MEDITATION ON THE LETTER M
Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
To meditate on the emptiness of phenomena, just as we do with the selflessness of person, we need to familiarize ourselves with how the object of negation is a hallucination. Also, we must also learn to see [recognise] it as such.
To start gaining such familiarity, we need to understand how everything comes from the mind. Therefore you do your meditation on this, not just during retreat sessions, but during break times. In this way it becomes a foundation.
As you are walking around, eating or whatever, you meditate on that. In this way you are led toward the point of distinguishing what is the false view and what is the correct view and, in terms of your perceptions of phenomena, what is reality and what is not. Whether you are a new or old student, this is an extremely important meditation. It helps us by first recognizing the false view and secondly, in dependence on this, realizing emptiness itself.
To help you do this I am going to ask you to go back to the time of your childhood. Recalling your past life and actions is not a matter of hypnosis! Go back to the time before you were taught the alphabet by the teacher, or your parents. At that time, you had no recognition of the alphabet such as A, B, C, D. Even if it was written there on the blackboard, you had no idea what the alphabet was, let alone what these individual letters were. This was because you had no knowledge of them.
Now the important question: at that time how did alphabet letters appear to you? There is a letter there and you see the designs, marks, in chalk on the blackboard or pencil on paper. Say it is on the blackboard. There is one line going like this, and another like that, and then another here [tracing the angulated form of the letter M in the air]. At that time, though this is a letter M, you did not see it. Or, you did not have an appearance of the letter A—even though it is a letter A. Why? The answer is that your mind is yet to label this letter “M” or “A”, and then believe in that. The reason for this, in turn, is that you haven’t yet been introduced to this letter. Consequently, you just see a line like this, OK? [again tracing M in space]. You haven’t yet had an appearance of (the letter) M.
So the sequence of acquiring this appearance is like this: first your teacher or parents introduce you to the idea that this is M. Because you have been told that this is M by seeing these lines, and because you are now seeing these lines, your own mind simply makes up the label that “this is M.”
In other words, our mind just thinks “M” and we believe in that. It is just the same when a Tibetan child is adopted as a child by a Western family and grows up in the West. After many years that child would not recognize its mother. When that child met its mother, and before they were introduced, the “mother” would not appear to them. They would just see a Tibetan woman. But if somebody explained to them that this was their mother, the child could also label “This is my mother” and believe in that label. Only then would the Tibetan woman appear to them as their mother. So it is very clear that this appearance comes from the mind. This is without relating appearance to karma.
When we see all the objects here we put labels: “This is a mug” and a mug then appears; “This is a flower” and a flower then appears. I have used the example of the table numberless times! I think it is because it is the nearest object! From morning until night, the mind is continuously producing the appearance of everything. Each time we put the label and then an appearance happens. This doesn’t mean that nothing appears at night time! I am not suggesting that! If there are no appearances then maybe we would get a good night’s sleep! All our lives we create our own world like this. So now it should be clear to you that only after you impute things do they appear to you (as that). If you don’t impute something, then it doesn’t appear.
WHERE DID “M” COME FROM?
Returning to the “M” now you can understand, though we don’t normally see it, how there is a whole evolution to the appearance of M. First you see the base. Then by seeing that particular base, then your mind makes up this label and believes in that. Only then do you have an appearance of M.
The question is now: Where does this M come from? The answer: M comes from the mind. This is because M is a projection of the mind. The proof of this is that if somebody did not introduce you to the label, and if your mind did not label and believe in that, you would not see this M. It would not appear to you. Or, even if you did label “M” but didn’t believe in that, still M would not appear to you. In any case, there is a difference between how an “M” appears to you before you are taught and after you are taught.
We are now in a better position to take the next step toward distinguishing between what is reality and what is false view. Why? Because we can begin to discuss the object that is to be refuted. In this case it is the M that is on the M! And the emptiness of that M on the M is the emptiness of M.
