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Basic Features of the Gelug-Chittamatra System
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Basic Features of the Gelug-Chittamatra System Alexander Berzin, May 2006 based on explanations received from Serkong Rinpoche, Geshe Dawa,Geshe Tenzin Zangpo, Gyumay Khenzur Rinpoche Losang Ngawang, and Geshe Thekchog
Ways of Being Aware of Something
Ways of being aware of something include:
primary conscousnesses (rnam-shes),
subsidiary awarenesses (sems-byung, mental factors), such as feeling a level of happiness, which accompany a primary consciousness,
reflexive awareness (rang-rig).
Primary consciousnesses include the eight types of primary consciousness (rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad):
eye consciousness (mig-gi rnam-shes),
ear consciousness (rna’i rnam-shes),
nose consciousness (sna’i rnam-shes),
tongue consciousness (lce’i rnam-shes),
body consciousness (lus-kyi rnam-shes),
mind consciousness (yid-kyi rnam-shes),
deluded awareness (nyon-yid),
alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundation consciousness, storehouse consciousness).
In general, reflexive awareness focuses on, assumes the aspect of, and cognizes only the other awarenesses of the cognition – namely, the primary consciousness and subsidiary awarenesses – and the fallaciousness (]]bslu-ba\\) or nonfallaciousness (mi-bslu-ba) of them. It does not assume the aspect of or apprehend, either explicitly or implicitly, the involved objects (]]‘jug-yul\\) of the primary consciousness and subsidiary awarenesses on which it focuses.
In the case of reflexive awareness of conceptual cognitions, reflexive awareness explicitly apprehends the other awarenesses of the cognition and implicitly apprehends the categories (spyi) that are the appearing objects (snang-yul) of the cognition. The categories cognized in a conceptual cognition are not its involved objects.
Although reflexive awareness cognizes the fallaciousness or nonfallaciousness of the cognitions it accompanies, it does not apprehend the fallaciousness or nonfallaciousness, either explicitly or implicitly. This is because reflexive awareness does not decisively determine whether or not the cognition it accompanies is fallacious.
Within the aspects of a cognition that are ways of being aware of something, the reflexive awareness is the cognizing aspect (‘dzin-rnam) and the other awarenesses that are its involved objects are the cognized aspect (gzung-rnam).
Reflexive awareness arises from the same natal source (rdzas) as the primary consciousness that it is aware of and is simultaneous with it. Further, it relies on the same cognitive sensors (dbang-po) as the consciousness does for its dominating condition (bdag-rkyen), for instance the photosensitive cells of the eyes.
The reflexive awareness that accompanies a cognition accounts for recollection (dran-pa, mindfulness) of that cognition. Recollection is a conceptual subsequent cognition (bcas-shes) in which a mental aspect (rnam-pa) representing the previous cognition appears and is cognized through a meaning/object category (don-spyi, meaning universal) of the previous cognition.
The subsidiary awareness “ mindfulness” (dran-pa) accompanies the conceptual subsequent cognition and acts as the “mental glue” for not forgetting or letting go of the involved object of the cognition.
Although reflexive awareness accompanies each moment of cognition, we do not necessarily recall every moment. Recollection depends on whether or not the awarenesses that the reflexive awareness accompanies apprehend their shared object, in the sense of decisively determining their object as “ this” and not “that.”
Reflexive awareness itself does not necessarily apprehend the awarenesses that are its own object. Sometimes, it is a nondetermining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa, inattentive cognition).
When the awarenesses reflexive awareness accompanies are themselves nondetermining of their shared object, the reflexive awareness is also nondetermining. In such cases, we cannot recall the awarenesses. For example, when hearing the noise of traffic in a nondetermining fashion while reading a book, the reflexive awareness that accompanies the hearing is also nondetermining. Consequently, we do not recall hearing the noise.
On the other hand, so long as the awarenesses that reflexive awareness accompany apprehend their shared involved object, then despite reflexive awareness not apprehending the fallaciousness of those awarenesses, we can still recall the awarenesses. For example, when mistakenly hearing someone say “yes” when actually he or she said “no,” so long as our hearing decisively determined – albeit, incorrectly – that what we heard was “yes,” we can recall hearing “yes.”
It is nonobstructive (ma-bsgribs) – meaning that it is not necessarily accompanied by disturbing emotions or attitudes or by unawareness about how the conventional “me” exists, and is not included among the emotional obscurations preventing liberation or the cognitive obscurations preventing omniscience.
