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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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

Alexander Berzin
October 2007

Part Four: Valid Cognition of the Past, Present, and Future

The Basis for Valid Cognition of “Not-Yet-Happenings

As we have seen, one facet of a “karmic tendency for a result” is the karmic tendency’s “temporarily not-giving-rise to its result, so long as all the contributing circumstances for giving rise to it are incomplete.” That facet of “temporarily not-giving-rise to its result” is the basis for labeling the “not-yet-happening of the result.”

Another facet of a “karmic tendency for a result, which is temporarily not giving rise to its result” is the karmic tendency’s “ability to give rise to a result, which is not-yet-happening.”

  • Recall that what is “not-yet-happening” is the karmic tendency’s “giving rise to its result” – specifically, its “giving rise to a ‘result, which is presently happening.’”

  • The karmic tendency is the obtaining cause of the “result, which is presently happening,” not the obtaining cause for the “result, which is not yet happening.”

But, how would we validly cognize a “karmic tendency for a result” with these two facets? After all, a karmic tendency is a noncongruent affecting variable, neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. A karmic tendency is imputably knowable by depending on its basis for labeling. This means that valid cognition of a karmic tendency requires simultaneous valid cognition of its basis for labeling.

As we have seen, the basis for labeling a karmic tendency is the mere “me” and the basis for labeling the mere “me” is a mental continuum. A mental continuum is validly imputable on an individual continuum of moments comprising five aggregate factors of experience (phung-po lnga, five aggregates). These five are (1) forms of physical phenomena, (2) feeling a level of happiness, (3) distinguishing, (4) other affecting variables, and (5) primary consciousness.

[See: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregate Factors of Experience.]

Only one moment at a time, comprised of five aggregates, is a “phenomenon, which is presently happening” and thus a valid phenomenon, validly knowable now. In other words, we can validly cognize only one moment at a time: prior moments and later moments are presently invalid, though existent. Thus, valid cognition of a “not-yet-happening of a result” requires simultaneous valid cognition of a “presently-happening network of five aggregate factors.”

Moreover, as we have previously seen, although the “karmic tendency for the result” imputable on the mere “me” imputable on a mental continuum imputable on a “presently-happening network of five aggregate factors” is the basis for labeling the “not-yet-happening of the result,” it is not its basis for negation. The basis for negation of the “not-yet-happening of the result” is the “absence of the ‘presently-happening result’ on the mental continuum.”

In short, valid cognition of a “not-yet-happening of a result” requires simultaneous valid cognition of a “karmic tendency for a result.” with its facets of

  • the “ability to give rise to its result, which is not yet happening,”

  • its “temporarily not giving rise to its result, so long as all the contributing circumstances for giving rise to it are incomplete.”

Valid cognition of such a karmic tendency requires simultaneous valid cognition of

  • the mere “me” on which the “karmic tendency for the result” is labeled,
  • the mental continuum on which the mere “me” is labeled,
  • the present moment of the network of “presently-happening five aggregate factors” on which the mental continuum is labeled,
  • the absence of the “presently-happening result” on the mental continuum.

The Basis for Valid Cognition of “No-Longer-Happenings

The obtaining cause of the “karmic tendency for a result, which is temporarily not giving rise to that result” is a “karmic cause, which is presently happening.” That “karmic cause, which is presently happening” is also the ripening cause (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu) of the “result, which is presently happening.” At the time of the “karmic tendency for that result,” however, the “karmic cause, which is presently happening,” like the “result, which is presently happening,” is an existent, invalid phenomenon. It cannot be validly known at that time. However, the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause,” equivalent to the “karmic cause’s having perished” is an existent, valid phenomenon at the time of the “present-happening of the karmic tendency” and can be validly cognized then.

As we have seen, the “karmic tendency for the result” is the basis for labeling the “not-yet-happening of the result,” whereas the basis for negation of the “not-yet-happening of the result” is the “absence of the ‘presently-happening result’ on the mental continuum.” Similarly, in the case of the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause,” the “absence of the ‘presently-happening karmic cause’ on the mental continuum” is its basis for negation. The basis for labeling the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause,” however, is not the “karmic tendency for the result, which is temporarily not giving rise to that result.” The basis for labeling the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” is the mere “me” imputable on the mental continuum.

  • Unlike the “not-yet-happening of the result,” which, along with “the karmic tendency for the result,” perishes with the “arising of the result,” the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” does not perish with the perishing of the “karmic tendency for the result” at the time of the “arising of the result.”

