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The Role of Self-awareness and Memory as a “Cittamātra” Proof of the Ultimate Existence of Consciousness”

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I wrote this some twenty years ago, working with Geshe Lhundhup Sopa from 1995-1997. It is assuredly in need of further revision. In this section of lCang skya II’s siddhānta, The “Beautiful Ornament” (sGrub mtha’ dzes gyan), he presents a “proof” of the ultimate existence of consciousness by way of arguments drawn from the existence of both self-awareness and memory. Madhyamaka counter-arguments are presented at the end.

We are employing this section of lCang skya’s work as an epitome of Yogācāra thought. Self-awareness is true of many aspects of the totality of sentient consciousness, not only primary mental consciousnesses but sense consciousnesses as well.

We feel that it is appropriate to focus on this notion as forming a central, vital feature of Yogācāra doctrine because without the establishment of self-awareness, much of this school’s systematic thought falls apart. Certainly it serves to attract some of Candrakīrti’s most vociferous objection. The idea of the centrality of mind and mental phenomena is ancient in Buddhism, and “proto-Yogācāra” elements in the Pali canon are abundant.


Three topics:

1. The extreme view refuted,

2 the actual meaning established and

3. warding off arguments.

[244:6-245:6] “From the Legs bshad snying po:


‘If it is thought that even gnosis would be an object, since this school accepts that that gnosis is self-aware, then [that gnosis,] is dependent upon this certain object, the goal is reality itself which is then the object which is known, moreover, then, [one,] in being aware of [this], incurs no fault.’

If it is thought that the aim of this teaching is just as [discussed above], then the three [topics of] the imputed extreme [which should be] refuted, the real meaning established and disputation avoided [should be examined].”

The issue at hand concerns whether gnosis (jñāna) has an object. This presents a problems. If gnosis has an object, then many qualites predicated of it would not apply. Full awakening to the reality of śūnyatā entails a lack of bifurcative consciousness. It is enmeshment with the Dharmakāya. This status in profound inner samādhi allows no subject/object dualism so inherent at the level of the conceptualized nature.

If gnosis is self-aware, and if consciousness by definition of consciousness of something, then gnosis itself becomes an object of its own self-awareness. Yet if gnosis can be an object, then this implies it could be some relatively reified entity. This is the subject to be investigated below.


1. Refuting an extreme view: self-aware gnosis knows itself as its own object.

“As to the first [of the three], one opponent [asserts]:

‘In the Yogācāra system, gnosis in the samādhi of an Āryan is self-aware. If that is so, it would follow that the final object of the pure path is gnosis itself, since it knows itself by means of gnosis itself, and saying this introduces the assertion of the earlier premise...there does not exist a fault since what is understood as the object is knowing reality....’

and he taught for this purpose. Not only that, that answer [[[Tsong kha pa]] gave] would not be correct [if the issue is understood as according this prior premise]. By the outsider [[[non-Buddhist]]],

‘The object of stainless gnosis is stainless gnosis itself because of it being aware of itself.’

This is a reply. He is not establishing stainless gnosis as the final object of the pure path, since he says merely there does not exist a fault, since it is known with regard to that [point] gnosis knows reality as its object. In gnosis itself being self-aware, there is not the slightest error and there does not exist any purpose and ability [to reject the opponent’s assertion] any further.”

This passage aims to refute a false notion which might arise in the minds of some. Tsong kha pa states that there is no fault in the notion of “self-aware gnosis,” for the object of gnosis in the samādhi of an Āryan is reality - śūnyatā - itself, and not that gnosis itself has itself as its object.


Three aspects: 1) refuting wrong notions, 2) establishing the actual meaning and 3) warding off objections. There will be three aspects to this discussion: 1) refuting wrong notions which are extreme views concerning this topic, 2) establishing the “actual meaning” i.e., Tsong kha pa’s own view and that, by implication, of the Yogācāra position and 3) warding off objections to his discussion of the actual meaning of “self-aware gnosis.”

The “earlier premise” stated that if gnosis is self-aware, it should have itself as its own object. If that is so, then such gnosis could not be nondiscriminating gnosis, for it has a subject and an object albeit, self-reflexive. To say this falls into a “Nāgārjunan trap,” which entails the impossibility of such a self-reflexive standpoint. If gnosis were self-aware, then it stands to reason, the eye, ear, etc. consciousnesses would also be self-aware. This is encapsulated by the notion that “the eye does not see itself, therefore it is the eye” and “fire does not burn itself, therefore it is fire.” lCang skya asserts that seeing the Yogācāra idea in this light is to equate it with views of non-Buddhist schools which do indeed assert gnosis as having itself as its own object. This is incorrect and invites “limitless logical errors” which are entailed by the fact that any knowing consciousness must have an object, which is in this case as Tsong kha pa states, “the object is knowing reality.” What is meant as the “actual meaning” of the passage will be discussed below.

Error of asserting that self-awareness knows itself by means of itself. [245:6-247:1] “And another opponent [asserts]:

‘The meaning of that teaching is [as follows]. It would follow that by the previous premise, the gnosis of [an Āryan’s] samādhi would know itself by itself, because of that gnosis of samādhi being a gnosis which is self-aware of each [thing] (so-so rang gis rig pa’i ye she). Therefore, it is an object of itself for the gnosis of samādhi itself.’

