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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 4: Deepening the Understanding of the Path > What Does a Buddha Know in Knowing the Past, Present, and Future? > Part Two: Variant Indian Buddhist Views Concerning Temporally Related Phenomena

What Does a Buddha Know
in Knowing the Past,
Present, and Future?

Alexander Berzin
October 2007

Part Two: Variant Indian Buddhist Views Concerning Temporally Related Phenomena

Are There Common-Locus Objects Extending over the Three Times?

Consider the location of a presently-happening object, such as the “presently-happening-yoghurt in the pot.” For ease of discussion, let us refer to “yoghurt in the pot” simply as “yoghurt.”

Both the “presently-happening-yoghurt located on the table” and the “presently-happening- yoghurt not located in the refrigerator” may be valid phenomena simultaneously. Both cases refer to the spatial coordinates of the same yoghurt at the same moment, merely described and validly knowable from two points of view.

The “presently-happening-yoghurt located on the table” and the “presently-happening-yoghurt located in the refrigerator,” however, cannot both be valid phenomena simultaneously. They cannot both be referring to the same yoghurt at the same time.

On the other hand, the “presently-happening-yoghurt located in the refrigerator” may be followed later by the “presently-happening-yoghurt located on the table.” Both cases also refer to the spatial coordinates in the continuum of the same commonsense yoghurt.

The question is this: Just as there is a “same commonsense yoghurt” that can pass from one spatial location to another, while maintaining its essential nature as “yoghurt” during the temporal interval of the present-happening of yoghurt, is there a “same yoghurt” that can pass from one “temporal location” to another and still maintain its essential nature as yoghurt?

  • We are analyzing, then, whether the yoghurts in the sequence of “not-yet-happening-yoghurt on the table,” “presently- happening-yoghurt on the table,” and “no-longer-happening yoghurt on the table” all refer to a “same commonsense yoghurt” passing through time.

  • We are not speaking about whether the “presently- happening-yoghurt not yet on the table,” “the presently- happening-yoghurt now on the table,” and “the presently- happening-yoghurt no longer on the table” all refer to the “same commonsense yoghurt” passing through time. Gelug analysis accepts that all three do refer to the same commonsense yoghurt.

Perhaps our analysis will be clearer if we consider whether the “not-yet-happening-yoghurt in the pot, at the time of milk in the pot,” the “presently-happening-yoghurt in the pot, at the time of yoghurt in the pot,” and the “no-longer-happening-yoghurt in the pot, at the time of cottage cheese in the pot” refer to different temporal coordinates of the same yoghurt. In technical terms, the question becomes: Do the three items have a common locus?

  • A common locus (gzhi-mthun, common denominator) of three phenomena is something that is an example of all three phenomena, such as yoghurt being a common locus of a food, a dairy product, and a fermented substance.

  • Recall that “presently-happening-yoghurt” is an affirmation phenomenon, while “not-yet-happening-yoghurt” and “no-longer-happening-yoghurt” are negation phenomena.

Similarly, we may analyze whether the “yoghurt in the pot, which is not yet happening at the time of milk in the pot,” the “yoghurt in the pot, which is presently happening at the time of yoghurt in the pot,” and the “yoghurt in the pot, which is no longer happening at the time of cottage cheese in the pot” also have a common locus. Are they referring to the same object?

  • In this case, all three yoghurts are affirmation phenomena.

In more technical terms, the question becomes:

  • Is there a specific validly knowable object “yoghurt in the pot,” or some aspect or individual defining characteristic mark (mtshan-nyid) of such yoghurt, that exists and in some way endures through the future, present, and past as a findable referent “thing” (btags-don) corresponding to the conception of “yoghurt in the pot”?

  • Or is the existence of such “common-locus yoghurt in the pot” established merely as something imputable over the three times, but not as some findable referent “thing” on the side of any of the objects of the three times?

  • Or is there no such thing whatsoever as “common-locus yoghurt in the pot” over the three times, like there being no such thing as a common locus of a turtle and a hairy animal?

Let us make these questions even more direct. If there is such a validly knowable object as “yoghurt in the pot” with three different “temporal coordinates,” what establishes its existence as “common-locus yoghurt in the pot” over the three times?

  • Is it something findable on the side of the yoghurt?
  • Or is it merely the conception of such yoghurt?
  • Or does nothing establish the existence of a temporal characteristic mark, even conventionally, because there is no such thing as a temporal characteristic mark and no such things as this type of “common-locus yoghurt in the pot”?