In the philosophical texts you frequently find the term gag cha: the gag cha of the table, the vase, of this or that. Then you also find reference to the emptiness on the vase, on the table, on the flower and so forth.
When you hear this you might think that this reference to “on” is wrong. Surely it should be “of”? But in fact this “on” has great meaning. If you are able to recognize its significance, you are able to recognize the hallucination.
Let’s take another step back. Just as M came from the mind, in exactly the same way did friend and enemy and all the holy objects you see here and all the forms that we see and all these other things. This means that when looking at form (the object of eye sense consciousness) it came from the mind by labeling and believing in that label, exactly as did M. It is an appearance of one’s own mind. Now, in the case of a buddha he does not have a perception of bad smell because his holy mind is completely purified, Likewise, that there is no bad taste to a buddha also proves that a bad taste comes from the mind. Due to having not even subtle defilements, a buddha’s senses are of the nature of the greatest bliss. Whatever contacts a buddha’s tongue is all nectar. Even what is kaka (faeces) for us is for them blissful in nature!
What we must understand is that when we look at form we are not looking at that which came from outside. When we hear a sound it is not existing outside, or by itself. We are hearing a sound that came from our own mind. When we smell, we smell what has been labelled by one’s own thought and in which we have believed. The smell is not coming from outside.
EXAMPLE OF PRETAS AND PUS
Let’s take another example. In one container there is liquid. When hungry ghosts (pretas), who don’t have the karma or merit to see water, encounter it they see only pus and blood. Because we have more merit we see water, whereas devas who have more merit than us, see nectar. Then, of course, the buddhas who have the most purified mind see only the purest uncontaminated nectar. It’s one phenomenon but appears (differently) according to the perceiver’s mental quality. That what appears depends on the relative purity or impurity of that mind proves that things are appearances of the mind. Whether the world appears as round or flat likewise depends on the mind. The Kālacakra tantra, for example, depicts it existing in a particular way. Or when a hundred people look at one object some will find it the most beautiful whereas others will find it just OK! It is the same for a place. For some it is beautiful and for others disgusting.
How things appear is dependent on the view of the mind. What might be attractive to us is for a preta or hungry ghost totally ugly and uninteresting. For a buddha with pure appearance it will appear as a maṇḍala. When the Thirteenth Dalai Lama went on pilgrimage, he was unable to go up one sacred mountain as he saw it all as a giant mound of dharma texts. Whether you see the holy places as ruined, or something amazing, depends on the purity of one’s mind. To understand how things appear in dependence on the mind it has been necessary to add here that how things appear is also dependent on karma. Impure appearances come from one’s own impure karma and pure from pure karma.
CONCLUDING OUR MEDITATION
The conclusion is that even though what we experience comes from our own mind, it appears to us in the opposite way: as that which never comes from our mind! It appears to come from outside. But just because it normally appears in that way does not mean it is true. From not only this morning, but from birth to death, from beginningless rebirth, one has this totally hallucinated view. Everything we have been experiencing both now and in the past has come from our own mind.
You should practice mindfulness on this point not just in meditation but when you go out. For example, be continuously mindful when you go out to dinner and experience form, sound, smell, taste and tangible objects. This meditation can cover everything.
Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography
 Lama Zopa Rinpoche uses a number of equivalent variants for the important technical term “object of negation” (Tib: dgag bya;Sanskrit: pratiṣedhya). These include “object of refutation,” “refuted object,” “object to be refuted” and “object to be negated.” Very frequently, including in this post, he simply uses “gag cha,” a phonetized form of dgag bya. It refers (as does its equivalents) to that misconception which is a “sense of an inherently existing, findable self ” within your aggregates in the case of a person or, in the case of something other than a person, as findable within the parts that are the basis of designating that phenomena. See Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa, The Easy Path, 137. Tsongkhapa:
[T]he mode of apprehending true existence–the object of negation–is to conceive [that objects] are not posited through the force of beginningless conceptuality but are established objectively by way of their own entity. The conceived object of that apprehension is called “self,” or “inherent existence.” The non-existence of that with a person as the substratum is called a selflessness of a person, and the non-existence of that with [other] phenomena such as an eye, ear, and so forth as the substratum is called a selflessness of phenomena.
See Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Exposition, 41. Geshe Lobsang Doga describes the context within which we approach this term in relation to a self of persons:
When we investigate, we will see that what self-grasping apprehends does’t exist in reality. For this investigation, we use the self-grasping within our own continuum as the object of analysis, rather than external objects. When we investigate the self-grasping in our mental continuum, we will find that the ‘I’ that appears to that self-grasping seems completely independent of anything else. So self-grasping is grasping at this appearance of an independently existing ‘I’. Then we investigate this apprehended object of self-grasping. Does this totally independent ‘I’ actually exist or not? In fact, when we look for it, we will not be able to find it. The apprehended object of self-grasping, this totally independent ‘I’, is the object of negation. Understanding the lack of such a totally independent ‘I’ is the understanding of emptiness. This understanding of emptiness is the complete opposite to the way self-grasping apprehends its object. Self-grasping apprehends the existence of a totally independent ‘I’, while emptiness apprehends the lack of a totally independent I. The wisdom that realises the emptiness of a self doesn’t just apprehend the lack of a totally independent ‘I’; it actually realises the lack of independent “I”, and in such a way it can prove that self-grasping is a mistaken consciousness that is not concordant with reality.
See The Three Principle Aspects of the Path, 43-44. Further, in relation to how the object of negation of negation experientially appears, this time in relation to a phenomena other than persons, Khensur Lobsang Jampa describes: “It appears to us undeniably as a whole, palpable, singular body that is able to set itself up without being merely designated by thought upon this body, a mere collection of five limbs–a mass of flesh and bones.” Easy Path, 258. Another illustration:
Shar Kalden Gyatso, a mahasiddha of the Geluk tradition sometimes called ‘a second Milarepa’ due to his accomplishment of siddhis, describes in detail how the object of negation appears. He begins with an analogy, like Lama Tsongkhapa’s, of reaching out in the pitch darkness and touching a table. When you lay your hand on the table, you instinctually think and feel that the table exists from its own side and always has. It seems like you’re touching something that’s always been there, primordially. Although the existence of the table depends on many factors such as its component parts and your own imputation of ‘table’ once you laid your hand on it, it ordinarily would never occur to you when you touch a table in the dark that it doesn’t exist from its own side….You instinctively think that it existed prior to your touching it, that it exists from its own side, and that it doesn’t depend on its parts or your labeling. This is how you experience the object of negation.
See Easy Path, 245. In our immediate context we can substitute table with the letter M.
 The object of negation is a hallucination in the sense that true, or inherent, existence, despite being projected and grasped by ignorance as real, doesn’t exist at all—just as there is no son of a barren woman:
Dreams and illusions are examples of dependent arisings; these latter [the horns of a rabbit, a flower in the sky or the son of a barren woman] are not. Illusions and reflections exist; they are instances of falsities and of dependent arisings. These exist, but the horns of a rabbit, and so forth, do not and so cannot instance dependent arisings; rather, they exemplify a lack of [any inherent] nature (rang bzhin med ba’i dpe). One has to understand the dividing line between what does and does not exist. Everything that exists is established by valid cognition (tshad mas grub pa, pramāṇasiddha). Even though phenomena exist, they do not exist by way of their own nature. This difficult distinction is one which, among Buddhist proponents of tenets, only Prāsaṅgikas succeed in making.
See Klein, Path to the Middle, 77–78. Regarding the essential of “learning to see” the object of negation as a hallucinatory non-existent:
With regard to delineating the absence of true existence in phenomena, if you do not understand well just what true establishment is, as well as how [phenomena] are apprehended as truly existent, the view of suchness will definitely go astray. Shāntideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds says that if the thing imputed, the generality [or image] of the object of negation, does not appear well to your awareness, it is impossible to apprehend well the non-existence of the object of negation:
Without making contact with the thing imputed,
The non-existence of that thing is not apprehended.