Thus it is said. The Venerable Self [[[Tsong kha pa]] said],

‘Though the gnosis of samādhi is a gnosis which is self-aware of each [thing], it does not know itself, because of being perfected as gnosis aware of itself so having relied upon the manner of knowing reality (chos nyid) as its own object. This is taught as the answer which was stated.’

In stating the prior [[[assertion]]] one has not in the least now understood the Venerable [[[Tsong kha pa’s]]] thought. There are no adherents to tenets who assert that the meaning of saying “gnosis which is self aware of each [thing]” knows itself by itself, because there do not exist also among scholars of India or Tibet who say,

‘Accordingly, this is the goal desired by Yogācāra [[[scholars]]]’.

Furthermore, it is incorrect even if one accepts making merely confusion which is necessary to accept as self-aware by merely the word stated as “gnosis which is self-aware of each...

Because such confusion as that would not arise in the intelligent, however, if it did arise, by saying, “this school,” having proclaimed by means of this object the Yogācāra [School] because of there being no necessity to do this. However, even if [what is meant] is according to the manner of the previous premise, it is that is not the reason as correctly explained by the Venerable Omniscient [[[Tsong kha pa]]] as the meaning of self-aware of each [thing]... as his answer, but

‘having depended upon any sort of object it is knowing on that [point] the object which knows reality as its aim.’

There does not exist an aim to be examined in particular for general and specific objects. There does not exist even a proof of the necessity remaining and it does not exist in the text the wordself-aware of each.” Furthermore, it is thought upon reflection done roughly in this chapter by the Venerable Mahātma [[[Tsong kha pa]]] does not appear to the inferior minds who are weak in practice and schooling.”

The object of gnosis is not itself, but reality. This passage continues the first topic which is the refutation of extreme views with regard to the conceptgnosis which is self-aware.” lCang skya states that there do not exist any proponents of the view the opponent ascribes to the Cittamātrins. In any case, it is certainly not what Tsong kha pa himself was referring to, for he furthermore does not employ the specific term “gnosis which is self-aware of each [thing]...” but rather,merely,

“If it is thought, that this school, since it accepts gnosis as self-aware, that even gnosis itself would be an object, having relied upon an object, because it is understood that the object is knowing reality, there does not exist a fault.”

Only those “weak in practice and schooling” would even think this is the meaning, is their idea. The second of three topics: establishing the actual meaning.

[247:1-248:1] “Establishing his own system is the second [of the three topics]. The important point of the Venerable [[[Tsong kha pa’s]]] teaching in this chapter should be explained. [With regard] to that, are two [aspects]: [1] the manner in which confusion arises and [2] the explanation of his response.


1. The manner in which confusion arises.


The first [of these]. It is taught in this manner in the chapter of the Madhyamakāloka which expresses the assertions of the Yogācāra [School], and likewise, according to the Saṃdhinirmocana, Laṅkāvatara and the Gandavyuha [[[sūtras]]], it will be shown,

‘There is not [anything] other than mind-alone which ultimately exists, wherefore all phenomena are taught as embodying merely mind. Therefore, that all phenomena are inherently non-existent would not be established.’

With this last [quote], from the text of the Ratnakūṭa[[[sūtra]]]. There is no doubt that the ultimate actuality (dngos po) will be self-awareness [in the gnosis of the samādhi] of Āryans. If it were otherwise, as it is expressed in the Saṃdhinirmocana[[[sūtra]]], there is no non-existent actuality. If one asks what that actuality is,

it is the gnosis of the Āryan and what the Āryan sees which is ineffable, perfected Buddhahood, inexpressible dharmatā suchness, because it is perfect enlightenment, and is verbally conventionalized as “composite” and likewise, “non-composite,” which would be contradicting this teaching.” it is taught.

[lCang skya continues:] Generally, Yogācāra scholars, having relied upon the refutation logically of grasped external objects, and the subject, which is empty of being substantially different from the object, there would be left remaining merely the experienced knowing of awareness, and establishing substantially that mere knowing which is awareness of that type of experience, it is not acceptable to reject this even by any sort of conventional examination or ultimate examination by valid cognition.”

The second of these three topics then is the establishment of Tsong kha pa’s own system of thinking about these issues. With regard to this system then are the two aspects of demonstrating the way in which confusion about self-aware gnosis arises and Tsong kha pa’s own response to the issue. The first quote is from the Madhyamakāloka, etc., in a section which discusses Yogācāra views. This refers to statements in which both subjective and objective aspects of reality are taught as “Yogācāra,” or “Mind-only.” The idea here is that there is an ultimateactuality” which is strictly consciousness.

Ultimate reality in the Yogācāra system is that “ineffable,” “inexpressible” gnosis which is encompassed by the Āryan in deepest samādhi. This being inexpressible, to call it “composite” or “non-composite” would contradict the doctrine. Composite refers to the other-dependent, non-composite to the perfected and “verbally conventionalized” to the conceptualized. Again, the other-dependent is composite because, being dependent upon other, it requires a basis and that with which it is interwoven to arise. The perfected is non-composite and is the other-dependent devoid of the conceptualized.

It is a basic Yogācāra doctrine that subject and object, or more literally, “grasper” and “grasped” are not substantially different from one another. What is declared ultimate in this case is the gnosis of the samādhi of an Āryan, in which subject-object dualism ceases, yet the “mere knowing awareness” itself is real or actual. Therefore to say that all actuality is inherently non-existent is false, for that awareness of the Āryan is real or actual.

