Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics
Knappenberg, Austria, September 2010
We are going to begin our discussion of Buddhist metaphysics. This is a large topic which covers an enormous amount of material, and all of this material is quite difficult; it is very complex, with many, many different items that are involved. But I think the important principle for studying this is that all of this is intended to serve as an analytical tool.
As you perhaps know already, the whole Buddhist training is intended to help us to gain liberation from suffering and unhappiness and its causes. Our suffering and problems arise basically because of our unawareness of reality – how we exist, how everything exists. Unawareness (ma-rig-pa) means either we just don’t know or we know or understand it incorrectly, and so we are very confused, and because of that… You see, the problem is that our mind makes things appear in all sorts of impossible ways and we believe that to correspond to reality.
One of the confusing appearances that our minds make is that things exist in a very sort of solid, concrete type of way. So we experience something and we think “Oh, there’s this horrible problem,” and we make it into a big thing and we get all upset about it. In colloquial English we say, “We make a big deal out of everything.” What we need to do is to be able to deconstruct what appears to exist solidly and so horribly to us, and if we can deconstruct it then we understand a little bit better its reality. The understanding of voidness (stong-pa-nyid) is clearly the deepest way of deconstructing that these impossible ways of existing that our mind produces are not corresponding to anything real, but we can do less deep deconstructions, which also help. That’s because whatever we experience is going to consist of various parts, various causes, various conditions, and so on; there’s nothing solid about it at all.
So these metaphysical topics that we’ll be discussing are the analytical tool to help us to deconstruct what we’re experiencing to help us to overcome problems and difficulties we’re having.
In the traditional Buddhist training, one works with this material for several years – not just five short lectures, but several years – through the medium of debate. So what I’d like to do is present this material in terms of a specific type of experience, troublesome experience, that we might be having, and show how these various topics that we’re talking about here – existent, nonexistent, static, functional, etc. – how we could apply them in analyzing and deconstructing this experience.
The example that I’ve chosen – now this didn’t actually happen to me, but as a hypothetical experience – when I was coming here, at the airport when I was collecting my luggage, I took the wrong computer bag. The computer bag was sitting on the ground and I took somebody else’s. I wasn’t really paying attention.
And now I arrive here and I’m really depressed and I think I’m a complete idiot and I’m very angry with myself. I’m very unhappy. Okay. So now how would we deconstruct this situation (because obviously I am suffering)? Existent and Nonexistent Phenomena
We can, first of all, talk about topics or subjects of a debate (rtsod-gzhi). This would refer to things that we can analyze, and this includes nonexistent items or subjects (med-pa) and existent subjects or topics (yod-pa). A nonexistent one cannot be validly known. A complete idiot – someone who is totally, in absolutely every aspect, every moment of their life, an idiot – that’s nonexistent.
Nobody exists like that. However, it is a topic that we can analyze. We can say “What I think is ‘I’m a total idiot.’” So it is a topic, but it is nonexistent. Now what exists can be validly known (shes-bya, validly knowable phenomena; gzhi-grub, something established as a basis for a valid knowing of it), like me, I who am a total idiot. Well, I can be validly known – I exist – but a total idiot doesn’t exist. And the computer, that exists. It’s an existent phenomenon and can be validly known. Validly means accurately and decisively.
We have another division, called – I call it – valid phenomena and invalid phenomena. Actually, before we go into this… I’d like to do this a little bit slowly, perhaps. Let’s take a minute or two to digest each of these groups that I am introducing, otherwise it’s just going to be one point after another point after another point – it’s too much.
We have topics that can be analyzed or discussed. Some of them are existent, like me or my computer – it can be validly known. And some do not exist at all, they’re nonexistent, like a total idiot, what I think I am, because there is no such thing as a total, total idiot.
Participant: I am.
Within existent phenomena, we have things that are valid (srid-pa) and things that are invalid (mi-srid-pa). I’m using this term like, for instance, your milk: now it’s valid, and now it’s expired – it’s no longer valid. Like my U-Bahn ticket, my subway ticket in Berlin. The September one is now valid. The August one is invalid; it’s no longer valid; it’s expired.
So a valid phenomenon is one that is happening now. An invalid one is one that is either no longer happening (’das-pa) or not yet happening (ma-’ong-pa). So what’s valid is what I’m experiencing right now. I’m sitting and thinking what an idiot I am. What is no longer valid – it’s invalid – is the no-longer-happening of my picking up the wrong computer bag; that’s no longer happening now. And what’s not yet happening is, hopefully, getting my own computer back. But what I have to deal with is what’s happening right now. What’s happening right now, what is valid at this moment, is my sitting here and thinking what an idiot I am. OK? Digest that for a moment.
Can I validly know something that’s no longer happening? Yes. I can know that I did not pick up my correct computer bag. That’s no longer happening now, but I can know it correctly. It’s an existent phenomenon. Not yet happening: if they find my correct computer at the airport, I will get it back. That’s not happening yet. But I can know that, especially if I call and they say, “Yes, we have it,” so I know I will get it back. But it’s not yet happening now.
You got it? It’s like the year 2010. That’s valid; that’s happening now. The year 2009 is no longer happening. Is it an existent phenomenon? Yes. There was such a thing as the year 2009, but it’s not happening now. I can remember it. And 2011, is it an existent phenomenon? Well yes, I can plan for it. But is it happening now? No. Is the year 2011 happening somewhere else now? No. Where could it be happening? You can have a count of 2011 from a certain point in another universe, but it’s not going to be the year 2011 that will happen next year here. My old age is not happening now; not happening somewhere else either, is it? I’m not eating my tomorrow’s breakfast now, am I? It’s not happening somewhere else. But I can think about it, I can plan it, etc. Affirmation and Negation Phenomena
We also have what’s known as affirmation phenomena (sgrub-pa) and negation phenomena (dgag-pa). For an affirmation phenomenon, it’s… Let’s get the exact definition – it’s a complicated definition – if I can find it. It doesn’t matter. An affirmation phenomenon is something that we can know just, in a sense, by itself, without having to negate anything else. Like for instance, my computer. I can just say, “This is my computer.” I didn’t have to know anything before.
But a negation phenomenon is “not my computer.” I look at this other computer, somebody else’s computer – it’s a different color, it’s a different model – and I understand “This is not my computer.” That’s a negation phenomenon. Not my computer. How could we know that this is not my computer? How would you know that? Would you have to have known something before? My computer, right. You have to have known my computer before in order to know this is not my computer. That’s the difference between an affirmation and a negation phenomenon. An affirmation phenomenon would be the presence of someone else’s computer, and an absence [[[Wikipedia:negation|negation]]] phenomenon would be the absence of my computer – “not my computer.” Implicative and Nonimplicative Negation Phenomena
There are different types of negation phenomena. There is what I call an implicative negation phenomenon (ma-yin dgag). I’m not quite sure what it’s called in German. Jeffrey Hopkins calls it an affirming negation. Implicative here means that there’s something left over when we negate. And when we say “something left over,” what we’re referring to, the term that’s actually used is... You know when you have a boat and the boat is going through the water, and after the boat has passed through the water then what we call in English the wake (bkag-shul) of the boat is left behind – sort of a dip, an impression in the water – that is the term that’s used for what’s left behind.
So an example would be “This is not my computer.” What is left behind, what is implied by that – implicative, what’s implied by that – is somebody else’s computer. Or “My computer is not here.” What’s left over from that? My computer must be somewhere else. We know that when we see this computer, don’t we, we see it’s somebody else’s computer? It’s not mine, so it must belong to somebody else. And my computer isn’t here, so it must be somewhere else. That’s how our understanding works, doesn’t it?
Participant: Very similar to the…
Alex: Is that similar to the term conclusion? Well, there can be conclusions from many, many other lines of reasoning. When we talk about conclusion, then this is in a logical inference – you know, a syllogism. And here we’re not going through an inferential process, just what is implicit here, what’s left over, is that it has to be somewhere else. Implicative is how I use it; it implies something else.
Participant: But there was a noun added to it.
Alex: Implicative negation.
Participant: Negation. OK.
Alex: Nonimplicative negation (med-dgag) is something that doesn’t leave anything behind. “My computer is absent. My computer is gone.” That doesn’t leave anything behind it, does it? It’s just gone. It’s absent. It doesn’t imply that it’s somewhere else. We’re just saying it’s absent. Or “I don’t have my computer.” Here it’s not that we’re leaving me behind; that’s not what we mean here. “I don’t have my computer” doesn’t imply that I have something else, just I don’t have my computer. Or we look for milk in the refrigerator and there is none. “There is no milk.” It doesn’t imply anything. Doesn’t leave anything over. It’s just a statement – absence, gone.
Now in this nonimplicative one – something’s absent, something’s gone – it could be either an existent phenomenon or a nonexistent phenomenon. “There is no milk in the refrigerator.” There’s also no monster in the refrigerator. So it could be an absence of something that does exist, could exist, and an absence of something that doesn’t exist, could never exist. There’s the absence of my computer. That’s something that does exist. But an absence of a total idiot – well, a total idiot doesn’t exist, could never exist. Digest that for a moment please.
Alex: So let’s review again. An existent phenomenon could either be an affirmation phenomenon or a negation phenomenon. And affirmation and negation phenomena can be either valid (presently happening), or invalid (they’re not happening any longer or they haven’t happened yet). “I don’t have my computer” – it’s happening now. “I didn’t pick up my computer yesterday. I didn’t pick up my computer” – that’s not happening now. It’s a negation phenomenon. That’s not happening now.
You see, all these different subdivisions can… they mix. That’s why we get into this whole topic that we’ll have later of relationships between – it’s set theory, basically – between two sets of things. Then it becomes much more complicated. But this is what one works with in debate. Static Phenomena
So when we talk about a static phenomenon, we’re talking about something that does not change from moment to moment. I think in the definition here it says something that is not momentary. We have to understand what momentary means. Momentary means that it doesn’t change from moment to moment. But some of them are eternal – they can last forever – and some of them are temporary.
Question: The table?
Alex: Pardon? Is the table a static phenomenon? We’ll get to that.
Let’s use our example, the computer. The category computer, computers; that is a static phenomenon. We’ll discuss what is called here generalities (spyi, conceptual category), and one aspect of them is categories. So the category of a table is just a category. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t change. It’s just a category. It’s what I’m, in a sense, thinking of. What I’m thinking of. “My computer” – I’m thinking of a computer, the category computer. But this is a temporary static phenomenon. Was there a category computer before computers were invented? No. During the Stone Age there was no category computer. And way, way in the distant future when there’s no such thing as computers anymore and there are none in museums and nobody has heard of it, there’s also no longer a category computer. Right? So it’s temporary.
