Philosophy:Mind Stream

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Mind Stream (citta-santāna) in Buddhist philosophy is the moment-to-moment continuum (Sanskrit: saṃtāna) of sense impressions and mental phenomena,[1] which is also described as continuing from one life to another.[2]


Citta-saṃtāna (Sanskrit), literally "the stream of mind",[3] is the stream of succeeding moments of mind or awareness. It provides a continuity of the personality in the absence of a permanently abiding "self" (ātman), which Buddhism denies. The mindstream provides a continuity from one life to another, akin to the flame of a candle which may be passed from one candle to another:[4][5][note 1]

Indian Buddhists see the 'evolution' of mind i[n] terms of the continuity of individual mind-streams from one lifetime to the next, with karma as the basic causal mechanism whereby transformations are transmitted from one life to the next.[6]

According to Waldron,

[T]he mind stream (santāna) increases gradually by the mental afflictions (kleśa) and by actions (karma), and goes again to the next world. In this way the circle of existence is without beginning."[7][8]

The vāsanās (karmic imprints) provide the karmic continuity between lives and between moments.[9] According to Lusthaus, these vasanas determine how one

...actually sees and experiences the world in certain ways, and one actually becomes a certain type of person, embodying certain theories which immediately shape the manner in which we experience.[10]



Citta holds the semantic field of "that which is conscious", "the act of mental apprehension known as ordinary consciousness", "the conventional and relative mind/heart".[11] Citta has two aspects: "...Its two aspects are attending to and collecting of impressions or traces (Sanskrit: vāsanā) cf. vijñāna."[11] Saṃtāna or santāna (Sanskrit) holds the semantic field of "eternal", "continuum", "a series of momentary events" or "life-stream".[11]


Citta is often rendered as sems in Tibetan and saṃtāna corresponds to rgyud, which holds the semantic field of "continuum", "stream", and "thread"--Citta-saṃtāna is therefore rendered sems rgyud. Rgyud is the term that Tibetan translators (Tibetan: lotsawa) employed to render the Sanskrit term "tantra".[12]

Thugs-rgyud is a synonym for sems rgyud[13]--Thugs holds the semantic field: "Buddha-mind", "(enlightened) mind", "mind", "soul", "spirit", "purpose", "intention", "unbiased perspective", "spirituality", "responsiveness", "spiritual significance", "awareness", "primordial (state, experience)", "enlightened mind", "heart", "breast", "feelings" and is sometimes a homonym of "citta" (Sanskrit).[14] Thugs-rgyud holds the semantic field "wisdom", "transmission", "heart-mind continuum", "mind", "[continuum/ stream of mind]" and "nature of mind."

Chinese, Korean and Japanese

The Chinese equivalent of Sanskrit citta-saṃtāna and Tibetan sems-kyi rgyud ("mindstream") is xin xiangxu (simplified Chinese: 心相续; traditional Chinese: 心相續; pinyin: xīn xiāngxù; Wade–Giles: hsin hsiang-hsü). According to the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, xīn xiāngxù means "continuance of the mental stream" (from Sanskrit citta-saṃtāna or citta-saṃtati), contrasted with wú xiàngxù 無相續 "no continuity of the mental stream" (from asaṃtāna or asaṃdhi) and shì xiāngxù 識相續 "stream of consciousness" (from vijñāna-saṃtāna).

This compound combines xin 心 "heart; mind; thought; conscience; core" and xiangxu "succeed each other", with xiang 相 "each other; one another; mutual; reciprocal" and xu 續 or 续 "continue; carry on; succeed". Thus it means "thoughts succeeding each other".

Xin xiangxu is pronounced sim sangsok in Korean and shin sōzoku in Japanese.

Origins and development

The notion of citta-santāna developed in later Yogacara-thought, where citta-santāna replaced the notion of ālayavijñāna,[15] the store-house consciousness in which the karmic seeds were stored. It is not a "permanent, unchanging, transmigrating entity", like the atman, but a series of momentary consciousnesses.[16]

Lusthaus describes the development and doctrinal relationships of the store consciousness (ālaya-vijñāna) and Buddha nature (tathāgatagarbha) in Yogācāra. To avoid reification of the ālaya-vijñāna,

The logico-epistemological wing in part sidestepped the critique by using the term citta-santāna, "mind-stream", instead of ālaya-vijñāna, for what amounted to roughly the same idea. It was easier to deny that a "stream" represented a reified self.[17]

