Since Tibetan texts so often mention—more or less pejoratively—those called Mere Mentalists or Proponents of Cognizance, we should investigate their purported assertions and positions.
Based on the passage in various sutras that "the whole universe which consists of the three worlds is mere mind," another major position that is often ascribed to them is that only mind is real and that everything in the universe is nothing other than mind and created by it.
However, as will be shown immediately below, these positions attributed to the Mere Mentalists cannot be ascribed to the lineage of vast activity, since none of them is found in the texts of this lineage and most of them are explicitly rejected.
For example, Asanga's Synopsis of Ascertainment refutes both "Sramanas and Brahmans who claim some substantially existing mere mind" by using reasoning and scripture. Vasubandhu's Commentary on The Distinction between the Middle and Extremes says:
- Based on the observation of mere cognizance, the nonobservation of [outer] referents arises.
Based on the nonobservation of referents, also the nonobservation of mere cognizance arises.
Therefore, observation is established as the nature of nonobservation, because if there is no referent to be observed, an observation [of it] it is not suitable. Thus, one should understand observation and nonobservation as being equal.
Sthiramati's subcommentary on this text elaborates:
- Thus, in its nature, observation is nonobservation.... [This means that] there is no difference between the nonobservation of referents and the observation as mere cognizance in that [both] do not exist. Thus, they are to be understood as equal.... [The latter) is just called "observation," since an unreal object appears [for it].
However, since there is no [actual] referent, nothing is observed by this ["observation"]. Therefore, ultimately, its nature is nonobservation....
They are the same in that they are undifferentiable.... "So why is [mere] cognition called 'observation' then?" In its nature, it is nonobservation, but [it is designated] in this way, since an unreal object appears [for it], as this is the convention in the world and the treatises.
Maitreya's Ornament of Sutras says:
The mind is aware that nothing other than mind exists.
Then, it is realized that mind does not exist either.
The intelligent ones are aware that both do not exist
And abide in the expanse of dharmas (dharmadhatu) in which these are absent.
Even The Sutra of the Arrival in Lanka, which is so often considered one of the classic sutras of Mere Mentalism in the above sense, declares:
Through reliance on mere mind,
One does not imagine outer objects.
By resting in the observed object of suchness,
One should go beyond mere mind too.
Going beyond mere mind,
One must even go beyond the nonappearance [of apprehender and apprehended].
The yogic practitioner who rests in nonappearance
Sees the great vehicle.
This spontaneously present, peaceful resting
Is completely purified through aspiration prayers.
Genuine identityless wisdom
Sees by way of nonappearance.
The same is clearly stated again and again in other texts of this tradition too, such as Maitreya's Distinction between Phenomena and Their Nature:
Through [outer referents] being observed in this way, they are observed as mere cognizance.
Due to observing [them] as mere cognizance,
Referents are not observed,
And through not observing referents,
Mere cognizance is not observed [either].
Through not observing this [mere cognizance],
One enters into the observation of both being without difference.
This nonobservation of a difference between these two
Is nonconceptual wisdom.
It is without object and without observing,
Since it is characterized
By nonobservation of all characteristics.
Vasubandhu's Instruction on the Three Natures agrees:
Through the observation of (objects) being merely mind,
A referent to be known is not observed.
Through not observing a referent to be known,
Mind cannot be observed [either].
Through not observing both,
The expanse of dharmas is observed.
His Thirty Verses says:
When consciousness itself
Does not observe any observed object,
It rests in the actuality of mere consciousness (vijnaptimatrata),*
Since there is no apprehender without something apprehended.
Being no-mind and nonreferential,
It is supramundane wisdom.
This is the complete change of state
And the relinquishment of the twofold impregnations of negativity.
It is the undefiled expanse
That is inconceivable, positive, and constant.
It is the blissful Body of Release
And the Dharma Body of the Great Sage.
In the gradual process of realizing true reality, the expedient purpose of the step of describing objects as being "merely mind" or "merely cognition" is to prevent the total denial of seeming reality in which subject and object appear.
To start by presenting just the unqualified nonexistence of mind (the perceiving subject) courts the danger of falling into a nihilistic extreme by failing to account for the mere appearance of the interaction between mind and its objects. Such is stated in Sthiramati's Subcommentary on The Distinction between the Middle and Extremes:
- "[If neither objects nor mind exist,] then why is the nonexistence of mere cognizance not presented right from the start?"
The apprehender depends on the apprehended.
Consequently, if [it is established that] there is no object to be observed [by the apprehender], one may easily realize [the nonexistence of the apprehender too], since something that has the nature of being [its] observed object has been eliminated.
