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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 5: Analysis of the Mind and Reality > The Nature of Mental Appearances: Gelug Explanation > Session Two: Deceptive Appearances According to Sautrantika

The Nature of Mental Appearances: Gelug Explanation

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, June 2008

Session Two: Deceptive Appearances According to Sautrantika

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:47 hours)

Review

We’ve been speaking about appearances and how the mind is involved with that. And we’ve seen that when we speak about appearances, we’re speaking about something that appears to the mind and has a deep relationship with mind. And when we speak about mind, we’re speaking about mental activity and not the actual thing that does it.

What is mental activity? Mental activity is defined with three terms. The first is clarity, which means giving rise to cognitive appearances. These are the appearances that we’ve been talking about, that we’ve been describing as something similar to a mental hologram. And not only that, but another way of describing the process is a cognitive engagement with these holograms. So it’s not just like a mirror giving rise to images. And these are just two ways of describing the same event. And the word “merely” is added here to indicate that there’s no separate me which is making it happen or standing apart from this and observing it.

One point that we need to understand here is that when we speak about this type of mental activity, there’s nothing wrong with it. Giving rise to appearances, to these mental holograms, is what an ordinary mind does; it’s what a mind that has a correct understanding, nonconceptually, of voidness does; it’s what a Buddha’s mind does. There’s nothing wrong with this process.

Deceptive Appearances of What Something Is and of How It Exists

When we speak about appearances, yesterday we introduced the point that there’s an appearance of what something is and an appearance of how it exists. Although these are mixed together, we can deal with the validity of each separately. This is associated with the fact that when we speak about mental activity, there’s the mental activity giving rise to the conventional or relative truth of things, and the aspect of the mind giving rise to the deepest truth about things – deepest truth referring to how it exists. This is how it’s explained from the point of view of the Gelug interpretation of Prasangika.

So, when we speak about the conventional appearance of what something is, that can either be accurate or distorted. And so, of course, that we have to understand and realize, recognize: whether what appears to me that something is, like “You’re a monster,” whether that’s accurate or not accurate. And then, when we refer to the appearance of how something exists, then also that can either be correct how things exist, but for all of us, except a Buddha, the mind gives rise to a deceptive appearance (‘khrul-snang) of how things exist. Also, when we focus nonconceptually on voidness, at that time as well there’s no mental activity giving rise to a false way in which things exist.

There are two stages that we need to understanding with regard to a deceptive appearance of how things exist. The first would be that there is this deceptive appearance and we believe that it corresponds to reality. If we believe that it corresponds to reality, that “You exist from your own side permanently as an idiot or a monster,” for example, then on that basis we develop disturbing emotions, like anger. If we stop believing in these deceptive appearances of how things exist, then there’s no longer the arising of disturbing emotions. We become a liberated being, it’s called an arhat.

But still there are these appearances arising of impossible ways in which things exist. The point is that we don’t believe that they refer to anything real and so we’re not fooled by them. So, for example, this person trying to pass me on the road beeping their horn wildly appears to me to exist from their own side forever as an idiot, but I know that that’s ridiculous, that’s just the way my mind is making things appear and I don’t get angry.

But to become a Buddha, what we need to do is to stop forever the mind giving rise to this deceptive appearance of how things exist. Because when our mind gives rise to an impossible way of things existing, then, for instance, it gives rise to things appearing as if they existed isolated just by themselves, to use a simple example. And so we are not able to perceive, for example, if I teach something to someone, then what will be all the effects of that from now forever, not only on this person, but on everybody that this person interacts with. And when I perceive somebody having a certain state of mind and a certain level of disturbances, it appears to exist just isolated by itself, without all the other causes and conditions that brought this about with no beginning.