But the category knowable phenomenon, from a Buddhist point of view, it has no beginning, no end – it’s eternal. There’s always a category knowable phenomenon. There are always knowable phenomena. We’re not talking about me having to think this. But since mental continuums (sems-rgyud) also have no beginning and no end, then we can always think in terms of the category knowable phenomenon. OK?
So you’ve got this idea of static phenomena? That’s something that doesn’t change, whether it lasts forever or it just lasts a short time. As long as it lasts, it doesn’t change – it doesn’t do anything and it doesn’t change.
Participant: I am not a static phenomenon.
Now we have functional phenomena. These are nonstatic phenomena; they change from moment to moment, they arise from causes and conditions, and they do something – they affect other things, produce effects. Some of them are eternal and some of them are temporary. So what’s temporary would be, for instance, the computer – this individual computer – or my body, something that arises at a certain point and at a certain point it’s going to disintegrate, fall apart, and moment to moment it is degenerating, going closer and closer to its end. But then there are other functional phenomena, nonstatic phenomena, changing from moment to moment that last forever, like the mental continuum – individual mental continuum – no beginning, no end, but moment to moment it changes, because moment to moment I am aware of different things; the consciousness, the mind, is aware of different things.
My computer is a nonstatic phenomenon. It’s falling apart. Eventually it’s going to break; eventually I’m not going to have it any longer – whether I lose it or somebody steals it or it just breaks. It’s falling apart from moment to moment. Gross impermanence (mi-rtag-pa rags-pa) is when it actually breaks. Subtle impermanence (mi-rtag-pa phra-mo) is that moment to moment it’s getting closer and closer to its end.
Follow that? It’s like this class. It will end. It’s temporary. But moment to moment, something different is happening. When class is over, it’s finished. But each minute, it’s getting closer and closer to the end. What is the reason for the class ending? The reason for it ending is because it started. If it never started, it couldn’t possibly end.
Now that may seem funny, but let’s apply it to the computer. What is the reason the computer breaks? Because it was built. It was built and therefore – depending on parts, and so on, which aren’t constantly being renewed – it’s going to fall apart; it’s going to come to an end. What is the cause of death? Birth. The sickness that I die from is just the circumstance. The actual cause is that I was born. So if we were born, what do we expect? We’re going to die. Buy a computer, what can we expect? At some point it’s going to break. OK?
Is there anything else besides a mental continuum that is eternal and changes from moment to moment? An individual person, me. When we talk about there being no soul (bdag-med, Skt. anatman, lack of an impossible “soul”), it’s not that we’re denying that there is some sort of eternal thing here. The me, the self, is eternal – there’s no beginning and there’s no end – but it doesn’t exist as some sort of unchanging thing that could exist separate from a body and a mind and could be known all by itself. But Buddhism does accept a self – whether you want to call that a soul or a me or an individual or a person – Buddhism does accept that, and it is eternal, and it changes from moment to moment, because now I’m doing this, now I’m doing that. That’s why I prefer to translate as no impossible self, no impossible soul. It’s not that there’s no self or no soul, but what Buddhism is negating is an impossible one. Right?
An unmöglich… an impossible self doesn’t correspond to anything. What would be an impossible self? It would be a self that can be known separately from a body and mind and is unaffected by anything, never changes from moment to moment, and it just jumps into this body and mind and, in a sense, drives it, like driving a car, and then leaves it and goes into another car. That’s impossible. That doesn’t correspond to anything real. So that’s voidness. It’s the absence of anything actual that corresponds to this. That’s impossible. That’s why these negation phenomena are important to understand. There is no such thing. When we say the self doesn’t exist like this – well, what’s left over is it exists in some other way. OK? Digest that for a moment please.
Functional phenomena do things. They arise from causes and conditions. They change from moment to moment. Some last forever; some last just a short time, and while they last, they degenerate. There are many other kinds of nonstatic phenomena but I really don’t want to go into that, because that gets very complicated – I explained that the previous time that I explained this topic – and it’s really quite confusing, so let’s not go there. Forms of Physical Phenomena
Within functional phenomena, we have three types. That’s one way of dividing it. There are many ways of dividing, but here we’ll divide it into three, the most common way of dividing them. Here in German it’s called… the first type is called material phenomena (gzugs). I prefer forms of physical phenomena. But whatever we call it, the point is to understand what we’re talking about. And what we’re talking about is – well, there’s eleven types. So we’re talking about sights, visual sights (gzugs), sounds (sgra), smells (dri), tastes (ro), physical sensations (reg-bya). That’s five. Tactile, physical sensations. Physical sensations include rough and soft, they include hot and cold, they include a physical sensation of motion. There are a lot of physical sensations. You can feel a motion, can’t you? I mean, we would say feel, but this is such a vague word in our languages. But that’s a physical sensation of moving, isn’t it?
So all of these are forms of physical phenomena. I mean, technically they’re made of particles and so on, but this becomes quite difficult to understand. So that’s why I am not explaining it in that way. But that’s difficult to understand, so I’m not explaining it that way.
And we have another set of five. These are the sensors. So the cognitive sensors (dbang-po). These are the type of tiny little cells that we have with the body that are photosensitive – you know, sensitive to sights (mig-gi dbang-po) – sound-sensitive cells of the ears (rna’i dbang-po), smell-sensitive of the nose (sna’i dbang-po), taste-sensitive of the tongue ([lce’i dbang-po]]), and physical sensation-sensitive of the body (lus-kyi dbang-po).
And then we have a third type, which can only be known by mental consciousness (chos-kyi skye-mched-pa'i gzugs, forms of physical phenomena included only among the cognitive stimulators that are all phenomena); you can’t actually know them in a sensorial sense, a sensorial way. Like for instance, what we perceive in dreams. There are what appear to be sights and sounds, etc., in dreams, but those aren’t actually objects of the eye consciousness or ear consciousness, are they? They’re objects of the mental consciousness. And we have other example as well. Particles, atoms – you can’t actually see them, but they’re a form of physical phenomenon.
So in our discussion here, my body. “I’m a complete idiot,” so my body. “I took the wrong computer,” the computer. These are forms of physical phenomena. The visual sight of the computer, the tactile sensation of the computer if I hold it in my hand, the sound of the computer when I type, these are all forms of physical phenomena. Then of course we can factor in these other divisions that we’ve spoken about. What I am seeing now, what I’m no longer seeing. The visual sight that I’m seeing now, a visual sight that I’m no longer seeing that I saw yesterday. The sight of someone else’s computer that I’m seeing now and the sight of my computer which I’m no longer seeing, for example.
Alex: Well, the smell and taste… Can there be a no-longer-happening smell? Sure, why not? There was smoke in the room yesterday. The smell of the smoke is no longer happening now, but I can remember it. The taste of my lunch; it’s no longer happening now, but I can remember it; I can think about it. This gets very complicated. Because when I am remembering something from yesterday, what am I remembering? I mean, what’s happening now is something that represents what happened before. I remember the taste of the lunch that I ate today – I can remember it, I can imagine it – but what I’m remembering now is something that represents the taste of the lunch that is no longer happening. It’s not that I’m tasting exactly the same thing, am I? That’s no longer happening now, but I’m experiencing something that represents it.
You see, all these complicated things – if you can make it fun then it’s not boring and you can actually work with it. And these are very helpful really.
Alex: The remembering of the attention to the attention? I must say I don’t understand that. There is a very complicated explanation for memory and how memory works, and that gets into something that we can discuss when we get into categories and conceptual thinking. Let’s not go there yet, please. But it has a nice explanation for it, but it’s very complicated and we need to explain certain things first before we can have the analytical tools to analyze what actually is happening when you remember something. Ways of Being Aware of Something
So we have forms of physical phenomena, then we have… the second category is, the second division is – I call it ways of being aware of something (shes-pa). Here in German it’s Bewusstsein, which I suppose means consciousness or awareness; I don’t know how you would translate it. But it’s ways of being aware of something. You can’t just be aware – you have to be aware of something; this will be in our topic about subjects and objects. And there are many different ways of being aware of something:
We have something called consciousness, primary consciousness (rnam-shes). In Buddhism we don’t just speak about consciousness in general, a general term here; we speak of, specifically, visual consciousness (mig-gi rnam-shes), sound consciousness (rna’i rnam-shes), smell consciousness (sna’i rnam-shes), taste consciousness (lce’i rnam-shes), physical sensation consciousness (lus-kyi rnam-shes), and mental consciousness (yid-kyi rnam-shes) (what would be involved with dreaming or thinking). And what primary consciousness does is it cognizes; it’s aware of what’s known as the essential nature (ngo-bo) of something. The essential nature of something is what general type of thing is it. So it’s aware of something as a sight; visual consciousness is aware of something as being a sight. Audio consciousness is aware of something as being a sound. Just this general category of what type of information is it. Is it visual information or audio information? If you think of the example of a computer, we have a digital representation of something, and there has to some sort of processor that can be aware that this is visual information or that this is audio information. This is what primary consciousness does. OK? That’s primary consciousness.
And then we have mental factors (sems-byung, subsidiary awareness), and mental factors help us to deal with that information. So some of these factors are things like attention (yid-la byed-pa), concentration (ting-nge-’dzin, mental fixation), interest (don-gnyer), feeling some level of happy or unhappy (tshor-ba). And then we have all the various emotions that also color our experience of an object, both constructive (dge-ba) or positive emotions, and destructive (mi-dge-ba) ones, disturbing emotions (nyon-mongs).
And so we have a whole cluster here of a primary consciousness and all the accompanying mental factors, and they’re all focused on the same object, and they’re occurring at the same time, and so on; they have five things in common (mtshungs-ldan lnga). So we can think of the image of a chandelier, with one bright light – a big light in the middle – and all these little lights around it, all going on at the same time and illuminating the same thing. Anybody know the word chandelier? There’s a big bulb in the middle and all these little bulbs around it. You don’t have chandeliers?
Alex: I see.
OK. So we have ways of being aware of something. So I’m looking at this bag and I’m distinguishing it’s not my computer, and I’m feeling unhappy about it, and I’m angry with it – and all of these things are happening here. Noncongruent Affecting Variables
And then we have a third category (ldan-min ’du-byed, nonstatic abstraction, noncongruent affecting variable), which is difficult to translate. It is something that is nonstatic – it’s changing from moment to moment – but it is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. For instance, me, the self: it is something that is imputed, we would say, on a stream of continuity of all sorts of changing factors, both physical and ways of being aware.
So what’s happening every moment? What’s happening every moment is that there is a different type of consciousness operating. Sometimes they’re operating several at the same time – both seeing and hearing, for example. Some are manifest. Some are subliminal, like for instance feeling the sensation of my clothing next to my body. I mean, there is that tactile sensation, that consciousness, but I’m not aware of it, so it’s subliminal – not paying attention to it. The physical sensation of your clothing. How about the physical sensation of your tongue in your mouth? How often are you aware of that? But if you paid attention to it, you could feel your tongue in your mouth, can’t you? Which is really quite weird, if you think about it.