The Buddhas said, "If there are no knowable objects,
One easily finds that a knower is excluded."
If knowable objects do not exist, the negation of a knower is established.
Therefore, they first negated knowable objects.
The lineage of vast activity clearly postulates that the actual liberating purpose of "mere mind" lies in going beyond it, that is, transcending duality by pointing beyond this very mind and entering the middle path of emptiness or suchness.
In this, The Sutra of the Arrival in Lanka is followed:
The (Buddhas) do not see mere mind.
Since there is nothing to be seen [by it], it does not arise.
This middle path is what is taught
By me as well as by others.
Arising and nonarising
As well as entities and nonentities are emptiness.
The lack of nature of [all] entities
Is not to be conceived in terms of such pairs.
Through the realization that what is seen is of one's own mind,
Clinging to duality is abandoned.
Abandoning means fully understanding
And not destroying mind's imagining activity.
Through the full understanding that what is seen is of one's own mind,
Mind's imagining activity ceases to operate.
Since mind's imagining activity ceases to operate,
Suchness has become free from mind.
From all of these sources, it should be very clear that such Yogacara terms as "mere mind," "mere cognizance," and "mere consciousness" are used in describing a meditative progression or as provisional antidotes for clinging to external referents.
- Since citta and caittas depend on other things to arise (paratantra), they are like a magician's trick, not truly substantial ('real') entities.
But so as to oppose false attachments to the view that external to citta and caittas there are perceptual-objects (ching, visaya) composed of real, substantial entities, we say that the only existent is consciousness.
But if you become attached to the view that vijnapti-matra is something truly real and existent, that's the same as being attached to external perceptual-objects, i.e., it becomes just another dharma-attachment [and definitely not liberating].
The same point can be found in Centrist texts.
What is stated as the four great elements and such
Is contained in consciousness.
Since such (consciousness) is left behind through wisdom,
Is it not falsely conceived?
His Commentary on the Mind of Enlightenment agrees:
As the entities of apprehender and apprehended,
The appearances of consciousness
Do not exist as outer objects
That are different from consciousness.
Therefore, in the sense of having the nature of entities,
In all cases, outer objects do not exist.
It is these distinct appearances of consciousness
That appear as the aspects of forms.
The aggregates, constituents, and so on were taught
In order to counteract the clinging to a self.
By abiding in [the view of] mere mind,
Those with good fortune relinquish them too.
The five characteristics of the ultimate are the characteristic of being inexpressible, the characteristic of being nondual, the characteristic of being completely beyond the sphere of dialectic, the characteristic of being completely beyond difference and non-difference, and the characteristic of being of one taste in everything.
Neither existent nor non-existent, neither same nor other,
Neither arising nor ceasing, neither increasing nor decreasing,
Not purified and yet purified again—
These are the characteristics of the ultimate.
Rather, it must be eliminated in order for one to attain enlightenment.
- Visalamati, bodhisattvas ... do not see an appropriating consciousness.... They do not see a fundamental ground, nor do they see a ground consciousness.
Asanga's commentary elaborates on this verse:
- The ground consciousness is difficult to understand, since it is not (taught) on the lower levels of the teachings, since it abides as bearing the characteristics of the seeds of the [si operative consciousnesses]], and since it does not abide through having any characteristics of its own.
This means that the ground consciousness is nothing but the sum of its seeds and that there is no other underlying, permanent substratum or entity of a ground consciousness apart from the seeds that constitute it.
It also does not actively create anything.
Rather, The Synopsis of the Great Vehicle says:
- The ground consciousness is like an illusion, a mirage, a dream, or [the appearances of] blurred vision.
- In arhathood, it becomes annulled.
- In terms of the presentation of the ultimate, the ground without mind is the expanse of the nirvana without remainder.
Why? Because the ground consciousness ceases in it.
The final realization of true reality as explained by the lineage of vast activity is the nonreferential, nondualistic wisdom that realizes and is inseparable from the expanse of dharmas free from both afflictive and cognitive obscurations.
Thus, since there is no reference point for it to engage in anymore, any mental engagement in reference points naturally subsides.
Third, nonconceptual wisdom is not the mere subsiding of all thoughts, for otherwise deep sleep, fainting, being completely drunk, or the meditative absorption of cessation would also qualify as such wisdom.
The Ornament of Sutras says:
- "O Blessed One, through which perfection do bodhisattvas apprehend the lack of nature of phenomena?" "Avalokitesvara, they apprehend it through the perfection of knowledge."