This cannot be rejected by conventional examination, which would include logical analysis, or via ultimate valid cognition, which would be the experiential awareness of one who has attained to the ineffable gnosis in the samādhi of an Āryan. In that Āryan’s samādhi , while it is taking place, non-dualism etc. is manifest; however after the meditative action which is the samādhi of the Āryan is over, the remembrance of the experience fails to attain to the ultimate status of the Āryan’s direct cognition of śūnyatā which was achieved during his experience of samādhi .


Memory as proof of self-aware consciousness.


[248:2-5] “Therefore, when dharmatā has been made into an object which is non-affirmingly negated by the stainless gnosis of the Āryan’s meditation, then that gnosis knows dharmatā implicitly, and any other [positive] phenomenon is not asserted to be known.

However, at that time, the meditative gnosis itself effects the experience of the valid cognition of direct perception, which is necessary. If it were otherwise, then that meditative gnosis itself therefore is not established as valid cognition, and later, even the memory, ‘I realized dharmatā directly,’ would not arise as a memory.

In this manner, self-awareness is capable of being proven logically. If it were otherwise, if one were to have accepted as non-existent that self-awareness which effects one’s own experience [in memory] even for the valid cognition of direct perception of sense[-consciousness], then according to [proponents of] the Yogācāra [School], this is incapable of refutation.

Because of this, it is entirely the same reason [for both cases]. Accordingly, it is established that self-awareness exists at the time [of the Āryan’s meditative state]. That self-awareness is a knowing which does not abide even a bit corrupted by dual appearance.”

Here we have mention of “non-affirming negation” (med dgag). Contraposed to this is what is known as an “affirming negation.” An example of the latter would the statement, “empty wallet.” The negation, “empty” establishes a positive existence, in this case, a wallet. An example of the former would be “there is no money in an empty wallet,” which does not suggest a positive phenomenon which does lie within the wallet in place of money. What is “non-affirmingly negated” about “dharmatā” is its emptiness of duality. This absence is does not imply a positive phenomenon which exists in place of this absence.

Self-awareness” (rang rig) here refers to the awareness within consciousness of consciousness itself. This is demonstrated, according to Yogācāra proponents, by memory. When one remembers seeing the color blue, one’s consciousness is not focused upon a currently perceptible external blue, but the picture of blue as it is retained in the consciousness. This is the self-awareness of sense consciousness.

The same reasoning is offered for the ability of an Āryan to remember the state of meditative awareness of dharmatā. There must be a self-awareness which is present in order for the memory of that experience to persist later in a post-meditative state. In this state of self-awareness, the memory is not a state wherein one is conscious of an “other” (gzhan rig), but of internal consciousness, conscious of itself. There is “a withdrawal of dual appearance” (gnyis snang nub) here, and one is aware of only an inner state (kha nang kho nar phyogs pa).

This is the implication of the existence of subject and object in a dream state. Only an inner consciousness perceives - falsely - the real existence of subject and object. All the perceptions are products of one’s mind. This is of course what proponents of Yogācāra doctrines will want to affirm concerning our wakened state of distinguishing subject and object as well.


The irrefutability of self-awareness.


[248:5-249:1] “Generally, according to the Yogācāra system, when one desires to no longer abide in the corruption of confusion with regard to the self-awareness for the continuum of even an ordinary individual, not to mention with regard to the self-awareness which arises in the direct experience of stainless gnosis which is the real antidote of ignorance.”

Therefore, this type of mere self-awareness, would not be refuted even by logic of ultimate examination (don dam dbyod byed). Because of the irrefutability even by any sort of logic which would refute the establishment by its own characteristics of the imputed which imputes attributes and essence and logically rejects grasper and grasped as different substances.

Those who assert the existence of self-awareness for the ordinary individual even moreso must admit the existence of self-awareness for the bodhisattva in meditation on emptiness. This self-awareness in the mental continua of even ordinary individuals is necessary to remove confusion which derives from the false imputation of attributing essence and attributes to seemingly external entities, and of the basic paradigm of subject/object dualism. The imputation of essence in this context, entails the “fitness to be” something. For example, a table’s “essence” here refers to its nature as a table, which means it’s fulfilling the proper definition of what is meant by “table.” Its attributes involve of course, features such as its “having legs,” etc. This is dualistic thinking with regard to “external” objects. The false imputation of “grasper” and “grasped” derive from internal thinking which bifurcates the world into “I/it,” “self/other” dualism.

[249:1- 3 ] “Therefore, according to Master Shakya blo,

‘A bodhisattva, by knowing the selflessness of phenomena, knows only self-awareness which is empty of duality.’

And according to the Omniscient mKhas grub,

‘Having extinguished (gtan med pa) dual appearance on the external side, [[[bodhisattvas]]] realize grasper and grasped as truly empty, knowing this implicitly by virtue of the manifestation of [[[reality]]] just as it is (ji lta ba bzhin) on the part of experiential awareness which knows inwardly no duality. When there is an ability to destroy the seed of that sort of ‘grasping as true,’ [that seed] is direct knowing which is the gnosis of the Āryan,’

as he teaches this. There are subtle [issues] to be understood (kho rgyu) in these texts.”

What is known explicitly by bodhisattvas is the lack of duality with regard to their own inner consciousness. Implicitly they become aware of emptiness itself. This is known implicitly because they may know explicitly only through their own self-awareness of emptiness; actual śūnyatā is known as a result of this explicit or direct knowledge. The subtle issues referred to here involve whether one’s knowledge of śūnyatā is direct, or whether one views one’s awareness of śūnyatā itself is the direct object of awareness here.