Dharmakīrti (fl. 7th century) wrote a treatise on the nature of the mind stream in his Substantiation of Other mind streams (Saṃtãnãntarasiddhi).[18] According to Dharmakirti the mind stream was beginningless temporal sequence.[19]

The notion of mind stream was further developed in Vajrayāna (tantric Buddhism), where "mind stream" (sems-rgyud) may be understood as a stream of succeeding moments,[20] within a lifetime, but also in-between lifetimes. The 14th Dalai Lama holds it to be a continuum of consciousness, extending over succeeding lifetimes, though without a self or soul.[21]

See also


  1. Compare the analogies in the Milinda Panha


  1. Karunamuni N.D. (May 2015). "The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind". SAGE open 5 (2). doi:10.1177/2158244015583860. 
  2. The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi
  3. Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. P.62. ISBN:0-19-860560-9
  4. Kyimo 2007, p. 118.
  5. Panjvani 2013, p. 181.
  6. Waldron, William S. (undated). Buddhist Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Thinking about 'Thoughts without a Thinker'. Source: [1] (accessed: 1 November 2007)
  7. Waldron, William S. (2003). "Common Ground, Common Cause: Buddhism and Science on the Afflictions of Identity" in Wallace, B. Alan (editor, 2003). Buddhism & Science: Breaking New Ground. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN:0-231-12335-3 (pbk.: alk. paper) p.178
  8. AKBh:III 19a-d: Yathākṣepaṃ kramād vṛddhaḥ santānaḥ kleśakarmabhiḥ / paralokaṃ punaryāti...ityanādibhavacakrakam
  9. Lusthaus, Dan (2002). Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun. Routledge. ISBN:0-7007-1186-4. Source: [2] (accessed: 13 January 2009) p.472
  10. Lusthaus, Dan (2002). Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun. Routledge. ISBN:0-7007-1186-4. Source: [3] (accessed: 13 January 2009) p.474
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Source: [4] (accessed: 13 December 2007)
  12. Berzin, Alexander (2002; 2007). Making Sense of Tantra. Source: [5] (accessed: 13 December 2007)
  13. Dharma Dictionary (28 December 2005). Source: [6] (accessed: 17 July 2008)
  14. Dharma Dictionary (4 October 2006). Source: [7] (accessed: 17 July 2008)
  15. Lusthaus 2014, p. 7.
  16. Davids, C.A.F. Rhys (1903). "The Soul-Theory in Buddhism" in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Source: [8] (accessed: Sunday 1 February 2009), pp. 587-588
  17. Lusthaus, Dan (undated). What is and isn't Yogācāra. Source: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 31 March 2010. Retrieved 2016-01-12.  (accessed: 4 December 2007)
  18. Source: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-10.  (accessed: Wednesday 28 October 2009). There is an English translation of this work by Gupta (1969: pp.81-121) which is a rendering of Stcherbatsky's work from the Russian: Gupta, Harish C. (1969). Papers of Th. Stcherbatsky. Calcutta: Indian Studies Past and Present. (translated from Russian by Harish C. Gupta).
  19. Dunne, John D. (2004). Foundations of Dharmakīrti's philosophy. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Wisdom Publications. ISBN:0-86171-184-X, 9780861711840. Source: [9] (accessed: Monday 4 May 2010), p.1
  20. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2002). Healing with Form, Energy, and Light. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN:1-55939-176-6. p.82
  21. Lama, Dalai (1997). Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Snow Lion Publications. Source: stream_that_reincarnates_from_lifetime_to_lifetime.html (accessed: Sunday 25 March 2007)


  • Kyimo (2007), The Easy Buddha, Paragon Publishing 
  • Lusthaus, Dan (2014), Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun, Routledge 
  • Panjvani, Cyrus (2013), Buddhism: A Philosophical Approach, Broadview Press 

Further reading

  • Lama, Dalai (1997). Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Snow Lion Publications. Source: [10] (accessed: Sunday 25 March 2007)
  • Waldron, William S. (1995). : How Innovative is the Ālayavijñāna? The ālayavijñāna in the context of canonical and Abhidharma vijñāna theory.
  • Welwood, John (2000). The Play of the Mind: Form, Emptiness, and Beyond. Source: (accessed: Saturday 13 January 2007)

External links