If we really want to be able to benefit others as best as is possible, we have to get the mind to stop producing appearances as if things were encoated in plastic, just existing by themselves, so that we can see the interconnectedness of everything; and the most relevant point of that is in terms of cause and effect. So, as a Buddha, the omniscient mind of a Buddha gives rise to appearances and these are known as “pure appearances” (dag-snang), which are not only accurate in terms of what things are, but they are also accurate in terms of how things exist.

Objective Entities

We started to look at the analysis, a presentation of these mental aspects or mental holograms or appearances in terms of the different Indian philosophical schools as explained by the Gelug tradition of Tibet. We started with the Sautrantikas. Now, in terms of Sautantrika, Sautantrika asserts that there are two types of phenomena, what’s called objective entities (rang-mtshan) and metaphysical entities (spyi-mtshan). Objective entities would be things like external objects and, to speak in very general terms, they are objectively real, without getting into all the technical jargon of how they exist.

So, we can speak of forms of physical phenomena, we can speak about ways of being aware of something, like seeing, thinking, happiness, anger, etc., and we can also think about what is known as noncongruent affecting variables, which are basically things that are objectively true and which change from moment to moment, like forms of physical phenomena or ways of being aware, but are in neither of those two categories. And they’re noncongruent in the sense that they don’t share certain qualities together with the cognition in which one is aware of them.

Noncongruent affecting variable, this is a very difficult term. There are two parts to it in Tibetan, denmin and duchey (ldan-min ‘du-byed). Duchey means something which affects other things. Let me talk about examples, so that we know what we’re talking about, things like motion or aging or a person. Motion moves things from one place to another, it affects things. Aging affects a body. A person can drink a glass of water, a person can hurt us, can help us, so they affect what we experience. But they’re not a form of physical phenomenon. It doesn’t have a color and a shape and these things. And it is not like ways of being aware of something, which when they occur together in one moment of cognition, they are congruent with each other.

Congruent (mtshungs-ldan) means that they share five characteristics with each other. This Tibetan word denmin means it doesn’t possess. What doesn’t it posses? It doesn’t possess these five features of congruence. When we talk about a cognition in which there is seeing and there’s also a feeling of happiness and there’s also attention and interest and attachment – I’m just giving any examples of things that go together including the disturbing emotions, the positive emotions. All of them, for instance, are congruent, meaning that they all are aimed at the same object, they occur at the same time, etc. What is relevant here in our discussion is that they all give rise to one appearance – appearance is something that arises; don’t think of appearance as just visual.

The Content of a Mental Hologram

So this becomes an interesting question: when we have a moment of experience, there’s an appearance, there’s something that arises, some sort of mental hologram. So, what is the content of this mental hologram? Yesterday we spoke just in terms of, for instance, if it’s seeing something, like seeing a human being, a body of a human being, or the body of a dog, there is colored shapes and also the conventional object of – yesterday we were saying “a dog,” but actually let’s get a little bit more precise – a body. Now, is there a separate hologram or not? Is it part of the same hologram in which there is also the arising, not just in terms of seeing this thing, but also feeling unhappy and fear and attention? When we’re talking about appearance, we’re talking about the arising of these things as well. Or is it all part of one hologram?

Although we can mentally differentiate between all these factors and all these aspects within a mental hologram, in fact what we’re talking about is one hologram, one mental event. Remember, we mentioned a little bit briefly at the end yesterday, there’s also the same thing when you see a whole visual field. Is it all together in one mental event or are there little mental events of each colored shape putting it together or these sort of things? This is a very interesting point.

So, when we speak about this mental hologram, then we have to discuss the different aspects of it. The content has two aspects: one is an object of awareness and one is the awareness aspect.

Translator: [inaudible]

Right, I think we need to avoid words like “subject” here, because subject sounds like we’re talking about the person who is perceiving this. Let’s not get into that complication. We’re just talking about the mental thing, the awareness of something.