  • The “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” is still an existent, valid phenomenon validly imputable on the mere “me” even after the perishing of the “karmic tendency for the result.”

  • Thus, the “karmic tendency for the result” cannot be the basis for labeling the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause.”

The “karmic tendency for the result” – imputable on the mere “me” imputable on a mental continuum imputable on a network of five aggregate factors – is merely a basis that indicates (mtshan-gzhi) that there is a “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” also imputable on that mere “me.”

At the time of the “present-happening of the result,” the “present-happening of the result” is the basis indicating both the “no-longer-happening of the karmic tendency for the result” and the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause.”

At the time of the “no-longer-happening of the result,” that “no-longer-happening of the result” is the basis indicating both the “no-longer-happening of the karmic tendency for the result” and the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause.”

  • At that time, all three – the “no-longer-happening of the result,” “the no-longer-happening of the karmic tendency for the result,” and the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” – are validly imputable on the mere “me” imputable on the mental continuum.

  • The bases of negation for these three negation phenomena at that time are the “absence of the presently-happening result on the mental continuum,” “the absence of the presently-happening karmic tendency for the result on the mental continuum,” and the “absence of the presently-happening karmic cause on the mental continuum.”

Let us limit our analysis to the time of the “present-happening of the karmic tendency for the result.” At that time, valid cognition of the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause of that result” requires valid cognition of

  • the mere “me” on which the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” is labeled,

  • the mental continuum on which the mere “me” is labeled,

  • the present moment of the network of “presently-happening five aggregate factors” on which the mental continuum is labeled,

  • the absence of the “presently-happening cause” on the mental continuum.

If simultaneously with valid cognition of these phenomena, valid cognition of the “presently-happening karmic tendency for the result of that karmic cause” occurs, the presence of that karmic tendency indicates the presence of the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause.”

The Level of Mind that Can Validly Cognize “Not-Yet-Happenings” and “No-Longer-Happenings”

Whenever we cognize the sight, smell, taste, or physical sensation of someone’s body or the sound of the person’s voice, we also cognize the mere “me” of that person, imputedly knowable on the basis of any of those forms of physical phenomena. These forms of physical phenomena validly cognized at that time are connected with our own mental continuum, not with the mental continuum of the other person. In other words, the sensory objects we cognize then are being cognized by our sensory consciousness; we are not cognizing objects being cognized by the sensory consciousness of that other person. Thus, although we are cognizing the mere “me” of that person, we are not cognizing the five aggregate factors comprising the mental continuum of that person.

We only cognize the mental continuum of someone else, and the aggregate factors comprising it, when we have attained advanced awareness of the enumeration of minds (sems-kyi rnam-grangs-kyi mngon-shes).

  • The “enumeration of minds” refers to the primary consciousness and subsidiary awarenesses or mental factors, plus their objects of cognition, on the mental continuums of others.

The various types of advanced awareness arise as a byproduct of the attainment of an actual state of the first level of mental stability (bsam-gtan dang-po’i dngos-gzhi, an actual state of the first dhyana), which is gained on the basis of shamatha.

  • Shamatha (zhi-gnas, calm abiding, mental quiescence) is a stilled and settled state of mind, characterized not only by absorbed concentration (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi), but also by an exhilarating sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs). It is stilled of all flightiness of mind and mental dullness, and settled single-pointedly on an object.

  • With the attainment of an indispensable preliminary stage of the first level of mental stability (bsam-gtan dang-po’i nyer-bsdogs), we attain the state of mind that can act as an antidote for temporarily ridding ourselves of disturbing emotions directed at phenomena of the plane of desirable forms of physical phenomena (‘dod-khams, desire realm). With the attainment of an actual state of the first level of mental stability, we attain a temporary blocking of those disturbing emotions.

    • With the attainment of a mere actual state of the first level of mental stability (bsam-gtan dang-po’i dngos-gzhi tsam-po-ba), we still have both downward discrimination (rtog-pa) of lower levels of concentration as inferior and upward discrimination (dpyod-pa) of higher levels of concentration as superior.

    • With the attainment of a distinguished actual state of the first level of mental stability (bsam-gtan dang-po’i dngos-gzhi khyad-par-can), this downward discrimination is also temporarily blocked.

  • Such states of mind are attainable through both Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation methods.

