Cultivating the correct view

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Part of a series of teachings on Essence of Refined Gold by the Third Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Sonam Gyatso. The text is a commentary on Songs of Experience by Lama Tsongkhapa.

  • Innate grasping of the self and aggregates and the object of negation
  • Ways of apprehending objects
  • Putting our spiritual experiences in perspective
  • Cultivating a correct sense of self
  • Analysis of appearances
  • Relationship between the self and the aggregates

Essence of Refined Gold 61 (download)

Innate grasping of the self and aggregates and the object of negation

We don’t innately grasp the self and the aggregates to be one, and we don’t innately grasp them to be completely separate. Examples: We don’t grasp the aggregates and the person to be inherently one because sometimes we think, “Oh, gee, I wish I could change bodies with that person” or “I wish I had their mind.” We say things like that.

So that shows that on an innate level we’re not seeing the aggregates and the self to be completely, inherently one; because if we did see them that way we wouldn’t think of, “Oh, I can change bodies or change minds with someone else.”

Also we don’t see the aggregates and the self as inherently separate because if we did we would see them as totally unrelated, but we don’t because when our stomach hurts we say, “I feel uncomfortable” or “I’m sick.”

The reason that this topic comes up is because we’re trying to identify the object of negation in the emptiness meditation. And it’s not that the aggregates and the self are inherently one and it’s not that the aggregates and the self are inherently different because we don’t grasp them innately to exist that way.

What the innate self-grasping is, is: We think that there’s a person there that does not depend on being merely labeled by term and concept. That’s one way to talk about the object of negation. Another way is that there’s a person that’s blended in with the aggregates, an inherently existent person that is blended in with the aggregates, but not seen as inherently one or inherently separate; but somehow able to set itself up but existing somewhere inside the aggregates: inside the body and mind. So that’s the object of the innate grasping at true existence. And that’s the object we think exists but does not exist in terms of the selflessness of the person.

The question sometimes comes up, “Are we always consistently grasping at true existence? Do all of our consciousnesses grasp at true existence, even as ordinary beings?” The answer to that is, “No.” It’s true that for ordinary beings all of our consciousnesses have the appearance of true existence. And for all sentient beings except for aryas in meditative equipoise on emptiness, all other consciousnesses of sentient beings have the appearance of true existence. But in terms of grasping at true existence, not all of our consciousnesses grasp at true existence.

Three ways of apprehending objects

So there are three ways of apprehending objects:

  1. As truly existent: we grasp phenomena as existing out there, able to set themselves up, existing under their own power, having their own nature, their own essence, their own entity, totally independent from consciousness.

  2. As false: So this could be either seeing things as empty of true existence, or it could be seeing things as being like illusions in that they appear one way but exist another way.

  3. As neither: You’re not grasping at true existence but you’re not also apprehending them as like an illusion and you’re not apprehending them as empty either. So neither of the above. You’re just merely apprehending them as existing in general.

How ordinary people apprehend

So consciousnesses which grasp at true existence, these are ones like when we get angry or something like that. We’re holding the object, apprehending it, grasping it to exist truly. So we ordinary beings definitely have that one.

Apprehending it in a false way, or as non-truly existent, ordinary beings (who have not realized emptiness directly and can apprehend this as being like an illusion) when they have an inferential cognition of emptiness, an inferential realization of emptiness; and of course, aryas who have direct insight into emptiness, they can see things as empty or as illusion-like.

And then the third way, as neither: again, everybody can apprehend them as neither inherently existent or as empty or like an illusion. So this could be many of our ordinary consciousnesses: like we say, “I’m walking down the street” “I’m going to go sweep the floor”; these kinds of things. At that point we aren’t grasping at the self as truly existent. There’s no energy around it, is there? You’re not holding that there’s a solid self. It’s just, “I’m walking” “I’m sweeping the floor.”

This is important because we have to see that not all of our consciousnesses are erroneous in the sense of grasping at true existence (even though for sentient beings who aren’t in meditative equipoise on emptiness, all of our consciousnesses are mistaken in the sense that true existence appears to them.) So it’s possible for true existence to appear to a consciousness but that consciousness doesn’t grasp it as existing truly. So for example, our sense consciousnesses, they don’t grasp true existence; it’s only the mental consciousness that does. But things appear truly existent to the sense consciousnesses: when you see yellow it’s like: “Yes, yellow is out there.” It has its own nature. So it’s the appearance of true existence. But it’s a conceptual mind actually that is apprehending true existence; and so sense consciousnesses are not conceptual minds, they don’t apprehend true existence.

