Using Examples To Identify The Hallucinated Self


Manjushri Kashmir Schools in Western Tibet, 11th Century Schroeder vol 2 41b-e

Manjushri, Kashmir Schools in Western Tibet; 11th Century. Lhasa bTug lag khan: Jo bo Rin po che Chapel, ground floor. Published von Schroeder, Ulrich, 2001, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibetan, Vol. One. pp. 154-5, pl. 41B-E.



The Svātantrika Mādhyamaka believe, just as they did with the I, that the M is labeled by the mind but there should be something from its own side. Therefore [for them] it is not merely labeled by the mind. This something additional is the measure of the object of refutation according to Prāsaṅgika.[1] This is what we have to realize is totally nonexistent, totally empty. Only then will we have realized the Prāsaṅgika view, which is the right Middle Way view avoiding the extremes of nihilism and eternalism.

We will have realized Guru Śākyamuni’s view and Nāgārjuna’s view and Lama Tsongkhapa’s view.[2]


To further understand how tenets lead us toward identification of the object of negation, let’s take the example of Jan Paul.[3]

Somebody who does not know who Jan Paul is comes into the room and looks around for him saying, “Oh, I have to see Jan Paul. Which one is Jan Paul”? Somebody answers: “This is Jan Paul.” The person looking, then labels, “Oh this is Jan Paul” and believes in that. After that, Jan Paul appears to them. But before labeling and believing, Jan Paul did not appear. Just a person appears to them because they have (only) labeled “person.” It follows, therefore, that things appear to us in dependence on how we label or how we look at them. Do you understand this point now?

When we first think of Jan Paul we think of a permanent Jan Paul, existing alone and with self-entity (the permanent, partless, independent self which is the Great Exposition School position).

Secondly, we think of Jan Paul existing alone with his own freedom, not depending on parts, the aggregates and their continuation (self-supporting self which is the Sūtra School position). A Jan Paul existing with his own independence appears like that.

Then there is also the Cittamātrin view: Jan Paul is there like a dream. Just as when we don’t recognize a dream as a dream and regard the dream objects as real, and existing without depending on the mind, so does Jan Paul appear as existing externally there without depending on the inner substances, the imprints left on the consciousness. So the Cittamātrin  view is also there.

The Svātantrika object of refutation is also present: a Jan Paul appears as existing completely from his own side without depending on a nondefective mind and that mind labeling.

Finally, there is also the Prāsaṅgika object of refutation. We see Jan Paul but the aspect of Jan Paul that we see is characterized by having existence from its own side or existence by nature (what the Svātantrika endorse as real). Yes, he is labeled by his parents and so forth (we can accept that), but he is not just a mere label. There is something more. Somehow you cannot figure out how Jan Paul can exist in mere name and at the same time still exist. That he is just a mere label is incomprehensible.[4] Again, for Prāsaṅgika, this something extra from his own side is the root of saṃsāra. This ignorance believing in the true existence of Jan Paul is what must be overcome to achieve liberation.

It is the same with the I. Not being satisfied that the I exists as merely imputed and thinking that there should be something more than that, something from its own side is the very root of saṃsāra. This ignorance is the one producing all of the karmic appearances of the hell guardians with their weapons, tortures and the cutting of bodies. It creates the red-hot burning iron ground where the whole ground is oneness with fire, and the iron house and all the other types of sufferings in the eighteen different realms of the hot sufferings. Also it produces all the cold sufferings: the ice mountains, ice bodies and all the rest. These are all the creations of this concept, this ignorance.


Back to Jan Paul! The appearance of Jan Paul arises in dependence upon the aggregates of Jan Paul. That appearance is correct and exists. But the Jan Paul that appears above the aggregates of Jan Paul, from the side of the base does not exist. It is what is called the object of refutation. The I also exists by being imputed to the aggregates and because the I exists there is an appearance of the I. Such an I appearing in dependence upon the aggregates, the body and the mind, is correct and unmistaken –because it exists. However, the I that appears from the side of the aggregates is a hallucination. It does not exist. It is also the refuting object.

From these examples we can understand that Jan Paul is labeled on the aggregates.[5] But do we now understand why there isn’t some additional thing from the side of Jan Paul? Even though that labeled one is empty, why isn’t Jan Paul something more than that? By analyzing carefully like this we can gain some idea of how Jan Paul is empty and how Jan Paul came into existence.

Let’s consider the evolution of Jan Paul more elaborately. Firstly, before the aggregates (the association of body and mind) existed, even though the parents might have had the intention and thought to label “Jan Paul,” at that time Jan Paul did not exist. If he had existed prior to his base—the aggregates to be labeled “Jan Paul”—then he should have been doing various actions, experiencing happiness and suffering, and so forth. He should have been doing some work at that time. But what work?

And what if you think that Jan Paul was only a label? Which Jan Paul are you then talking about: the present Jan Paul or the label itself? Because here, when discussing the label, we must also ask: how does the label exist? Does it have existence from its own side or not? If you say that Jan Paul is only a label and therefore Jan Paul doesn’t exist, we must ask: is there something more than Jan Paul that is merely labeled? And, if so, what is that?

By examining the example of Jan Paul you come to understand that there is no additional thing: some Jan Paul that is more than that. Even at the time of the thought to label “Jan Paul” if there are no aggregates or association of body and mind to be labeled, then Jan Paul does not exist.