So there are all these sights and sounds and smells, and all these consciousnesses, and there’s all these mental factors, and they’re all changing at different rates. Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m unhappy; sometimes I have this emotion, that emotion; my attention is changing, the level of it; my level of interest is changing – all the time at different rates. And we can impute on that me, as a way, in a sense, almost, of organizing this. So am I seeing? Am I thinking? Well, yes. But I’m not thinking by myself. I’m not seeing by myself. It’s the eye consciousness, and the eye consciousness is seeing. And therefore we say, “I am seeing,” though it is imputed, it’s labeled onto what’s happening. The “I” can’t see by itself; it cannot exist separately and cannot be known separately from a basis – here, the consciousness.
The self – me – cannot be known separately, and it can’t see or function or do anything separately, on its own, but only in terms of it being labeled, described, imputed on the experience that’s happening. It’s not something separate from everything that’s going on in my experience, sort of as a distant observer watching it or pressing the buttons and making it happen. This, one has to think about quite a lot.
Who is the author of the voice that goes on in my head? Who is talking? I’m talking, not somebody else. Is there a separate little me sitting somewhere in a little box in a control room with a microphone and talking? Obviously not. It’s getting information in on the video screen and from the audio equipment, coming from the ears, and has this control board there and is worrying “Oh, what should I do now? Oh, I’ll do that. I’ll lift my hand,” and it presses the button and the hand lifts. It’s not like that, is it? But it feels like that. You see, this is the deception. This is confusing, isn’t it? It feels as though there’s somebody inside there talking, but that’s impossible; it doesn’t correspond to anything real. There isn’t actually something sitting inside me, like in the movie “Alien” – some sort of alien thing sitting inside me, possessing my body and manipulating it. But I exist.
Participant: But we are convinced. We think like that.
Alex: Yes. We are convinced because it seems real. It seems real – that’s the problem – and we believe it. It appears like that and we believe it. That is the problem, first of all, that we believe it. If you stop believing it then you’re a liberated being. And when your mind stops producing this deceptive appearance then you’re a Buddha. That’s the difference. Liberated being: your mind still produces this garbage, but you know it’s garbage and you don’t believe it, so you don’t react to it. When you’re a Buddha your mind doesn’t make this appearance at all. Conclusion
Another example would be time, of the third. Time is passing moment to moment to moment, it’s nonstatic, but it’s not a form of physical phenomenon and it’s not a way of being aware of anything. So as I don’t have my computer and time is passing, the longer that I leave it and don’t do anything about it, the less are the chances that I’ll get it back, for example.
And again there are many permutations of what can be a negation phenomenon – there’s static, there’s some that are nonstatic, there are many, many different variations here; many possibilities. I don’t have my computer. The not having my computer – well, I don’t have it for one minute, then I don’t have it for two minutes, then I don’t have it for three minutes, then I don’t have it for four minutes, then I don’t have it for four days. It’s a changing phenomenon, isn’t it? It’s a negation phenomenon, not having it. So there are many possibilities of how these different divisions intersect. The not having it is changing from moment to moment.
Okay? Good. So let’s end here and then we’ll continue with more.
The presentations of the various metaphysical topics in Buddhism, as I’ve explained, are useful in helping us to deconstruct various problems that we might face. And one way that we saw that we can deconstruct what we experience is to see within that experience… Like we used the experience of taking the wrong computer bag at the airport and then feeling very angry with myself that I’m a total idiot. We’ve seen that we can differentiate what’s existent, what’s nonexistent. And we’ve seen what is happening – we can differentiate what’s happening now from what’s no longer happening. And within what was happening now, what we’re experiencing now, we can differentiate the various static phenomena (like categories) and the functional phenomena (things that are changing), and within that, what is and what is not (affirming phenomena and negation phenomena). And within that we saw, within the functional phenomena, one way of dividing that is into forms of material phenomena, ways of being aware of it, and the things that are neither. So the computer, my anger, me. And particularly these functional phenomena, another scheme of dividing them – we didn’t go into that – are the five aggregates. These are just five groupings of these functional phenomena, that at least one item from each of them makes up each moment of our experience.
So this is very helpful, because if we’re going to deal with what’s happening – well, what’s happening right now is what’s relevant. And within what’s happening now, if we can see all the different components of it, and realize that everything is changing at a different rate, and there are so many variables that are affecting what I’m experiencing right now, then it helps to desolidify it. And when we have deconstructed – desolidified – what we’re experiencing, like a depression or a horrible mood, or something like that, then it becomes less of a monster; we can deal with it.
So in this session we want to look at another extremely useful way of deconstructing what we’re experiencing, and that is in terms of causality. So let us go through all the various factors that are involved, and different types of causality, different types of results, and so on, and apply it to this example of taking the wrong computer bag. Direct and Indirect Causes
Here is the situation that we are analyzing. I don’t have my computer. So what’s the direct cause (dngos-rgyu)? This is what brought on this situation immediately. What immediately brought it on was that I picked up the wrong bag. Now what is translated here as indirect cause (brgyud-rgyu)… we have to understand what indirect means; it means an antecedent cause, something that was in the sequence of events that led up to the direct cause – to picking up the wrong bag. So what are the antecedent causes? The antecedent causes here are it was a bumpy airplane ride, that was followed by getting a headache on the plane, and then there was a long wait for the luggage, and I was worried that the person who was picking me up was waiting too long for me, and then I got distracted talking to a fellow passenger. And that all led to the direct cause: I picked up the wrong bag. OK? Direct Results and Indirect Results
And we have the direct result (dngos-‘bras). So that is what immediately followed after not having the right bag, not having my computer. So the direct result was that I walked out of the airport with the wrong bag. And then what is translated in your material as the indirect result (brgyud-‘bras) is referring to all the successive results, in sequence, that happened after that. So I couldn’t do my work, then I had to call the airport, then I had to go back to the airport to try to recover my computer. All those are the successive results that followed. OK?
So this is quite important in analyzing the situation – to see all the things that led up to what happened and all the things that follow it, sort of in a succession – so that we don’t just limit the way that we look at things in terms of this limited time span. Whatever we experience has a long antecedent of causes and then it has a long succession of results. One thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. Material Causes and Simultaneous Acting Conditions
Then we have what’s called here the material cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) and the simultaneously acting condition (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen). So what are these? This is – well, let me translate the definition here, of a substantial cause: a factor within the individual substantial continuum of a thing, through which the thing will mainly be brought about. OK. So what does that mean? First of all, substantial – we shouldn’t think of that as a solid thing; that’s not really what the word means. Literally, the word means obtaining; it is that from which we obtain the result. And what this is referring to is something in our mental continuum from which we obtain this item – picking up the wrong bag – as its successor. And in most cases, it ceases to exist once the successor arises.
So what are the examples for this? An example would be the seed and the plant. From the seed, you obtain the plant – it’s in a succession – and when you get the plant, you no longer have the seed. Or the unbaked dough is the obtaining cause for the baked bread. So it is the obtaining cause in the sense that you obtain it, but it’s not actually… This is what we have to watch out not to be confused by. We’re not talking about the substance of the bread, the substance of the bread in terms of the atoms and these sorts of things. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about that from which you get the item. But the unbaked dough is not there anymore, is it, when we have the bread. But it’s in the succession. That’s why we have this word succession, continuum.
So here in our example we’re talking about our mental continuum. I mean, it could be in a general continuum, but now we’re talking about a mental continuum. And here, sometimes that obtaining cause is finished when you get the result. But sometimes it can give more than one result, and so it will continue to be there until it exhausts giving all its results. And here what we’re talking about is… in Tibetan, you use the same word as seed (sa-bon). But again we shouldn’t think of it as a material seed; I think it’s better to understand it in this context as tendencies and potentials.
So there’s a tendency not to be mindful. Right? That was the obtaining cause for picking up the wrong bag; I wasn’t mindful. And then I have a tendency for the destructive action of taking what is not mine, and a potential to have my computer lost, to have my possessions lost, and I also have a tendency to get angry with myself. So all of these are the obtaining causes, or what’s called here substantial causes for this incident that happened, what I’m experiencing. And so then what were the simultaneously acting conditions, or the contributing conditions? What contributed to this? So I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I was talking to somebody else. These were the key conditions that were going on at that time that helped for this situation to arise.
So we start to see that what we experience, what happens, is dependent on so many things that went on before, and my own tendencies that are in my mental continuum, the circumstances in which it happened, etc. All of that is affecting what happened. Let’s take a moment to digest that much. You see, the issue is that we can’t blame anything. Because there’s so many factors that are involved, you can’t place the blame on any one of them and feel guilty about it.
Now we have a system of six different kinds of causes. Although that might look terribly complicated, especially when we try to work with the specific definitions, nevertheless it is a very useful scheme if one can work with it in terms of an example and you see what it’s talking about. Acting Causes
First we have the acting causes (byed-rgyu), and this is referring to, as I say – it’s everything else except the actual result. This is implying that whatever happens to us is interconnected with everything that has ever happened. So nothing exists isolated; everything is interconnected. That’s the point of this.
And then I bought the computer, and so the store where I bought it from. Somebody must have built the store. Somebody must have sold it to me.
How did I get to the store? I took the public transportation. Well, somebody must have built it. Somebody must have driven the subway, the U-Bahn that I took.
And so if we really start to analyze all of this, it’s an unbelievable amount of factors that are acting causes that somehow are responsible for what happened. And it’s interesting that if any of these are left out – like if nobody ever invented a computer – the whole thing could never have happened. Simultaneously Arising Causes
They arise simultaneously with the result, in a sense. If you think about it, my arm that was picking up the wrong bag, and the action of picking up the bag – this was all happening simultaneously with picking up the wrong bag. Could I have taken the wrong bag and not have my computer if I didn’t have an arm that picked up the bag?
And if the arm didn’t have muscles and didn’t have blood flowing through it, and these sorts of things, the whole thing couldn’t have happened. Right? Or seeing the bag, seeing something on the floor: if I didn’t see it, I couldn’t have picked it up. And seeing it with not paying very much attention; I mean, that was really what was involved.
Actually, although it starts to sound a little bit funny, but nevertheless, if you really think about it, all these things were involved. And again, if some of them were missing, it wouldn’t have happened. So let’s digest those for a moment. Equal Status Causes
The third type of cause here is known as an equal status cause (skal-mnyam-gyi rgyu). What that means is causes for which the results are later moments in the same type of category of phenomenon as the causes are.
So in other words, we’re talking about a certain status of the cause and effect, and the status – I’ll explain what that status is referring to – is the same for the cause and for the effect. It’s referring to the ethical status (rigs), primarily.
So in order to understand what this is referring to, we have to present yet another division scheme for phenomena. And here we have first the division into upsetting and nonupsetting things. Upsetting. It’s upsetting you.