Ordinary beings, who have not realized emptiness directly, can apprehend the self or other phenomena in the 1st and the 3rd ways; and ordinary sentient beings who have realized emptiness inferentially can also see it in the 2nd way.

So the point is that not all minds of sentient beings perceive or grasp at true existence. And also, not all conceptual consciousnesses of sentient beings grasp at true existence. Because you can have a conceptual consciousness that’s just thinking about the tree; and you’re not necessarily grasping at the inherent existence of that tree when you’re thinking about it (although the tree does appear inherently existent to you.)

And so similarly somebody who is not grasping at true existence is not necessarily apprehending something as empty. Because it’s not just this dichotomy between apprehending emptiness of true existence and apprehending true existence; because there’s this third way of apprehending it as neither.

Blank-minded meditation

So remember we were talking about some people who believe in blank-minded meditation and they say, “All consciousnesses, you should get rid of all of them because they’re all deluded; they’re all the cause of suffering.” And the error they make is that they think that all sentient beings’ consciousnesses grasp true existence. In other words, they don’t realize that there’s the third way of apprehending things: as neither truly existent, nor as non-truly existent. So because they don’t think that there’s any way of just saying, “There’s a fan there” without there be grasping at true existence all the time. For that reason they say, “Oh, all conceptual consciousnesses are grasping at true existence. So we should get rid of all of them: A to Z!” And remember last time we talked about the faults of doing that? That if you do that you could never even hear teachings on emptiness; because when you’re hearing teachings on emptiness you’re using concepts. And although it’s true from the Madhyamaka viewpoint at the end of the road you want to let go of the concepts and perceive emptiness directly, there’s no fault in using concepts at the beginning to try and understand the topic.

How aryas apprehend

Now arhats, beings who are liberated from cyclic existence, they apprehend things only in the second and third ways. They can apprehend things as empty or as illusory, and they can apprehend things as neither. But they no longer grasp things as truly existent because they’ve gotten rid of all the self-grasping ignorance. So true existence still appears to them, but they don’t grasp phenomena as existing that way.

And similarly all the cognizers of somebody who has realized emptiness don’t necessarily see their objects as like illusions or as empty. Sometimes we have this idea that somebody has direct perception into emptiness and then after that ignorance is all gone, false appearance is all gone. No, you can have direct insight into emptiness in meditative equipoise, but then in the break time, if you’re not yet an arhat, if you haven’t attained liberation and removed the afflictive obscurations yet; you still sometimes might have grasping at true existence when you’re outside of your meditative equipoise on emptiness.

How beings with inferential realization of emptiness apprehend

And for those beings who have inferential realization of emptiness, but not direct realization, in their break times when they’re outside of their meditative equipoise, they may even have the grasping at true existence—and the acquired grasping at true existence I should say. Because remember, beings who have inferential understandings of emptiness, they’re on the path of preparation, not the path of seeing so they’re not aryas. So they may still at times have the acquired afflictions. It wouldn’t happen very often because they’ve meditated a lot but they still may have one of these gross kinds of graspings at true existence that comes from a wrong philosophical view.

And even after attaining the path of seeing and perceiving emptiness directly, you still may grasp at true existence sometimes because of the habit that’s there. Or in your post meditation time you may also have the third way of seeing things which is neither truly existent nor non-truly existent. So as an arya what you want to cultivate is the second one in the break time: seeing things as like illusions. But sometimes you don’t have that, you have it the third way as neither. Or sometimes, some innate self-grasping comes up and you even have the first way.

When you become an arhat, or if you’re on the bodhisattva path when you attain the eighth ground, then you’ve eliminated all the self-grasping ignorance, you’ve eliminated the afflictive obstructions, and so from that point onwards you no longer have the grasping at true existence whether you’re in meditation or not, because you’ve eliminated that self-grasping ignorance.