Regardless of our level of attainment, when we cognize the presently-happening five aggregate factors on our own mental continuum and thus cognize our own mental continuum and our own mere “me,” all the other noncongruent affecting variables imputable on our mental continuum also appear to our cognition. However, we may not necessarily validly cognize them, which means we may not necessarily cognize them accurately and decisively. These noncongruent affecting variables include our

  • karmic tendencies,

  • their “temporarily not-giving-rise to their results,

  • their “ability to give rise to their results, which are not yet happening,”

  • the “not-yet-happening of their results,”

  • the “no-longer-happening of their karmic causes.”

In the case of these noncongruent affecting variables conjoined with the mental continuums of others, they only appear to our cognition when we have advanced awareness based on the attainment of shamatha. Although they appear to our cognition then, we may not necessarily validly cognize them at that stage.

Further, when we cognize a presently-happening moment of five aggregate factors comprising either our own or someone else’s mental continuum, the following static negation phenomena also appear to our cognition. In this case, too, we may not validly cognize them:

  • the absence of the “presently-happening results” of the karmic tendencies on the mental continuum,
  • the absence of the “presently-happening karmic causes” of the karmic tendencies on the mental continuum.

Recall that these two absences are the bases for negation, respectively, of the “not-yet-happening of the results of the karmic tendencies” and the “no-longer-happening of the karmic causes of the karmic tendencies.” Thus, valid cognition of these “not-yet-happenings” and “no-longer-happenings” requires valid cognition of these absences.

Only those practitioners who, in addition to an actual state of the first level of mental stability and its attendant advanced awarenesses, have attained nonconceptual cognition of the four noble truths and thus have become aryas – highly realized beings – gain valid cognition of the above-listed five noncongruent affecting variables and two static negation phenomena.

  • This is because the second noble truth, true origins of suffering, includes karmic tendencies.

Depending on the level of attainment of the aryas, they can clearly and decisively cognize varying ranges of the above-listed five noncongruent affecting variables and two static negation phenomena when cognizing a presently-happening moment of their own or someone else’s network of five aggregate factors.

  • For example, arya bodhisattvas with a first-level bhumi mind will validly cognize those phenomena among them related to a hundred eons before and after the presently-happening moment.

[See: The Qualities of the Arya Sangha.]

Those phenomena among them that such persons are unable to validly cognize are not cognized by them at all, despite their appearing to their cognitions of a presently-happening moment of their own or someone else’s network of five aggregate factors.

  • This is because the nonconceptual shamatha of such aryas is conjoined with a state of vipashyana (lhag-mthong), an exceptionally perceptive state of mind. Such a conjoined state, known as straightforward yogic cognition (rnal-‘byor mngon-sum tshad-ma), lacks nondetermining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa).

The Status of the “Result, Which Is Presently Happening” at the Time of the Karmic Tendency

At the time of the karmic tendency – equivalent to the time of the “not-yet-happening of the result” – the “result of that karmic tendency, which is presently happening,” is an existent, invalid affirmation phenomenon.

As we have seen, there is no common locus of a “not-yet-happening of a result,” a “present-happening of a result,” and a “no-longer-happening of a result.” Thus, it is not the case that, through some sort of change of function, for instance, that a common-locus result somehow travels from “the past” into “the present.”

Thus, although the “result of a karmic tendency, which is presently happening,” is existent, but not validly knowable at the time of that karmic tendency, Gelug Prasangika asserts that its existence is not truly established from its own side – either at that time or at any other time. In other words, it does not truly exist. If it did, then it would already be occurring and would not need to arise.

By the same line of reasoning, it is not the case that an unmanifest “result of a karmic tendency, which is presently happening” exists, somehow, inside or in some way associated with that karmic tendency, the “not-yet-happening of that result,” or the “absence of the ‘presently-happening result’” and then becomes a manifest “presently-happening result.”

On the other hand, if the “result of a karmic tendency, which is presently happening” were truly nonexistent at the time of that karmic tendency, then it could never arise.

Nor is it the case that the “not-yet-happening of the result” is the obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) that transforms into the “result, which is presently happening” and, in doing so, perishes. Neither does the “result, which is presently happening” arise from no cause at all.

