Negation Phenomena: How to Focus on Voidness (Emptiness)
Berlin, Germany, March 2004
Session Four: True Existence in the Tenet Systems
We have been speaking about affirmations and negations and we have seen that they’re very important. There are quite a few things that came up from yesterday and some questions that are still there. A negation is one in which there’s an actual previous preclusion, or getting rid of an object to be negated, and that’s done by our minds, basically, by conceptual mind. So the question really is what do we know at the end of that?
I wanted to illustrate this with an example, a very common example. We are surfing through the stations of the television looking for something to watch, or going through a menu. What do I want to eat? And we look at each item, each channel, each item on the menu. The television is a much better example. We look at each program that’s on and we see that “this is not what I want to watch” and we go on to the next, and we go on to the next, flicking from channel to channel. Do we have to know what we want to watch in order to see these programs that are there as “what I don’t want to watch?” When we look at the menu, do we have to know what I want to eat in order to be able to look at various things on the menu and say, “This is not what I want to eat?” So at the end of eliminating all the possible stations on the television, do we know what we want to watch? No we don’t, do we. What are the two possibilities?
Participant: You could turn the TV off.
Alex: You could turn the TV off. Stop looking.
Participant: Or just go through again and choose something which is of minor quality.
Alex: Or make do with something you didn’t really want to watch, but you take it because there isn’t anything else. But it’s a negation, isn’t it. “This is not what I want to watch.”
Participant: It’s based on the vague idea of…
Alex: That’s very good. It’s based on the general category of what I want to watch, but not on something specific in that category. What we would specifically want to watch within that category will change. We’re talking about a general category of “what I want to watch.” Even that might not be so well defined because you might find something that you didn’t think you wanted to watch, but actually it’s quite interesting.
Participant: It’s kind of fuzzy.
Alex: It’s kind of fuzzy. Same thing like what I want to eat. What I want to do today. What I want to do this weekend. Some things are definitely excluded. I don’t want to fight in Iraq this weekend, for example; that’s pretty definite. I don’t want to die this weekend. But we don’t necessarily know what we do want to do.
Now we have to get a little bit technical in order to understand more deeply what’s going on here. First we have to go back to the discussion we already started about specifiers. What is it that I want to do? Well we can specify “what I want to do” by the double negative; what I want to do is “not what I don’t want to do,” or we found an easier way of expressing it as “it’s nothing but what I want to do.” Now “nothing but what I want to do” or “nothing other than what I want to do” is actually an implicative negation. It leaves in its wake “what I want to do,” which is an affirmation phenomenon. However, as we saw, we’re specifying here only the general category “what I want to do” or “what I want to eat” or “what I want to watch on the television.” And actually, if we get more technical, this comes down to “what I like to watch” and “what I like to eat” and “what I like to do.” It’s on the basis of “what I like” that we want to do something, usually. But let’s not get too far into that distinction here. But when we’re going through choices and making a choice “not what I want to do,” “not what I want to do,” “not what I want to do,” then “not what I want to do” is a nonimplicative negation – it doesn’t leave any affirmation phenomenon in its wake. And if we formulate it as “dying today is not what I want to do” then, although that might be an implicative negation, what it leaves in its wake is “dying today”; it doesn’t leave in its wake “what I want to do today.” So we have to be very delicate here, and careful, in how we understand this whole issue.
If we ask, “How do you specify the possible way of existing?” Now you would specify it by saying that it is “nothing other than the possible way of existing,” in other words it would be “not what is an impossible way of existing.” Now as we’ve seen, you don’t have to know absolutely every impossible way of existing in order to specify the possible way of existing. The possible way of existing is that things function and also that things make logical sense. From a Buddhist point of view, that’s the only thing that is possible. Now how that actually works – that things function and things make logical sense – that’s a totally different issue. Furthermore, when we talk about excluding what is impossible, obviously each tenet system is going to agree that what would be impossible would be that things don’t function at all and don’t make any sense. Now how each system is going to specify a way in which things would not make sense and things would not function, that’s going to be different. But all of them would be refuting impossible ways of existing.