It’s making you upset. It’s upsetting in the sense that – well, I’ll give the definition: something upsetting is mixed with naivety about reality; and nonupsetting, it’s not mixed with this naivety. It’s more in this division of samsara and nirvana, this type of way of dividing things.
What would be nonupsetting? “I’m a human being. Human beings make mistakes. These things happen because of all sorts of causes and conditions, etc. What do I expect? I’m getting older. Things like this happen.” So it’s important to try to get everything… very clear thinking here.
And the constructive (dge-ba) is what’s going to bring about our ordinary happiness; this is the suffering of change – it’s not going to be satisfying, it’s not going to last, and so on, but is not as bad as unhappiness.
Unawareness, sometimes translated as ignorance, can accompany either a constructive or destructive or neutral state of mind. I just don’t know, or I know incorrectly, about either cause and effect or reality.
And when we look at the term in Tibetan, timuk, or moha in Sanskrit, it’s very difficult to translate. I call it naivety. You can call it whatever you want, but what it’s referring to is this unawareness only when it is accompanying destructive behavior or destructive phenomena. It’s a subcategory.
So either not knowing about cause and effect or not knowing about reality, when it accompanies a destructive phenomenon, that’s called naivety. Or however you want to translate. I can’t think of any word in our languages that would actually mean that.
I mean, the whole implication of having a separate term here is that it’s much worse when it’s involved with something destructive.
I think this indicates – although this is perhaps getting terribly technical – the importance of knowing the definitions and understanding them, otherwise terminology just becomes too confusing and we don’t really know exactly what they’re talking about. Terminology in Buddhism is extremely specific.
So what’s destructive? Anger and attachment and this naivety, and the actions that are motivated by them, and all the mental factors that would accompany that when I’m having these disturbing emotions. All of these are destructive.
“And now I can do my work” – a big self-centered thought behind this positive feeling of being thankful and grateful and so on. So that leads to a happiness, but it’s a type of happiness that doesn’t last and isn’t satisfying.
And neutral phenomena. What’s neutral are things that are neither constructive nor destructive. Could be part of something constructive or part of destructive; by itself it’s neutral. So that could be attention, interest, intelligence, these sort of things. By themselves they’re neutral.
So in our example here with the taking the wrong computer, what would be destructive would be anger; I’m angry with myself. What would be constructive would be patience in this situation. And what is neutral – literally the word is unspecified (Buddha didn’t specify is it destructive or constructive) – what’s unspecified would be the computer. What’s neutral is the computer itself. Me. I’m a neutral phenomenon. The mindfulness.
Alex: What is Gleichmut?
Alex: Equanimity. Well, equanimity would be constructive. Equanimity is constructive. You couldn’t have anger and equanimity at the same time. But I could have mindfulness while being angry, or I could have mindfulness while being very kind.
So equal status cause is referring to things that happen before what’s going on now that are in the same status – destructive, constructive, or neutral – as what’s going on now. So what am I having now? I’m feeling a lot of anger at myself. “I’m so stupid. I’m such an idiot.
These would be frustration, impatience, low self-esteem – all these what we would call psychological or emotional factors that are involved with this whole syndrome of being so heavy on myself and getting angry with myself. OK? That also is contributing to what I’m experiencing right now: I don’t have my computer. I’m angry with myself. I took the wrong computer bag.
It’s helpful. It gave us some idea of what we need to work on in ourselves so that we don’t get so upset in these situations. This is upsetting. Not upsetting: “Well, I’m a human being. Things like that happen.” We’re not upset. Here we have equanimity in a nonupsetting way. An upsetting way of equilibrium here would be “Poor me. I’m a human being.
Things like this happen. Poor me.” Feeling sorry for myself. I have equilibrium, but I’m feeling sorry for myself. So it’s a whole other sphere of causality, a whole emotional makeup, really, is what this is referring to. Concomitant Causes
The next one is – I don’t even know how you would translate… just translate back into German what I say – a concomitant cause (mtshungs-ldan-gyi rgyu, congruent cause). OK, so what is that referring to?
I call it a concomitant cause, and it’s conscious… it’s referring to ways of being aware of something. This is a subcategory of the simultaneously arising causes. And this has to do with phenomena that share five things in common – let me try to find my definition of it – causes that share five things in common with the results. I’ll explain. I’ll explain.
So now we have a result, what we’re talking about. And so we have seeing the computer is not mine, and that’s accompanied with being angry with myself. So there are certain mental factors that accompany that cognition, that moment of experience. And I’ll tell you what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about things like attention, distinguishing (I’m distinguishing my bag from this bag), naivety about how I exist (I’m a total idiot), anger, unhappiness – all these things are in one package, in a sense, in this moment of experience, what I’m experiencing. And they share five things in common.
They’re all aimed at the same focal object (dmigs-yul), the computer. The anger is aimed at it, the attention is aimed at it, the distinguishing is aimed at it, my unhappiness is focusing on this computer – “It’s not mine.”
And they all are involved with the same mental aspect (dmigs-rnam). In other words, when I see it… I mean, there’s all these light rays and stuff that hit my eyes, and the electric impulses and chemical things that go to my brain, and somehow my brain makes a mental aspect, a mental hologram, that represents this computer. So actually if we think of this mental phenomenon, it’s aimed at a mental hologram. So they’re all aimed at the same mental hologram. That’s how the brain works, doesn’t it?
And they’re all occurring at the same time (dus).
And they have the same slant (ris-mthun). Which means they all have the same flavor – of being a destructive experience, an upsetting destructive experience, self-destructive in this case. Destructive. It’s going to bring on more unhappiness. The more that I continue being angry with myself and there’s low self-esteem – come on, in the future of course I’m going to be more and more unhappy.
Then the next one is translated here as the continuing cause (kun-’gro’i rgyu); I call it a driving cause. I mean, the word literally in Tibetan means all going, so it goes. It either continues or it makes something go; you can understand it in two ways. So in a sense, it is continuing – you know, when the result happens – although it may or may not.
We can give examples here of attachment to my computer. You know, why am I so angry? Arrogance, that my work is so important; impatience with my old age. OK? So these are equal status; they’re in the same category – they’re destructive, like my anger. But a factor that is not destructive, but rather is neutral, which is here is self-preoccupation.
Self-preoccupation is neutral; it’s unspecified. Neutral we use because it’s an easy word to say. Unspecified is actually literally correct and more specific because what it means is that it could be either destructive or constructive or neutral – it could be any of them.
And so self-preoccupation: I could be self-preoccupied when I’m angry with myself. I could be self-preoccupied when I’m being so kind and so wonderful to everybody.
I could be self-preoccupied while I’m eating my lunch. When we talk about this unspecified, it could be with any of the three possibilities: angry with myself; I’m so wonderful, I’m so kind; and I’m eating my lunch. Eating my lunch is just neutral. Okay? So it’s just a further refinement of the emotional background of why I’m feeling so horrible. Ripening Causes
And then we have… the last one is the ripening cause (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu); the cause for the full ripening of the karmic fruit we have here in German, a fuller translation. This is talking about the destructive phenomenon that will bring about a situation as its karmic result. And the situation… we’re talking about something unspecified.
And what ripens from that which is unspecified is the unspecified result of being born with a body and a brain that experiences old age and loss of mindfulness, that experiences old age and a loss of mindfulness with old age – that type of body and brain and what happens to us.
It’s unspecified: it can go along with something being destructive, being angry; it can go along with being constructive; it can go along with anything. And the cause for that, the ripening cause, is this cluster of disturbing emotions at the time of death that activates the throwing karma that, in a sense, throws us into our next rebirth.
First we have the ripened result (rnam-smin-gyi ’bras-bu), and that’s referring to the result of the ripening cause. So these unspecified phenomena – with my body and brain that is experiencing old age, and a loss of mindfulness because of old age. Right? That’s part of what’s happening, isn’t it? What’s responsible for what happened and what I’m experiencing. So these are the results, what I’m experiencing. Results that Correspond to their Cause
The next is results that correspond to their cause (rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu), and this can be either in terms of our behavior or in terms of what we experience happening to us. And so here, if we think about it, the karmic cause for something like this would be, in a sense, taking what is not given to us – this destructive action. In a heavy sense, it would be stealing. So that led to the tendency. Remember we had this obtaining cause, or material cause, for taking things that don’t belong to me. That tendency came from the karmic action of taking something that didn’t belong to me. So the result that corresponds to that cause would be an incident of taking something belonging to somebody else – that’s what we experience in our behavior similar to this previous action that we did – and experiencing somebody else taking my computer.
Now it’s not my karma that causes that other person to do that. That other person has all these causes happening from their side, why they take something that doesn’t belong to them. But somehow these two connect. My karma causes me to experience my computer being taken by someone else; it doesn’t cause the other person to take my computer. There’s a difference. And we can’t place all the guilt on what I did in some previous life, because we’ve seen that there are thousands and thousands of other causes of what’s involved with what’s happening, of what happened. Very helpful for getting over guilt. It’s not all the other person’s fault, it’s not all my fault, it’s… a million things have happened. Even the fact that somebody invented the computer. Actually that’s very helpful. If we think how silly it is to place all the blame on the person who invented the computer, or the person who sold us the computer in the store, then we will see that it’s equally silly to place all the blame on me, that I’m so stupid, or all the blame on this other guy who took my computer. Results that Are States of Being Parted
Then we have results that are freedom from disturbing emotions (bral-’bras) (here it’s called passions, Leidenschaften). So it is a result that is a state of being parted – being separated, literally, and so specifically from disturbing emotions. But not just disturbing emotions; it can also be unawareness, grasping at true existence. These are in a different classification scheme, not exactly disturbing emotions. But this is irrelevant, I’m sorry. Those are not disturbing emotions. So it’s a larger thing, of what we could be parted from, but causes of samsara would be a little bit easier to say.
And what this is, what an example would be, would be a true stopping of anger. If I achieve the state of an arya – not an arya but an arhat, a liberated being – then I would be completely free of anger. That would be this type of result. This is just called a result. It’s not really a result. Because that state of being parted is a static phenomenon – it never changes, it’s forever – so we’re really talking about the attainment of this state of being parted. The state of being parted is not caused by anything, but all our effort is the cause for attaining that state. A technical difference. Man-Made Results
Then we have what is called here in German effective results (skyes-bu byed-pa’i ’bras-bu]]); I call it man-made results. So here we’re not talking about something karmic; we’re talking about just… I don’t even know how to describe it, but let me give examples: I can’t do my work. I can’t do my work is the man-made result, or the effective result, of taking the wrong computer. I bang my foot against the table in the dark. The effective result – or man-made result, however we want to translate it – is that my foot hurts. Dominating Results
Then the last one – I need to go a little bit quickly here – is the dominating result (bdag-po’i ’bras-bu), and this would be referring (there’s also a karmic thing here) to a general situation in which we are born. Here it would be, for instance, being born in a society in which the airport people will help with locating my lost computer, and they keep lists of passengers and telephone numbers, and people are honest. We could have been born in a society where none of that happens. You leave your computer in an airport in some countries by mistake, and you can guarantee it’s going to be stolen; whereas in other countries, you leave it and it will turn up at the lost and found.