It carries karmic tendencies (sa-bon, seeds), constant karmic habits (bag-chags), and the mental impressions (bag-chags, habits, instincts) of previous cognitions – what, in the West, we call “ memories.”
It “carries” them in the sense that all of these are nonstatic abstractions imputable on the alayavijnana. It doesn’t carry them in a literal sense, since none of them are forms of physical phenomena.
According to the Gelug explanation of Chittamatra as given by Tsongkhapa in his earlier writings, the continuity of the alayavijnana ceases with the true stopping of the emotional obscurations, whether this occurs with the attainment of Hinayana arhatship or an arya bodhisattva eighth level bhumi mind.
From then until Buddhahood, the ripener factor (rnam-smin cha) of the alayavijnana – the factor of alayavijnana that accounts for the ripening of aggregates from one lifetime to the next and which provides continuity – continues as a factor called “ripener consciousness” (rnam-smin-pa’i rnam-shes).
According to Tsongkhapa’s later writings on Chittamatra, the continuity of alayavijnana ceases only with the attainment of Buddhahood. In this view, ripener consciousness is a synonym for alayavijnana.
With the true stopping of the cognitive obscurations, when both alayavijnana and ripener consciousness have separated out and ceased, the equalizing deep awareness functions on the fully purified level of a Buddha.
Because the alayavijnana does not continue into Buddhahood, it does not carry the enlightenment-building networks of positive force and deep awareness (collections of merit and wisdom) or other Buddha-nature factors such as the habits from listening to the Dharma (thos-pa’i bag-chags).
We can also specify an individual person as the alayavijnana, since the alayavijnana is a basis having the defining characteristic mark (mtshan-gzhi) making it an individual person. It continues from one lifetime to the next, until either liberation or enlightenment, depending on the assertion of when alayavijnana ceases. In this case, a person as an alayavijnana is substantially knowable.
An alayavijnana, on the other hand, is a basis having the defining characteristic marks that make it both a person and a way of being aware of something. The conventional “me” itself is never a way of being aware of something.
In the Sautrantika system, the term can be translated as a “ nonconcomitant affecting variable,” because nonstatic phenomena belonging to this category do not share five things in common (mtshungs-ldan lnga) with the primary consciousness and subsidiary awarenesses that they accompany.
In the Chittamatra system, however, the technical term cannot be translated or explained in this way, since one item in this category – namely, a person or conventional “me” – can be specified as either a member of this category or as an alayavijnana.
An alayavijnana does share five things in common with the primary consciousness that it accompanies and is a way of being aware of something. For this reason, denmin-duchey is translated here as “nonstatic abstraction.”
The technical term must be translated as “nonstatic abstraction” in the Svatantrika system as well. This is because Svatantrika asserts “mental consciousness as a basis having the defining characteristic mark” (mtshan-gzhi yid-kyi rnam-shes) that also makes it an individual person.
Deluded awareness aims at the alayavijnana and cognizes its ripener factor as a false “me” – namely a “me” existing as a static, monolithic entity independent from its aggregates and/or existing as a self-sufficiently knowable phenomenon.
Deluded awareness is an obstructive unspecified phenomenon (bsgribs lung-ma-bstan), meaning that it is always accompanied by disturbing emotions and attitudes, and that it itself is neither destructive nor constructive.
Specifically, deluded awareness is always accompanied by unawareness (ignorance) of how the conventional “me” exists, a deluded outlook toward a transitory network (‘jig-lta), pride (nga-rgyal), and longing desire (‘dod-chags).
Thus, deluded awareness itself does not interpolate a false “me.” It merely cognizes the mere “me” (the ripener factor of the alayavijnana) as the false “me” interpolated and projected by the accompanying deluded outlook toward a transitory network.
[See: A Deluded Outlook toward a Transitory Network.]
Thus, the primary consciousnesses, the subsidiary awarenesses, the reflexive awareness, the alayavijnana awareness, and the nonstatic abstractions in a moment of cognition all come from the same karmic tendency (seed) imputed on the alayavijnana.
The mental aspects (rnam-pa) representing nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena, such as unicorns and impossible souls, that appear in the distorted cognitions involving nonexistent phenomena are functional phenomena. These mental aspects arise from the same natal sources as the consciousnesses of them. This is not the case with the nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena themselves. The nonexistent phenomena are also nonfunctional phenomena; and so they too cannot derive from the same natal source as the consciousnesses of them.
Thus, during the first step of focusing on the first noble truth, an arya is focusing on all unpurified dependent phenomena, and all of them share the same natal source as the consciousness that takes them as its cognitive object.