But when we’re doing voidness meditation, we’re not working with specifiers. Nor are we working with impossible ways of existing. We’re working with one specific way of existing, which happens to be in the category of “impossible ways of existing.” And then we are negating that with a nonimplicative negation, “there’s no such thing,” and this doesn’t leave any affirmation phenomenon in its wake – such as what is the specific possible way of existing, such as dependent arising. So although the actual way in which things exist is in terms of dependent arising, it’s not that we had to know that before eliminating the impossible ways of existing, and it’s not that we know it after eliminating them. All that we needed to have was some general category of “possible way of existing.” It didn’t need to be defined in a terribly specific way, just as when we spoke about the general category of “what I would like to do” or “what I would like to eat.” So knowing the equivalency of voidness of true findable existence and dependent arising is not so simple.
Remember, in order to get rid of our suffering we have to get rid of the cause of our suffering, which is grasping for true findable existence. And so we have to negate that in order to get rid of the suffering. But that doesn’t imply that we do know, at the end of that negation, how things actually do exist. The negation itself doesn’t throw in its wake (to go back to our technical terminology) the way in which things actually do exist.
Question: If I negate “pink elephants,” we have no referent object. Do I know more than before?
Alex: When we negate “pink elephant.” And what did we know before? The problem is, what is the effect of negating it? And the effect is, if we were freaked out and frightened and really upset because of thinking that pink elephants were real, that they were invading me from the fifth dimension, if we realize that, hey, there is no such thing, it would free us from that fear – eventually, when we really became convinced of it. And eventually it would cause us to stop fantasizing that there were pink elephants. Because it’s just a habit of believing in pink elephants that causes us to continue to not only believe in them, but it can cause us to hallucinate them. Remember the whole point of understanding voidness is to get rid of the causes of suffering. It’s not just an interesting intellectual exercise.
Question: When we refute true existence, are we refuting that things are static and, in the end, we’re left that things are nonstatic, that things are impermanent?
Alex: Well, knowing you, and knowing that you come from a strong Theravada background, I think that maybe you’re confusing a few things here in the Prasangika system that we’re talking about with certain assertions in some of the Hinayana tenet systems. First of all, if we look at the Sautrantika system (within Hinayana), they say that static phenomena are metaphysical, whereas the nonstatic phenomena are objective. And so perhaps what you are thinking is that when we’ve refuted metaphysical phenomena we’re left with objective phenomena, and that’s really what the refutation is all about. But actually I think that also you’re getting a bit confused here, because in Sautrantika, what they say is that the metaphysical phenomena are non-truly existent and the objective phenomena are truly existent. So it’s a little bit backwards here in terms of perhaps what you’re thinking.
It’s like our example of Tenzin, “not my Tenzin,” “not your Tenzin.” So we’re not talking about the true existence of the Hinayana tradition. We’re not even talking about the true existence of the Chittamatra or Svatantrika systems. We are talking about the true existence in the Prasangika system. So which Tenzin then are we talking about? This is why it’s very important to identify the object to be refuted, the object to be negated, so that we are not talking just about your Tenzin, we’re talking about my Tenzin. All of these are impossible ways of existing, but we have to understand what is meant by “impossible” here. “Impossible” is defined in terms of the negation of what we think is possible, and what we think is possible might not be possible. So what’s impossible to me is different from you – what I don’t want to eat isn’t what you don’t want to eat, is it? What you need to appreciate is that each school of philosophical tenets really has quite a different idea of what true existence means.
Also, you know, there’s another very fundamental difference between nonstaticness and “no true existence.” According to the Jetsunpa textbooks and definitions, “nonstatic” is an affirmation because in satipatthana (close placement of mindfulness meditation), you can observe it. Each moment of physical sensation, and so on, is changing, and from that you can just observe that it is nonstatic. You didn’t have to have a clear idea of what static was, and negate it, in order to observe the changing of each moment of your sensations. That’s why it is an affirmation. So that’s why there is a big difference between nonstatic and actually thinking “not static” – in which you knew what static was, and then through a line of inference you refuted it, like refuting that sound is permanent, that sound is static. The Hindu schools say that sound is static because of the sound of the Vedas being eternal and forever and never changing.