OK? So these are the different types of results.
The only thing that we have left in the last couple minutes are the different types of conditions.
Immediately Preceding Conditions
This mental activity, what was going on immediately right before seeing this bag on the floor and taking it, would give, in a sense, a momentum to the mental activity that occurred while I took the bag. That’s the immediately preceding condition. Focal Conditions
And then we have – it’s not listed here – a focal condition (dmigs-rkyen), which is the bag on the floor, the computer on the floor; that was what I focused on when I took the wrong bag. I mean, some bag on the floor when I took the bag. Dominating Conditions
So this is our analysis of cause and effect. In another text, like the text of Asanga, we have a list of twenty different causes, so it could be even more complex. But I think that this scheme is perhaps enough.
I hope that you can appreciate from this that although it’s a complex scheme, it is something that we could actually work with; it is something we could actually apply to different situations that we’re experiencing.
And it can be very helpful for deconstructing it so that we don’t make such a big thing, a big horrible monster out of what we’re experiencing. We can see all the different things that it arose from, all the different results that we’re experiencing simultaneously, and then deal with it in a much more rational type of way.
When you become enough familiar with this, then actually you don’t really have to go through all the very, very specific analyses. Just remembering that “Oh, I can see this is made up of so many different causes and conditions” helps.
Because it could take quite a while to go through the analysis. But that’s the initial thing, then you can go through the more detailed analysis.
You see, that initial general understanding helps us to calm down. Once you calm down, then in a more rational state of mind we can do the analysis, which would give us some indication of what we would need to work on in order to correct the situation. OK?
The next topic is subjects and objects. When we talk about subject here, that word of course could be understood in many different ways, but literally it’s something that has an object. So they’re functional phenomena (dngos-po) that have objects (yul-can), and the objects (yul) that they have. That’s actually the topic.
To have an object means that something has it continually… it means to continually and actively possess an object that’s appropriate to itself whenever and for as long as the functional phenomenon occurs or exists. OK?
So something that always has an object for as long as it exists. And for this we have some that cognitively have an object – that means to take an object, cognitively take an object, that’s dzinpa (’dzin-pa) – and some that don’t cognitively take an object but always have an object.
So what are we talking about here? We’re talking about... Among things that always have an object, persons (gang-zag) and ways of being aware of something (shes-pa) always cognitively take the object;
they know the object. And communicative (or communicating) sounds (rjog-byed-kyi sgra) always have an object, but they don’t know the object; the object that they always have is their meaning. OK? So we have this division here.
Now what about persons? Like for instance in our example, thinking that I’m a total idiot or seeing the computer. On the one hand, we can say that the mental consciousness is thinking “I’m an idiot,” but also we would have to say I think I’m an idiot – I’m thinking that – wouldn’t we? It’s not that I’m not thinking that and only my mental consciousness is thinking that. That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Or that my eye consciousness sees the computer but I don’t see it. That’s silly. Right?
So when we talk about a person – we’re talking about me – a person, because a person or me, a self, is always imputed on a mental continuum, a person or me is something that is imputed or labeled onto a mental continuum – actually it’s a continuum of the five aggregates, but let’s just make it simple – onto the mental continuum. There’s a continuum, moment to moment to moment, of experiencing.
From one moment to the next, we even experience death; we experience rebirth. It goes on with no beginning, no end. And that mental continuum is made up of many, many different things – we’ve seen all these types of consciousness and mental factors, and things that we see and hear, and so on – and all these are changing all the time, at very different rates. And there are certain things that we can impute on it – label on it – in a sense, to integrate it, to sort of put it together.
So for instance, age: Now I’m one year old, now I am two years old, now I’m three years old, and so on. So it’s something that can be imputed onto this continuum, in this sense, within one lifetime. And it’s changing, isn’t it? Moment to moment, getting older.
So, like age, we can also impute on this mental continuum me. That’s important to understand. It’s not so easy to understand, but it’s absolutely crucial in Buddhist study to understand what we mean by me.
It’s more abstract, isn’t it? We can’t say there’s no such thing as age, can we? But age isn’t some sort of solid thing, is it? The same thing with me.
We can’t say that there’s no me, but it’s not something solid, not a form of physical phenomenon, not a way of being aware of anything. However, even though it itself is not a way of being aware of something, like consciousness – or anger,
or some emotion, something like that – it nevertheless knows things, because in a sense the mind knows things, consciousness knows things, I know things. Do you follow that? It just makes absolutely no sense to say that I don’t see it, that only the eye consciousness sees it.
What is the meaning of saying that I see it, or I hear it, or I think it? It’s that, on the basis of the mental consciousness or the ear consciousness or the eye consciousness thinking, hearing, or seeing, we can label onto that the me – I’m thinking, hearing, or seeing.
Then the second division here is ways of being aware of something. And that can be either – we’ve had these divisions before – the primary consciousness (rnam-shes) (like eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, etc.) or the mental factors (sems-byung) that go with that.
By the way, when we say that to have an object means to have the object all the time as long as it exists, there’s some things that don’t actively have an object – they have an object but they don’t actively have it all the time. Like a snow shovel, my favorite example. What is the object associated with a snow shovel? Snow.
When in the summer, the snow shovel is sitting in the garage, is it actively taking this object of snow? No. But consciousness, that’s always operating, whether we’re asleep or not, because we have… I’m experiencing sleep. The mind is experiencing deep sleep or the mind is experiencing dreams, and so I am experiencing deep sleep and I’m experiencing dreams.
Now when both consciousness and I are experiencing something, knowing something, then that’s called manifest cognition (shes-pa mngon-gyur-ba). But what happens when we’re asleep? Mental consciousness of…
Subliminal (bag-la nyal) means that the ear consciousness at that moment is cognitively taking an object but I am not – the person is not. Think about that. While I’m asleep, my ear consciousness hears the ticking of the clock.
I don’t hear it. However, when the alarm clock rings, both the ear consciousness and I hear it. If the ear consciousness wasn’t operating while we were asleep, on this subliminal level, you could never hear the alarm clock.
Now we have different ways of being aware of something: we have nonconceptual (rtog-med) and conceptual (rtog-bcas). Nonconceptual is not mixed with some sort of category (spyi), and conceptual is with a category. So nonconceptual, like I see on the floor... What do I see? I see a colored shape on the table.
But conceptual would be looking at it through the category of a computer, as in “This is a computer.” So we have some sort of… we would say we have a concept of it; it’s a category – a generality, in a sense – computers. We’ll discuss that in much more detail in another lecture.
When we talk about sense cognition – sense consciousness – that’s nonconceptual. Mental consciousness can be either conceptual or nonconceptual. Conceptual would be thinking. Nonconceptual would be in dreams when we are merely, what we would say, seeing something in our dream; that would be nonconceptual.
You could also think in a dream, of course; that’s something else. So in dreams we could either have nonconceptual or conceptual, but that’s mental consciousness. OK? It’s a way of being aware of something. It has an object. OK? Take a moment.
And conceptual would be perceiving this with my mental consciousness and thinking in terms of computers. I don’t have to be thinking that verbally, but I am seeing it through this category, through this filter, of computers.
Obviously I have some idea of what a computer is, we would say in our Western languages. Or looking at this object and through the filter, through the category, of my possessions. OK? That’s conceptual.
Valid and Invalid Ways of Being Aware of Something
Now ways of knowing something – ways of being aware of something – can be either valid (tshad-ma, valid cognition) or not valid (mtshad-min, invalid cognition). A valid way of knowing or a nonvalid – invalid – way of knowing something. And depending on which tenet system we follow, but the usual one with which it is explained defines valid as fresh (gsar-tu) and nonfallacious (mi-bslu-ba). In other words, it’s fresh each moment and it is nonfallacious (in another words, it is not inaccurate; it’s accurate).
We have bare perception (mngon-sum tshad-ma) – this is valid – that means not through the medium of a category; it’s not conceptual; there is nothing in between, literally. So this is like seeing. I see the computer on the table.
We’re not talking about the glasses; we’re talking about something mental.
You take your glasses off and you see a blur. There isn’t a blur sitting on the table, is there? I accurately see what is appearing, which is a blur, but there isn’t actually a blur sitting on the table, is there? Or is there?
So anyway, now I’m talking about our incident here. I get home. I have the wrong computer. It’s not my computer, and I’m sitting and I’m looking at it on the table, and freaking out – very angry, very upset. So now I look at it – and this is bare perception, it’s valid – see a colored shape. I’m seeing a computer. That’s valid. Valid Inferential Cognition
Now the line of reasoning: This computer is gray and… No, let’s do it the other way around. Well, we can do it like this: This computer is gray and an Apple computer; my computer is black and a Dell computer; so because this is not black and a Dell, therefore I can conclude that it is not my computer.
If it were my computer, it would have to be black and a Dell, and it’s not.
Think about that. How do you know it’s not my computer? We know so many things through inference. I know it’s a flower. You go into a store: “This is not what I want to buy.” How do you know it’s not what you want to buy? “What I want to buy is like this and this. This is not like that; therefore, it’s something that I don’t want to buy.” Like a fruit in the market. Whatever.
That distinguishing occurs in just seeing – nonconceptual cognition – it’s basically distinguishing one item in a sense field from the rest of the sense field: this colored shape from the colored shapes around it.
So now what are invalid ways? The first one is called subsequent cognition (bcad-shes), and these are later moments of either bare perception or inferential cognition. And they’re not valid, because (by this definition) they’re not fresh – they’re getting a little bit stale.
In other systems of dealing with this material they don’t have this category of subsequent cognition, because every moment, from a certain point of view, is fresh – it’s new. In any case, we have this subsequent cognition.
Then we have presumption (yid-dpyod). Well, presumption is like a guess. The factor that we don’t have here is certainty (nges-shes). Right? This is another variable. If a cognition is both accurate and certain, really determined – it’s this and not that – then that’s called… I translate it as an apprehension or understanding (rtogs-pa).
Well, with presumption I’m not sure. It’s a guess. It could be an educated guess or not. But here I presume I’ll get my own computer back. So I don’t really know that, but I’m presuming. And this can also be through an inferential process, but I’m presuming “Well, I’m in Austria. People are honest,” and so on. I presume that I will get it back, but I can’t be really sure about that.
Question: What is intuition?
For most of us, what we would call intuition… you don’t really have a Tibetan term for that. It would be a guess about which we feel quite certain, and it tends to come up spontaneously, without a thinking process and without an analytical process.