The entical aspect of the dharmdhātu.

[249:4-250:3]] “According to the quotation from the Madhyamakāloka above, that

‘Therefore it is demonstrated that all phenomena are embodiments of mind alone’

and if one asks,

‘What is that entity (dngos po)?’

It is the gnosis of the Āryan and it is the inexpressible which is seen by an Āryan” from [this passage up to] “and for what are called composite and likewise, what are termed ‘non-composite’ are imputed nominally.

By this doctrine, the direct object (dngos yul) of stainless knowledge is the same entity as the knowledge [itself] which would be the direct object of this knowledge is shown. However, for this chapter, what is meant by the wordĀryan gnosis”and what is meant by the words “what is seen by the Āryan” following that, are by necessity connected (‘grel dgos), and the goal to be attained by gnosis is the perfected [[[nature]]].

If one thinks the self-awareness of gnosis is the direct object - this is incorrect. When, according to that scripture, the following [passage] which discusses the composite and is the imputation of a composite by necessity would therefore be without connection to the perfected [[[nature]]] as well. Otherwise, according to this [passage] from the section of the Madhyamakāloka which refutes the assertions of those who propound [the existence of] entities (dngos sma ba’i ‘dod pa),

“Here, the sphere of knowledge (spyod yul) of the Āryan’s gnosis is the dharmadhātu, which is asserted to be expressed by the [mere] word entity [but which] is the selflessness of all phenomena. Because it demonstrates the way to the goal which is the complete eradication of the basis of the fear of those who cling to entities (mngon par zhen pa rnams); the aim of the scripture is not demonstrating by that word entity the self-aware knowledge asserted by the [proponents] of the Yogācāra [School], however, what is expressed by the word composite is only dharmatā.”

It would be incorrect to be [advocating] the viewpoint (gsungs pa) [of the opponent] along with this reasoning, because of the assertion that only dharmatā is the aim of that, according to the [proponents of] Yogācāra themselves.

The term “entity” referred to in the Madhyamakāloka is discussed here. Composite phenomena (visible, functional entities) and non-composite phenomena (such as space) are imputed nominally to ultimate reality (dharmatā). Some think that the term refers to the inner gnosis of the Āryan itself. This is incorrect. Dharmatā is the basis for all phenomena (dharmas) and is referred to as an “entity” in order to alleviate the fear the term “non-entity” would incite in those who cling to being.

“Those who propound [the existence of] entities” include the proponents of Yogācāra doctrines, as well as those Buddhist schools which propound the existence of external objects, which includes the Sautrāntika, Vaibhāṣika but not the Yogācāra Schools. Furthermore, the term “entity” should not be seen as referring to the self-aware or “intra-mental” consciousness of the Yogācāra Schools, because it is connected to both the object (yul) of Āryan gnosis, which is śūnyatā or “emptiness” (=dharmatā) which is “what is seen by the Āryan,” and the subject (yul can) which is the Āryan’s gnosis itself.

The term “entity” here is only a verbal designation in the Madhyamakāloka - not a reference to a real entity - for according to Madhyamaka thought, śūnyatā is a state devoid of entity (ngo bo nyid med pa). According to lCang skya, the term is used in this text only to avoid provoking antagonism to the relatively negative sounding term “non-entity.” The sense in which dharmatā is called ‘composite. [250:4-251:1] “Again, it is incorrect to declare the word ‘composite’ as referring to only dharmatā, as the answer to the [proponents of Yogācāra ,” for according to the Madhyamakāloka, for the purpose of refuting such an assertion,

‘It is called ‘composite’ because it is dharmatā which is [the basis of] all composite [[[phenomena]]] without exception [and is called ‘composite’] by virtue of conventional discourse, and is not to be designated [as a composite phenomenon] with regard to all aspects of its reality.’

Teaching this would be incorrect. The ‘composite’ section of those texts, according to Yogācāra [proponents], when they assert that [it refers to] dharmatā only, because it would prove what is [already] established by those doctrines, therefore these [[[sections]]] are a basis for generating confusion (dogs pa).

The way questions arise [is as follows]. According to the Yogācāra system, gnosis exists as the valid cognition which is self-aware which comprehends (‘jal ba) the two methods of setting (‘jog tshul) the ultimate according to this chapter, since it is stainless knowledge and that is self-aware for the necessity is gnosis and the object of that [[[gnosis]]].

Ultimate” (dam pa) [means] “having effected stainless deep meditative (nyam gzhag) gnosis, and it is “the holy goal” (don dam pa) since it is the object of that, and [those who] are thinking it is not pervaded by only the unchanging perfected [[[nature]]], generate confusion from thinking that stainless gnosis itself would be the final objective of the pure path.”

The two ways of “setting” refer to the manner in which Āryan gnosis in meditation is effected. The two aspects of achieving this supreme goal involve the subjective and objective aspects of this ultimate reality. The subjective (yul can) is ultimate truth, Āryan gnosis itself, or the recipient of the object (yul), which, as stated above, refers to the ultimate, emptiness, or “that which is seen by the Āryan.” Some opponents think that the perfected nature does not pervade the entirety of ultimate truth, but that these two aspects characterize this state..