"O Blessed One, if they apprehend the lack of nature through the perfection of knowledge, why do they not also apprehend that (phenomena) have a nature?" "Avalokitesvara, I definitely do not say that a nature apprehends the lack of nature.
- [The phrase) "[The Dharma Body) is characterized by the nonduality of existence and nonexistence" [means that] it does not have the characteristic of existence, since all phenomena have the essential character of the nonexistence of entities.
In an insertion into his Chinese translation of Vasubandhu's commentary, Paramartha emphasizes here that all the enlightened bodies of a Buddha must be interpreted through the understanding of emptiness.
In both The Sublime Continuum and The Ornament of Sutras, the Dharma Body is said to be spacelike and is equated with the completely pure expanse of dharmas as well as the naturally luminous nature of the mind.
- "In this teaching that is the very extensive teaching of the great vehicle of the Buddhas, the Blessed Ones, how should the imaginary nature be understood?"
It should be understood through the teachings on the synonyms of nonexistents.
- "How should the perfect nature be understood?" It should be understood through the teachings on the four kinds of completely pure dharmas.
Also the expanse of dharmas is just this.
In order to eliminate the mistaken doubts of others about the other-dependent nature.... In order to eliminate the doubts of those others who think, "How can nonexistents become objects?" it is (taught) to be like an illusion.
In order to eliminate the doubts of those who think, "If there are no referents, how can the desired and undesired results of positive and negative actions be accomplished?" it is (taught) to be like a reflection.
In order to eliminate the doubts of those who think, "If there are no referents, how can the sphere of the meditative concentration that apprehends true actuality come about?" it is (taught) to be like [a reflection of] the moon in water.
In order to eliminate the doubts of those who think, "If there are no referents, how can unerring bodhisattvas be reborn as they wish in order to accomplish their activity for sentient beings?" it is (taught) to be like a magical creation.
- How should one engage in (appearances as being mere cognizance]?... One engages in this just like in the case of a rope appearing as a snake in a dark house.
Through engaging in mere cognizance, one engages in the other-dependent nature.
- How does one engage in the perfect nature? One engages in it by dissolving the notion of mere cognizance too....
This means realizing that any imaginary subject-object duality and all superimpositions of personal and phenomenal identities never existed in other-dependent appearances. In other words, this is the realization of the unity of form and emptiness.
Thus, the three natures are not three different ontological "things." It is not that by subtracting one (the imaginary nature) from the other (the other-dependent nature), one arrives at the third (the perfect nature).
Rather, Yogacara talks about the other-dependent nature as the experiential ground for a dynamic process of disillusioning and refining our perception, with the imaginary nature and the perfect nature being the "extremes" of mistaken and pure perception respectively.
Thus, the other-dependent nature stands for the continuity of experience, which is impure when imagined as the imaginary nature and pure or perfected when this imaginary nature has been seen through.
In this way, "other-dependent nature" is just a term for the compound meaning of the imaginary nature and the perfect nature, which points to the underlying experiential continuity of a mind stream that becomes increasingly aware of its own true nature.
In his explanation of the four purities that comprise the perfect nature (natural complete purity, unstained complete purity, the complete purity of the path, and the completely pure object), Vasubandhu adds that the first two purities are the unchanging perfect nature, while the last two are the unmistaken perfect nature.
Since the inner subject of such processes is false imagination—that is, the other-dependent nature in its unawareness of the ultimate—the dharma also becomes entangled with and thus blurred by the other-dependent nature.
Finally, on the level or nondual, nonconceptual wisdom that directly realizes the expanse of dharmas (the actual, complete purity of the path), there is no more separation or difference between subject and object.
Surely, the immediate experience of the expanse of dharmas itself is beyond thought and expression, but its natural expression or outflow for the benefit of others is the genuine dharma as it is compassionately communicated by those who have this experience.
- When the dharma taught by the Thus-Gone One is taught, the disciples reveal and seize the nature of phenomena.
While [being in the state of] having revealed and seized the nature of phenomena, whatever they explain, whatever they teach, whatever they relate, whatever they express, whatever they clarify, and whatever they perfectly illuminate, all of this is not in contradiction to the nature of phenomena.
Venerable Sariputra, when the nature of phenomena is explained by the children of good family in this way, it is not in contradiction to the nature of phenomena. It is the natural outflow of the dharma taught by the Thus-Gone One.
Inasmuch as such genuine dharma itself is the natural expression of the expanse of dharmas, it is not subject to change. It is only the experiential, inner subjectivity of the practitioner engaging in this dharma that may be fully aware of the ultimate source of this natural expression or not.
