Identifying the person

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The text turns to training the mind on the stages of the path of advanced level practitioners. Part of a series of teachings on the Gomchen Lamrim by Gomchen Ngawang Drakpa. Visit Gomchen Lamrim Study Guide for a full list of contemplation points for the series.

  • Identifying how self-grasping ignorance grasps the self
  • Describing the four point analysis
  • Why are the rules for inherent and conventional existence different?
  • Explanation of the general and specific I
  • Practicing using wisdom in daily life

Gomchen Lamrim 127: Identifying the Person (download)

127 The Gomchen Lamrim: Identifying the Person 03-09-18

Contemplation points

  1. Venerable Chodron said in the teaching that we just assume that the way things appear to us is how they exist, and we never really investigate how they actually appear.
    • Take some time to consider the world around you? How does it appear?
    • Does it seem like objects have their own nature, from their own side? Do they seem objective, unrelated to your mind, something that makes them what they are? Do they seem independent of being designated by your own mind?
    • Consider yourself. Do you ever think of yourself as dependent, as being a result of causes and conditions, or do you just have the feeling that you exist and will always exist as you are?
  2. Consider the four key points of establishing the lack of inherent existence of the “I”:
    • The first step is investigating the question that if an inherently existent “I” existed, how would it have to exist? You’re not looking for an inherently existent “I” because that doesn’t exist. You’re establishing that if one DID exist, it would logically have to exist in a certain way. Venerable Chodron said we have to see how the self-grasping ignorance grasps the object, why and how we grasp things as inherently existent. Why is this such an important first step?
    • The second step is getting clear that the only two options are that an inherently existent “I” would have to be 1) one and the same with its aggregates or 2) separate and unrelated to them. Why is it so important to be convinced that there is no third alternative here?
    • In the third step, we refute these two options, establishing for ourselves that the “I” cannot exist in either of these two ways by using reasoning. Why is this alone not the realization of emptiness?
    • Finally, in the fourth step, we understand that because the “I” is neither identical to nor separate and unrelated to the aggregates, it absolutely cannot be inherently existent. Venerable Chodron said that often we can go through these points and not feel any different at the end. Why do we have to meditate on these points again and again, investigating them deeply before they begin to impact the way we interact with the world?
  3. If the self existed in this truly existent way, as it appears, some problems would arise. Take some time to consider each:
    • If the self were the same as the aggregates, asserting a self would be redundant. You could say “My mind is walking” or “My body is thinking,” because “I” and “my body” or “my mind” would be synonymous. We often feel we are our body and mind. Consider what would happen if that were really the case, if you were your body or your mind inherently.
    • If the self were the same as the aggregates, the person would be many or the aggregates would be one. If the self and the aggregates are one and the same, why is there one “I” and five aggregates? Are there five “I”s? One aggregate?
    • If the self were the same as the aggregates, the agent and the object would be the same. Normally, we would say that at the time of death, the person grasps at another body and is reborn, but if the agent (the person) and the object (the aggregates the person takes) are identical, then which is the agent and which is the object? They are the same.
    • If the self were the same as the aggregates, the person would inherently arise and disintegrate. An inherent “I” is not dependent on causes and conditions. If it arises, it cannot be coming from a previous continuity and if it ceases, it must cease entirely, because it is separate and unrelated to anything else. With inherent existence, your 1 year old body, your 10 year old body, your 20 year old body, etc would all be totally unrelated to each other. Look at some old pictures of yourself. Are you the same/identical as the person in the picture? Are you different, separate and unrelated?
    • If the self were separate and unrelated to the aggregates, recalling previous lives would be impossible because there would be no relationship between them. As was addressed in the Q&A, you also couldn’t remember anything in this life. You couldn’t study for an exam and pass it because the person who studied and the person who took the test would be completely unrelated.
    • If the self were separate and unrelated to the aggregates, actions wouldn’t bring results. If our current life was separate and unrelated from the previous life, we could not experience results of karma that we created in previous lives.
    • If the self were separate and unrelated to the aggregates, results we do experience could have been created by someone else. Yet, we do experience the result of our own actions, not those of others. There is a continuity and cause and effect does work.
  4. Why is it that if something is inherently existent, it can only exist as inherently one (identical) or inherently different (separate and unrelated)? Why does conventional existence not have these same requirements? This is an important point, so take some time to really think about it.  Why are these the only two options with inherent existence?
  5. Venerable Chodron said that when we look at these refutations, it seems laughable, but the idea is that if things really existed the way they appear to us, we would have to have these kinds of results. We have to look at the consequences in order to prove to ourselves that the way things appear are not the way they exist. How might seeing things as empty of inherent existence change the way you view and interact with the world?
  6. With a greater conviction that things do not exist in the way they appear, resolve to continue investigating these points both on the cushion and in your daily life as you interact with the world.

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