This is the explanation for the opponent, of the Tibetan, don - “goal, aim” and dam pa, “holy, sublime.” In the Sanskrit this is called, parama - supreme, and artha. - “goal.” The opponent in the text here distinguishes the two aspects of these terms, the “aim” or “goal” aspect referring to the object which is emptiness, and the “supreme” or “holy” aspect which refers to the subjective awareness which is the Āryan’s gnosis. The opponent here asserts that there are two aspects to ultimate truth: the subjective aspect which is the Āryan’s gnosis and an objective aspect which is emptiness or the perfected nature. Problems with this idea will be discussed in the following passage. The perfected nature is the appropriate object of the ultimate goal.

[251:2-252:1] “Generally, to explain the answer for the second one, it is true that if one places as the ultimate goal which is effected by virtue of the second manner of setting by merely being the object of a certain stainless knowledge, however, here, there is no fault, since it is not set up by merely that.

Well, if one wonders just how it is set up, it is by being the valid cognition which makes ultimate examination for that object of that stainless knowledge which is the subject (yul can) for establishing the ultimate goal which is effected by virtue of the second way of setting, to be the ultimate which is finally obtained from examination by that stainless knowledge which is the object of that [[[knowledge]]], and it is necessarily the two phenomena being assembled together [i.e., the subjective aspect, stainless knowledge, and its object which is emptiness which it ultimate truth which comprise the ultimate goal.]

That means, to refute [the opponent’s assertion], elucidating only unchanging, non-affirmingly negated perfected nature as the appropriate [[[object]]]; the subject, stainless gnosis is inappropriate. As established by the self-awareness which effects the experience of that stainless knowledge, generally, if it is knowledge, it is not dependent upon an other substance for effectuating its own experience, but it is necessarily established by the subjective aspect (‘dzin rnam) which is of the same nature and type (rang)

[though it is not identical], and it is an understanding by means of the withdrawal of dual appearance (gnyis snang nub) by self-awareness which effectuates its own experience of stainless knowledge by reason of being only an inner seeing and a subjective aspect, but, therefore, it is not finally discovered from examination, from either examination which proves or disproves the reality of the object which is stainless knowledge by means of self-awareness. By this reasoning, there is no fault that that gnosis would be the final object of the pure path [for that fault is yours].”

These two aspects of the “ultimate goal” are again, the subjective (yul can) and the objective (yul). The objects of stainless knowledge are many. For example, a Buddha knows the ultimate which is emptiness but also is simultaneously aware of the conventional (e,g., saṃsāra , etc.). The only object appropriate to be called the “ultimate goal” of stainless knowledge is emptiness, the “unchanging, perfected nature.” Some opponents assert that any object of stainless knowledge is appropriate as the “ultimate goal.”


One example given is that of a carpenter. A carpenter may be aware of many things (plumbing, auto mechanics, etc.), however, one is only a carpenter in reference to his activity and knowledge with regard to wood-working. The same is true of “stainless knowledge”: it is only such when seen with regard to ultimate truth which is emptiness. The object of the ultimate goal is not gnosis itself but the object of that gnosis, which is emptiness. Self-awareness arises with every type of consciousness, from the eye consciousness up to stainless knowledge. This self-awareness does not examine whether it is conscious of seeing “blue” by the eye consciounsess or being aware of the emptiness which is the objective of gnosis. Rather, it arises concomitant to those consciousnesses. It is of the same nature as these consciousnesses, but unlike them, it is not aware of a perceived external, substantial phenomenon, but is “intra-mental,” perceiving only consciousness itself.

It is neutral in the sense that it is not aware of the pleasantness the eye consciousness may associate with seeing blue or the bliss the stainless consciousness may experience. The self-awareness knows emptiness implicitly, not explicitly.

[252:1-5] “Otherwise, the sense conciousnesses of the ordinary individual would be irreversible (zlog tu med pa), even existing ultimately. Those [[[sense consciousnesses]]] exist [each] with a self-awareness which generates experience, and with regard to the subjective mode (‘dzin tshul) of the self-awareness, there is no abiding in confused corruption, in their mode of cognition, because of being cognition [which takes place] in the extinction of dual appearance.

If one were to explain this in an abbreviated way, in this section [treating] of Yogācāra , even the realization of reality, the perfected nature, is necessarily realization in a mode of negation of the object of negation which is a type of eradication of [the awareness of] a substantial difference of subject and object., however, this is a mere non-apprehension with regard to the substantial separateness of subject and object; it will not be a mere non-abiding error with regard to an object.” It is said. According to the Venerable Omniscient [[[Tsong kha pa]]],

‘Having relied upon a certain object, there is no fault, since it is understood that the object is the realization of reality [wherein the awareness of subject and object dissolve].’

This is the perfectly explained meaning (don dpyis phyin) of [these] statements. Along these lines, according to the Ocean of Logic, the Great Commentary on the Root [Text, the Madhyamakakarikāḥ]

‘On this [point], those Mādhyamika who hold the self awareness is [merely a] verbally designated [[[phenomenon]]] , and that object [which is perceived] by the valid cognition of inherent non-existence (rang bzhin med pa tshad mas) [which is śūnyatā] is held to be established implicitly by the self-awareness which generates the experience of that object, though, since they hold that the self-awareness is [established] in the valid cognition of verbal expression, it is not established by logical knowledge.’

That is what is should be known and this is the meaning of the doctrine.”

