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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 5: Analysis of the Mind and Reality > Disturbing Emotions during Nonconceptual Sensory Cognition

Disturbing Emotions during Nonconceptual Sensory Cognition

Alexander Berzin, August 2010
Based on explanations by Geshe Tenzin-zangpo and Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche II

There are three causes necessary for a disturbing emotion to arise (nyon-rmongs skye-ba’i rgyu gsum):

  • incorrect consideration (tshul-min yid-byed)
  • close proximity of the object
  • not having rid ourselves of disturbing emotions and their tendencies (sa-bon).

Consider longing desire for a specific woman. We need first of all to have met or at least seen this woman, if not in person, then in a photo. We do not need to be in close proximity with her every time we develop longing desire for her, but the first time we develop that desire, we need to have had this contact with her at least a moment beforehand. In addition, we need still not to have rid ourselves of longing desire and its tendencies. We would only have rid ourselves of longing desire and its tendencies if we had already attained liberation as an arhat. Thirdly, on the basis of these first two causal criteria having been met, we then regard the woman with one or more of the four types of incorrect consideration:

  • considering what is unclean as clean,
  • considering what is suffering to be happiness,
  • considering what is nonstatic to be static,
  • considering what lacks a truly existent self to have a truly existent self.

On the basis of our incorrect consideration, we then experience the longing desire that we must have her.

[See: Incorrect Consideration and Voidness.]

If a cognition contains the mental factor of incorrect consideration, it is pervasive that it is a conceptual cognition. In other words, with incorrect consideration, our conceptual mental cognition cognizes a quality of an object, such as its being unclean, mixed with the category of “ clean,” and takes that quality of being unclean to be the quality of being clean. Thus, incorrect consideration takes its object in an inverted manner (phyin-ci-log-tu ‘dzin-pa) – in a manner that is opposite to the way it actually is.

Disturbing emotions occur not only in conceptual cognitions, which are always mental cognition, but also in nonconceptual sensory and mental cognition. Consider the case of the longing desire that accompanies the nonconceptual visual cognition of seeing a specific woman, whom we have encountered before, when we have not yet rid ourselves of longing desire. Two questions arise.

  • Because longing desire accompanies the visual cognition, does incorrect consideration of the woman also accompany this visual cognition?
  • Does the visual cognition take its object, the physical form of the woman and the woman herself, in an inverted manner?

This is rather complicated. The visual cognition with longing desire is the fourth step in a sequence. First, we need to see the woman, which would be without any accompanying incorrect consideration or longing desire. Then we would have conceptual mental cognition of her accompanied by incorrect consideration. This would be followed by conceptual mental cognition of her with continuing incorrect consideration and now with longing desire. Only after that would we continue to have longing desire while seeing her.

In this example, the longing desire in both the conceptual and nonconceptual cognitions have all three causes complete for a disturbing emotion to arise. Each is preceded by having encountered the object of desire before, by not having rid ourselves of longing desire, and by incorrect consideration.

As for whether this visual cognition of the woman with longing desire also has incorrect consideration, it does in the sense that the longing desire that accompanies the visual cognition is a basis having the characteristic mark (mtshan-gzhi) of an incorrect consideration. In other words, this longing desire has the characteristic mark not only of longing desire, but also the characteristic mark of the incorrect consideration that accompanied the conceptual cognition with longing desire that immediately preceded this visual cognition.

Validly knowable phenomena can have characteristic marks or defining characteristics of more than one thing. For example, a karmic tendency (sa-bon). A karmic tendency for a result is a type of aftermath of a karmic action; it is imputed on our mental continuum after we have completed committing a karmic action. That karmic tendency has a “facet of temporarily not giving rise to its result” (re-zhig-gis ma-skye-pa’i cha) and that facet is the “not-yet-happening (ma-‘ ong-pa) of the result,” Thus, the basis for labeling the “not-yet-happening of the result” is a facet or, literally, a part (cha) of the karmic tendency for that result. Therefore, one facet of the karmic tendency has the defining characteristics for labeling a karmic tendency and one facet with the defining characteristics for labeling a not-yet-happening of the result. In this sense, the karmic tendency is a basis having the characteristic marks of two phenomena: a karmic tendency and a not-yet-happening of a result.

[See: What Does a Buddha Know in Knowing the Past, Present, and Future, Part Three.]

In a similar fashion, one facet of the longing desire that accompanies our nonconceptual visual cognition has the defining characteristics of longing desire and one facet has the defining characteristics of a no-longer-happening incorrect consideration. Thus, the longing desire is a basis having the characteristic marks of both longing desire and no-longer-happening incorrect consideration. Note, however, that according to Gelug Prasangika, the defining characteristic marks are established by mere mental labeling alone. They cannot be found on the side of this mental factor that accompanies the nonconceptual sensory cognition. Moreoever, these characteric marks do not establish the existence of this mental factor as either longing desire or as incorrect consideration.

Because the nonconceptual visual cognition is accompanied by a longing desire that is a basis having the characteristic mark of a previous moment of incorrect consideration, we can say that the nonconceptual visual cognition has incorrect consideration. However, unlike the longing desire in the visual cognition, which shares five congruent features (mtshungs-ldan lnga) in common with the eye consciousness it accompanies, the incorrect consideration does not share five congruent features in common with the eye consciousness. This is because the incorrect consideration and the eye consciousness do not share the same time: the incorrect consideration happened during the preceding moment, which was a moment of conceptual mental cognition.

[See: Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables.]

Thus, the incorrect consideration that the visual cognition has is not an incorrect consideration that could count as one of the three causes necessary for a disturbing emotion to arise. For an incorrect consideration to be the type of incorrect consideration that counts as one of these three causes, it has to be a presently-happening moment of conceptual cognition that was happening in a previous moment of cognition.

The incorrect consideration in the nonconceptual visual cognition is a no-longer-happening incorrect consideration. It is not a presently-happening moment of incorrect consideration. Only presently-happening incorrect consideration takes its object in an inverted manner; no-longer-happening incorrect consideration does not presently take its object in an inverted manner. Therefore, although the visual cognition that is accompanied by longing desire has incorrect consideration, the visual cognition does not take its object in an inverted manner. Thus, the visual cognition of this specific woman accompanied by longing desire is not a deceptive cognition (‘ khrul-shes) of the woman. It is valid in terms of what appears to it, namely the physical form of a woman.