The Vaibhashika View

There are many different Buddhist views on this issue. Among the various Indian proponents of the Vaibhashika tenet system, there are four distinct views and thus four distinct ways to assert time. All four accept a common locus of phenomena over the three times, which remains the same and has findable, unimputed, substantially established existence.

  • According to the Vaibhashika assertion, substantially established existence (rdzas-su grub-pa) refers to a mode of existence of a phenomenon, by which the existence of a validly knowable phenomenon is established by its ability to perform a function (don-byed nus-pa). In other words, if something performs a function, this proves that it exists.

  • The ability to perform a function arises from the phenomenon’s being a substantial entity (rdzas), established on its own side. Establishment of the existence of the phenomenon does not depend on the phenomenon being something imputed by words or conceptual cognition.

[See: The Two Truths in Vaibhashika and Sautrantika.]

The Changing of a Functional Phenomenon into Another

The changing of a functional phenomenon into another (dngos-po gzhan-du ‘gyur-ba) was asserted by the Indian master Dharmapalita (Chos-skyob). According to this view, the substance (rdzas) – in this case, meaning the essential nature (ngo-bo) of what the substance is – remains the same as the common locus over the three times, but the functional phenomenon (dngos-po) into which that substance transforms changes.

For example, milk changes to yoghurt and yoghurt changes into cottage cheese. This is equivalent to the not-yet-happened yoghurt – namely, milk – transforming into the presently-happening yoghurt, and that transforming into the no-longer-happening yoghurt – namely, cottage cheese. The functional phenomenon that it is, the appearance, and the taste change, but the substance remains the same. The analogy is with a gold nugget changing into gold jewelry.

Indian Madhyamaka masters point out that this position easily degenerates into the assertion of an object that remains the same at the time of both its cause and its effect. Such an assertion then easily degenerates into the non-Buddhist Indian Samkhya position of the cause being the same as the unmanifest result.

The Changing of a Defining Characteristic into Another

The changing of a defining characteristic mark into another (mtshan-nyid gzhan-du ‘gyur-ba) was asserted by Ghoshanada (dByangs-sgrog). According to this view, at one moment, a substantially existent sprout has all three times present within a temporal defining characteristic mark within the sprout. We may think of this with the analogy of three proteins within a findable temporal gene. Whichever of the three “proteins” predominates determines which time the sprout is in. The example given is that when we are attracted to one woman, it is not that we are not attracted to others. It is just that the attraction to that one woman is predominating and thus is happening now.

Madhyamaka masters object that, if this were the case, the three times would occur simultaneously and then there would be the fallacy of the disorder of time. The three times, by definition, must be sequential.

The Changing of One Situation into Another

The changing of one situation into another (gnas-skabs gzhan-du ‘gyur-ba) was asserted by Vasumitra (dByigs-bshes). This position concerns the situation of something substantially existent performing the function of coming into being or the function of abiding. When something has not yet performed this function, that situation is the not-yet-happening of the thing.

For instance, when we are asleep, the seeing of the wall that the eye sensors (mig-gi dbang-po) have not yet produced is “the not-yet-happening seeing of the wall.” When we are awake and the eye sensors are producing the seeing of the wall, this situation is “the presently-happening seeing of the wall.” When the eye sensors are no longer producing the seeing of the wall, this situation is “the no-longer-happening of the seeing of the wall.” The “eye sensors performing their function of seeing the wall,” then, is the substantially existent, findable common locus of the three times.

The Changing of One into Another

The changing of one into another (gzhan gzhan-du ‘gyur-pa) was asserted by Buddhadeva (Sangs-rgyas lha). According to this position, any one substantially existent moment is all three times, depending on the perspective. In other words, in relation to the previous moment, it is the not-yet-happening moment. In relation to the next moment, it is the no-longer-happening moment. In relation to the previous and following moments together, it is the presently-happening moment that is in between. All three substantially existent moments are the same substantially existent moment, just from three different relative perspectives. The analogy drawn is a woman being a daughter in relation to her mother and a mother in relation to her daughter – but, on the basis of findable, substantially existent, unimputed existence.

The Gelug Prasangika View

All four Vaibhashika positions are refuted as illogical by the Gelug Prasangika tenet system within Madhyamaka. Prasangika does accept, however, similar to the Vaibhashika view of “changing of one into another” that Monday is “tomorrow” from the point of view of Sunday, “today” from the point of view of Monday, and “yesterday” from the point of view of Tuesday. However, unlike the Vaibhashika assertion, Prasangika does not assert that this situation of relativity entails an unimputed, substantially existent “Monday” having an essential nature of being all three times and thus a findable common locus for the mental labels of the three.