Putting our spiritual experiences in perspective

So this is important to know because: you know this book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry and so there are a number of people in there who write about these incredible experiences they have in meditation. And then later on they go back and they’re still fighting with people, and still unhappy, and all this stuff. And you can see that in the West we seem kind of surprised. (Now whether all these people actually saw emptiness directly is another question – I’m not even going to deal with that.) But even if they did, that doesn’t mean that afterwards you never have any grasping or that all your bad habits are gone; because you still have the seeds of the afflictions in you until you attain either arhatship or the eighth bhumi. And so if we know this then we’re not going to get wrapped up in: “Oh, I just have to have this one experience and that’s going to cure the whole thing.” And then you’re not going to crash later on, “Oh, I thought I had this great realization of emptiness and I’m still getting upset.” So there are many, many stages on this. And the wrong views, you know, we are deeply habituated with them.

And then in addition, we always need to check up when we have spiritual experiences if they’re genuine ones or if they’re just appearances to the mind. So even the great meditators who have a vision of one of the deities, they always check up, “Is it the actual deity or is it just the mind?” Or sometimes we might feel like we’re leaving our body, but leaving our body, that’s not the definition of realizing emptiness. Feeling like you’re disassociating from your body, that’s just letting go of the grasping at, “I am my body” temporarily but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve realized the emptiness of the self. So whenever we have these experiences we should examine them and use them in a way that’s useful, that energizes us in our path. But not latch onto them as truly existent experiences that we are going to try and recreate because it means that, “I’m getting some where! I’m realizing the emptiness of the I!” That’s a little bit contradictory.

Correct sense of self

Let’s talk a little bit about the correct sense of self that we want to have because there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this too. We hear that Buddhism teaches selflessness so then we think, “Oh, there’s no self. There’s no self.” But if there’s no self then how do you say, “I’m walking down the street.” You can’t say that. Or people say, “There’s no self” and they use it as a way of self-deprecation like: “I’m useless, I’m valueless, there’s no me.” They use it in a psychologically unhealthy way. These people haven’t really had insights into selflessness, but they’ve just heard the words and misunderstood the words. And so they think, “Oh, there’s no self so why try and do anything, you know? There’s no self.” So that’s not it.

And His Holiness repeatedly emphasizes that as a bodhisattva you have to have a very clear sense of self, not some fuzzy sense of self. But this clear sense of self does not necessarily mean that you have self-grasping. If you’re a bodhisattva and you’re making the determination to liberate all sentient beings from samsara ‘by myself alone’ that’s a pretty big promise! And you need to have a lot of self confidence to make that promise. And you need to have a lot of feeling of “umpff.” Of , “I can do it!” Some joyous effort, “Yes, yes, I can do this!”

So that sense of self is a virtuous sense of self because it leads us to engage on the path. That sense of self, it doesn’t have to be grasping at true existence. It can be that third sense of self: as seeing it as neither. Or it could even be the second sense in the case of aryas: seeing that self as illusory but still having strong self confidence in your ability to practice the path and attain the results. So don’t think that realizing selflessness means you just kind of become like a worm: “No self. So I just sit here. I don’t want anything. I don’t prefer anything. Nothing. I don’t exist.” Do you think that’s how a bodhisattva spends their time? I’ve never seen His Holiness sit like that. If you look at the really great masters they have preferences: “You benefit sentient beings! You don’t act negatively!” There are preferences in there. But there’s no grasping at inherent existence in the preferences; there’s no attachment to the preferences.

Is discrimination needed?

So sometimes we make the error and we think that when we realize emptiness then there’s no discrimination at all, “It’s all nothing.” Now it’s true while you’re in meditative equipoise on emptiness there is no discrimination. And there’s no good and no bad, and no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and mind because you’re in the reflection on the ultimate nature – how things actually exist. But when you arise from that and you’re functioning in the world, you still abide by worldly conventions and things still function. And so there’s a person who can still discriminate between orange and purple. There’s a person who can discriminate between what to practice and what to abandon. So this discrimination can all occur: but without grasping at either one of the options as truly existent, and without attachment to one thing or the other. So when you’re a highly realized being you can speak very forcefully and directly but you’re not attached to your position.

I know this is all incomprehensible to us because for us when we speak forcefully and directly we are attached and: “That’s my view and don’t you dare criticize it because then you’re saying that I’m bad.” But for a bodhisattva, people can criticize their views, they don’t take it personally; and they can still discriminate what to practice and what to abandon when they’re out of meditative equipoise. When they are in meditative equipoise there’s no appearance of conventionalities at all, so none of that is going on.

Make some sense?

