments under it. Although there are eight departments, they are controlled by the headquarters. The eight are one, and the one is eight. The eight don't contradict the one, and the one doesn't contradict the eight. From the one, the eight come forth. From eight, they can also return to one.

That's the consciousness. The "intent" is the discriminating mind, the sixth consciousness. Not only does the "mind" make discriminations, it is filled with idle thoughts. The six consciousnesses can also be said to be a perceptive nature. That is, from the six sense organs-eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and intent-the functions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and knowing arise. When people commit offenses, they do it with the six sense organs. When they cultivate, they also do it with the six sense organs. If you can remain unperturbed by external states, then you are cultivating. If you are turned by external states, then you will fall.