Let us examine this point more deeply.

Is There a Fixed Space-Time Grid with a Temporal Axis as the Common Locus of the Three Times?

We have seen that each of the three times of something – such as the not-yet-happening, the present-happening, and the no-longer-happening of yoghurt in the pot – is an invalid phenomenon when the other two times of something are occurring. Thus, Gelug Prasangika asserts that there is no such thing as a common locus of the three times. This is because, if there were such a common locus, the absurd conclusion would follow that all three times would be happening simultaneously on its location. This is illogical.

To confirm this conclusion, let us explore a possible candidate for a common locus of the three times. Such a common locus might be, for instance, the temporal axis of a fixed four-dimensional space-time grid. This fixed axis would have fixed temporal coordinates designated in terms of units of one year, such as “year 2008,” through which the index now would be moving steadily ahead in a linear fashion. To simplify the example, let us specify that the index now moves steadily ahead one complete unit at a time, rather than progressing gradually from the fixed coordinate "year 2008" to the fixed coordinate "year 2009."

  • The point now would be defined as the “present.” Positions on the axis before the location of the moving index would be defined as the “past” and ahead of its location as the “future.”

  • Or, in Buddhist terminology, the temporal interval now would be defined as “the present-happening of an event.” Positions on the temporal axis before that interval would be defined as the “not-yet-happening of an event” and ahead of that interval as the “no-longer-happening of the event.”

The Gelug Prasangika position concerning such a system is that there is no such thing as a findable, or even imputable, space-time grid, on which the “year 2008” would be located as a fixed coordinate on the temporal axis and the status of this fixed coordinate as “ not-yet-happening,” “presently-happening,” or “no-longer-happening” would be determined by its location in relation to the steadily moving temporal index now.

  • In other words, there is no such thing as a findable, or even merely an imputable, common-locus occurrence of the “not-yet-happening of the year 2008,” the “present-happening of the year 2008,” and the “no-longer-happening of the year 2008” in relation to a steadily moving index now.

  • This is impossible, because if a findable space-time grid existed in time, it would have to exist now and a “not-yet-happening” and a “no-longer-happening” cannot possibly be occurring now. Nor could a “not-yet-happening” and a “no-longer-happening” be simultaneously occurring on a temporal axis of a findable space-time grid that was outside of time, because for them to be occurring implies that they are occurring now.

Are There Fixed Points on a Temporal Axis That Can Be Labeled “Now” in Relation to the Mental Labeling of a Person Moving along the Axis?

Consider the proposition that the “year 2008” is a fixed point on the temporal axis of a findable space-time grid and that it can be labeled as “not-yet-happening,” “ presently-happening,” or “no-longer-happening” dependently on the location on this axis of a findable person labeling it as one or the other. In this way, the “year 2008” serves as a common locus of the three times. According to Gelug Prasangika, this is also unacceptable.

There are three major variants of this assertion of a specific year as a common locus of the three times in the context of mental labeling, reminiscent of the assertions of three of the Indian Buddhist tenet systems that Gelug Prasangika refutes.

The Gelug Sautrantika View

The Gelug Sautrantika view is that the “year 2008” is an objective entity (rang-mtshan). This means that it is an objective, findable position on the temporal axis and has substantial existence established by its ability to perform a function. Its existence is not established by depending on its being imputed by words or conceptual cognition. It has, on its own side, a findable individual defining characteristic mark that establishes it as the “year 2008” and not as the “year 2007.”

The objective “year 2008” on the temporal axis can be validly labeled with the “categories not-yet-happening, presently-happening, or no-longer-happening” by a person passing along this temporal axis.

  • These three temporal categories are static metaphysical entities (spyi-mtshan) and cannot perform any function.

  • Although each of the three categories has a findable defining characteristic mark on its own side that establishes its individual identity as “the category not-yet-happening and so forth,” their existence in general is established by their merely being imputed by words or conceptual cognition.

  • None of these metaphysical categories – the past, the present, or the future – are findable as objective entities outside of a conceptual thinking process.

Nevertheless, the existence of the objective entity the year 2008 and of the metaphysical entities the category “not-yet-happening” and so forth, as validly knowable phenomena, is established by their own self-natures (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa), from their own sides.