This kind of stuff is important otherwise it’s so easy to get wrong ideas. And we kind of develop our own spaced-out theories of like either: “Oh, you have a glimpse so you’re fully enlightened and all the afflictions are gone.” Sorry. Or, “You have a glimpse and there’s no I. So I just sit there.” Some kind of drug stupor, wrong again!

Analysis of appearances

Now we’re going to get into the juicy part because now we’re going to start the analytical process to see if things exist in the way that they appear. So it’s very important to be able to identify the appearance of true existence. To know what it is; and then to see if true existence exists or not. If we leave true existence alone and we negate something else then we’re not going to eliminate the ignorance. So we have to be able to identify the appearance of true existence. And then think, “If true existence existed in this way, this is how it would be.” Je Rinpoche gives this great example of when you negate the wrong thing, like you leave true existence all nice wrapped up with a bow on it, and you trash something else, you negate something else. He said it’s like having a spirit in the west but you offer the torma to the donkey in the east. You’re missing the mark. Or, what would be a good American example? You know one stock is soaring, so you buy the one that’s crashing. We can get the stupidity of that. Anything related to money we get real well.

And similarly we don’t just take emptiness ungranted and say, “The person is not inherently existent because the Buddha said so,” because that doesn’t get us any realizations either, does it? It’s better than grasping at true existence. But just saying, “Well, yes, nothing inherently exists because the Buddha said so,” doesn’t mean that we’ve refuted the object of negation. It just means we have some strong belief, but we can sure have some very strong grasping at the same time.

And so although our unimpaired worldly consciousnesses can not perceive emptiness directly, they can, they do have the capability to contradict certain premises when we analyze the ultimate nature. So for example, we say, “The self is not truly existent because if it were, it would be permanent.” So our regular consciousnesses, conventional consciousnesses, can understand that the self isn’t permanent even though those consciousnesses can not understand that the self is empty of true existence. Or can not see true existence directly I should say. So that’s why we use syllogisms, we use consequences.


A syllogism is like a proof : “The self is empty of inherent existence because it’s dependent arising.” A consequence is showing somebody the wrong results that follow from their stating a certain thing. And that consequence undermines their own assertions; so they’re kind of stuck. It’s like if you say, “The self is not truly existent because if it were it would be permanent.” Well, the person knows that the self isn’t permanent but they also think the self is truly existent. And then when you’re saying, “But if it’s truly existent it’s got to be permanent,” then they go [gesture] and they see there’s some contradiction there. So that’s the use of consequences: show somebody absurd consequences.

When we cultivate the right view, we start with an example of something like a cart or a chariot, or in modern times, a car. But when we actually do the meditation they recommend that we meditate on the emptiness of the person, our own self first because our self, our I is designated in dependence upon the body and mind. So the thing that’s designated is always more unstable than the basis of designation. So the aggregates, the body and mind, are the basis of designation. And then the self, the I that’s merely imputed in dependence upon them, is the designated object. So they recommend when you’re meditating starting with that I; because they say it’s easier to realize that emptiness than to start off trying to realize the emptiness of the body or the mind.

Nagarjuna quotes

So there are some quotes here from Nagarjuna and then some from the Pali canon that we’re going to get into. So Nagarjuna starts, and this is in the Precious Garland:

If the person is not earth, not water, not fire, not wind, not space, not also consciousness, and not all of them together; where is the person outside of those?

So you’re looking for the person in the earth element of the body, the water element, the fire, the wind, the space element. You can’t find the person. Is any of those? The person is also not the consciousness? And it’s also not the collection of all those things together. So where’s the person outside of those? Can you find a person that’s separate from those different elements? Then Nagarjuna continues:

Just as the person is not established in reality, because of being designated in dependence upon an aggregation of the six constituents (six constituents were earth, water, fire, space, air, consciousness) so each constituent also is not established in reality because of being designated in dependence upon an aggregation.

So the self is dependent on these six elements; five of them were physical: earth, water, those ones, and then consciousness. The self is the designated object and those six are the basis of designation. But if you take any of those constituents individually it becomes a designated object that is designated upon its own individual basis of designation.

So consciousness is designated in dependence upon this collection of moments of clarity and awareness. Or earth is designated in dependence upon all these things that are hard and solid. So what we’re getting at is something can be a basis of designation in one situation; and it can also be the designated object in another situation. So for example, the consciousness is part of the basis of designation of the self, but it itself is also an object that’s designated in dependence upon the collection of moments of clarity and awareness. And so in this way you can see, for example, when you’re negating the self – the truly existent self – you’re not just negating the self. But you’ve also got to investigate each of the aggregates and see if they are truly existent. Following me?