So, we were speaking about natal sources, like an oven for a loaf of bread. According to Sautantrika, the object that appears in the mental hologram, let’s say the colored shapes and the conventional object, a body, its natal source is from the external objective entity, an actual body, an actual dog, and so on, that exists in the moment before you perceive it. And the cognitive part of this hologram, the awareness parts, with the seeing and the happiness and the unhappiness and the anger and the fear and so on, all of that is coming from a natal source in terms of the mental continuum. So, that would be what’s known as a “karmic seed” or a “tendency” (sa-bon) – so a tendency for anger, a tendency for seeing dogs as opposed to a tendency of seeing dinosaurs.

Now, then there’s two points of view. From the Abhidharmakosha, one Indian text which is what the Sautantrikas accept, it says that all the factors and the primary consciousness – seeing and so on – in one cognition, one moment, come from different karmic tendencies, but they come together and form one coherent appearance, because obviously we could see this animal without fear. But Abhidharmasamucchaya, the other main Abhidharma text which is followed by the Chittamatras that we’ll discuss a little bit later, they say that the whole mental event comes out of one karmic tendency, one karmic seed, because it’s a coherent event.

These are very relevant points; they’re not just abstract philosophy, because in one moment we are experiencing something. We’re experiencing not just the appearance of some object, but we’re also experiencing all sorts of ways of being aware of something. And if we know what is the natal source of them, then we can try to work on: Is there any problem with seeing a dog? No, there’s no problem in seeing a dog. Is there a problem with the appearance of the dog? Well, not in terms of what it is, maybe in terms of how it exists, as “this monster that is going to attack me.” That may be accurate, that may not be accurate. So we have to check these things. Are we projecting “All dogs bite,” or what’s the appearance here? And then of course how dogs exist and so on, how this dog exists, that’s another aspect of what’s appearing. And then of course there are the aspects of fear and attention and so on. And so what is it that we would want to work on in order to be able to experience seeing this animal without any problem? So the analysis helps us to locate where the various problem areas are in our moment-to-moment experience of appearances.

Imputably Knowable Phenomena

Now, our discussion came from the analysis of noncongruent affecting variables. And so, for instance, when we talk about motion or we talk about a person, they are not like a way of being aware of something; it’s not that they are coming out of some karmic seed; it’s not that they are focusing on the same object as everything else in that moment of cognition. A person or motion isn’t coming from the same natal source as the seeing and the fear. A person – we also mean like an individual limited being, so the dog is also a person in that sense, it’s an individual sentient being or a limited being. So, in a sense, the natal source is from this external object, the natal source of the motion or of the individual being. Those are objective entities. But, unlike a form of physical phenomenon, it doesn’t have a shape and color and so on, or a smell etc. The body has a shape and color, the body has a smell, but not the motion of the body. So these factors, like motion and an individual being, are what is known as imputably knowable (btags-yod).

They are imputably knowable, it’s the same word [btags] as “to label, to designate.” What this means is that the mind – this is just an easy way of saying it – there has to be the arising of another mental hologram first, prior to the cognition of this thing. In other words, there has to be a mental hologram of something else that’s arising the moment immediately before and also at the same time as the hologram of this. In other words, first there has to be a hologram of a body right here in this spot and then the next moment there’s a hologram of a body two centimeters away from it and on the basis of that we can impute motion and see motion. So there has to be something right before and then something after that is still appearing and you impute on it motion. Or first there’s a body and then together with the body a being, an individual being, a person.

How do you see motion? We do see motion; motion does objectively exist. But this is different from what’s known as self-sufficiently knowable phenomena (rdzas-yod). Self-sufficiently means there doesn’t have to be a hologram of something different the moment before and at the same time in order to perceive it, like a body. We see the colored shapes and the body, cause we see a conventional object, the body, and we don’t have to perceive something before in order to be able to perceive it. It’s self-sufficiently knowable.

[See: The Distinction between Self-Sufficiently Knowable and Imputedly Knowable Phenomena.]