  • In other words, when we search for the actual “thing” referred to by the name the year 2008 or by the name the category “not-yet-happening,” we find an actual “year 2008” or an actual “category ‘ not-yet-happening’” on the side of the year or on the side of the category that is being named.

  • Its existence as a validly knowable phenomenon is established there, from its own side, by its being a findable “referent thing” (btags-don), corresponding to the name for it.

The Gelug Sautrantika position, then, in more simple terms is:

  • There is a fixed temporal axis on a fixed space-time grid, with years as fixed objective positions located on it. These years can be validly labeled conceptually with fixed metaphysical categories as “not-yet-happening,” “presently-happening,” or “no-longer-happening” by an objective person labeling them as such, relative to his or her position while he or she objectively passes steadily along this temporal axis.

  • Although years substantially exist as objective entities, they do not exist from their own sides as objectively“ not-yet-happening,” “presently-happening,” or “ no-longer-happening.” Their being validly labeled with these metaphysical categories is subjective.

  • Nevertheless, because years can be validly labeled with all three temporal categories, they are a common locus of the three times.

[See: The Two Truths in Vaibhashika and Sautrantika.]

The Gelug Chittamatra View

The Gelug Chittamatra view is that “the year 2008” is a dependent phenomenon (gzhan-dbang) – a nonstatic phenomenon that arises dependently on other phenomena as its causes and conditions.

“The categories not-yet-happening, presently-happening, and no-longer-happening” are existent totally conceptional phenomena (kun-brtags) and, as such, are static.

  • Dependent phenomena can be validly cognized both nonconceptually and conceptually.

  • Existent totally conceptional phenomena can be validly cognized only conceptually.

These two types of phenomena are defined or explained in the context of when each occurs within the context of conceptual cognition.

  • Dependent phenomena are defined as the involved objects (‘jug-yul) of conceptual cognition and, as such, they are the locus for totally conceptional phenomena.

  • In other words, in the conceptual cognition of “the year 2008,” “the year 2008” is the basis of imputation (gdags-gzhi) for such existent totally conceptional phenomena as “the categories not-yet-happening, presently-happening, and no-longer- happening.”

  • The existence of totally conceptional phenomena is established by their having the essential natures of the conceptual cognitions cognizing them (rang-’dzin rtog-pa’i ngo-bor grub-pa).

  • Thus, in the conceptual cognition of “the year 2008” on which is imputed, for instance, “the category not-yet-happening,” although the existent totally conceptional category is the appearing object (snang-yul) that is directly before the mental consciousness as part of the essential nature of that conceptual cognition, the “year 2008” is what appears (snang-ba) through it.

[See: Fine Analysis of Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation.]

The existence of “the year 2008” is substantially established because it performs a function, such as causing someone to age. Nevertheless, it is devoid of coming from a natal source (rdzas) different from that of the consciousness validly cognizing it. Both derive from the same karmic tendency (sa-bon, karmic seed) on the mental continuum of the person validly cognizing them. Thus, “ the year 2008” is not established as an externally existent phenomenon (phyi-don), deriving from its own individual, external natal source.

The existence of “the category not-yet-happening,” however, is not substantially established. Because it is a static phenomenon, it cannot derive from a natal source, although it has the same essential nature as the conceptual cognition of it.

Similar to the Gelug Sautrantika view, the existence of the dependent phenomenon the year 2008 and of the totally conceptional phenomena the categories “ not-yet-happening” and so forth as validly knowable phenomena is established by their own self-natures, from their own sides. When we search for the referent “ things” corresponding to the names the year 2008 and the category “not-yet-happening,” we find, within the environment of our conceptual cognition of them, an actual “ year 2008” and an actual “category not-yet-happening ” on the side of the year and the category that are being named.

Moreover, both “the year 2008” and “the categories not-yet-happening and so forth” have findable individual defining characteristic marks on their own sides that establish their conventional identities as such, and not as anything else.

  • In addition, the existence, in general, of the dependent phenomenon the year 2008 is established by this individual defining characteristic mark. “The year 2008” is not merely imputable by a valid conceptual cognition of it.
  • In contrast, the existence, in general, of the totally conceptional phenomenon the category “not-yet-happening” is not established by this individual defining characteristic mark. “The category not-yet-happening ” is merely imputable by a valid conceptual cognition of it.