Also you should know that there are two definitions of unawareness. Unawareness is a negation phenomenon, but what is it actually negating? According to the abhidharma tradition of topics of knowledge, both in the Hinayana version of it by Vasubandhu or in the Mahayana version of it by Asanga, unawareness is simply “not knowing.” It’s the negation of knowing something – I just didn’t know. Whereas in the pramana system, that’s the system of valid ways of knowing according to Dharmakirti, unawareness is knowing in an incorrect way. So what’s being negated by unawareness is this type of negation phenomenon. It’s quite different from just simply not knowing, and it brings much more emphasis on the logical refutation of incorrect ways of knowing – and specifically, here, incorrect ways of knowing how things exist. But even though unawareness is defined in terms of being unaware or knowing incorrectly karmic cause and effect or ways in which things exist, I think we can also apply this distinction to unawareness of nonstaticness. So we could simply correct not knowing that things are nonstatic, or we could correct thinking that things which are not static are actually static. And then we have to refute staticness, which means that we have to know staticness before that.
Participant: These schools have their own definitions of what they see as true existence.
Participant: And they are all negating that.
Alex: No. They are not all negating true existence. They’re all negating what they consider as impossible; and for most of them “true existence” means “real,” so they don’t want to negate true existence.
To really appreciate what’s going on in the Buddhist process of trying to get rid of suffering, now we can bring in the background that we’ve covered, in the previous years, of the schools of tenets, because this really makes things a little bit more clear. Do you remember we had a discussion of self-sufficiently knowable phenomena (rang-rkya thub-pa’i rdzas-yod) and imputably knowable phenomena (btags-yod)? Self-sufficiently knowable phenomena can be known without that cognition having to make anything else appear at the same time. Whereas imputably knowable phenomena can only be known with the cognition making something else appear at the same time.
The Sautrantika system, which is one of the Hinayana systems of tenets, asserts that forms of physical phenomena and ways of being aware of something are self-sufficiently knowable. Whereas nonstatic phenomena that are neither of these two, for instance persons, can only be known when the consciousness also makes appear the aggregates on which they are imputed. And, likewise, all static phenomena are similarly imputably knowable. The absence of somebody from a room can only be known with a room appearing and, similarly, the absence of a static monolithic “soul” that’s separate from the aggregates can only be known on the basis of the aggregates appearing. And Sautrantika says that they have to appear at the same time, simultaneously.
Now the Mahayana tenets refine this and they say for imputably knowable phenomena, this Sautrantika assertion – that something else has to appear simultaneously when knowing this object – is true for nonstatic phenomena that are neither ways of being aware of something nor forms of physical phenomena, such as persons, and is also true for static phenomena other than voidnesses. But for voidness, and whether that’s voidness of a person or voidness of phenomena, something else has to appear in order to cognize voidness, and this is namely the basis for voidness, but it doesn’t have to appear simultaneously – in fact, it doesn’t appear simultaneously, it appears the moment before – and then one can know voidness explicitly by itself.
Now because of this difference, then there is a great difference in the way in which we meditate on voidness of a person. I’m using the term “voidness of a person” here to also describe what we are meditating on in the Hinayana systems, like Sautrantika, as a shorthand, rather than saying “the lack of a static monolithic ‘soul’ separate from the aggregates.” In Sautrantika, as well as in the Mahayana tenet systems of Chittamatra and Madhyamaka, the voidness here is a nonimplicative negation – “no such thing.”
In the Sautrantika system, when we meditate on voidness, then the basis for voidness – let’s say the person – now the person and the aggregates are both going to appear explicitly in that cognition of the voidness of the person and, at that same time, one would know implicitly the voidness of the impossible way of existing of that person. This is the case whether we know voidness of a person conceptually or nonconceptually. That’s talking about the total absorption on voidness. And in the subsequent attainment (realization), again we have the aggregates and the person appearing, and we know implicitly the voidness of the person.
In the first case, in the total absorption, voidness there is a nonimplicative negation and our main focus is on that implicitly known voidness as a nonimplicative negation; but, of course, the basis for voidness is what we know explicitly – that’s what appears. Whereas in the subsequent realization, it’s the exact opposite way; we’re knowing a person that doesn’t exist in this impossible way, as an impossible “soul,” and our focus is on what is explicitly affirmed there. This is an implicative negation – in other words, the person – and implicitly we know that the person doesn’t exist in this impossible way. So the difference between the total absorption on voidness and the subsequent realization of voidness is the total absorption on voidness is with voidness as a nonimplicative negation, and in the subsequent realization it’s on voidness which is an implicative negation. But what appears, what is taken by the mind, is the same; it’s just that the main emphasis of the focus is different. In the total absorption the focus is primarily on what is implicitly known, and in the subsequent attainment the focus is on what is explicitly known.