The obtaining cause for the affirmation phenomenon the “result of a karmic tendency, which is presently happening” is the affirmation phenomenon the karmic tendency for that result, which is temporarily not giving rise to its result. Like a seed giving rise to a sprout and, in so doing, ceases to exist, similarly the “karmic tendency for that result, which is temporarily not giving rise to its result” gives rise to the “result, which is presently happening” and, in so doing, perishes.

The Status of the “Result, Which Is Not Yet Happening” at the Time of the Karmic Tendency

At the time of the karmic tendency for a result – equivalent to the time of the “not-yet-happening of the result” – the “result, which has not yet happened” is an existent, valid, affirmation phenomenon, which means that it can be validly cognized now. However, it is not happening now. In other words, the “result, which has not yet happened” is not a “result, which is presently happening.” In fact, as we have seen, a “result, which is presently happening,” as an existent, invalid phenomenon, cannot have a common locus with an existent, valid phenomenon.

Similarly, at the time of the karmic tendency for a result – equivalent to the time of the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” – the “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” is also an existent, valid, affirmation phenomenon. It too can be validly cognized now, although it too is not happening now.

Valid Cognition of a “Result, Which Is Not Yet Happening”

How would we validly cognize a “result, which has not yet happened” at the time of the “present-happening of the karmic tendency for that result” and what type of phenomenon would we actually be cognizing when we cognized it? Let us limit our discussion to forms of physical phenomena, such as the physical form of the action of our being hit on the head with a clay pot and the physical sensation of being hit with it.

In the case of a “result, which has not yet happened” being a form of physical phenomenon, such a result is one of the five types of forms of physical phenomena included only among the cognitive stimulators that are all phenomena (chos-kyi skye-mched-pa’i gzugs). Such forms of physical phenomena can only be validly cognized nonconceptually by mental cognition, and not by sensory cognition. Specifically, such type of “result, which is not yet happening” is a totally imaginary form (kun-brtags-pa’i gzugs).

  • Totally imaginary forms also include dream forms (rmi-lam-gyi gzugs), cognized nonconceptually by mental cognition, as well as the forms of Buddha-figures that appear in visualization practices, either with conceptual or nonconceptual mental cognition. In Western terminology, the latter are known as “objects of the imagination.”

[See: The Aggregate of Forms of Physical Phenomena.]

Some limited beings, before attaining Buddhahood, are able to validly cognize certain “results, which are not yet happening” as a feature of their rebirth state or as an aftermath of strong imprints from attainments gained from meditation done in former lives.

  • Celestial beings (gods), for instance, close to death, are able to cognize the bodies of their next rebirth states.

  • Bardo beings – those in between rebirths – are able to cognize themselves in the bodily form of their next rebirth state when they will be eight years old.

For most, however, the totally imaginary forms of “results, which are not yet happening” can be validly cognized only on the basis of advanced awareness gained from achieving an actual state of the first level of mental stability through meditation done in this lifetime.

  • Thus, with the attainment of the advanced awareness of the divine eye (lha’i mig-gi mngon-shes), we can nonconceptually mentally cognize, for instance, the form of our physical bodies in rebirths that have not yet happened.

Mental cognition of a “result, which is not yet happening,” whether conceptual or nonconceptual, is similar to mental cognition of a Buddha-figure, such as Manjushri, when visualizing a person before us as a Buddha-figure. When visualizing someone as Manjushri, the colored shapes of the person’s body appear to and are cognized by our visual cognition. Simultaneously, the colored shapes of Manjushri’s body appear to and are cognized by our mental cognition. Likewise, when cognizing, on the basis of someone’s mental continuum, a “result, which is not yet happening,” the colored shapes of the persons’ body, as well as their mere “me” labeled on them, appear to and are cognized by our visual cognition. Simultaneously, the colored shapes of the “result, which is not yet happening” appear to and are cognized by our mental cognition.

Thus, as an arya, when we validly cognized a “result, which is not yet happening” when focusing on our “presently-happening five aggregate factors,” we would also be validly cognizing:

  • the karmic tendency for this result,

  • its “temporarily not-giving-rise to its result,”

  • its “ability to give rise to this result, which is not yet happening,”

  • the “not-yet-happening of this result,”

  • the absence of the “presently-happening result” of this karmic tendency.

Note that we are not cognizing in this example the “result, which is not yet happening” of the “presently-happening five aggregate factors.” We are cognizing the “result, which is not yet happening” of a “presently-happening karmic tendency, which has arisen from a no-longer-happening karmic cause.”