Now we can ask the question, what about the relationship between perceiving the whole and the parts? Perceiving the whole, is that something which is imputably knowable or is it self-sufficiently knowable? Do you have to see the parts first and then the next moment you see the whole? No, from the Buddhist analysis you see the part and the whole simultaneously and therefore it’s not imputably knowable. “Imputably knowable” means that you have to have seen the parts first and then seen the parts and the whole together.

The same thing in terms of seeing some basis for qualities and the qualities. Here we’re talking about an object and its colored shapes, the sight of the object. It’s not that you have to see the object first and then you see the colored shape of the object or that you see the colored shape and then you see the conventional object. Or the defining characteristics: it’s not that you see first the defining characteristics of this animal and then the next moment you figure out it’s a dog. You see the defining characteristics and the dog at the same time. Now, you might not know that it’s a dog. That’s something else, but still you see the dog at the same time you see the defining characteristics of the dog.

Just one more point before we have our break. When we talk about nonconceptual cognition, sense cognition – seeing or smelling or hearing etc. – there is a mental hologram, so we perceive it or see it through a mental hologram, which is a mental representation. And that mental hologram is something which will change from moment to moment, it’s nonstatic, although it’s not an external object, nobody else can see it.

Translator: No one?

Well, then... let’s not get into that, because then there’s extrasensory perception and so on, but in any case it’s not exactly like an external phenomenon. And its natal source, of the object aspect of it, is from an objective entity existing externally the moment before cognition. And, according to Gelug explanation, the mental hologram is fully transparent, so through it we actually see the external object. So we see both, basically we see the mental aspect, the hologram and that animal in front of us. And we see as objective entities not only colored shapes, we actually see an object, a thing, and it’s an animal and the thing that we see is not just a body, but we can also see the motion of the body and we can also see that it is a living being, an individual living being, not just a picture of a dog that somebody is moving.

[tea break]

The Conventional Identity of Things

One more thing that needs to be added about commonsense objects, or they’re also called conventional objects of experience. Remember we were speaking about them as objects that extend over all the sense information and also endure over time, not just one microinstant. But there’s more that we need to understand about them. When we say “endures from moment to moment,” that doesn’t mean that it’s static. Of course it changes from moment to moment. Nevertheless it is something which – this is part of the definition – holds its own individual essential nature. That means that it holds its own individual conventional identity as this and not that; and it’s distinguishable from other individual items, in other words, it retains its individuality as a thing, even though it is a continuity of everchanging moments.

And when we talk about holding its own individual conventional identity as this and not that, we have to add, that is established as valid in relation to certain groups of beings. For instance, we have this classic example of a glass with liquid. It holds the identity of water for human beings, of nectar for the gods, and pus for the ghosts. So it holds its individual identity as this and not that in relation to a specific group and it’s valid as water, pus, or nectar for that group. So it’s relative. It is validly each of these things.

But because we’re talking in terms of the Sautantrika school here, one of the defining characteristics of an objective entity is that it has to perform a function, a function which is related to what it is. So for instance, if I see this dog and I think that it’s a door, even if I have a group of people that agree with me that it’s a door, this dog cannot function as a door. However, this liquid does function as nectar or pus or water to either the gods or the ghosts or the humans. So you have to watch out not to think of this in terms of water which is pus for the ghosts. It’s not water which is pus for the ghosts. It is water for humans which functions as pus for ghosts. It’s not that it is, “Well, what is it really? It’s really water.” It’s not that. It is equally valid, each of these. So from a Sautantrika point of view, what they would say is that it has its individual identity as an item, as a thing, but then its nature as water, pus, or nectar is something else, it’s another type of identity.

I’ll give another example, another example which is a very, very important example. When we think about a person and we think about future lives or past lives, “It’s really Alex and in his last life Alex was Napoleon and in the next life Alex will be Fifi the poodle.” So it’s not that it’s truly one identity as Alex, which is in the last life this, in a next life that. But it is a person, an individual being, and that individual being one lifetime is Napoleon, one lifetime is Alex, one lifetime is the poodle, one lifetime is... whatever. From a Sautantrika [point of view] it’s just a person, as a thing, as an objective entity, which in one lifetime is this and one lifetime is that. It’s not that one identity is what it truly is, that it’s truly Alex and I’m going to be reborn as the dog or as whatever. That’s a very, very important point when you start to think about rebirth.