This is of course very different from what I described yesterday, which is basically the Mahayana presentation. And I was speaking more particularly about the Prasangika presentation, but it’s true for all the Mahayana systems that the moment before the total absorption on voidness, the basis for voidness appears; but at the time of the total absorption on voidness, voidness itself is explicitly known and appears explicitly, and nothing is known implicitly. And when this cognition of voidness is conceptual, then, although the basis of voidness can appear here, nevertheless it doesn’t appear and is not known by that same cognition of voidness. It’s either appearing and being known by a separate cognition occurring at the same time (according to the Panchen explanation), or it’s being known by subliminal cognition which is also occurring at the same time and which is also a different cognition. But that cognition of voidness, itself, does not apprehend the basis for voidness, either explicitly or implicitly.
But in the Mahayana systems, when we talk about how do we know static nonimplicative negations, such as the absence of somebody from the room, then the Sautrantika analysis is the case. So what does this mean? This means that with a nonimplicative negation, when the sound of the words have negated the object to be negated, they do not imply or leave in their wake any affirmation phenomena; but, nevertheless, an affirmation phenomenon can appear to that mind that is knowing that nonimplicative negation.
Let’s look at an example. When we think “Renata is absent,” we’re thinking of a Renata who is absent. This is an implicative negation. What appears to that cognition is a Renata; that could be a visual image of Renata or just the sound of her name. And what is implicitly known in that cognition is her absence; the absence doesn’t actually appear. And what we have negated is her presence. We could also think of a “room without Renata.” “Room without Renata” would also be an implicative negation. What it leaves in its wake is the affirmative phenomenon, the room; that’s what would appear explicitly. And the negation phenomenon, the absence of Renata, would be something which is known implicitly; it doesn’t actually appear. And the object negated here would be a Renata being present. An absence of Renata from the room can’t actually appear, because an absence is a static phenomenon in this case – it doesn’t have a shape or a form – only something which is with a shape or a form can actually appear. It’s like when we see an empty cup – what do we actually see? The sides of a cup appear and implicitly we know there’s nothing in the cup, it’s empty. Actually that’s the Sautrantika position. There’s a big discussion on this in Chittamatra; it says that an empty space can appear and be known explicitly. Even though it’s a static phenomenon – it doesn’t have any shape or form – it can still be known nonconceptually and explicitly.
But here let’s talk about a room without Renata. What appears is the room. And if we follow the Chittamatra explanation, we would say that an empty space also appears, and what we know implicitly is the absence of Renata. After all, if we saw or thought about a room without Renata and a room without Mary, what appeared would be exactly the same, wouldn’t it? A room and some sort of empty space. And implicitly we would know, in the one case, that there was an absence of Renata; in the other case, we would know there’s an absence of Mary. That’s why we say this is implicitly known.
Now what about when we know just the absence of Renata. This is a nonimplicative negation. After the sound of the words “the absence of Renata” have negated the object to be negated, namely the presence of Renata, all that they leave in their wake is the negation phenomenon “the absence of Renata.” Now how do we focus on that? We would have to focus on that only implicitly; it couldn’t actually appear. What would appear and would be known explicitly would be something representing Renata, either a mental image of her or just the name “Renata.” Let’s say we’re thinking, “Renata’s absence from class has occurred many times now.” Now you can’t think of Renata’s absence or the absence of Renata without actually simultaneously thinking at least the word “Renata.” That’s because the absence of Renata is a static phenomenon and it is imputably knowable, and so something else has to be known explicitly at the same time as knowing it. So in that case what’s explicitly known and appearing is Renata, or some representation of Renata, or in this case the word “Renata,” and what’s implicitly known is her absence. An absence or an empty space doesn’t actually appear. But still, the absence of Renata is a nonimplicative negation; it hasn’t thrown in its wake Renata, the basis for the negation. When the sound of the words of the negation – in other words, “the absence of Renata” – have negated what they are going to negate – in other words, Renata or the presence of Renata – what do they leave in their wake after they have done this negation? They don’t leave Renata. They just leave the absence of Renata. But because the absence of Renata is an imputably knowable phenomenon, it can’t be known without something else appearing simultaneously when we know it. And in this case it would be Renata or something representing Renata, like the word “Renata.”