Presumption could be based on an analysis, like I was saying. “Well, I’m in Austria. People are honest.” I presume that I will get it back, but I’m not really so certain. I really hope that I will get it back.
The next one, it’s translated here and most people translate it as inattentive cognition, but the literal translation is nondetermining cognition (snang-la ma-nges-pa). Something appears but we’re not certain. Literally, that’s what it means. So it’s nondetermining.
Here we’re not talking about within one sensory field; this is why inattentive has a broader meaning. While I am looking at the group of people in front of me, I’m paying attention to one person, and I’m not really paying attention to the others although actually I see them. That, we would say, is inattentive, but this is not what we’re talking about here.
Or I’m looking at you – I mean, it’s very interesting – I’m looking at you, I’m looking at everybody in the class, but I’m really not paying attention to what you’re wearing. Afterwards, I really don’t remember what color sweater or shirt you were wearing. We’re not talking about that. Even though obviously I see what you’re wearing.
What we’re talking about here is in different senses – what’s going on with different senses. Like I am preparing my coffee – so I’m looking at the machine and being very involved with that – and I hear your conversation, the two people next to me. I hear it, but it is a nondetermining cognition: I’m really not ascertaining that you’re saying this and not that.
We’re talking about two different sense consciousnesses – that while you’re focused on one, it’s nondetermining with the other; I don’t have attention there. So there’s a distinction here between within one sense field and between two sense fields.
So in the airport I’m listening to, let’s say, an announcement on the loudspeaker or I’m listening to this person that I’m talking with, and my visual cognition seeing there’s two bags on the floor, and I take the wrong one.
That was a nondetermining cognition. I wasn’t determining accurately that this one is mine and not yours, because my attention was all on listening to what the other person was saying. I didn’t determine, didn’t ascertain, this is mine and not somebody else’s – you know, between mine and not mine. Right?
This is only with sense consciousness; this is not within the sphere of mental consciousness, this particular way of knowing. There’s a whole other process when we are, for instance, reciting some sort of verse and not really thinking of what it means; it’s just sort of “Blah blah blah.” That’s not inattentive cognition; that’s something else. That has to do with conceptual cognition. That’s something else.
The next one is called doubt (the-tshoms), but literally what it is is indecisive wavering, wavering back and forth between two possibilities. Did somebody take my computer, or did the airport workers find it and put it in the lost luggage? Indecisive. I don’t know. I’m wavering back and forth: Is it this one or that one? So we have to understand what doubt means here.
Then there’s distorted cognition (log-shes), which is I saw someone else’s bag and I saw it as my bag. That was distorted; that was just wrong.
So we have all these different ways of cognitively taking objects. We have persons, we have ways of being aware of things; these have objects and they cognitively take their objects. Communicative Sounds
Then we have communicative sounds, which have objects but they don’t cognitively take them. The objects that they have are their meanings – they’re referring to something. So we have three different types.
We have words (ming).
Question: Is this names?
There’s a whole bunch of objects and they fit into the category or generality of computer, and there’s a word that’s used for that, “computer.” The word isn’t the same as the category. Or we have the word “idiot.” “I’m an idiot.”
Sometimes there are nicknames (btags-ming). So the actual word (dngos-ming), the actual name, the actual word would be “idiot,” and then there’s a nickname for idiot. Jackass, for example. Do you say that? Esel.
So obviously there are many, many categories within that, and let’s not go into too much detail.
And then we have phrases (tshig). Phrases can be a group of words or it can be a whole sentence. Like “I am an idiot.” Not just the word “idiot,” but “I am an idiot.”
And just as the word “idiot” has a meaning, or “computer” has a meaning, “I am an idiot” also has a meaning; so there’s an object. How we understand the meaning of it is a very complex process that has to do with conceptual cognition, because after all we only hear one word at a time.
But we’ll get to that. I mean, when we hear the second word, we’re not hearing the first word anymore – it’s not valid; it’s no longer happening. That has to do with our old friend mental holograms. But we’ll get to that.
Then we have what is called here letters, but actually we have to understand that in the context of Sanskrit – that’s what all this is referring to – and it’s referring to syllables (yi-ge). A syllable is made up of a consonant and a vowel or just a vowel by itself. You can’t just say a consonant by itself, can you?
We’re talking about a sound that you can actually say. We’re not talking about spelling here either. Because for instance, you have various prepositions in Russian which are just a consonant, but although you don’t write a vowel, there is a certain sound that is there. Like k, meaning from; the letter k means from.
So anyway, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about the syllables ih-di-ut of “idiot.” That also is quite interesting. Because when we hear ih, we’re not hearing… di and ut are not yet happening.
When we hear di, the ih is no longer happening and the ut is not yet happening, and yet somehow we put it all together. That’s really quite remarkable, isn’t it?
But I would seriously question that, because what about when you have, in the jungle, tom-toms and they’re beating the drums and this is communicating a message? Or Morse code? These are sounds that actually communicate something, but they’re not verbal – in a word. I think they have to be included here, but I’m not quite sure if there’s a fourth category that they would fall into.
Actually it’s all quite interesting if one delves further and further and further. The sound does not have, inherent in it, a meaning, does it? If it did, then a word such as... You were having a problem with “subliminal.” If “subliminal” had a meaning inherent in it, then if I said this to you in your language, you should understand it…
I mean if I said it to you and you don’t know English, you don’t know the meaning, yet you should still understand it. So although the word “subliminal” has a meaning, you have to have learned it; it’s not that it’s sitting there by itself and is going to pop out obviously, is it?
The tom-tom drums in the jungle – I could hear it, but unless I know the language, I certainly don’t understand the meaning; it doesn’t communicate to me. Or what about sign language? Those aren’t communicative sounds but hand gestures. That’s very interesting, where do we fit that in here.
Now what about objects? These are referring to cognitive objects (yul), objects that are involved when we know something. Maybe we need a moment to just pause before we go into this, because this is equally complex.
Our important point here was when we are experiencing this situation of “I took the wrong computer and I’m angry with myself,” and so on, it is helpful to distinguish between what are my valid ways of thinking and knowing and what are the ones that are not valid.
All these things are uncertain, aren’t they? So how does that help us? It helps us in the sense that there’s no point in worrying about it. Because how could I possibly know, unless I call, is it in the lost and found or did somebody take it?
I might think that I’m being very clear in what I say, but actually those words don’t really communicate what I had in mind. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that. So what really is the meaning of the word and what does it really communicate?
So objects. Then we have to differentiate here in our discussion between what are the objects, the cognitive objects, involved in nonconceptual cognition and which ones are involved in conceptual cognition. It’s a slightly different analysis. Let’s first do nonconceptual.
In order to be able to see anything, this colored shape, you have to distinguish between this colored shape and the other colored shapes in my field of vision, don’t we?
This colored shape is a computer, and that colored shape is the table. But without distinguishing and without necessarily making the boundaries, we don’t know anything of what we’re seeing, do we? We can put the colored shapes together in rather strange ways.
First of all, we have an involved object (’jug-yul). So what is the actual object that we’re involved with here – the consciousness is involved with? And that is the computer; that’s the main object with which this particular cognition is engaged with. The colored shapes and the computer is what our visual consciousness is involved with.
And although not listed here in your objects, there’s also a focal object (dmigs-yul). The focal object is: What is that consciousness focusing on? So that also is the computer and these colored shapes.
Commonsense object (’jig-rten-la grags-pa) – you know, a regular object, like a computer. So it’s a mental representation derived from that object. And it’s fully transparent – through it, we see this external object – and that’s why I call it a mental hologram.
From a Western scientific point of view, this does make sense. Because from the external object, light rays and stuff come, and then within the eyes and the nervous system there’s a transmission – those light rays are then translated into electric impulses and chemical reactions that are going on between the neurons – and it hits a certain center in the brain and... you’d have to say it’s a mental hologram. Somehow that’s transposed into something that we see, isn’t it?
And through it, through that mental hologram, we see the involved object, what we’re focusing on – the actual computer. Digest that a moment. That is how it works, isn’t it? Even from our Western point of view, that does make sense. It’s the same with all the senses.
When you turn on your computer and you know which buttons to press, and so on, are you actually reciting the instructions – no – in your mind? But you know. Well, it’s conceptual. Through the general categories of now you press this button, now you press that button.
There’s a thinking process, but you don’t necessarily verbalize the whole thing. Or when you’re performing a dance: You have some concept of what your legs are supposed to do – you’re certainly not reciting it, right? – so that you do the same steps each time. So we need to broaden our way of understanding these things.
Involved and Focal Objects
Whether I’m thinking computer while I’m looking at the computer, or I don’t see it and I’m thinking computer, my computer, it doesn’t matter; the involved object, the focal object, is the same – it doesn’t have to actually be present.
I would call it a category. Here it’s the category, the general category of computer. OK? So that is what is actually there. It is a mental derivative (gzugs-brnyan, mental reflection) of individual objective computers, from all the individual computers.
We put it all in a category. It’s derived from all these individual items and based on certain defining characteristics – we don’t include the vase of flowers in this category of computer. And it is what’s known as semitransparent, not fully transparent. And that doesn’t have to do with things being out of focus.
It’s hard to really understand what we mean by transparent and only semitransparent. When we talk about a sheet of wax paper or plastic, we would say “Well, that’s semitransparent.” You can see things through it, but it’s not so clear.
We don’t mean that here. What it means is that somehow what is semitransparent gets mixed with what is seen through it, what is known through it.
So you get like a little bit of a superimposition – a projection; we would call it a projection. So what is it mixed with, this appearing object?
That’s the appearing object. The appearing object is the category, and this category is a static phenomenon – it doesn’t have any shape or form. It’s not a form of physical phenomenon. It doesn’t look like anything. Right? It doesn’t look like anything.
Conceptually Isolated Items (Specifiers)
Then we have, through this… And this is a little bit complicated; I was really wondering should I mention it or not, but I might as well mention it. The first thing that appears through it, right on the other side, as it were, of the category, is a conceptually isolated item (ldog-pa), or a specifier. This is a specifier, another way of translating it. And this is nothing other than computer. So this is a type of phenomenon, nothing other than.
Everybody is going to have a different mental picture of a dog, what represents a dog for you. So we have to somehow go from this generality, this computer, and specify it down, eliminate all sorts of other things: nothing other than a dog (which also doesn’t have any form;
that’s also a static thing). And then, through that, some sort of mental hologram of what is going to represent a dog for us. So it’s sort of… You know, this intermediate thing is going to specify… Each of us is going to specify, in some sort of way, what for us is a dog that we want to think about.
So this nothing other than eliminates all other things in the category to get it down to what I want to have to represent computer, a black Dell. So I want to specify my black Dell.
So this is sort of like a – almost like a tool, in a sense.