So, a commonsense object retains its individuality, its individual conventional identity as some item, over time. And another part of the definition is that it is an object of ordinary experience to which conventions of words and concepts refer. It’s what words or conventions or concepts refer to, what concepts refer to is a commonsense object. Remember? We said that it holds its individual identity as this and not that. So we have the words “this and not that,” and it’s what those words refer to.

Metaphysical Entities

Now we’re ready for conceptual cognition. When we get into words and conventions and concepts, now we enter into the realm of conceptual cognition. OK, let’s just stick with Gelugpa here. When we talk about conceptual cognition, what it involves is metaphysical entities. Remember, we said Sautantrika divides what exists – what exists is what can be validly known – divides it into objective entities and metaphysical entities. So, the objective entities are things which are nonstatic, which means it changes from moment to moment, affected by causes and conditions and affects other things.

And remember, we had forms of physical phenomena and ways of being aware and these affecting variables that are neither of these two, these noncongruent affecting variables. They change from moment to moment, most of them endure, have a continuity, a continuum. Most of them, not all. An instant doesn’t have continuity. And they perform a function, they do something. That’s what it means to affect something else, they do something.

When we talk about metaphysical entities, we are talking about things which can be validly known, but they are static, which means that they aren’t affected by anything, they don’t affect anything else. They don’t change and they don’t do anything. So, there is of course a list of these things, but the ones which are relevant to conceptual cognition are categories (spyi). So the ones which are relevant to our discussion here are what I translate as categories. These are often translated as “universals” or “generalities,” but I find those not such helpful terms because they bring in many Western associations from Western philosophy, which are irrelevant.

We have two types of categories. One is an audio category (sgra-spyi) and one is a meaning/object category (don-spyi). What is an audio category? That is a category derived from sounds. Think about this in terms a word like “dog.” Different people can say the word “dog.” They can say it more loudly or softly, in a male voice, in a female voice, with all sorts of different pronunciations. But no matter who says it, in what kind of voice, it could even be a computer voice, we have the audio category of “they’re saying the word dog.” There is a category here that all of this is the same word. So there’s a category that is derived from all different sounds, ways of pronouncing something, consonants and vowels. It’s really quite amazing; otherwise how in the world would we know that two people with different voices are saying the same word? They are different sounds after all, aren’t they?

Then there is a meaning category or object category, which is what this audio category is referring to, its meaning or the objects that it’s referring to. There are many animals, and from all these various animals, we derive a category of “dog.” And we have made a convention that these sounds, which are just totally arbitrary meaningless sounds from their own side, in English d-o-g, in Russian so-ba-ka, these are totally meaningless sounds and some cavemen, or something like that, primitive people came together and decided that this set of sounds is going to have a certain meaning.

It’s really very far out, actually, very weird if you think about it, how arbitrary sounds came to have significance, that they refer to something. So we have audio categories from all the different cave people making grunts or whatever and people deciding that all of that fits into an audio category and it’s going to have a meaning category referring to all these animals, that we’re going to derive from that category “dog.” This is what we’re talking about when we speak about conventions. It is something which is mentally created by one person or a group of people. Language is the best example. Now, there’s nothing wrong with language, we need it to communicate.

Conceptual Cognition

What is a conceptual cognition? It is a cognition that imputes either an audio category or both an audio and a meaning category onto a hologram, a mental hologram of some objective entity, and it mixes the two together. And it’s a deceptive cognition; not mistaken, it could be accurate. Another synonym for this would be “it’s confused,” it’s a confused cognition. Why is it confused? Because it considers this mixture to be an objective entity existing externally.