Now the same analysis holds true for when we see “There’s no Renata in the room.” This is also a nonimplicative negation. What are the words of the negation “no Renata in the room?” What do they leave in their wake? They don’t leave any affirmation of Renata; they don’t leave any affirmation of the room; they just leave in their wake the negation phenomenon “no Renata in the room.” Now how do we see that? In other words, what do we see? We see the room and we also see an empty space in it, and these are known explicitly; and implicitly we know the absence of Renata in the room. And so this also is because this absence of Renata from the room is a static phenomenon and it’s knowable only imputably.
Now I know that all this is really complicated and you might think, well, why are we going into so much detail, and what difference does it really make? But it does make a difference in terms of how you meditate on voidness and, after all, we want to be able to meditate correctly on voidness in order to overcome our suffering and be able to benefit others, as much as is possible, by attaining enlightenment. So let’s look at it again, but this time let’s restrict ourselves to just the discussion of how we focus on voidness as a nonimplicative negation.
First let’s look at it in the Sautrantika model. We think of a person, let’s say “me.” So we first think in terms of my body, for instance, or name, or something like that. And on that basis, we also think of “me.” “Me” after all, a person, is something which is only imputably knowable; you have to have something else appear and be known explicitly at the same time, in order to think “me.” So it has to be either our body, our mind, name, or something like that. So, anyway, we’re thinking of “me” on the basis of a name; and because of the influence of some doctrinal system, that “me” appears as though it is static, monolithic, and separate from the aggregates.
Now what we want to refute here, what we want to negate, is “there’s no such thing as a static, monolithic, separate ‘me’”; that’s what is to be negated. And so, in the end, what we want to focus on is “no such thing as a static, monolithic, separate ‘me.’” That’s a nonimplicative negation. After we have negated a static, monolithic, separate “me,” all we are left with is the absence of a static, monolithic, separate “me.”
Now according to Sautrantika, in order to be able to focus on that absence, that “no such thing,” then we have to have appear explicitly the “me” and, of course, the basis of the “me,” which would be the aggregates, a name, or something like that. But what we’re really focusing on here is this absence, this “no such thing,” or voidness (if we want to put it in simple terms), which we only know implicitly. So we’re really focusing on “no such thing.” But while we’re focusing on “no such thing as this static, monolithic, separate ‘me’,” what is appearing is a “me,” but that’s not our main focus – we’re focusing on “no such thing.”
Now that’s the total absorption. But, subsequent to that, what we are focusing on is a “me” that is devoid of existing as a static, monolithic, separate “me.” So here, this negation phenomenon is an implicative negation, and our main focus is on “me,” this “me,” and that’s the affirmation that is left over after the sound of the words of the negation have negated what they’re to negate. We’re left with a “me.” So our main focus is on “me”; and implicitly how it exists, it is without being a static, monolithic, separate “me.” That negation phenomenon that is thrown in the wake is known implicitly. So our way of knowing in the total absorption and in the subsequent realization is quite different.
Now if we look at the Mahayana way of meditating, and for ease of discussion let’s speak in terms of the Prasangika system, then we would start out the same way as I just described with the Sautrantika system. We would think of “me” and something from the aggregates that would be a basis for imputation of “me,” such as the word “me,” or my body, or mind, or whatever. And we would also have an appearance here of true findable existence. And what we would negate is that true findable existence – that there is no such thing as this true findable existence on the basis of the “me.” Once our certitude that there’s no such thing has cut off the object to be refuted, namely true existence, then we just focus (whether conceptually or nonconceptually) on “no such thing.” This is what we are explicitly focusing on. It can be an appearance of a blank space, or something like that; and with that thought “no such thing,” in the case that it’s conceptual, then nothing else is appearing or known by that thought. The basis is not known. However, subliminally, or by another cognition, we would have an appearance of the basis of voidness here, the “me” on the basis of some sort of aggregates. But that subliminal awareness (or awareness through another cognition) that we have at that time of the basis for voidness would be similar to when we are sitting totally absorbed on listening to music – the type of awareness that we would have of our clothing next to our skin, or of the wall in front of us. In other words, this is very, very minimal; we are not really aware of these things, although they are appearing to our subliminal consciousness or this other sense cognition.