“The year 2008” is the basis on which the totally conceptional “categorynot-yet-happening” can be imputed in the conceptual cognition of the year 2008 as being in the category of “not-yet-happening.” However, the individual defining characteristic mark on the side of “the year 2008” that establishes its existence both in general and as “the year 2008” does not establish it as a foundation on which the category not-yet-happening can be set (lo-dzin-pa’i rtog-pa’i zhen-gzhir rang-gi mtshan-nyid-kyis grub-pas stong-pa) .

  • In other words, “the year 2008” has nothing on its own side that, through its own power, makes it the basis for labeling it with “the category not-yet-happening,” or with the categories presently-happening or no-longer-happening .
  • Because of that, “the year 2008” can function as a basis for being labeled with any of the three totally conceptional categories not-yet-happening , presently-happening , or no-longer-happening.
  • Thus, “the year 2008” is a common locus of all three times.

The Gelug Chittamatra position, then, in more simple terms, is:

  • There is a fixed temporal axis on a fixed space-time grid, with years as fixed positions located on it. The existence of such a grid, axis, and positions on it, however, cannot be established externally and objectively. Their existence can only be established in the context of the valid cognitions of them, in which case they derive from the same karmic tendency, on the mental continuum of the person cognizing them, as does the consciousness cognizing them.
  • These temporal positions can be validly labeled conceptually with fixed totally conceptional categories as “not-yet-happening,” “presently-happening,” or “no-longer-happening” by a person labeling them as such, relative to his or her position while passing along this non-externally established, but nevertheless existent axis.
  • Although years are the findable bases on which “the categories not-yet-happening and so forth” can be validly imputed, there is nothing on the side of years that makes them a basis on which to set or affix only one of these categories.

[See: Basic Features of the Gelug-Chittamatra System: 1 Types of Phenomena and Ways of Existing.]

The Gelug Svatantrika-Madhyamaka View

The Gelug Svatantrika-Madhyamaka view is that the existence of the space-time grid, the temporal axis, positions on it, such as “the year 2008,” and temporal categories, such as “the category not-yet-happening,” is established dependently on their being validly labeled as such, but only in conjunction with the individual defining characteristic marks on their own sides that make them valid bases for the labeling. None of them have their existence established truly and unimputedly (bden-par grub-pa, true existence).

Similar to the Gelug Sautrantika and Gelug Chittamatra views, the existence of all of these phenomena is established by their own self-natures, from their own sides.When we search for the referent “things” corresponding to the name the year 2008 and the name the category “not-yet-happening,” we find an actual “year 2008” and an actual “ category not-yet-happening ” on the side of the year and the category that are being named.

Moreover, the existence of “the year 2008” as “not-yet-happening,” “presently-happening,” or “no-longer-happening” is established by its being validly labeled with one of these temporal names or concepts by someone, depending on his or her position on the temporal axis relative to the “year 2008.” But this is the case only in conjunction with findable defining characteristic marks on the side of “the year 2008” for the three labels.

  • Either the “year 2008” has three such findable characteristic marks, one each for the three times, or it has just one findable temporal characteristic mark that can be validly labeled in three different ways.

  • In either case, the “year 2008” is a common locus of the three times.

[See: The Four Indian Buddhist Tenet Systems Regarding Illusion.]

The Gelug Prasangika-Madhyamaka View

According to the Gelug Prasangika-Madhyamaka view, the three times lack a common locus, even a conventionally existent one. Thus, there is no such thing as a fixed space-time grid with a common-locus temporal axis.

  • According to Gelug Prasangika, a conventionally existent phenomenon (tha-snyad-du yod-pa) is a validly knowable phenomenon, the existence of which is established by its being merely the referent object (btags-chos) of the name, label, or concept for it. It is devoid of having its existence established by any findable defining characteristic mark on its own side – even in conjunction with mental labeling – or as a findable referent “thing” corresponding to the name or concept for it. In other words, it is devoid of truly and findably established existence (bden-par grub-pa, true existence).

  • Thus, the existence of conventional phenomena is established as dependently arising (rten-cing ‘brel-ba) merely from mental labeling or imputation.

[See: Establishing the Existence of Validly Knowable Phenomena.]

On the basis of a stream of continuity of moments, we can validly impute a temporal continuum, just as on the basis of the stream of continuity of someone’s experience of those moments we can validly impute a mental continuum. Like mental continuums, temporal continuums are conventionally existent phenomena.

