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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 5: Analysis of the Mind and Reality > Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables

Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables

Alexander Berzin
January 2001
revised September 2002 and July 2006

[As background for this discussion, see: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregate Factors of Experience .]

The Aggregate of Other Affecting Variables

Among the five aggregate factors (phung-po, Skt. skandha) that compose each of moment of cognition, the aggregate of other affecting variables (‘ du-byed-kyi phung-po, Skt. samskaraskandha, aggregate of karmic formations, aggregate of volitions) contains two types of affecting variables:

  1. congruent affecting variables (ldan-pa’i ‘du-byed),

  2. noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed).

Congruent affecting variables share five congruent features (mtshungs-ldan lnga, five things in common) with the primary consciousness (rnam-shes) during that moment of cognition. They are only congruent with that primary consciousness in terms of these five variables, but not congruent in all ways. They are not identical with the primary consciousness that they accompany.

The noncongruent affecting variables in this aggregate accompany the cognition, affect the experience, but do not share five congruent features with the primary consciousness of the cognition.

Five Congruent Features According to Vaibhashika

According to the Vaibhashika view of Vasubandhu’s A Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha), as explained by the seventeenth-century Gelug master Yeshey-gyeltsen (Kha-chen Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan) in Clearly Indicating the Manner of Primary and Subsidiary Awarenesses (Sems-dang sems-byung-gi tshul gsal-bar bstan-pa), the five congruent features are:

  1. reliance (rten) – relying on the same cognitive sensor (dbang-po) as the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) for their arising,

  2. object (yul) – cognitively aiming at the same focal object (dmigs-yul) as the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen, objective condition) for their arising,

  3. mental aspect (rnam-pa) – giving rise to the same cognitive semblance of the focal object as the aspect of the focal object cast on them and which they assume or take on,

  4. time (dus) – arising, abiding, and ceasing simultaneously,

  5. natal source (rdzas, natal substance) – although coming from their own individual natal sources – referring to individual karmic tendencies (sa-bon, karmic seeds, karmic legacies) – coming from natal sources that have the same slant (ris-mthun). Thus, they work harmoniously together without clashing, for instance within the structure of a single belief (dad-pa) or intention (‘ dun-pa).

Five Congruent Features According to Chittamatra

According to the Chittamatra view of Asanga’s An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), as explained by Yeshey-gyeltsen, the five congruent features are:

  1. natal source (rdzas) – the congruent affecting variables that accompany a primary consciousness all arising from a single natal source (a single karmic tendency) having the same slant as that of the primary consciousness, and not from several different natal sources with the same slant.

  2. focal aspect (dmigs-rnam) – since Chittamatra does not accept that cognition arises from a focal condition or that it has an actual focal object, this congruent feature refers to assuming the same cognitive aspect as what they cognitively aim at,

  3. essential nature (ngo-bo) – meaning the type of phenomenon they are as ways of cognizing something; namely, destructive, constructive, or unspecified,

  4. time (dus) – arising, abiding, and ceasing simultaneously,

  5. plane (khams, realm) and bhumi-level of mind (sa, Skt. bhumi) – being items within the same plane of samsaric existence or within the same bhumi-level of mind of an arya bodhisattva. There are three planes of samsaric existence: the plane of desirable forms of physical phenomena (‘dod-khams, desire realm), the plane of subtle forms of physical phenomena (gzugs-khams, form realm), and the plane lacking gross or subtle forms of physical phenomena (gzugs-med khams, formless realm). There are ten bhumi-levels of mind of arya bodhisattvas (those with nonconceptual cognition of voidness), spanning the seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam, path of seeing) and the accustoming pathway mind (sgom-lam, path of meditation).

Congruent Affecting Variables

The congruent affecting variables consist of all types of subsidiary awareness of an object (sems-byung, mental factor, secondary mind) other than feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba) and distinguishing (‘ du-shes, recognition). Although the latter two types of subsidiary awareness share five congruent features with the primary consciousness that they accompany, they constitute their own individual aggregate factors.

Noncongruent Affecting Variables

Noncongruent affecting variables are nonstatic (impermanent) phenomena that are neither forms of physical phenomena (gzugs) nor ways of being aware of something (shes-pa). Imputed on a mental continuum, they produce effects on that continuum. Examples include legacies (seeds, tendencies) of previous actions and of disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs), habits (bag-chags), and the conventional “me” (nga).