Tsongkhapa in Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Exposition, 186.
 “The innate I-grasping mind grasps the I as if it existed “on” (or more literally “above”) the mere collection of the aggregates—not on or above any one of the five aggregates individually—and as if it were not merely imputed by conception. In other words, it grasps the I as existing as it appears.” Tegchok, Khensur Jampa, Insight into Emptiness, 158. “On” is being similarly explained here in relation to the parts constituting the base of designating M. The illustration at the end of the notes is powerful because, in this atypical but nonetheless valid case we are imputing the letter “S” onto a base composed of the configuration of three conjoined human bodies: S appears on and from there. Likewise with the B.
 When Rinpoche says that forms, sounds, smells etc. don’t exist outside, he means that things are merely labelled by the mind and thus don’t exist from their own side as external objects. As described in the Tenets system, the Prāsaṅgika (the school Lama Zopa Rinpoche is presenting here) do accept—conventionally speaking—external objects, unlike the Mind Only (Cittamātra) and Yogācāra-Svātantrika. For further qualification, see Edelglass and Garfield, Buddhist Philosophy, 35–45. In regards to how the objects of the senses may be said to come from “our own mind,” it is worth noting that it is meaningful to say that the eye consciousness “posits” form. This is because, as Yeshey Tupden explains, to say that “Things do not exist as we think they do but are posited by the force of the mind…refers to both thought and direct perception.” For example, the “eye consciousness realizing a pillar realizes a pillar, as does the thought apprehending a pillar. Both posit pillar. Moreover, their way of positing things are the same, although each has its own qualities insofar as direct perception does not realize [its object] by way of a generic image, as conceptual thought does. All valid cognizers are the same in realizing their objects; however, each mind has its own qualities, and there is a variability among them, just as your pronunciation of the English alphabet is better than mine, although we can both recite it.” See Klein, Path, 133.
 Kedrup Gelek Palsang explains:
We believe that the eye consciousness of all three [beings], god, human, and preta, are valid cognitions. Nonetheless, we do not believe that the vessel filled with the wet and fluid [substance] is the common basis of all three [substances]: clean and cool water, pus and blood, and nectar, [that is, the liquid is not all three substances]. [Instead, we believe] that one part is pus and blood; that one part is clean, cool water; and that one part arises as nectar. It is not the case, however, that as soon as that vessel filled with the wet and fluid [substance] comes into existence, these three parts also come into existence; it is not that for as as long as the continuity of the vessel filled with the wet and fluid [substance] exists, so long does it engage in possessing the continuity of the three parts. Instead, it is when the preta comes close to it that the previous moment of the wet and fluid [substance], acting as a material cause (nyer len), and the preta’s own karma, acting as the dominant cause (bdag rkyen), make one part of that vessel filled with wet and fluid [substance] arise as pus and blood. Likewise, when a god approaches it.
See Cabezón, Dose, 335–36. On the same point, see Wangchuk Dorje, the Ninth Karmapa, The Karmapa’s Middle Way, 267–68. See also Tegchok, Insight, 111–12, where the word “facet” rather than “part” is used (while explaining the same example), perhaps in order to avoid possible misinterpretations: for example, would there be any fluid remaining (parts left over) after (part or partial) consumption by a preta perceiving it as pus?
 For detail of the Kālacakra cosmology, see Khedrup Norsang Gyatso, Ornament of Stainless Light (Boston: Wisdom, 2004).
 This would appear to be the holy Five-Peaked Mountain (Wu-tai-shan) of Mañjushrī. See Charles Bell, Portrait of a Dalai Lama (Boston: Wisdom, 1987), 80–82, and Glenn H. Mullin, Path of the Bodhisattva Warrior (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1988), 67.