So in most practices they say meditate on the emptiness of the self first and then the aggregates. But then sometimes in some practices you’ll find it reversed: meditate on the emptiness of the aggregates first and then the self. But in terms of the example: we’re starting out with the example of a self of phenomena, which is in olden times the chariot or the cart. But we’re going to use a car.

Bhikshuni Vajira quote

But let me read to you the quote that this starts with. And this is a very interesting quote because the Tibetans use it and they just say this quote is from a sutra in the fundamental vehicle. Well, I found this quote in the Pali canon. I’m using the translation here that the Tibetans have. I’m in the process of comparing the translations of this quote to see if all the words are exactly the same. So I’m just using the translation from the Tibetan right now. And this quote was spoken by a bhikshuni, Bhikshuni Vajira. And so she was meditating; and Mara, who is the personification of hindrances, appears to her and tries to sidetrack her meditation and get her back into worldly things. And Bhikshuni Vajira says to Mara:

Self is a demonic mind. You have a wrong view. These compositional aggregates are empty. There is no living being in them. Just as one speaks of a cart in dependence on a collection of parts, so we use the convention ‘living being’ in dependence upon the aggregates.

So, “Self is a demonic mind,” so Mara here is being personified as the grasping at the self. “You have a wrong view. The compositional aggregates…” in other words: form (which is the body), feelings, discriminations, conditioning factors, and consciousness; they’re empty. So there, that’s the selflessness of phenomena. She’s saying that the aggregates are empty. And then she’s says, “There is no living being in them,” that one is the selflessness of persons. And then she uses the example, “Just as one speaks of a cart in dependence upon a collection of parts.” If you’ve ever ridden in a cart in India you have the wooden wheels and all the different things in the cart. I haven’t ridden in an Indian chariot, I guess those went out of style but the cart stayed in style. “Just as one speaks of a cart in dependence upon a collection of parts,” so you have the back, and the down side, and the wheels, and the axle, and the front, and the seat, and all of those, that’s the collection of parts; “so we use the convention living being,” or self, or person, “in dependence upon the aggregates.” So in dependence upon the aggregates we designate I; just as in dependence upon the collection of parts you designate the cart. But when you look in the parts you can’t find the cart; and when you look in the aggregates, the body and mind, you can’t find the person. So that’s what’s getting emphasized in here.

Analyzing the relationship between the self and the aggregates

So when Nagarjuna asked us to look at what’s the relationship between the self and the aggregates, he gave five ways of checking this out to see that the self is not the aggregates. And then Chandrakirti in his Supplement added two more, so you get the seven point negation. When we do the four point meditation on emptiness, remember the four point analysis? The first one is identifying the object of negation. The second one is establishing the pervasion, in other words, that if things did exist inherently they should be either inherently one or inherently separate; there’s no third alternative. Then the third one is that the self and the aggregates aren’t inherently one. And the fourth is that they’re not inherently different. And then the conclusion is that therefore, there’s no inherently existent person. Okay, that’s the four point analysis of that.

Seven points of Chandrakirti

The seven points that Chandrakirti teaches all boil down to: the self is not inherently one with the aggregates, which is the third point in the four point analysis; and the self is not inherently independent from the aggregates, which is the fourth point in the four point analysis. So what Chandrakirti’s doing is that he’s just taking the third and fourth points and expanding them. Because in expanding them, he’s getting us to look a little deeper and dig a little deeper; and see what exactly is the relationship between the aggregates (the body and mind on one hand) and the self (the person on the other [hand]). Because our big problem is that we think that there’s this independent person that’s somewhere mixed inside the aggregates; that exists without depending on name and concept. And all beings have that, including kitties.