During the first step of focusing on the second noble truth, true causes of suffering, an arya is focusing on a subclass of tainted dependent phenomena – namely, on the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and karma.
This means that the various types of lack (in other words, the absences or voidnesses) of impossible souls are imputable only on top of individual defining characteristic marks findable on the side of the basis for imputation of these absences.
In other words, the individual defining characteristic mark on the side of the basis of imputation is the findable platform that serves as the basis for the imputation of the individual defining characteristic mark of the absences.
A findable individual defining characteristic mark can only rest on another findable individual defining characteristic mark.
If something is findable it has to be findable on the basis of something else that is findable.
Because the findable individual defining characteristic mark on the side of the dependent phenomenon is the locus for the findable individual defining characteristic mark of the thoroughly established phenomenon imputable on it, the dependent phenomenon and the thoroughly established phenomena imputable on it are said to share the same essential nature.
This does not mean, however, that someone necessarily cognizes both the dependent and the thoroughly established phenomena simultaneously when focusing on the locus of the two findable characteristic marks.
The deep awareness in the total absorption of an arya’s liberated pathway mind explicitly apprehends only thoroughly established phenomena, and does not apprehend, even implicitly, the dependent phenomena that are their basis.
The deep awareness in the subsequent attainment phase of an arya’s focus on the four noble truths implicitly apprehends the thoroughly established phenomena simultaneously with explicitly apprehending the dependent phenomena that are their bases for imputation.
Because (1) the thoroughly established phenomena imputable on the basis of dependent phenomena share the same essential nature, and because (2) the dependent phenomena that are their basis for imputation share the same natal source as the consciousnesses of them, thoroughly established phenomena can be understood as “mind-only.”
True stoppings are thoroughly established phenomena and are thus deepest truths. Although thoroughly established phenomena have individual defining characteristic marks that can provide a basis for the imputation of the lack of an impossible soul of phenomena with respect to true stoppings, one needs to focus first on the superficial truth of true stoppings.
Those mental continuums are the locus, then, for not only the lack of an impossible soul of a person with respect to true stoppings, but are also the locus for the lack of an impossible soul of phenomena with respect to true stoppings.
Further, totally conceptional phenomena do not have existence established by individual defining characteristic marks findable on the sides of those totally conceptional objects, independently of these totally conceptional phenomena being merely imputable by the conceptual cognition of them.
In simpler terms, categories, for example, do not have a plastic coating around them that make them individual validly knowable objects independently of the categories being merely imputable by the conceptual cognitions of them.
If categories had a plastic coating around them that was not merely imputed, then categories could be cognized nonconceptually as individual validly knowable objects without reliance on simultaneous valid cognition of a basis for their imputation.
Such types of individual defining characteristic marks are not findable, already present, in the dependent phenomena, independently of those marks being merely imputable by the conceptual cognition of them.
According to Chittamatra, an object with a flat top and supported by legs has a findable individual defining characteristic mark on its own side that makes it an individual validly knowable object, independently of its being “an individual validly knowable object” being merely something imputable by a conceptual cognition of this object with a flat top and supported by legs.
The same is in reference to findable individual defining characteristic marks on the side of this validly knowable object that make it “beautiful” or “ugly,” independently of the categories “beautiful” or “ugly” merely being imputable by a conceptual cognition.
Thus, the existence of the audio and meaning/object categories “table,” “Tisch,” “mesa,” “ beautiful,” or “ugly” cannot be established by individual defining characteristic marks either on the side of the categories themselves or on the side of the bases for imputation of the categories, independently of these categories being merely imputable by a conceptual cognition involving them.
The referent “things” are findable on the side of the totally conceptional phenomena.
For example, when one conceptually thinks about meaning/object categories, as when trying to understand what the concept of a “ meaning/object category” refers to, the actual “thing” referred to by the name and concept “ meaning/object category” is findable on the side of meaning/object categories.
Nevertheless, as explained above, totally conceptional phenomena lack existence established by individual defining characteristic marks findable on the side of the totally conceptional phenomena, independently of the totally conceptional phenomena being merely imputable by the conceptual cognitions involving them.
In other words, the existence of categories can only be established within the context of their being imputed by a conceptual cognition involving them. Outside of that context, there is no way to establish their existence.
On the other hand, nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena, such as external existence, not only lack existence established by individual defining characteristic marks, they lack existence established by a self-nature as well.
The voidness of dependent phenomena existing in the manner of totally conceptional phenomena is a thoroughly established phenomenon. The thoroughly established phenomenon, however, does not refer to the voidness of dependent phenomena existing in the manner of existent totally conceptional phenomena.