In terms of a specific temporal continuum, such as someone’s lifetime or the twenty-first century, then relative to the present moment, we may mentally label prior intervals of moments on that continuum as “no-longer-happening moments” and further intervals of moments as “not-yet-happening moments.” However, the “no-longer-happening temporal interval” and “not-yet-happening temporal interval” are merely what the mental labels the no-longer-happening temporal interval and the not-yet-happening temporal interval refer to on the basis of prior and later continuums of moments of experience. Their conventional existence is established merely in terms of these mental labels; there is nothing on the side of these continuums that establishes their existence, even in conjunction with mental labeling. Thus, there is no findable referent “thing” corresponding to these mental labels.

Similarly, the temporal continuum imputed on the basis of such no-longer-happening, presently-happening, and not-yet-happening temporal intervals is also merely what the mental label temporal continuum refers to on their basis, without there being any such findable referent “thing” as a “temporal continuum.” However, even though we can validly impute a temporal continuum on the basis of a stream of moments, that does not mean that such a temporal continuum is a fixed temporal axis that serves as a common locus of the three times.

In other words, although temporal continuums have conventional existence, common-locus temporal axes lack conventional existence. This is because if something is conventionally existent, it must be either valid now or invalid now. Since presently-happening temporal intervals are valid now, while no-longer-happening and not-yet-happening temporal intervals are invalid now, there cannot be a common-locus conventionally existent phenomenon that, as a common locus of both, actually is both.

  • Recall that a common-locus of two things is an example of the two things, such as a frog being a common-locus of an animal and an amphibian.

If such a phenomenon, such as a fixed temporal axis, existed simultaneously as both valid and invalid, it would have to be presently-happening as the common locus of both and thus valid now. If that were the case, then the absurd conclusion would follow that a phenomenon that could not possibly be valid now, such as a no-longer-happening moment, was valid now.

Conventionally existent mental continuums avoid this absurd conclusion because all the moments of a mental continuum are not valid simultaneously. Only one moment of a temporal continuum is occurring at any one time and thus valid, whereas a common-locus of the three times would have to be happening all at once.

[See: Four Hundred Verse Treatise on the Actions of a Bodhisattva’s Yoga, chapter 11: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting (Truly Existent) Time.]

Gelug Prasangika Refutation of a Fixed Future

The Gelug Prasangika refutation of a common-locus axis of the three times on a fixed space-time grid also leads to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “ not-yet-happening of the year 2008,” which is presently happening as a fixed position on this common-locus temporal axis and thus it is possible to travel to it. If the future were presently happening, then it could never arise. Because of that, “the future” is not fixed.

A further conclusion is that there is no such thing as even a common-locus “year 2008, which is not yet happening.”

This conclusion, however, does not refute the relativistic explanation of four-dimensional space-time.

  • We are not speaking here about the measurement, whether objective or subjective, of an interval of time, such as “the year 2008.” We are talking about a common-locus “ year 2008,” with the exact same things happening simultaneously everywhere during its interval, which the theory of relativistic time refutes as well.

Consider someone on Earth, measuring and experiencing time from his or her own perspective. Moreover, the person is present on Earth in what he or she measures as the “year 2007” and remains present on Earth for several more years. From the perspective of such a person, there is a “year 2008, which is not yet happening.”

Consider next someone on a star ship traveling nearly the speed of light, measuring and experiencing time from his or her own perspective. The person is present on the star ship also in what he or she measures as the “year 2007” and remains present on the speeding star ship for several more years. From the perspective of such a person, there is also a “year 2008, which is not yet happening.”

  • From the perspective of the person on the star ship, the ending of the “ year 2008, which has not yet happened” and the arising of the “year 2008, which is presently happening,” which are experienced by the person on Earth, will occur long before he or she experiences the ending of the “year 2008, which has not yet happened” and the arising of the “year 2008, which is presently happening” from his or her own perspective.

  • From the perspective of the person on Earth, the ending of the “year 2008, which has not yet happened” and the arising of the “year 2008, which is presently happening,” which are experienced by the person on the star ship, will occur long after he or she experiences the ending of the “year 2008, which has not yet happened” and the arising of the “year 2008, which is presently happening” from his or her own perspective.

  • If there were a common-locus “year 2008, which has not yet happened,” then when it was ending for the person on Earth, it would not be ending for the person on the star ship. This is impossible, because a validly knowable phenomenon cannot simultaneously be ending and not ending.