A nothing other than. It’s a specifier. I’m thinking of these big telescopes that have a big dish, and then you have sort of these things that narrow it down and close down so you have just one tiny little point. It’s a little bit like that.
That has a colored form; that has a shape. That also is fully transparent. So through that, I could either be looking at this object on the table and seeing it as my computer, or my computer isn’t there and I’m just thinking it, but still there’s something appearing, this mental hologram.
If we do it sort of graphically, there’s the consciousness, then there’s the category in front of it (that’s semitransparent), and then in front of that is a nothing other than my computer (fully transparent), and then through that is a mental hologram that looks like my computer (that’s transparent), and then through that I can be looking at this thing on the table and that would be the computer.
It means that your thought judges it to be as what it is. So what is conceptually implied – what’s implied by this, what is judged by this – is my computer, my actual computer. Now that could be either accurate or inaccurate, couldn’t it?
That didn’t come out straight. There are two possibilities: I’m looking at actually my computer and thinking it’s my computer, or I’m looking at somebody else’s computer and I’m thinking it’s my computer.
So what my thought judges it to be could actually be correct or incorrect. It could either correspond to what I’m seeing in front of me or not. So that’s what we have to distinguish here, in terms of objects. OK?
Is it incorrect? What’s actually going on? Especially when we add to that what we’ve discussed already, especially the analysis of all the different mental factors. And some of them could be operating correctly and some not so well.
I could be angry, I could be attached – but so what? That’s the point – so what? Is it correctly my computer or not? The important point is not what I’m feeling; the important point is: Is it my computer or not?
Am I seeing it correctly? So that we can then think clearly how can I get my computer back. Right? And am I certain? Well, I don’t know. Did somebody take it? Is it in the lost and found? I hope that I’ll get it back.
And then inferential cognition: If I want to get it back, then I will need to call the airport and I will need to ask, and I’ll have to choose words that explain it clearly.
All of this is involved. And if it’s there, I’m going to have to drive to the airport, then I’m going to have to take it, and probably waste a whole day.
But so what? Whether I like it or not is irrelevant. This is inferential cognition – what follows, what I’m going to have to do. Remember, subsequent results. They say that it’s there.
What’s the subsequent result? I have to get in the car, I have to drive down there, I have to.... It all follows; whether we like it or not is irrelevant.
So all these complex analyses actually are very practical to enable us to deal with challenging situations in our life. But it takes quite a while to familiarize ourselves with these schemes, so one needs to be patient. But it works. People have been doing this for thousands of years. It works. OK?
In the discussion of ways of knowing things and the objects that are known, we touched on the division between conceptual and nonconceptual cognition, and these points introduce us into the topic of what’s called generalities (spyi) and particulars or instances (bye-brag). These are terms – particularly this one, generalities – that are quite difficult, because there are many subdivisions within it and it’s really hard to find a term that satisfactorily works for all of the types that are here.
I think that if we want to describe a little bit better what is really involved here with these generalities, then we would say that they are mental syntheses. In other words, through some sort of mental process one synthesizes, or puts together, various things into some larger entity. We have sometimes the term a mental fabrication (spros-pa); sort of made, but we don’t necessarily have to actively make it or synthesize it ourselves.
Let me just give a very simple example, like animals: we don’t have to go through every single instance of every creature that somehow we want to put them together into one group and then, having gathered them all together, then we say, “OK, I’m going to call all of these animal.” It’s not that we actively have to do it. And we’re not talking necessarily about naming them; we’re talking about putting them together in a group. Giving that group a name is something else.
It’s very interesting how we learn these groups. If you think of a small baby, a small baby puts almost everything into the group of edible (you can put it in your mouth), doesn’t it? But later it has to learn that there are certain things that don’t really belong in that group. Anyway, let’s not go into this whole very interesting topic of how we learn these groups.
But a synthesis also doesn’t always work. I mean, sometimes the word category, sometimes the word generality. We’ll see what the different kinds… what we’re referring to. But in Tibetan or in Sanskrit there’s one word that refers to all of this. So what we’re talking about here is a phenomenon shared in common by the individuals on which it is imputed.
Question: Is that the definition of it?
Participant: It follows, more or less.
We have all these individual beings, these creatures, these things that walk around, or whatever, and we put it all together and we impute on it – that’s project onto it – a group, a category, animals. So it’s imputed on it, labeled onto it.
Remember, we use this word imputed in terms of a me on the mental continuum, or age in terms of the continuum. So we can impute onto a group – it could be a temporal sequence, it could be just a group of things all at the same time – we can impute on them either something that is functional (which changes from moment to moment) or something that is static (which doesn’t change from moment to moment).
We’re not talking about a group; we’re talking about what’s imputed.
What we can impute on it can either be something that changes from moment to moment, like age, or something that doesn’t change from to moment, like the category animal. You follow that? Clear? Some people are shaking their heads, no.
What is age? Or time, for that matter? Or a year? A year is a good example. What’s a year? Does a year happen all at once? No. We have day after day after day, 365 of them; and what is labeled or imputed on that, to put it all together, is a year. Does the whole year happen at once? No. What year is it now? 2010. Is that happening?
Yes. Is the whole thing happening? No. 2010 is imputed on each day of the year. And it’s changing from moment to moment – isn’t it? – because it’s passing: now 100 days are passed of it, now 101 days are passed of it, etc., etc. How much is left? I mean, all of that’s changing from moment to moment.
Then there are things that can be imputed that don’t change. We have a dog, we have a fish, we have a bird, and we can impute on them animal, and that category doesn’t change, does it? Now you get the idea of something imputed?
And it’s something that a mind – it doesn’t have to be somebody’s mind but just in general, mental activity – in a sense, makes up. Doesn’t it? We make up these categories in order to understand things, in order to deal with them, don’t we? Like animal, or machine, or age. Then that becomes an interesting question:
There’s a sequence. Well, they have an instinct. Maybe that’s not a very good example. Fish. I mean, whatever. Or before, way, way back in ancient times, was there a concept of age? Well, was there a concept of machine? No. Was there a concept of tool?
Not necessarily. But they did various things, and then they… somehow a group decided on a convention, that these all are similar enough that we’ll have a category for them. Right? It’s a mental synthesis. Generalities in Reference to Conventional Objects
The first one that I’d like to discuss is the functional one. So we have… Or maybe… I mean, it’s difficult to follow exactly what you have here. Let me follow my own way of dividing it; it becomes a little bit easier for me to explain.
So we have… the term that I often use is a category, or we can use generality.
When we say the term generality, I don’t know if the German word has this connotation, but sometimes in English it has the connotation of being vague. It’s not vague. In English we say, “Ah, I have a general idea of that,” but that’s very vague. We don’t mean it in that sense at all. It’s very precise.
Collection Mental Syntheses
In reference to conventional objects, we have some that are functional phenomena here. So the first is the third in your list, a collection synthesis (tshogs-spyi). So you have here a general collection. It’s a collection synthesis. What it is is referring to a whole, a whole which is imputed on the parts. What is a whole? When we have parts, don’t you have to synthesize onto it a whole?
Participant: The whole year, right?
A forest is imputed on a whole bunch of trees. But if we’re talking about functional phenomena like trees, then the collection of them – the collection synthesis, a forest – just as the trees change from moment to moment, the forest can grow bigger, the forest can grow smaller.
What is called here… the first one, allgemeine Gattung; that’s a general genus, I think you would say. So this is referring to – we’re talking about the objects themselves – what sort of kind of object are they? What genus do they belong to? What species do they belong to? So it could be a machine; it could be an animal; it could be a computer.
We can impute on both of them the genus or type of thing that they are.
But in any case, the kind of thing that they are is computer.
And do computers do anything? Do they change from moment to moment? Can a computer type this and type that? Can a computer process this and process that? Can a computer break? Not alone, unless you press the button and go away. Whether you need to help it or not is something else, but the computer does something.
Now you get into all sorts of causality questions here. If the computer can’t do anything… The cause for a computer doing something is an agent that makes it do something. What allows us to do anything? Oxygen. Food. There are many things that operate. But that’s a whole different question in terms of causality. Very interesting if you think of the difference between a computer and a mind. You need someone separate from the computer in order to operate it and make it work. Do we need someone separate from the mind in order to make it work? No. But this is the concept of a soul that is refuted in Buddhism – that it is separate from the mind and that somehow operates it, like operating a computer.
So we have a collection synthesis and a kind synthesis. There are other aspects here in terms of a whole. For instance, does a sentence… it has parts, but all the parts aren’t existing at the same time, are they, or happening at the same time. When you hear a word, each syllable is happening at a different time. When you’re hearing the second syllable, the first syllable you’re not hearing anymore. So it’s a synthesis over time. So when we have a collection synthesis, a whole – for instance, of the computer – it’s not only synthesized on the parts which are all happening at the same time, but the computer doesn’t exist for just one moment, does it? So we impute a computer as a whole, as a collection, on the computer over as long as it lasts, don’t we? Even though, from moment to moment, it’s getting older and getting closer to breaking down. But still we have this collection synthesis, this whole – computer. And it still stays as a computer; that’s what it is.
And what about sense information? What do we see when we look at the computer? We see a colored shape, right? Three dimensional, like a box, a black box – my Dell. Well, box is making it into what kind of thing it is; it’s a black shape. But a computer is not just a black shape, is it? So we impute on it that it’s a computer.
I’m a blind person – or even not being a blind person – I’m holding the computer in my hand, touching the computer. I have a tactile sensation of a physical… a physical sensation. Is that the computer? Is that a computer? Yes.
So a computer is also a collection synthesis on all these different types of sense information as well, this sense data. That’s what we call a conventional object (tha-snyad spyod-yul, conventional commonsense object).
A computer. A conventional object is what is imputed on all the different senses – the information that each of our senses gives – plus all the parts, plus the sequence for however long it lasts. That’s the conventional object, the computer. OK?
All our objects, everything that we see, are like that, aren’t they?
And now we have an object mental synthesis (don-spyi). And here we have different types. This is a little bit complicated. Object mental synthesis I think is your number two – donchi (don-spyi) – the general picture, you have here in German. This we really have to understand. This term has to do with a mental process, with conceptual thought.
Now when we see something nonconceptually, we can see – I see a whole, I see a computer, I see the kind of thing that this is.
Now thinking about something, thinking about a computer. Now we have a different type of generality, or categories or whatever. So we have here object mental syntheses, and we have… Or meaning categories.... I’m sorry. I’m not really explaining it so clearly.
In term of conceptual thought, we have, first of all – in terms of what we were saying here – we have two (types of categories that can be involved):
(2) categories in reference to language.
When we’re thinking, we can think in terms of conventional objects or we can think in terms of the meaning of words. Those are both referred to by the same word in Tibetan (don-spyi). OK? And these are static phenomena.