So that’s quite different from the Sautrantika total absorption, when the mind is actually making an appearance of the basis for voidness and, at the same time, implicitly knowing “there’s no such thing as the impossible way of existing that we are refuting.” Although in the Sautrantika way of meditating, the basis for imputation is not the main focus; our main emphasis and our
focus is “no such thing” – it’s the implicitly known negation phenomenon – but that basis is much more prominently known than in the Mahayana way of meditating. And as for how we actually meditate during the subsequent attainment, then it’s the same in Mahayana as it is in Sautrantika. So maybe this is a little bit clearer.
And I used the example of focusing on the absence of Renata in the room just to illustrate how we could have something appear at the same time as when we’re focusing on a nonimplicative negation. And that thing that appears, the affirmation phenomenon, is nevertheless not thrown in the wake of the negation when the sound of the words of the negation refute or negate the object to be negated.
Question: Could you explain a little bit more about the difference between the implicative and the nonimplicative negation? It still isn’t completely clear.
Alex: The difference is in how the negation is made. A nonimplicative one is basically “there is no…,” and an implicative one is something such as “this is not that” or “a this without that.” When you focus on voidness, it’s a “there is no.” And it’s not in terms of a “there is no something that could be here, but it’s not here now.” The focus is on “there is no such thing as….” So there are two types of nonimplicative, whether the object to be refuted is existent or nonexistent. And then even within “nonexistent,” “there is no such thing as an invader from the fifth dimension” – it’s not a nonexistent object – or it’s a nonexistent way of existing.
“There is no X” is nonimplicative. And “X without Y” or “X is not Y,” that’s implicative. And “there is no X,” it doesn’t matter how long that X is in terms of the words in which we define it – a “Renata in the room,” or whatever – but it’s basically saying “there is no X,” whatever that expression might be. That’s nonimplicative. In the other one, in the implicative one, we’re saying a “Y without X” or a “Y that is not X,” so it’s a different type of negation of X in the expression, in the formula that we write, like an algebra formula.
Participant: Now that’s more clear. In an implicative, you have two variables.
Alex: In an implicative you have two kinds of variables, you have Ys and you have Xs in the expression: an affirmation and a negation. In a nonimplicative, all you have is one variable, an X. “There is no X.” Now that X could be a long expression within parentheses; it could be a whole big long formula. It doesn’t matter. That’s your X here.
Participant: An implicative would be, for example, a self that is not truly existent.
Alex: Correct. A self that is not truly existent. That there is no such thing as a truly existent self – that’s not implicative.
What are you focusing on in going through these schools of tenets? In the Vaibhashika they don’t even accept that there are nonimplicative negations; they only talk about implicative ones. And so what you need to realize is that “the person is not an impossible ‘soul’” – that’s implicative. You know what I mean by impossible “soul,” the coarse and subtle impossible “soul.” The coarse one is a static monolithic entity separate from the aggregates. The subtle one is, even if it’s not separate, even if it is imputed on the aggregates, that it’s self-sufficiently knowable – you have to refute that it’s self-sufficiently knowable. So what it is, is a self without that, like a room without Renata.
But what do you understand in terms of phenomena? You would say that… the two truths. Solid things are not like atoms, or mental states are not like these tiny moments, these kshanika, or khanika (or however you call it in Pali), and vice versa. The two truths are not each other. It’s implicative: “X is not Y.” What is the reason for this? One has parts, the other doesn’t have parts. It’s also an implicative negation.
Now you go to Sautrantika. Sautrantika is saying that, well, they do accept nonimplicative. So there is no impossible “soul” of a person – the meditation is slightly different. But in terms of all phenomena, still they are only dealing with implicative negations. Nobody will assert that knowing an implicative negation is going to free you from a true cause of suffering. Forget about the Vaibhashika. In Sautrantika, they say “there is no impossible ‘soul’ of a person” – it has to be a nonimplicative.