  • Similarly, there cannot be a common-locus “year 2008, which is presently happening,” otherwise the absurd conclusion would follow that it would simultaneously be arising and not arising. This is because when it was arising for the person on Earth, it would not be arising for the person on the star ship.

  • Thus, even though the person on Earth and the person on the star ship can validly conceptualize a “year 2008, which is not yet happening” and there would be a conventionally existent referent object of each of their mental labels, nevertheless each of their mental labels would not have a referent object shared as a common-locus, even a conventionally existent one.

[See: The Nature of Time as a Temporal Interval.]

Gelug Prasangika Refutation of Even a Conventionally Existent Common-Locus Object Passing through a Substantially Existent Temporal Grid

Moreover, since there is no such thing as the substantially and findably existent three times, truly existing in the manner of positions on a fixed temporal grid, Gelug Prasangika asserts that there is no such thing as even a conventionally existent common-locus object that passes through such type of truly existent three times. In other words, there is nothing findable that passes through the three times as if it were on a conveyor belt moving along a hall. A mind that analyzes either deepest or superficial truth cannot find such a truly existent thing.

Although there is no such thing as a conventionally-existent common-locus object passing along the temporal axis of a fixed space-time grid, with the grid, the axis, positions on it, and the three times all being truly and findably existent, this does not invalidate or contradict the Prasangika assertion that when we have visual cognition of one moment of the colored shape of the yoghurt, we also cognize the commonsense yoghurt well-known in the world

  • Recall that a continuum of “presently-happening-moments of something” is not the same as a continuum of “not-yet-happening-,” “presently-happening-,” and “ no-longer-happening-moments of something.”

The commonsense yoghurt, then, is not a common locus of “the yoghurt, which has not yet happened,” “the yoghurt, which is presently happening,” and “the yoghurt, which is no longer happening.” As previously stated, there is no such thing as a common locus of a valid and an invalid phenomenon, even if the invalid phenomenon is an existent one. In other words, there can be no validly knowable object that is both validly knowable now and not validly knowable now.

To understand the connection between the three times more deeply, however, requires first examining several more points.

Are “Not-Yet-Happenings” and “No-Longer- Happenings” Static or Nonstatic Phenomena?

There are two points of view as to whether the “not-yet-happening of something,” the “no-longer-happening of something,” and “something’s previously-having-perished” are static or nonstatic phenomena.

The Gelug Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Svatantrika View

The Gelug Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Svatantrika tenet systems assert that the “not-yet-happening of something” – in other words, the future of something – and the “ no-longer-happening of something” – in other words, the past of something – are static phenomena. So long as they exist, they are facts that do not change. Nevertheless, some may have a beginning and some may have an end.

  • Some “not-yet-happenings,” such as the “not-yet-happening of the result of a karmic impulse,” have a beginning and an end. The “not-yet-happening of the result of a karmic impulse” has a beginning with the perishing (‘ jig-pa) of the impulse. The perishing of the karmic impulse and the attainment (thob-pa) on a mental continuum of the “ not-yet-happening of the result” are both nonstatic phenomena and have a cause. The unchanging fact of the “not-yet-happening of the result,” however, is not caused by the perishing and the attainment. Moreover, the “not-yet-happening of the result of a karmic impulse” has an end, either with the arising (skye-ba) of the result or when the mental continuum is purified of the karmic tendency for the result.

  • According to this view, then, a cause’s “perishing” (‘jig-pa) is a nonstatic, affected phenomenon; while a cause’s “previously-having-perished” (zhig-pa) – equivalent to a cause’s “no-longer-happening” – is a static, unaffected phenomenon.

  • Some “not-yet-happenings,” such as the “not-yet-happening of another episode of anger,” have no beginning, but can have an end. This is because individual mental continuums and the disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha, “afflictive emotions”) on them have no beginning, but the disturbing emotions and attitudes can have an end when the mental continuum is purified of them and their tendencies.

  • “No-longer-happenings” have a beginning, but have no end. The “no-longer-happening of a karmic impulse” begins with the perishing of the karmic impulse and the arising of a karmic tendency for the result. Even after the result has arisen and perished, the “no-longer-happening of the karmic impulse” that was the cause of that result is still on the mental continuum, without ever ending, even after the attainment of enlightenment.