Although the Yogacara system is expressed within the framework of the three natures, the ground consciousness, and such, it is important to keep in mind that this entire edifice is grounded in and built from within the perspective of direct insight into the expanse of dharmas.
The dharma as well as the ensuing path of engaging in it stem from this natural ground, and when this ground is directly realized, then both this dharma and the path merge back into the expanse of dharmas. As The Ornament of Sutras says:
This also points to the relationship between the four purities.
Rather, within the naturally pure, fundamental space of the expanse of dharmas, the purity of the path manifests from engaging in the completely pure object, that is, the genuine dharma as the natural expression of others' realization of the expanse of dharmas.
- Unstained complete purity means that the very same suchness [natural complete purity) becomes Buddhahood.
As for the statement that the perfect nature is the other-dependent nature empty of the imaginary nature (which is said to be the position of the Mere Mentalists), it is also found in the texts of the lineage of vast activity.
However, according to The Synopsis of the Great Vehicle, its meaning is to be understood as follows:
The analogy for this meaning is gold ore, which may also be said to involve three aspects: stone, gold, and gold ore as their compound. Before being processed in an oven, gold ore looks like ordinary stone, although it actually is gold.
In itself, it is just the compound of stone and gold.
Likewise, as long as ordinary consciousness has not been touched by the fire of nonconceptual wisdom, this consciousness appears as the nature of false imagination, but not as the true reality, which is the perfect nature.
Thus, the other-dependent nature may be considered under two aspects. In its first aspect, it is contaminated by false imagination, with the result that a world of dualistic appearances is constructed.
This is said to be the aspect pertaining to purity.
In other words, if there is absolutely nothing, not even some illusory, impure, and dualistic mind at the beginning of the path to liberation, then there cannot be any purified, nondual mind as the result of this path.
The Synopsis of the Great Vehicle says:
- In one sense, the other-dependent nature is other-dependent; in another sense, it is imaginary; and in yet another sense, it is perfect.
- Thus, in terms of its imaginary aspect, this very other-dependent nature is samsara. In terms of its perfect aspect, it is nirvana.
Such statements may also be seen as justifications for the relationship between the three natures as it is usually described by the proponents of other-emptiness: that the perfect nature is empty of both the imaginary and the other-dependent natures. Vasubandhu's Brhattika (his major commentary on the Prajnaparamita sutras) likewise interprets the three natures in this sense.
In any case, due to the dual status of the other-dependent nature (pure and impure) at different stages of the path, whether it is said that the perfect nature is the other-dependent nature empty of the imaginary nature or that the perfect nature is empty of both the imaginary and the other-dependent natures, the meaning is the same.
The main example that is used for it is space.
However, in order to clarify that the insubstantial expanse of the mind is not like mere inert, outer space but that it is the luminous, natural unity of wisdom and expanse, the teachings on Buddha nature also give many examples for the luminous aspect of mind's nature and its boundless, inseparable qualities.
- Those whose minds stray from emptiness are those bodhisattvas who have newly entered the [great] vehicle.
Among them,] there are those who assert the door to liberation that is emptiness due to the destruction of [real] entities, saying, "The subsequent extinction and destruction of an existing phenomenon is perfect nirvana."
Or, there are also those who rely on emptiness by mentally focusing on emptiness [as some real entity), saying, "In a way that is distinct from form and so on, what is called 'emptiness' exists as some entity which is to be realized and meditated on."
There is nothing to be removed from it
And not the slightest to be added.
Actual reality is to be seen as it really is—
Who sees actual reality is released.
The basic element is empty of what is adventitious,
Which has the characteristic of being separable.
It is not empty of the unsurpassable dharmas,
Which have the characteristic of being inseparable.
- What is elucidated by this? There is nothing to be removed from this basic element of the Thus-Gone Ones that is naturally completely pure, since the emptiness of [all] expressions of afflicted phenomena (the adventitious stains) is its nature.
Hence, it is said [in The Sutra of the Lions Roar of Queen Srimala) that the Heart of the Thus-Gone Ones is empty of all the cocoons of afflictions, which are separable [from it] and realized as being relinquished.
Here, those whose minds stray away and are distracted from this principle of emptiness, do not rest [in it] in meditative concentration, and are not one-pointed [with regard to it] are therefore called "those whose minds stray from emptiness." Without the wisdom of ultimate emptiness, it is impossible to realize and reveal the nonconceptual expanse.
Thus, what remains after the adventitious stains are realized to be non-existent is clearly not some reified entity, but the naturally pure expanse of dharmas free from reference points, just as it is.