The self-awareness of sense consciousness would be irreversible because the opponent holds that since the self-awareness perceives pure gnosis which remembers the experience of the reality of emptiness, then that self-awareness is also stainless. lCang skya’s response is that if that were the case, then all self-awareness for eye consciousness, etc., would also be stainless and pure. While it is true that there is a lack of duality in what is known by the self-awareness, which is said to be conscious only of mental phenomena and not of external phenomena, this is a “mere non-apprehension” in the context of intra-mental events. Accordingly, the self-awareness does not focus an external object, hence it is not aware of emptiness save implicitly, as it is remembered as an experience of attaining gnosis

in deep meditation. Even the Yogācāra - Mādhyamika such as Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, who, though acccepting the existence as verbal designation of a self-awareness for consciousness, nevertheless declare it to have only an implicit awareness of emptiness. In this sense, the self-awareness knows emptiness through the means of cognition which involve verbal designation, because emptiness exists thence as remembered experience, not direct experience. The source for this is Tsong kha pa’s commentary on the Madhyamakakarikāḥ. The third of three topics: warding off opposing arguments.

[252:5-253:2] “The third among those [three topics] is the warding off of opposing arguments. If it is said,

‘If it were thus [as stated above], then it would follow that the unchanging perfected [[[nature]]] is an affirmingly negated (ma yin dgag) [[[reality]]] because the stainless knowledge of deep meditation realizes even the knowledge itself which implicitly realizes the perfected [[[nature]]] (khyod rtogs).’

But that reasoning (rtags) is not proven, because the stainless gnosis in profound meditation is not held to be realizing gnosis itself directly.

And another opponent [states]: if it is said,

‘If it is that way, stainless gnosis would be unestablished even by self-aware knowledge.’

That is not so, because the self-awareness established the subject (yul can) which is stainless knowledge, though there is no need for it to establish the object which is [the reality of] dharmatā. Otherwise, it would follow that in identifying the self-awareness which generates the experience of visual awareness (mig shes) would occur prior to seeing [itself]. And again, another opponent [asserts that] it is incorrect [to think] that this section is engaged in the clarification of the self-awareness. If it is said,

‘Those [proponents of] Yogācāra who adhere to scripture do not assert the [[[existence]] of] a self-awareness.’

[Then in rebuttal,] it is not so that all scripturally-oriented [proponents of] Yogācāra do not accept the self awareness, and though some [proponents of] Yogācāra adhering to scriptures of the bhūmi collection (sa sde’i), did not admit to a self-awareness, [however,] there is no fault in examining confusion concerning self-awareness in this section, because this section explains the general system of the Yogācāra [School].”

Here begins a sequence of opposing arguments. The first opponent states that if the case is as lCang skya stated it, this would leave emptiness as an affirming negation, because self-awareness establishes the positive existence of gnosis as the subject which experiences the perfected nature of emptiness as its object.


This lCang skya rebuts this by noting that gnosis is not held to be aware of gnosis itself, but that the self-awareness is aware of only an implicit object - emptiness. Continuing this line of reasoning, another contention holds that then the self-awareness does not establish stainless gnosis. lCang skya states that there is no need for the self-awareness to establish anything other than subjective experience which is an intra-mental event. There is no need to assert that it establishes an object, save implicitly, through the experience of the primary consciousness which apprehends ultimate truth. If it did establish objects, then it would be reasonable to hold that the self-awareness could establish objects prior to the primary mental consciousness’ ever experiencing it in the first place.


Next, an opposing comment asserts that not all proponents of Yogācāra who adhere to scripture even accepted the existence of a self-awareness. lCang skya concedes that some of those who follow scripture - this means the traditions of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu - that cleave to the five scriptures of Maitreya did reject the concept of a self-awareness. This lineage of Yogācāra is to be contrasted with that of proponents of Yogācāra who cleave to logic, numbering among them, Dignāga and Dharmakīrti - but this section is involved with setting out the general Yogācāra system and it is thus appropriate to discuss this doctrine which is so central to the Yogācāra tradition overall. The self-awareness has no object but ‘mere mental experience.’

[253:3-254:5] “Again, some will understand, ‘Your assertion is incorrect; though you based yourself on the acceptance of self-awareness, therefore, in that time of profound meditation the stainless gnosis which comprehends (‘jal byed) itself would not be an object for the self-awaress. Accordingly, as [quoted] from the Mahāyānasaṃgrāha,

‘Realize non-grasping! Thereby, one contacts the objectlessness (dmigs pa med pa) [of emptiness].’

And [the Path of Seeing which is] just above whatever [lies beyond] the dissolution (rnam par ‘jig pa) of the composite sentience (‘dus shes) [which is comprised] of the merest consciousness, or from the perspective of the station of the supreme mundane dharma (‘jig rten pa’i mchog gi gnas) which is the samādhi which does not [quite] reach that [[[Path of Seeing]]]” and “After having realized intellectually that nothing other than mind exists, because of this even mind is realized as non-existent,” by these statements, therefore, if one says, “because of the explanation of the non-existence of mental appearance in profound samādhi ” there is no logical fault.

Those [quotes above] explain the characterlessness of appearance to someone who is engaged in meditation of the path to reality, but generally, at that time there is merely mental experience, therefore this is not refuted. Having relied upon these [statements] the profound meditations which are asserted to be devoid of conceptual strife (spros du med pa) by [proponents of] tenets of the lower [schools], even though in systems of tenets of the higher [schools] these would be [seen to be] accompanied by conceptual strife, and if that is [the case], there is much to express on the reasons and so forth [how] it would not be accompanied by conceptual strife by only that in our system.