The Gelug Prasangika View

Gelug Prasangika, on the other hand, asserts that the “no-longer-happening of something,” “something’s previously-having- perished,” and the “not-yet-happening of something” are all nonstatic phenomena. Moment one of a “no-longer-happening” gives rise to moment two of a “no-longer-happening,” and moment two gives rise to moment three. Moment one of a “no-longer-happening” does not continue forever. The same is the case with something’s “previously-having-perished.” Similarly, for the “not-yet-happening of something,” for instance the arising of a result, moment “x-minus-ten” of the “not-yet-happening” gives rise to “ moment x-minus-nine.”

  • According to this view, then, a “cause’s perishing” and a “cause’s previously-having-perished” are both nonstatic, affected phenomena.

Although the continuums of a “cause’s previously-having-perished,” a “cause’s no-longer-happening,” and a “result’s not-yet-happening” change from moment to moment, they do not degenerate (nyams) from moment to moment. The nonstaticness of each of them is different, then, from the subtle nonstaticness of a flower, for instance.

  • Subtle nonstaticness (mi-rtag-pa phra-mo, subtle impermanence) is an affected phenomenon’s moment-to-moment progression toward the final end of its continuum and, in the case of a flower, the progression is a process of gradual degeneration.

  • Moreover, the “no-longer-happening of a cause,” the “not-yet-happening of a cause,” and “a cause’s previously-having-perished” are nonstatic negation phenomena; whereas according to the majority Gelug assertion, subtle nonstaticness is an affirmation phenomenon.

[See: Gelug Definitions of Affirmation and Negation Phenomena.]

From among nonstatic phenomena, “no-longer-happenings,” “something’s previously-having-perished,” and “not-yet-happenings” are affecting variables that are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something (ldan-min ‘du-byed). Moreover, in the case of those occurring on a mental continuum, they are also noncongruent with the primary consciousness and subsidiary awarenesses or mental factors that they accompany – meaning that they do not share five things in common with them, such as focal object.

[See: Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables.]

Are “Not-Yet-Happenings” and “No-Longer-Happenings” Implicative or Nonimplicative Negation Phenomena?

Although all Buddhist tenet systems agree that “not-yet-happenings,” “no-longer-happenings,” and “something’s previously-having-perished” are negation phenomena, another issue over which there are two views concerns whether they are implicative or nonimplicative negation phenomena.

  • An implicative negation phenomenon (ma-yin dgag, affirming negation) is an exclusion of something else (gzhan-sel) in which, after the sounds of the words that exclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they leave behind in their wake (bkag-shul), explicitly or implicitly, something else. “Something left behind in the wake of an implicative negation phenomenon” is like an oil-slick left behind by a motorboat. Consider the example, a “no-longer-happening cause.” Once the sounds of the words no-longer-happening cause have excluded “presently-happening,” the object to be negated here, they explicitly leave behind in their wake the “cause.”

  • A nonimplicative negation phenomenon (med-dgag, nonaffirming negation) is an exclusion of something else in which, after the sounds of the words that exclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they do not leave behind in their wake, explicitly or implicitly, something else. Consider the example, an “absence of the cause.” Once the sounds of the words absence of the cause have excluded the “presence of the cause,” the object to be negated here, they do not explicitly or implicitly leave anything behind in their wake.

[See: Affirmations, Negations, and Denumerable and Nondenumerable Ultimate Truths.]

The Gelug Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Svatantrika View

According to Gelug Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Svatantrika, the “no-longer-happening of something,” the “not-yet-happening of something,” and “something’s previously-having-perished,” like the “absence of something,” are nonimplicative negation phenomena and therefore static. For example, once the sounds of the words the “no-longer-happening of the cause” have excluded the “present-happening of the cause,” they do not leave anything behind in their wake.

The Gelug Prasangika View

According to Gelug-Prasangika, the “no-longer-happening of something,” the “not-yet-happening of something,” and “something’s previously-having-perished” are implicative negation phenomena and, among such phenomena, they are nonstatic ones. The “no-longer-happening of a cause” is specified not only in terms of an “absence of the cause,” but also in terms of a “ coming-about upon the ceasing of the cause” (rgyu dgag-bzhin-pa-las ‘byung-ba). Thus, once the sounds of the words the no-longer-happening of the cause have excluded the “ present-happening of the cause,” they implicitly leave behind in their wake the “coming-about of the ‘no-longer-happening of the cause’ upon the ceasing of the cause.”

Similarly, once the sounds of the words the not-yet-happening of the result have excluded the “present-happening of the result,” they implicitly leave behind in their wake the “perishing of the ‘not-yet-happening of the result’ upon the arising of the result.”