It is true, however, that dependent phenomena are, in fact, devoid of existence not established by individual defining characteristic marks, while totally conceptional phenomena do not have existence established by individual defining characteristic marks. However, existence not established by individual defining characteristic marks (rang-gi mtshan-nyid-kyis ma-grub-pa) is a validly knowable mode of existence.
Moreover, since existence established by individual characteristic marks is synonymous with truly established existence, then dependent phenomena have truly established existence, while totally conceptional phenomena have non-truly established existence (bden-par ma-grub-pa).
Voidnesses that are included among thoroughly established phenomena need to be nonimplicative negation phenomena (med-dgag, nonimplicative nullifications, nonaffirming negations) in which the object to be negated (dgag-bya, object to be nullified, object to be refuted) is something totally nonexistent.
In simple terms, a nonimplicative negation phenomenon is one in which, after the sound of the words of the negation have eliminated the object to be negated, no affirmation phenomena (sgrub-pa) are left behind or implied.
The voidness of dependent phenomena existing in the manner of totally conceptional phenomenon, then, refers to their being devoid of existing in the manner of nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena.
According to Chittamatra, existence not established by self-nature (rang-bzhin-gyis ma-grub-pa) is a totally nonexistent mode of existence. It cannot be validly known, because no validly knowable phenomenon exists in that manner. It is an impossible manner of existence.
The thoroughly established phenomenon of the voidness of dependent phenomena existing in the manner of nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena, then, is a nonimplicative negation phenomenon in which the object to be negated is a nonexistent object.
The appearing objects, however, are totally conceptional phenomena, such as categories. What appears (the dependent phenomena), however, in valid conceptual cognition, is cognized through the medium of the appearing object (the category), imputed on what appears.
In other words, the category is the object directly in front of the mental consciousness, here; and it is described as being like a veil partially obscuring the mental hologram (the dependent phenomenon) that actually appears through the category.
Further, Gelug asserts that the valid nonconceptual visual cognition of the colored shape of an item with a flat top and supported by legs cognizes not only one moment of a colored shape, but also the commonsense item itself.
Both the cognized colored shape and the cognized item itself have existence established by individual defining characteristic marks, independently of their being merely imputable by the conceptual cognitions of them.
The question arises, “In any particular moment, although the cognized colored shapes and tactile sensations are different, is the item itself that each sense and each person validly cognizes visually, tactilely, and mentally the same item?”
Everyone validly cognizing the item in any particular moment is cognizing the same item; although, from the deepest point of view, the common locus item does not exist externally as a findable referent “thing” of the cognitions.
This is consistent with his assertion regarding the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view of voidness, that even from the conventionally, nothing has existence established by self-nature. Present-day Gelug follows Tsongkhapa’s later assertion regarding this point in Chittamatra.
There are no “common locus" commonsense dependent phenomena, then, that can be found, either from a conventional or a deepest point of view, as the actual referent “things” of the conceptual cognitions of them. Such common loci are nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena.
This discussion of commonsense dependent phenomena is extremely important in terms of understanding that other limited beings (sentient beings), despite being “mind-only,” actually do exist and therefore compassion for them and striving to achieve enlightenment for their sakes is appropriate. Other beings are commonsense dependent phenomena.
Each time we see or think of some other limited being, the mental aspect of the commonsense being that appears is different. Nevertheless, the actual referent “thing” of the word or concept “commonsense being” is findable on the side of the mental aspect of the limited being that appears,
and his or her existence as a validly knowable individual object is established by a findable individual characteristic mark on the side of that mental aspect, independently of the person being merely imputable by the conceptual cognitions of him or her. Chittamatra, after all, is a Mahayana tenet system.
Within a particular sense field, such as the visual one, True Aspectarian Chittamatra and False Aspectarian Chittamatra differ in their explanations concerning the gross appearances (snang-ba rags-pa) that arise in valid nonconceptual sensory cognition.
Both divisions of Chittamatra agree that valid nonconceptual sensory cognitions of forms of physical phenomena, such as the visual cognition of a blue shape, are deceptive (‘khrul-ba) with respect to their cognition of the appearance of the blue shape as if it were an external phenomenon.
True Aspectarian Chittamatra asserts that whatever appears grossly to valid sensory cognition is established as existing as how it appears (snang-ba ltar-du grub-pa).
False Aspectarian Chittamatra asserts that whatever appears grossly to valid sensory cognition is established as not existing as how it appears (snang-ba ltar-du ma-grub-pa).