Generalities in Reference to Language
When we hear that word, the sound of that word, there are many, many different variants of what we could hear. It could be in many different voices: a male voice, a female voice, a child’s voice, a computer voice.
The sound could be pronounced by many different types of voices, and many different levels of volume, and with many different accents, even. And somehow we put that all together into this (audio) category of the word computer.
The sound isn’t the same. So that’s an audio category. In order to be able to understand what somebody says, or what different people say, we have to understand it through the filter of an audio category, so that somehow we put together all the different variations of the sound that we hear of what we consider the same word. Right? So that’s static; that doesn’t change.
Now it’s not mentioned in the text or the analysis, but I would think that analogous to this would be if we see the word computer written. It could be written in different colors, different size fonts, handwriting, printed letters. Somehow we see it all as the word computer, a representation of the written word computer. So I think it’s quite similar here. Think about that. It’s really quite amazing how we know anything.
We could be listening to a language that we don’t understand, and we can’t even put together words from it, can we?
Especially when it’s spoken very, very quickly. We have to learn these. Of course we could forget them as well. If you’ve ever studied a language as a child and not used it very much, then later on in life you don’t remember the language at all.
When we are able to conceptually cognize audio categories, these words – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be words (it could be the sound of our car engine) – we can either know what it means or not know what it means. So this term here that’s translated as general picture (don-spyi), what that means is either a meaning category or an object category.
I repeat the word. No idea what it means. But I can distinguish when two different people say it in two different voices; I can distinguish that they’re saying the same word. I know that they’re saying the same word. I have no idea what it means or what that word could possibly refer to.
I know it’s a car engine – it’s the sound of a car engine – but I don’t know that it means that something’s wrong with the car. I don’t know what it means. It’s a funny sound. I hear a funny sound. No idea really what it means, but it’s a funny sound.
So then we could add on top of that, in addition to it, a meaning category or an object category – what it means and what it’s referring to. And in many ways, the meaning and the object are pretty much the same, although maybe some cases we can differentiate the two.
And as we saw, we could represent in our thought, through a specifier, some mental aspect, some hologram, that will represent it for us. It could represent the sound of the word. That’s when we have verbal thinking.
Question: That has to be verbal, yes?
What the little voice in our head is saying. I mean, that’s how it appears. So I’m thinking of the audio category of the word computer, which doesn’t have a sound to it; it’s a general category in which I could include the way the word is said and pronounced by anybody.
But when I’m going to actually think it, I’m going to specify down to one particular mental sound, a mental hologram sound, that for me is going to represent that category when I’m thinking about it, what supposedly I mentally hear – the voice in my head saying “computer.”
Question: Can I ask you a question? So we have this situation of the computer, and then the connotation changes. And whenever in the future we hear the word computer, we’ll all think about the Tibet Zentrum.
That’s a different topic. But actually we can discuss this in a few minutes when we analyze memory. Because actually what’s involved here is remembering.
Participant: That’s definitely interconnected with these elements.
So we have this audio category. When we’re thinking, it can be represented by some mental sound – a specific mental sound, not just the general category. And if we know what a computer is, then together with that audio category when we’re thinking computer, there will also be a meaning category. And a meaning category will also refer to an object category. The meaning of what a computer is and an object that represents it.
That’s very interesting actually, if you think about it.
When you think eight plus seven is fifteen – if you think eight plus seven is fifteen, do you actually have a mental picture of the numbers and a line underneath it, and a plus sign and 15? It’s quite interesting. Or I look at these three pens on the table, and I am thinking that that’s three.
Well, there are three things here and I’m thinking three, but I don’t necessarily have the word three there, but I understand three. And I don’t even have to count them. It’s very interesting how the mind works, how we know things.
Both the meaning and the object. And that could be represented by some visual mental hologram, or it could represented by another sound one – a mental hologram of the sound of typing. Or if we’re a blind person, the physical feeling of a computer.
Why not? It becomes more interesting; we see more variations.
That might mean something a little bit different, and might be referring to some different object – doesn’t it? – which for us is a good time; maybe for somebody else it’s not a good time. Is there such a thing as a good time? Is there?
Then we get into the whole philosophical discussion: Is anything a good time from its own side, or is it just in terms of our concept of a good time? If it were a good time from its own side, everybody should consider it a good time. We can go to what we consider a really boring lecture. Somebody considers it a good time; we consider it a torture – it’s not a good time at all to us.
There are many, many implications of this, which I don’t want to go into, but this becomes a very, very deep topic of – in terms of a kind synthesis – of what is it. Can we speak in terms of the object itself as a kind synthesis or is that also a process of labeling? For me, this thing is a computer. For my… if I have a two-year-old son, it’s a toy; it’s not a computer at all. What is it? And who knows what the cat thinks it is.
So enough of these generalities, or categories. Individual items are individual instances that would fit into any of these categories, and something could fit into a lot of different categories. And with our various Buddhist philosophical systems, then, we analyze very carefully – and it’s not such an easy topic – where are the defining characteristics (mtshan-ma) that would allow us to correctly put something into this or that category? Are the defining characteristics on the side of the object?
Do they exist only in the dictionary? Did some people make it up? What are defining characteristics? That’s not so easy. Not so easy. With the computer, maybe you could say, “Well, it does this and this, and it has that and that in it.” But what about an emotion? Because we all feel something quite different when we feel love, for example.
So since you brought up the topic of memory – I mean association – let us discuss that briefly. Unfortunately, it’s complicated. Surprise, surprise.
The example that you used was being here in the Tibet Center. So now we’re talking about much later, being here in the Tibet Center on this occasion and hearing the discussion of the lost computer. Now it’s presently happening; it’s valid. Later, hearing this discussion is no longer happening.
Now a tendency is one of these changing phenomena that are neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of anything, like time or me. Now even though the word that’s used literally means seed, don’t think of it as a material object.
I was angry at this time, and after a while I was angry again, and after more time I was angry again. So there were all these instances of anger, and how would we put it together? We’d say, “Well, there’s a tendency to get angry.” It’s an abstraction, in a sense, to put it together.
And each time that we’re angry, it’s not exactly the same thing, is it?
A general category. And through that we have a specifier, which is going to get it down to something, and there’s going to be a mental hologram arising, which is going to represent for me what it was like to hear this lecture, to be here and hear the lecture.
I don’t always remember exactly the same thing, do I? But we would put it all together into this general thing – “I remember being here.” And we’re not remembering it all the time.
We’re not mindful of it – remembering is mindful – so we don’t have a mental glue with this conceptual thought, holding on to this generality, this category, of being here and something representing it. When we’re remembering it, there’s the mental glue. Holding on to it, that’s mindfulness.
Question: Also the mental hologram?
Participant: We might come to a complete picture.
Alex: Right. It would never be exactly the same picture, because it’s no longer happening. We could never actually remember what’s no longer happening. That’s not valid. It’s expired. It’s like our milk that has gone bad. It’s finished.
And we would say that we have a tendency to remember; it’s the same word (sa-bon). This, in the West, we would say is a memory, but we’re not talking about some engram printed somewhere in your head. But maybe there is a physical counterpart to this.
We’re not discounting that. But in Buddhism, we’re not talking about the engram.
And we’re not denying that; that’s not contradictory to what we’re talking about. In Buddhism, we’re always talking about what’s happening from the experience point of view – what you are experiencing? – we’re not describing all these things chemically.
That would be a circumstance – that’s part of our discussion of causality – and it would be an immediately preceding condition (de-ma-thag rkyen). Immediately preceding thinking about – remembering – being here, is hearing the word computer. Like the dog hearing the bell. Pretty neat, isn’t it?
Alex: And not every dog hears the bell, and not everybody remembers being here. And every time that I hear the word computer, I might experience something completely different; I might not think of being here at all.
Now it becomes a very interesting question, which I can’t really answer immediately off the top of my head – but why for certain people will hearing the word computer trigger remember being here and for other people it won’t?
That probably has to do with all the emotions – attachment, how strong these emotions were, confusion, etc. – at the time, in order to, what we would say in our Western languages, make a big impression on us.
Participant: It also might lead to the point that we sometimes… Tendency is also something that protects us. We have to move on. If we stay in the mind of permanent remembrance of this moment, we would never say this class is...
Alex: Right. Well, let her first translate what I said, if she can remember.
Translator: Yes, I can remember it.
Alex: Or if you’re going to have an examination the next day, there’s a lot of pressure, so you remember something better. But your point, and this question… I must say I don’t quite understand. Can you express it again, please?
If we could not move on, and we always would remember only this moment we are in, we would not move on. We would not move on if we said this class is not finished.
Alex: Right. So this is quite interesting.
What he’s saying is that if we didn’t have these gaps between remembering things, when it’s a tendency – the gap would be the time when there’s a tendency (that we’re not thinking it, we’re not remembering it) – if there weren’t those gaps, we would be remembering it all the time.
And if we remembered it all the time, for those of us who are not Buddhas, who can’t handle being aware of everything simultaneously… Buddhas remember everything all the time, simultaneously – remembering past lives, all these sort of things.
I forgot it means I can never remember it. Forgetting just means… like in the context of trying to concentrate on something, my mind wanders, so I’ve forgotten to focus on the object – mindfulness is weak – so I have to bring my attention back.
Although we may think that we’ve really forgotten something, later on in life something might trigger it and we remember it again. That happens, doesn’t it? “Oh, I forgot that happened,” and somebody reminds us what we did when we were in high school forty years ago. “Oh yeah, I remember that.” And it’s very interesting when they remember something that we don’t remember: “I don’t remember saying that. I don’t remember doing that.” Who knows whose memory is accurate?
The fact that we no longer remember, that we have this tendency, is not because of some defense mechanism; it’s because there is a fault in our mindfulness that we can’t hold on to it. If we had perfect mindfulness, we could hold on for as long as we wanted.
And we don’t have perfect mindfulness. We don’t have control over that, yet; we could. And if we did have control over it then we could say, “My session of remembering it is finished,” and we stop thinking about it; and it doesn’t just sort of come back, because we are doing something else.
That’s a very advanced state, isn’t it? “I am not going to think about there’s a monster in the closet.” I mean, very difficult to do.
If it were really good, our mindfulness, we could stay mindful of something – like focusing on an object – for as long as we wanted, and when we decide that we want to stop being mindful of it, we would stop and we would no longer think about it.
For us, that’s very difficult. I was in this relationship with someone and we broke up, and I’m thinking about it.
Am I really capable of saying, “I’ve thought about it for five minutes. Now I’m not going to think about it anymore – I’m not going to remember it.”
You had one specific question and then we will finish this session, then we will have our question session. Well, does this fit into the category of the question session, or does this fit into the category of the lecture? It’s very interesting.
Participant: Or it can be vice versa – that the question provokes a lecture. I don’t have to ask this question now.
Alex: Good. Then let’s take our break.