Everybody would agree with this definition, not just Sautantrika. I perceive this object, it’s a conventional thing, it’s a thing, encapsulated in plastic, from the Sautantrika point of view. So there’s a mental hologram of a thing, not just colored patches, and now I superimpose on it the audio category of d-o-g and also the meaning, an object. What is it? It is a dog and I think that there’s actually objectively dog out there; whereas in fact there is just an item which is being labeled as a dog, but it could also be a home for worms in its stomach or fleas.

These become very important in terms of conventions, the categories of things like “good,” “bad,” “vicious creature,” these sort of things. Or our example of an individual being and thinking that objectively there is Alex that was always Alex as part of the continuum. It’s not part of the continuum.

Mental Labeling

This process is what is also referred to as mental labeling. And it’s interesting when we... let’s jump ahead a little bit to Prasangika. When it says that, what’s usually translated as, “everything exists by means of mental labeling,” that’s a very, very misleading way of translating, because when you translate it that way it sounds as though mental labeling produces a dog and if you didn’t call it a dog it wouldn’t be a dog. And so if you stopped mental labeling, there would be no such thing as dogs. That’s silly.

What we are speaking about in the entire Buddhist discussion of how things exist is not really talking about how things exist. It’s talking about how do you establish the existence of something. It’s the Tibetan word drub (sgrub), drub is to establish, to prove something. So how do you establish that there is such a thing as dogs?

Some of the non-Prasangika schools will say that from the side of the object there are findable defining characteristics that by their own power make it into a dog. Sautantrika and Chittamatra would say that. Svatantrika would say, “Well, yes, there are these defining characteristics; but it’s in connection with mental labeling that it’s established as a dog.” Prasangika says, “No. How do you establish that there are such things as dogs? Well, the only way to establish it is that it is what the word “dog” refers to on a basis for imputation.”

A Buddha doesn’t have conceptual cognition. When we have nonconceptual cognition, we see things. There’s no mental labeling. Mental labeling is purely conceptual. It is imputing an audio or a meaning category onto a basis, something that appears. But that doesn’t mean that when we see this thing it’s not a dog and only when we see it as a dog it makes it a dog and a Buddha doesn’t see dogs. This is silly.

We see dogs. We see various things. But how do you establish that there is such a thing as a dog? Well, all you can say is that it’s what the word or concept refers to, whether or not you use it, whether or not you label, you superimpose it on something – it doesn’t matter. This is true for a Buddha as well. What establishes that there are such things as dogs for a Buddha? Same thing, mental labeling, that it’s what a word refers to. That’s all that can establish it, even though a Buddha would not mentally label. The mind of a Buddha doesn’t conceptually label things.

Introduction to the Contents of a Conceptual Cognition

But to really understand what’s going on with the conceptual cognition in which we perceive things through categories, we have to analyze much more precisely what actually are the contents of a conceptual appearance, a mental appearance with a hologram in a conceptual cognition when we think “dog.”

Now, we can think “dog” upon seeing this animal and we can also think “dog” without seeing the animal, can’t we? And our cognition of it in that moment can be accompanied by a mental sound of the word or not. You can think “dog” without a mental voice in your head saying “dog.” So although there is an audio category involved here, it doesn’t have to be a mental sound involved. Those are different. I understand that this thing is a dog when I think of it and although I don’t say the word “dog” in my head, there is a category derived from a word and having a meaning.

Static phenomena, metaphysical phenomena, do not have the qualities of these nonstatic phenomena. A category does not have a color and shape; a category doesn’t have a smell; it doesn’t have a sound; it doesn’t have a taste; it doesn’t have a physical sensation. A category is not aware of anything. Right? It’s what I’m translating as “a metaphysical entity,” not a physical. Alright?