And likewise, it is rare for those who explained the doctrines of the Venerable Omniscient [[[Tsong kha pa]]] in prior [periods] to proceed to the essential points and meaning of those doctrines. It seems necessary to know the thorough explanations [found in] the Madhyamakāloka, the Tarkajvāla (rTog ge ‘Bar ba) and among the [[[Wikipedia:literary|literary]]] corpi of the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra [systems], and [where] the establishment of self-awareness occurs in the *Pramāṇavartikka, etc..

By certain earlier explicators, those texts were not seen, and by some, though they saw [those texts], they did not examine [the issues] logically, having held the opponent (phyogs snga ma) and the refutation [of the opponent’s positions] as identical, though too, such explanations are rare, however, by me, I am [able] to state just as much as I am capable (dpogs tshod), and moreover, since in the words of (ji skad du) the luminous (grags) virtuous advisor, the son of the Jina, there exists no confusion in such minds which possess the difficult meanings. If it is not so, then by [whom] else?”

Here, lCang skya answers opponents’ propositions. In the first instance, he states that the self-awareness with regard to the Āryan’s gnosis has no object, because the object of gnosis is objectlessness (dmigs pa med pa). In the state of profound meditation, everything is realized as non-existent, even mind itself. The self-awareness is aware only of a subject - the state of gnosis - and only a mere experience of consciousness takes place.


The opponent asserts that since there is no mental appearance in the state of profound meditation on emptiness, there would be nothing for the self-awareness to perceive. This is not so, responds lCang skya, because the “merely mental experience” does occur. He continues to explain that what one school may consider a state “devoid of conceptual strife’ (spros du med pa), another school may consider a state where some measure of mentation is taking place. There is much to say on this subject, he says, and continues to explain that he is capable of only so much acuity in his explanation. The reader is urged to investigate the issues him/herself by examining the Madhyamakāloka, etc. - works by greater minds than his own, as he puts it.

[254:5] “Moreover, in the words of those sons of the Victor, famed virtuous advisors, those who possess intellects which possess the meaning of the difficulties, since no confusion exists [for them], if that is not so, then for whom else?” Therefore it is taught in this way demonstrating this standpoint value from this examination by greater intellects.


Mādhyamika response.


Candrakīrti.


Mind-only eradicates the view of an agentive self. According to Candrakīrti, the realization that the three (Desire, Form and Formless) realms are mind alone occurs at the sixth bodhisattva level, called the Directly Facing (abhimukhi). The aim of this realization is to enable the bodhisattva to eradicate the last traces of thinking of the volitional agent as a permanent self. This is accomplished by the realization that this agent is merely mentation. In spite of the persistence of his critique of the

Yogācārin position, he nonetheless has only high esteem for the Laṅkāvatarasūtra wherein this doctrine is perhaps most famously presented. Refuting the agentive self of non-Buddhist schools. The Buddha elucidated the “mind-onlydoctrine for the purpose of refuting the notion of an agent as it is presented in the doctrines of non-Buddhists. This mind-only doctrine was taught to inculcate the fact that in the realm of everyday experience, mentation is preeminent. This should not be taken as a denial of form, however. If this were intended, then one must wonder at his statements in the same sūtra, that desire and ignorance produce that which is merely mind, according to Candrakīrti. .

Memory is no different from other types of cognition. Candrakīrti (MA) disagrees with the idea that consciousness can be self-aware. He claims that memory (smṛtijñāna) is no different from any other type of experience lying within a continuum of thought. This is to say, a memory is subsequent cognition like any other cognition which might not be a cognition of a cognition. The remembrance of a previous experience is as different from the present memory of that experience and is a “reified” object as “past experience” in a manner not dissimilar to the perception of a difference between a presently engaged consciousness and an entity such as a table.


Memory is neither different from nor the same as the remembered event. On the one hand, a memory is different from the actual past experience, on the other, it is not different in the sense that we claim experience of it as our experience. Devoid of a concept of self-awareness however, how could the Yogācārin maintain that other-dependent entities are cognized? Just as Nāgārjuna demonstrated the impossibility of the agent, act and activity being identical, so the same line of reasoning should be applied to self-awareness: How could it be aware of itself and yet avoid being identical to itself? Yet if it is different how could be it be classified as a self awareness?


Fire does not burn itself, nor does consciousness ‘think’ itself. Candrakīrti adds (MAB) that if, according to Yogācāra doctrine, the other-dependent exists substantially empty of self-other distinction, then what consciousness is aware of what other-dependent entity? He applies traditional Madhyamaka reasoning to this problem. The idea that there is self-awareness suffers from the same problem as the classical issues Nāgārjuna elucidates in the MMK. Consciousness can no more be aware of itself than fire could burn itself, or in Candrakīrti’s own example, of the impossibility of a sword edge cutting itself, or other well-known examples of the tip of the finger touching itself, the eye seeing itself, and so forth.

In the absence of external objects, consciousness itself cannot be an object. If we have understood his reasoning correctly, to say that the primary consciousness apprehends an entity which is itself apprehended by this secondary self-awareness, then this makes for a situation whereby the primary apprehending consciousness is made an object of this self-awareness. Given the Yogācārin tenet of the non-existence of external objects, it would seem to be a consequence that the primary consciousness viewed as the object of the secondary self-awareness, would be non-existent.