Now what do they understand about phenomena, about all phenomena? Well, it’s just implicative ones, which is that both of these – what Vaibhashika’s talking about – solids and atoms, these are objective things. They are real and they are not like metaphysical things: categories and so on. Categories are not like these objective things. These metaphysical things are not like objective things. So it’s implicative: two truths, two true types of phenomena – they’re not the same. And accordingly, to them, the objective are real – they are using the term “truly existent” – they’re real. Why? They’re truly existent because they are functional. So what’s the difference between the two? Why are they not like each other? The objective are real; they’re truly existent; they’re functional. Metaphysical are unreal, which is, they say, that means not truly existent. It’s unreal. They don’t function. They are only imputed. But everything is of course findable; nobody gives up findable. They’re still findable. You can still find the referent object of the words for them.
Now we get to Chittamatra, and it’s only with Chittamatra, which is Mahayana, that you start getting nonimplicative negations in terms of phenomena. Because they say you’ve got to get rid of not just in terms of self, your unawareness, but also unawareness in terms of phenomena, in order to become a Buddha. To just get liberation, you only have to understand nonimplicative ones regarding the self.
So what type of thing do we understand with a nonimplicative? The absence of an external source of these objective things that you guys were talking about – they are not objective. So the importance of that is you are getting into the understanding that it is not just these metaphysical things that come from your mind, but even the objective things, in a certain sense, come from your mind. No such thing as an external source of them separate from the source of the cognition; they both come from a seed of karma.
Now you still get a lot of implicative negations, which would be – they’re called dependent phenomena or other-arising phenomena; they arise dependent on other things – these objective things are not like conceptual things, since objective things aren’t imputed. These conceptual things, like categories, are imputed, so they are not the same; X is not like Y. But conceptual things, the categories, are not like the objective things and voidness, since they are unreal. You see Sautrantika puts categories and voidness into the same group. Chittamatra says, hey, no, come on, it’s different; these objective things, this table and voidness of this table coming from an external source, that’s not the same as a category. Why? Because both the table and its voidness are real, they’re truly existent. All these categories aren’t truly existent, they’re not real.
What do they mean by “truly existent?” They mean that’s what an arya would realize, what an arya would know, nonconceptually – you can know them nonconceptually. That makes them real. It’s a different idea of what’s real. So the Sautrantikas were saying that all metaphysical phenomena are unreal. And the Chittamatra says, no, they are not all unreal – voidness is real because that’s what an arya sees. But although both objective and voidness are real, they’re truly existent (an arya sees them). Objective phenomena are not like voidness, however, because the objective phenomena are functional; voidness isn’t functional (which is what the Sautrantikas were calling “real”).
And you have even a subtle voidness of all phenomena, when they say there is no such thing as the characteristics of names on the own side of objects. In other words, you don’t find some definition, some “thing” on the side of the object that is the basis for the name. There is something on the side of the object that makes it into a knowable item, but there is not something on the side of the object that makes it into what corresponds to a name, like “Alex,” or “Fido,” or “Alexander,” or “Mr. Berzin,” or anything like that. So it’s starting to get even further into this thing of mental labeling, I mean what’s going on in terms of defining characteristics and so on.
So then you go to Svatantrika. And Svatantrika says, hey, you were saying that, okay, these categories, these conceptual things, they’re imputed; and objective things and voidness, they’re not just simply imputed. Okay, voidness has to be imputably known, and these sort of things, but it’s not quite the same – what Chittamatra is saying, that voidness isn’t just imputed, it’s real, what the aryas see. So Svatantrika comes along and says, well, everything is imputed. What really has to be negated – here, again, a nonimplicative – is that “there’s no such thing as the unimputed existence of anything.” So this they call “true existence.” What you guys were saying was “real” before, well there’s nothing that’s real in that sense. There is nothing that is just imputed. There is nothing that is unimputed and there’s nothing that’s just imputed. Nothing is real, in your sense. But actually, although they don’t use the word “real” here (they use “inherent existence”), they say that still things are findable. Everything’s imputed but [in addition] it is findable. Everything is void of being unimputed, yet it is findable as the referent object of what the words for them and concepts for them refer to.
