Mindstream (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][a] William Waldron writes that "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]

The vāsanās "karmic imprints" provide the karmic continuity between lives and between moments.[8] According to Lusthaus, these vāsanās 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."[8]



Citta mean "that which is conscious".[9] Citta has two aspects: "...Its two aspects are attending to and collecting of impressions or traces (Sanskrit: vāsanā) cf. vijñāna."[9] Saṃtāna or santāna (Sanskrit) means "eternal", "continuum", "a series of momentary events" or "life-stream".[10]


Citta is often rendered as sems in Tibetan and saṃtāna corresponds to rgyud. Citta-saṃtāna is therefore rendered sems rgyud. Rgyud is the term that Tibetan translators (Tibetan: lotsawa) employed to render the Sanskrit term "tantra".[11]

Thugs-rgyud is a synonym for sems rgyud.[12]

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 "heart; mind; thought; conscience; core" and xiangxu "succeed each other", with xiang "form, appearance, countenance, phenomenon" and xu or "continue; carry on; succeed". Thus it means "the continuum of mind and phenomena".

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,[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

Dharmakīrti (fl. 7th century) wrote a treatise on the nature of the mind stream in his Substantiation of Other mind streams (Saṃtãnãntarasiddhi).[16] According to Dharmakirti the mind stream was beginningless temporal sequence.[17]

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,[18] 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.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Compare the analogies in the Milinda Panha.



Works cited

  • Anon (n.d.). "Glossary of Buddhist and Western Terms for the Practice of Buddhist Yoga". DharmaFellowship.org. Dharma Fellowship. Retrieved 13 December 2007.
  • Berzin, Alexander (n.d.). "Making Sense of Tantra". StudyBuddhism.com. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1999). The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering (PDF) (Access to Insight ed.). Buddhist Publication Society.
  • Dalai Lama (1997). Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Snow Lion Publications.
  • Davids, C.A.F. Rhys (1903). "The Soul-Theory in Buddhism". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 587–588. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00030902. S2CID 162761652. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  • Dunne, John D. (2004). Foundations of Dharmakirti's Philosophy. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 978-0-86171-184-0.
  • Karunamuni, N.D. (12 May 2015). "The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind". SAGE Open. 5 (2). doi:10.1177/2158244015583860.
  • Keown, Damien, ed. (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.
  • Kyimo (2007). The Easy Buddha. Paragon Publishing.
  • Lusthaus, Dan (2002). Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Chʼeng Wei-shih Lun. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-7007-1186-4.
  • Lusthaus, Dan (2014). Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun. Routledge.
  • Lusthaus, Dan (n.d.). "What is and isn't Yogācāra". Archived from the original on 31 March 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  • Panjvani, Cyrus (2013). Buddhism: A Philosophical Approach. Broadview Press.
  • Sharma, Ramesh Kumar (1985). "Dharmakirta On The Existence of Other Minds". Journal of Indian Philosophy. 13: 55–71. doi:10.1007/BF00208527. S2CID 170313612.
  • Tsadra Foundation Research Department (30 May 2021). "thugs rgyud". Dharma Dictionary. Tsadra Foundation. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  • Waldron, William S. (2003). "Common Ground, Common Cause: Buddhism and Science on the Afflictions of Identity". In Wallace, B. Alan (ed.). Buddhism & Science: Breaking New Ground. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12335-3.
  • Waldron, William S. (n.d.). "Buddhist Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Thinking about 'Thoughts without a Thinker'". PurifyMind.com. Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
  • Wangyal, Tenzin (2002). Healing with Form, Energy, and Light. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-176-6.

Further reading