In other words, according to the True Aspectarian view, not only does a commonsense dependent phenomenon, conventionally labeled a “blue table,” appear in the valid visual cognition of the blue shape of a flat surface supported by legs, the gross blue shape that appears in the cognition actually exists as a blue shape.
According to False Aspectarian Chittamatra, commonsense dependent phenomena, such as a conventionally labeled “blue table,” do not appear in valid nonconceptual visual cognition of the blue shape of a flat surface supported by legs.
The False Aspectarian position, represented by the Chittamatra writings of Vasubandhu in India, accords with the non-Gelug assertion of nondenumerable ultimate phenomena (rnam-grangs ma-yin-pa’i don-dam) beyond dualities and beyond all words and concepts.
Proponents of an Equal Number of Cognized Objects and Cognizing Consciousnesses (gzung-’dzin grangs-mnyam-pa),
Half-Eggists (sgo-nga phyed-tshal-pa),
Proponents of Non-Dual Diversity (sna-tshogs gnyis-med-pa).
Chittamatra Proponents of an Equal Number of Cognized Objects and Cognizing Consciousnesses assert that on the side of the cognized object, there are as many aspects as there are different colored shapes, and on the side of the cognizing consciousness, there are as many consciousnesses as there are cognized aspects, with each one directed at each aspect.
Chittamatra Half-Eggists assert that on the side of the cognized object, there are as many aspects as there are different colored shapes, but on the side of the cognizing consciousness, there is only one consciousness aimed at all of them.
Chittamatra Proponents of Non-Dual Diversity assert that on the side of the cognized object, there is only one aspect and that aspect contains the entire diversity of colored shapes, and on the side of the cognizing consciousness, there is only one consciousness aimed at it.
This is not so. Thoroughly established phenomena (voidnesses) are static phenomena, which do not arise from causes and conditions. Dependent phenomena, on the other hand, do arise from causes and conditions.
Because totally conceptional objects lack any findable individual defining characteristic marks on their own side that establish their existence independently of being merely imputable by the conceptual cognitions of them, they do not exist in the same manner as thoroughly established and dependent phenomena do.
Since this interpretation of this lack of an essential nature resembles the first type of lack of essential nature, this first type of lack is also called dependent phenomena’s lack of an essential nature of existing as ultimate (gzhan-dbang don-dam-du ngo-bo-nyid med-pa).
Although dependent phenomena, as included in the four noble truths, appear initially to an arya’s total absorption as objects to be scrutinized for existence established by an impossible soul, dependent phenomena are not the final focal point (dmigs-pa mthar-thug) at which purifier pathway minds (rnam-par dag-pa’i lam) aim as their involved objects.
As voidnesses, thoroughly established phenomena are total absences of objects of refutation that are nonexistent totally conceptional phenomena, namely impossible souls, which are not ultimate phenomena.
The former are not to be taken literally, whereas the latter may be accepted as they are.
Madhyamaka asserts that the first and third rounds are interpretable, whereas the second round is definitive.
Overview of the Karma Kagyu Presentation of the Chittamatra Tenet System
The Karma Kagyu tradition, as represented by the works of the Seventh Karmapa Chodrag-gyatso (Kar-ma-pa Chos-grags rgya-mtsho) and the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo-dorjey (Kar-ma-pa Mi-bskyod rdo-rje), presents Chittamatra differently from the way the Gelug tradition does.
Rather than formulating this point in terms of a cognitive object being devoid of coming from a natal source different from that of the consciousness that cognizes it, however, Karma Kagyu speaks of consciousness and the cognitive objects it cognizes as being devoid of duality (gnyis-med, nondual).
Coarse Presentation of the Three Types of Characterized Phenomena
They are not yet purified of karmic tendencies and the unawareness that both plants and activates these tendencies. In essence, however, these unpurified minds are minds that are devoid of projecting and cognizing these totally conceptional phenomena.
According to Karma Kagyu, nonconceptual cognition of forms of physical phenomena, for example, have three phases. The first phase is nonconceptual sensory cognition and it cognizes only a single moment of sensibilia.
It nonconceptually cognizes
The two have the same essential nature (ngo-bo gcig) but are different conceptually isolated items (ldog-pa tha-dad), meaning that they refer to the same aspect of the same phenomenon from two different cognitive points of view – cognition of a cognized aspect and cognition of itself.
Because nonconceptual reflexive awareness cognition occurs as the third phase of nonconceptual sensory cognition before conceptual cognition (conceptual thought) occurs, and because that reflexive awareness cognizes nonduality, Karma Kagyu emphasizes meditation practice to recognize and prolong the moment of reflexive awareness “in between thoughts.”