So now what does Prasangika say? What’s the object of refutation in Prasangika? What’s the basis of refutation? The basis of the object to be refuted in Prasangika is your Svatantrika idea of imputed phenomena – what’s devoid of unimputed existence, according to Svatantrika. And it’s saying your Svatantrika imputed phenomena, which you say are findable, what you have to cut out from that is that they’re findable. So it’s the absence of the findability – of the findable existence – of imputed phenomena. That’s why it’s so important to work through the tenet systems, because otherwise you don’t identify clearly the object to be refuted and the basis of the refutation. What you think are findable imputed objects are devoid of being findable. Now what are you left with? What you’re left with is that they are only imputed. That’s dependent arising. They are only imputed without being findable. This way, you get to how things exist. They exist as only imputed, devoid of being findable, and that’s enough.
Now what the non-Gelugpas say is that, well, you have to go beyond mental labeling. So they are saying you have to negate something further. These unfindable merely imputed phenomena, they’re beyond the conceptual mind – the conceptual mind imputes. So what they’re saying is that these not findable, only imputed objects are devoid of being an object of a conceptual mind. That’s one side of the picture. That’s why when they talk about pure existence, you can just see pure phenomena with the nonconceptual arya mind. So they really throw away our usual conventional truth, conventional phenomena. And the absence of conceptual knowability of not findable, only imputed phenomena, that can’t be known conceptually – nonconceptual.
Gelugpa points out that if you start saying that you have to go beyond what can be imputed – they’re saying that basically there’s something wrong with imputing merely imputed existence of phenomena. How can you impute merely imputed existence? You’re still imputing. But they say, well, if you go beyond it, what you are saying is that it is unimputed, because that’s in fact the language with which they say it. But to say it’s unimputed, well, come on, you’ve gotten back to unimputed existence, true existence. You’ve made your “voidness” into “real,” something real – this is the problem here. How do you know that you’ve gotten to the final point? Where do you stop? And this is a big problem because how can you answer that? You can only answer that by saying, well, this is what aryas see; aryas are beyond conceptuality, so this is what they see – that these objects – voidness and the basis of voidness – are beyond conceptuality.
And Prasangika comes back and says, hey, you sound like a Chittamatra. This is what’s the final thing simply because that’s what aryas see – that’s what the Chittamatra said. On the basis of what aryas see are findable existence. Then you could accuse the Prasangikas of the exact same thing – you’re saying that what you’ve come up with is true because that’s what aryas see. And everybody says that the other people don’t get a true stopping of samsara based on what they get, so their aryas aren’t real aryas. Like we had this big long discussion about tenet shravaka arhats are not really liberated. And I must say this is a very difficult thing to settle. But I think that this shows you an overview of how important the tenet systems are.
And what I was trying to do in these weekends about the person, the self – that you always have to look at what’s left over because that becomes the basis of the refutation of the next level. After you’ve refuted something, you’ve negated something, you are left with the basis; the negation didn’t imply the basis, but there is a basis. Then you haven’t taken away enough, so you have to take away more. And the problem is, when have you taken away enough? And what the Gelugpas are accusing the non-Gelugpas of is that, come on, you’ve taken away the basis as well. It can only be known nonconceptually beyond all of this stuff, come on, you’ve taken away the basis; be satisfied. Prasangika says that things are only in terms of what can be imputed, that’s all. That means that – what establishes that they exist? What the words for them refer to. Can you find what they refer to? No. All you can say is that they are what the words for them refer to. It doesn’t mean that you can only know them by words and concepts. Be satisfied with that and don’t go off into some mystical realm and just get back to the practical Gelugpa position of helping people.
In summary, then, I hope that you can see from this material how important it is and in fact how crucial it is to understand these negation phenomena, because it is with this understanding of negation phenomena that we actually gain liberation and enlightenment, because voidness is a negation phenomenon and almost all the realizations that we gain on the path are likewise in terms of negation phenomena. We’ve only started to deal with the topic, there’s a tremendous amount more to the topic, but I hope that this introductory weekend gives you some incentive to go deeper and deeper into the topic of negation phenomena.
So let me end with a dedication. We think that whatever understanding we’ve gained, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Join us in trying to benefit others.
Support our work!
This website relies completely on donations. Its maintenance, preparation of the remaining 70% of our planned material, and further translating is costly. Although we currently have 80 volunteers, 23 essential team members require payment. Help us raise the 100,000 euros (US $150,000) required each year
to continue providing our website free of charge.
Reaching Our Goal (75%)