So, we’re going to start with the example of a car – because none of us are terribly attached to carts, are we? Or to wagons; that’s not going to get you. But people in this country are very attached to their cars. Actually I think everywhere in the world people are attached to their cars. It was interesting, when I was in Singapore I asked one person -because people there they keep their cars immaculate. It’s not like in this country where a car is like filthy and filled with junk. In Singapore you get into anybody’s car, it is immaculate. Not only tidy but free from dirt. And they wash their cars everyday. It’s just incredible. And I asked somebody, “Why? Why like this?” And they said, “Well, in our country you don’t usually invite your friends over to your house. People don’t have the custom so much of meeting at someone’s house. They’ll meet outdoors or at a restaurant or somewhere that’s not at somebody’s house. So you don’t gain any status by having nice things in your house. But if people ride in your car, or they see your car, then you gain some status. In this county we do invite people into our houses; but we also are very attached to our cars and get status from our cars, don’t we? Even if you keep your car a mess, still, “Here’s my messy Volvo,” or “My messy BMW,” or whatever it is. So it’s going to bring a little bit more sting if we’re analyzing to look for the car than for a cart.

So let’s go through the seven points. I’ll just list them and then we’ll start talking about them. So if a car, and remember this is the example we are going through right now. If a car existed inherently, then a probing consciousness that’s analyzing the ultimate should be able to establish it as existing in any one of seven ways. And it should exist inherently in any of these seven ways. And this probing consciousness that really investigates the ultimate mode of existence, it should be able to see this.

The seven points listed

So, what are the seven alternatives for how it should be able to find the ‘I’ if it were inherently existent?

  1. One is that it’s one with its parts.
  2. Second is that it’s different from its parts.
  3. Third is that it possesses its parts.
  4. Fourth is that it’s dependent upon its parts.
  5. Fifth is, it is what its parts depend upon. So it’s what its parts depend upon.
  6. The sixth is that it’s the collection of the parts.
  7. And the seventh is that it’s the shape or the arrangement of the parts.

So now we start to investigate. And in investigating these seven ways all sorts of interesting things come up; and we’ll have a few sidetracks here and there of quite interesting points.

“One” vs. “different” and “one nature” vs. “different natures” language and meaning

Now, before getting into that, what I just want to do is just explain a little bit about these words “one” and “different;” or “same” and “separate” or “distinct.” Or sometimes it’s translated as “one” and “many.” And sometimes different teachers will use these words in slight… it’s chik dang ta-day in Tibetan. And chik means “one” or it can mean “the same.” And ta-day can mean “different,” or “distinct,” or “several,” or “many.” So there are different ways. So we have to understand a little bit about relationships here. And I want this to be clarifying and not confusing.

So if things are “one,” if they’re “inherently one” especially; it means they’re one and the same. They’re exactly the same. If things are “different,” it just means on a conventional level that they’re distinct. The telephone is distinct from the recorder; they’re different.

If you say “one nature” and “different natures,” then there’s a different meaning. For things to be “one nature” they have to exist at the same time, and one cannot exist without the other existing. So saying things are one nature is indicating a particular kind of relationship. So for example, the skin of the peach is one nature with the peach; so if you have the skin of the peach you have the peach and vice versa. Or the color of the peach is one nature with the peach. But the color and the peach are not one. They’re one nature but they’re not one; because to be one they have to be exactly the same. And the color and the peach are not exactly the same, are they? But they are one nature because you can’t have the color without having the peach, and you can’t have the peach without having the color of the peach.

Different: two things can be different, like the color of the peach and the peach are different; but they’re not different natures. Because if they were different natures they could exist at different times; or even if they existed at the same time, they don’t need to have any relationship to each other. Like the table and the recorder exist at the same time, but they’re different. And they’re also different natures: the table and the tape recorder. They’re different and they’re different natures.

Now we get into certain things like: the Two Truths are one nature but they’re nominally different. Ultimate truth and conventional truth are not the same thing, but they are one nature because you can’t have one without having the other; and they depend on each other. So sometimes when some teachers present this, they do the analysis just as ‘one’ and ‘different.’ Sometimes they do it as ‘one nature’ and ‘different natures.’ And sometimes they do it as ‘one’ and ‘many’ in a numerical way: so the self is one, the aggregates are many. Just so you know in case you meet this kind of situation, somebody explaining it slightly differently.

Here we’re going to talk specifically about things being ‘one’ and ‘different.’ But we will in the process get into talking about things being one nature and different natures. Don’t you go getting confused!

Let’s look at the example of the car and the parts of the car. Actually maybe we’d better pause here because we are almost out of time, and start this next time, and see if you have any questions right now.

Question and answer

Audience: So the question is: “When we’re apprehending something or grasping at something as truly existent is an affliction present?”

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): That grasping at true existence is ignorance.

Audience: That’s the afflictive ignorance?