Having taught in certain places that, just like clouds, dreams, and illusions,
All knowable objects are empty in all aspects,
Why did the Victors teach here
That the Buddha-Heart exists in all sentient beings?
They taught this in order to eliminate
The five flaws in those in whom they exist.
These are faintheartedness, denigrating inferior sentient beings,
Clinging to what is not the actual, denying the actual dharma, and excessive attachment to oneself.
Accordingly, Karmapa Mikyo Dorje in his Lamp That Excellently Distinguishes the Tradition of the Proponents of Other-Emptiness states that the existence of Buddha nature is taught in order to awaken all sentient beings' disposition for Buddhahood and to relinquish the five flaws.
Some scholars say that the teachings on the existence of Buddha nature in all sentient beings have to be interpreted as merely an expedient meaning, since they—according to the above verses—only serve to eliminate these five flaws.
He says that if these teachings were only of expedient meaning, there would be no need to give up these five flaws.
The Karmapa does not explicitly mention this, but following his same line of argument for the remaining two flaws, people would be fully entitled to be proud and self-satisfied when achieving any new qualities.
Since there would be nothing behind the delusions and obscurations that manifest as cyclic existence, it would be justified to take these deluded states as the only reality. Consequently, any attempt at practicing the Buddhist path would be pointless.
Moreover, if the teachings on Buddha nature are understood as an expedient meaning, that is, as mere skillful means to address some specific flaws, it would follow that all other teachings of the Buddha as well, including those on emptiness, are of expedient meaning, since it is common to all teachings of the Buddha that they were given for specific purposes and as remedies for specific problems.
This is very clearly described in his commentary on The Ornament of Clear Realization:
- In this context, in order to know exactly what the mode of the supreme vehicle is, one must know what is the true reality, the nature of phenomena.
In the mantra vehicle, this is explained as being the principal of the divisions of all dispositions, the lord of the circle of the ultimate mandala, and the remaining, irremovable continuum of all aspects of ground, path, and fruition in which the three poisons are relinquished and whose own nature is not impermanent.
His intention was that this Heart is the Dharma Body endowed with twofold purity and that, by labeling a part with the name of the whole, sentient beings have one dimension, that is, "natural purity," of the Buddha-Heart endowed with twofold purity.
- In his Autocommentary on The Profound Inner Reality," [the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje) ... explains that those who possess impure mental impulses are sentient beings and thereby elucidates that the expanse of dharmas does not exist in such sentient beings.
By giving the pure mind names such as "ordinary mind," "original protector," and "original Buddha," he says that exactly this (mind) is what involves the mode of being inseparable from the Buddha qualities.
- At this point one might ask, "What does this pure mind refer to?" It is "the luminous nature of the mind."
Yet, it is likewise [only] under the influence of other-dependent mistakenness that sentient beings exist as what is to be purified, whereas, according to the definitive meaning, the adventitious stains which are to be purified do not exist right from the start.
Rather, our whole existence as sentient beings is in itself the sum of adventitious stains that float like clouds in the infinite, bright sky of Buddha nature, the luminous, open expanse of our mind that has no limits or boundaries.
Once these clouds dissolve from the warm rays of the sun of wisdom shining in this space, nothing within sentient beings has been freed or developed, but there is just this radiant expanse without any reference points of cloud like sentient beings or cloud-free Buddhas.
In brief, not only is there no statement in the texts of Maitreya, Asanga, and Vasubandhu that mind, the ground consciousness, any of the three natures, or even Buddha nature is really or ultimately existent, but this is precisely what is explicitly and repeatedly denied.
- Having thoroughly meditated on all phenomena being free from mind, mental cognition, consciousness, the five dharmas, arid the [three] natures, Mahamati, a bodhisattva mahasattva is skilled in phenomenal identity-lessness.
Most modern scholars who do not base their writings and research on Gelugpa presentations alone also agree that the essential purport of the system of Maitreya, Asanga, and Vasubandhu is not at all idealistic and that there is no claim of a really existing mind or other such entities.
Once these concepts on different levels have fulfilled their purpose of redressing specific misconceptions, they are replaced by more subtle ones, which are similarly removed later in the gradual process of letting go of all reference points.
The outcome of the above presentation is that the refutations in the Centrist texts of Mere Mentalism in general and of a really existing self-awareness or ground consciousness and so on in particular cannot be directed against the system of these masters.
- Sometimes Yogacaras differentiate between cittamatra and cittamatrata, vijnaptimatra and vijnaptimatrata, and so on, the latter indicating the actual nature of the former, i.e., the perfect nature.
see also: Madhyamaka