Valid Cognition of a “Karmic Cause, Which Is No Longer Happening”

Valid cognition of a “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” at the time of the “karmic tendency for the result of that karmic cause” is similar to valid cognition of the “result of the karmic tendency, which is not yet happening” also at that time. We would cognize the “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” as a totally imaginary phenomenon.

  • Note that a karmic result is not just the result of a karmic tendency; it is also the result of a karmic cause.

As an arya, we can validly cognize a “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” with the advanced awareness of subsequent mindfulness of previous situations (sngon-gyi gnas rjes-su dran-pa’i mngon-shes). Such advanced awareness enables us to cognize, for example, validly and nonconceptually, the forms of our bodies in lifetimes that are no longer happening, and the activities done then, in that form, which are no longer happening.

When we were validly cognizing, in this manner, a “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” when focusing on our “presently-happening five aggregate factors,” we would also be validly cognizing:

  • the karmic tendency for the result of that karmic cause,

  • the “no-longer-happening of this karmic cause,”

  • the absence of the “presently-happening karmic cause” that gave rise to this karmic tendency.

Note that we are not cognizing in this example the “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” of the “presently-happening five aggregate factors.” We are cognizing the “karmic cause, which is no longer happening” of a “presently-happening karmic tendency, which has arisen from a no-longer-happening karmic cause.”

Summary of the Analysis

Thus, at the time of the “karmic tendency, which is presently happening,” if, as an arya bodhisattva, we were validly cognizing that karmic tendency, we would also be validly cognizing the mere “me” on which that karmic tendency was imputable and a moment of the five aggregates on which that mere “me” was imputable.

  • In other words, when we see the colored shapes of someone’s body sitting on a chair, we also see the “person” imputed on those colored shapes and on that body. We also “see” at the same time that this person has this karmic tendency.

In validly cognizing that moment of five aggregates, we could also validly cognize the “absence of the presently-happening result on the mental continuum” and the “absence of the presently-happening karmic cause on the mental continuum.”

  • In validly cognizing, at the same time, the “temporarily not-giving-rise to its result” facet of the karmic tendency, we would be validly cognizing the “not-yet-happening of the result” imputable on it.

  • In validly cognizing the karmic tendency, we would also be cognizing a basis that indicates the “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause.” Thus, we could also validly cognize this “no-longer-happening of the karmic cause” at that time, validly imputable on the basis of the mere “me” validly imputable on the five aggregates.

Thus, in validly cognizing the “present-happening of the karmic tendency,” the “not-yet-happening of its result,” and the “no-longer-happening of its karmic cause,” we would be simultaneously cognizing the three times.

  • Simultaneous valid cognition of the three times does not mean simultaneous valid cognition of the “present-happening of the karmic tendency,” the “present-happening of its result,” and the “present-happening of its karmic cause.”

While our visual consciousness was validly cognizing all the above phenomena, our mental consciousness could be validly cognizing, with advanced awareness, the “karmic cause of this tendency, which is no longer happening” and the “result of this karmic cause and tendency, which is not yet happening.” They would appear as totally imaginary phenomena.

  • Simultaneous valid cognition of the objects of the three times does not mean simultaneous valid cognition of a “karmic tendency, which is presently happening,” its “result, which is presently happening,” and its “karmic cause, which is presently happening.”

  • It means simultaneous valid cognition of a “karmic tendency, which is presently happening,” its “karmic result, which is not yet happening,” and its “karmic cause, which is no longer happening.”

Diagram of What Is Cognized When Cognizing the Three Times

Manifest

Network of presently-happening five aggregate factors
Manifest
Karmic cause, which is no longer happening (imaginary form)

Karmic result, which is not yet happening
(imaginary form)

Imputable on the presently- happening network of five aggregate factors

Presently-happening mental continuum
Imputable on the presently- happening mental continuum
No-longer-
happening of the karmic cause

Absence of the presently-

happening karmic cause = Basis for negation of the no-longer- happening karmic cause

Presently-happening
mere “me”

Absence of the presently-

happening karmic result = Basis for negation of the not-yet- happening karmic result

Imputable on the presently- happening mere "me"    
Presently-happening karmic
tendency for the result
 
Facets of the presently- happening karmic tendency for the result     Temporarily not-giving-rise to its result Ability to give rise to its result, which is not yet happening  
Imputable on the presently- happening karmic tendency's facet of temporarily not-giving-rise to its result     Not-yet- happening of its result