VTC: Yes

Audience: So the wrong conception, the thing that makes us see things as erroneous…

VTC: As erroneous or as false?

Audience: To see the appearance, that incorrect view…

VTC: Mistaken.

Audience: Mistaken, that’s the word. So what is that ignorance?

VTC: The appearance of true existence is a cognitive obscuration, it’s not a consciousness. And it arises due to the latencies of ignorance on the mind stream but it’s what obscures full enlightenment. The grasping at true existence is a consciousness and it’s what prevents liberation and causes samsara.

Audience: An obscuration is not a consciousness?

VTC: Ignorance is a consciousness. In the three kinds of impermanent phenomena of form, consciousness, and abstract composite; it falls in the category of consciousness. When we’re talking about the two obscurations: what prevents liberation, and what prevents enlightenment; the ignorance falls in the first one, the afflictive obscurations. And afflictive obscurations include all these afflictions which are consciousnesses, the seeds of the afflictions which are abstract composites, and the karmic seeds that cause rebirth in samsara (which are also abstract composites.) The cognitive obscurations, that’s the ones that you eliminate after the afflictive ones, those are like the appearance of duality, the appearance of true existence. And those arise, those, and the latencies of ignorance are the cognitive obscurations. And both the latencies and the appearance of true existence are abstract composites. Got it?

Audience: Well, I think so, it helps. I always thought that that was also an ignorance, so…

VTC: No, the cognitive obscurations are not ignorance. For the lower schools, maybe this is where you got confused, for the Svatantrika-Madyamakas and the Chittamatrins the cognitive obscurations are consciousness. And so they differentiate an afflicted ignorance and a non-afflicted ignorance saying that the afflicted ignorance is grasping at a self-sufficient substantially-existent person. And for the Chittamatrins, the afflicted ignorance is grasping that subject and object arise from different seeds, or that things exist as the reference of their titles by way of their own characteristics. And for the Svatantrika-Madyamakas, the cognitive obscurations is the grasping at true existence. Because remember the Svatantrikas say that you just need to negate the self-sufficient substantially-existent person to be free of samsara. So the way the Prasingikas state the afflictive and cognitive obscurations is unique. It’s not like the other schools.

And if it seems like a lot of names and terms, that’s what it seems like at the beginning. But as you get to understand what these names and terms mean, and what they’re pointing at, and identifying these things in your own experience, it becomes quite interesting. And it is actually related. It’s not just intellectual jibberish. It’s actually a core issue for liberation and enlightenment.

Audience: So the question is about: at the beginning I was distinguishing arhatship and being on the eighth bhumi of a bodhisattva and does that relate to their being different paths?

VTC: Yes. Because on the paths of the hearers and the solitary realizers, they don’t go through the ten bodhisattva bhumis; only when you’re on the bodhisattva path do you go through the ten bodhisattva bhumis. So the hearers and solitary realizers eliminate all the afflictive obscurations that keep us trapped in cyclic existence. They eliminate that on the fifth path, which is the path of no-more-learning of their vehicle; because you have the five paths of the hearer vehicle, the five paths of the solitary realizer vehicle, five paths of the bodhisattva vehicle. In terms of the bodhisattvas: if it’s a new bodhisattva, in other words somebody who wasn’t a hearer or a solitary realizer first, somebody who entered the bodhisattva path initially; then they don’t eliminate the afflictive obscurations until the eight bhumi which is on the bodhisattva path of meditation. And then what they eliminate by the time they get to the Mahayana or bodhisattva path of no-more-learning is the cognitive obscurations.

I know some of you have heard this many times. What is very helpful to do to remember it is to draw it out. I could do it all for you but then you might not learn. Whereas if you take yourself and draw it out and write in what is the definition of each path, and who realizes what, and make your 15 paths. Five in the hearer, five in the solitary realizer, five in the bodhisattva, and then that helps. And then in the bodhisattva path put in the ten bhumis. The first bhumi is on the path of seeing and the other nine bhumis are on the path of meditation.

Bhumi is a Sanskrit word. It’s often translated as ground, or level, or stage; different translations.

So you can see with this kind of teaching you have to review your notes from one week to the next. If you don’t review your notes you’re going to be lost the next teaching. So you have to take some time and review your notes; and go back and try and understand these things; and diagram them out; and come back to me with questions. I know when there are no questions it’s because people aren’t reviewing their notes.

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