So, what actually is going on in a conceptual cognition when we think “dog?” Think of a dog. OK, now how would we analyze what appeared in your mind? How would we analyze this? Maybe, actually, let’s be a little bit like a Buddhist teacher and just stop for a few moments and ask you to try to analyze what actually is appearing in your mind when you think of a dog. Is there a dog that appears? Is it a specific dog? What kind of dog is it that appears? Does the category dog only refer to your mental picture of a dog? What do you think of when you think of a dog? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? So, we will analyze this and think about this over lunch and then we’ll discuss it after.

The Transparency of Mental Holograms

But you have a few questions that you might like to ask. We have time for one or two.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: OK, so he’s asking what do we mean by saying that a mental hologram – in this case we were talking about in nonconceptual sense perception; sense perception is always nonconceptual – although he could imagine that in terms of a visual cognition it’s transparent, what does it mean in terms of the other senses?

For instance, you have a mental hologram of language when you hear, but through that it’s transparent. Transparent, of course, is a word that implies visual, but we don’t really have a word that can cover all the senses. But nevertheless, through that it doesn’t block the external sound.

Now, let me just introduce the way that the non-Gelugpas say. They say that the mental hologram is opaque. Why? Because you only have a mental hologram in sense perception of one moment of sense data, visual data or audio data or whatever. And so when I have a mental hologram of that, that’s the next moment. And so the external object from which this mental hologram comes no longer exists. And so that mental hologram is opaque in the sense that you cannot see or perceive through it that which gave rise to it. We’re just saying that here is a moment of sense data. It only lasts for a moment. That’s the external object. Next moment mental hologram of it. That mental hologram is opaque, you cannot see through it that moment that was before of the external object because now there’s the next moment of sense data, so it is opaque in that sense.

This is why I was saying, the Gelugpa approach implies a closer connection with the external world, because what you are perceiving is a commonsense object that endures over time. So through the hologram – it’s transparent – you’re actually still seeing the commonsense object which has a continuity of moments.

The example that comes to my mind – I haven’t analyzed it thoroughly, so excuse me if upon analysis my analogy is wrong – when we hear a message coming from Mars, from one of these space probes that are out there – well, I forget what the time lag is, in any case – a certain period of time has elapsed. And so when we hear the signal from Mars – well, that’s not happening on Mars now, is it? So we’re not actually hearing the sound on Mars, we’re hearing, we have a hologram of it, in a sense, another representation of it, through which we cannot actually hear that sound. That would be the non-Gelug explanation by analogy.

Exactly the same thing with stars. We see light from a star now and the star might not exist now at all. This opens up a door to a very, very large discussion of: Can we see the past? And what is the existence of past? Let’s not go into this large room. But for those of you who are interested and who are brave and have courage, I have a very difficult article on my website. So I won’t deceive you in that it’s easy; it’s probably the most complicated thing I’ve written so far, on: what does a Buddha know when a Buddha knows the past, present, and future. It’s a very, very complex issue. That topic is probably one of the most confusing and perplexing topics in Buddhism, because it gives us the false impression that everything is determined already, if a Buddha can see the future.

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

But from the Gelugpa point of view we are hearing the conventional sound, the commonsense sound that’s coming from Mars. And we don’t get into a discussion here of the commonsense object in terms of past, present, future, etc., but we’re talking about a continuum that holds its own essential nature, that it holds its essential nature as an individual item with a continuity that we hear the sound on Mars, of course, when we hear it through this electronic representation eight minutes later or twenty minutes later or however long the delay is.

It’s the same thing: you speak on the telephone; what are you actually hearing? Do you hear the other person’s sound, the sound of their voice? Well, we are actually hearing the vibration of some sort of membrane that’s coming from all sorts of electric impulses. I mean, it’s really very, very amazing, isn’t it? So it’s true that the sound that’s coming out of the telephone, that electronic representation, is not the voice of my friend speaking at the other end. That’s true. Gelugpa will agree that’s true. But through that electronic representation we hear the voice of the other person. That’s what it means by being transparent. OK?

So, let’s break for lunch and then we’ll continue.