Identity or difference: memory relative to the original experience. As Huntington admits the argument here is somewhat hard to follow, but the primary focus of his argument is not hard to grasp. His line of argument follows traditional Madhyamaka concerns. Whether or not a self-awareness exists, a memory is distinct from or at least not identical to the original experience. Because it arises subsequently, it is not identical, and just as if it were to belong to the mental continuum of another consciousness, it does not share a direct cause-effect relationship. This relationship would need to be explained, just as does that which pertains to the relationship of fuel to fire. Both

seemingly distinct entities are not identical, for they can be conventionally distinguished. However, they are not different because they are intrinsically related. Subject/object dualism in all forms of consciousness. Candrakīrti notes that both the original event and the memory are similar in that both require a perceiver and a perceived object. This is acceptable as an explanation for the way things are established as conventional truth, but more thorough analysis reveals the ultimate incoherency of this understanding of how consciousness can be said to be “self-aware.” To say “self-aware” is to assert that the agent, activity and act are identical by implication. This sameness is nowhere perceived but simply exists as a reified concept in the Yogācārin system.

The fallacy of infinite regression: cognition of a cognition of a cognition.... Futhermore, this idea suffers from the fallacy of infinite regression. Candrakīrti notes (MAB) if memory involves “memory of an experience of an object” then the self-awareness should experience this, but also, self-awareness should experience itself as well. In this case, one would have the memory of the memory of an experience. If all memory and consciousness is self-aware, this process should continue ad infinitum. He notes a circularity of reasoning in these proofs for self-awareness. It seems that self-awareness is given as a proof of memory and memory is used to prove the existence of self-awareness.

Memory explained by recourse to conventional phenomena. One may account for memory from strictly conventional phenomena. Candrakīrti notes that the existence of a “magic water crystal” cannot be inferred merely from the presence of water, but water may be postulated merely from the fact of clouds heavy with water, raining down. Both memory and self-awareness are unsubstantiated theses. Cognition is given as producing memory, memory is claimed as that which demonstrates self-awareness. But self-awareness is said to be established by means of subsequently arising memories*

Tsong kha pa: memory occurs due to the primary experience. Tsong kha pa of course completely accepts Candrakīrti’s arguments on this topic. He accepts as fact that Candrakīrtidisproves the notion of self-awareness being proven through an argument from memory. According to him, the memory “I saw something” occurs not via any self-awareness, but by the first direct experience of an object and a subsequent memory of that very same object.

The fallacy of two consciousnesses. If two types of conscious awareness were required, then experience and memory would be different. He argues, elucidating Candrakīrti’s stance, that memory would be impossible, for consciousness would be directed at two different objects. If memory and direct experience are different consciousnesses, then it would not be absurd for one person to have another person’s memory.

Tsong kha pa and infinite regression: there is no primary experience. Candrakīrti and Tsong kha pa are agreed here, and both cite the problem of infinite regress with regard to this aspect of the Yogācārin doctrine of self-awareness. In his dGongs pa Rab gSal, Tsong kha pa notes that if a former cognition needs a subsequent cognition to discern it, then does not the subsequent cognition need another cognition to discern it? If this is not the case then it is fair to argue that the initial cognition of blueness does not require a self-awareness to validate it either. This is to reiterate Candrakīrti’s own argument, save that he adds that with this Yogācārin scheme, it would be impossible for consciousness to experience anything other than subsequent consciousness.

The provisional validity of Yogācāra doctrine. That Candrakīrti does not reject Mind-only doctrine can be seen from his words in his autocommentary (MAbh). He acknowledges that the world is comprised of karma and that karma and volitional mentation are mutually interdependent. Nevertheless, while Yogācāra doctrines hold a relative validity, they do not withstand ultimate analysis.

Without external entities, there is no stage upon which the consciousness may act. Huntington explains that among the various schools opposed to the Prāsaṅgika, some (Non-Buddhist) schools maintain that an agent is ultimately God, for others it is action viewed as principle and the Yogācārins define it as merely mind. As he translates from the autocommentary, the sūtras never deny the existence of external form. He employs as an example, the idea of two kings vying for power in a single realm. These kings symbolize the agent. No matter which king should come to rule the realm, all would depend upon the people of the realm in their role as would-be king. The people symbolize external entities. Apart from these, any agent has no sphere of activity and no role to play, no stage upon which to act. Therefore, there is no doubt that form exists - though its existence is seen only from the perspective of concealing truth. .

Concomitancy cohering mind and form. By ordinary individuals, the five psychophysical aggregates conventionally exist, but by the Āryan meditator in deep awareness, they do not. A concomitancy coheres form and mind. If one does not exist, how then could the other? He asserts that in the Abhidharma corpus, both are affirmed. The idea that in stainless gnosis only a mental substance exists anniḥilates the whole conception of the two truths, in his view.

Consciousness as real, actual ultimately existent fact is refuted. Candrakīrti states that this mind as an actual, real, substantially existent entity has been refuted through a number of reasons. The two truths reveal that, though conventionally, entities exist, ultimately they do not. Mind-only doctrine is intended for those who are strongly attached to entities, thus serving as an upāya, are meant to be further elucidated (neyārtha) in order to demonstrate a deeper, more ultimate standpoint.

As the object of knowledge falls, so falls the knower. Buddhas have demonstrated that once the object of knowledge (jñeya, shes bya) has been rejected, the knower falls along with it, and this refutation of the knower is the reason for refuting the object of knowledge. Maintaining basic Mādhyamika doctrine, discourse on emptiness itself should be taken as definitive (nitārtha), while doctrines elucidating the existence of reality being mere consciousness should be more critically reflected upon and are subject to further elucidation (neyārtha).




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