If Jan Paul did exist he would have to be doing some actions. Even in the mother’s womb, right after conception has taken place on the fertilized egg, there is a Jan Paul who is performing actions. Why is that? Because at that time there is already a base—the aggregates—the combination of mind and body—that are performing actions such as growing in the mother’s womb. We can say that Jan Paul exists for no reason other than the aggregates exist and are experiencing feelings of happiness, suffering, indifference and so forth.

Because the aggregates exist and are performing actions, we can say Jan Paul exists. So you can see how Jan Paul is a dependent arising. He exists in dependence on his aggregates performing actions in the mother’s womb. That is all. Because he exists he has to do the actions and he has to do the actions because the aggregates do the actions.

Therefore, if there was no base, no aggregates, no association of body and mind, even though the parents might have the thought to label “Jan Paul”, at that time, Jan Paul doesn’t exist. There is no way for him to exist. If Jan Paul exists he must perform the actions. To perform the actions, the base (the aggregates) has to exist and do the actions. With that base as the reason you label “Jan Paul is there.” Or “Jan Paul is experiencing happiness or suffering.” Or “Jan Paul is growing.”

But considered another way, even if the aggregates (the association of body and mind) are there, if the parents do not have the thought to label “Jan Paul” then, again, at that time, Jan Paul does not exist!


It is a very important psychology to come to the understanding that all our experiences, such as the sufferings in the hell realm and so on, are dependent arisings. They come from the mind. If your mind doesn’t first label, then you don’t have the appearance of this as this. Nor do you have to see this as this. If you don’t label and see a person’s behaviour as bad, you don’t get angry or upset and then there are no relationship problems! You interpret their behaviour as positive. All undesirable things and bad circumstances in one’s life are one’s own mental creation and appear in dependence on whether we label positively or negatively. Likewise, all changes in our life also depend on how we label. This includes our attitudes toward others and theirs toward us. So realizing this point becomes an important thought-transformation (blo sbyong) practice.[6]

If you want to keep happy you must put effort into always putting a positive mental label. In this way you also maintain emotional happiness. On this basis you are able to continue the practice. On the other hand, if your mind is so sad or angry or upset, then you unable to recite even a mala of mantra.



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Extent/measure, tshad; existential measure (of what exists), yod tshad; measure of apprehension (of a conceiver of true existence), ’dzin tshad. Lama Zopa Rinpoche is referring to the latter. Concerning the Prāsaṅgika view, Tsongkhapa  stresses the necessity of identifying the object of negation  in terms of authentic rather than contrived  personal experience:

He [Shāntideva] says that if the thing imputed–the generality [or image] of the object of negation–does not appear to the mind well, it is impossible to apprehend well the nonexistence of the object of negation. Therefore, unless true establishment, which is what does not exist, and the aspect of the object of negation, which is that of which [phenomena] are empty, do not appear, just as they are, as objects of the mind, good ascertainment of the lack of true establishment and of the entity of emptiness cannot occur. “Illumination of the Thought”, in Klein, Path to the Middle, 165. See Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Wisdom, 186 for an alternative translation. 

Geshe Jampa Gyatso expands:

The object of negation, which not exist, must appear clearly as a meaning generality to the mind. If the meaning generality of the object of negation (true existence) is well ascertained, then the emptiness of that will also be well ascertained. As Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds says: “Without making contact with the thing imputed [by the mind–that is, true existence] the nonexistence of that thing is not apprehended.” That which is imputed is true existence; if there is not a clear meaning generality of true existent then its non-existence will not appear to the mind. Here the main point is to identify the object of negation well.” See Tsongkhapa, A Commentary on the 6th Chapter of Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering the Middle Way’, Part 1, Masters Program, Commentary by Geshe Jampa Gyatso, 12-14 April 2000, 1.

It is necessary to note here that while we can have the appearance (to the consciousness conceiving true existence) of a meaning generality (or generic image) of a non-existent thing i.e. true existence, this does not mean/require that the referent object of that conception exists i.e. true existence itself. In the same way we can have a generic image of the son of a barren women, while the existential entity of the son is, of course, an entirely concocted absurdity. Hence the potency of the analogy. Refer to the discussion of the rabbit’s horn in note four below. 

[2] Tsongkhapa emphasises  that “identifying” some fabrication or superficial measure of what might be regarded, or held, as the object of negation according to Buddhist tenets as well as non-Buddhist philosophical and religious systems will not at all suffice to address, indeed target the very deepest cognitive problem (one capable of operating beneath the threshold  of acquired or learnt ideation/notions)  that  is root cause of suffering:

Furthermore, the mere identification of a true existence that is superficially imputed by the proponents of tenets and of the consciousness conceiving such true existence is not sufficient. Because of this it is a very important essential to identify well the innate conception of true existence that has operated  beginninglessly and exists both in those whose awarenesses have been affected through [study of philosophical] tenets and in those whose awarenesses have not been affected in this way, and to identify the true existence that has been conceived by that mind. For, if you have not identified this, even if you refute the object of negation through reasoning, the adherence to true existence that has operated beginninglessly is not harmed at all; therefore, the meaning at this point would be lost. Furthermore, having initially identified the conception of inherent existence in your own [mental] continuum, you should know how the reasonings serve to disprove the object of that [conception] directly and indirectly. For the refutation of one who is only directed outside is of very little benefit. A Commentary, ibid. See also Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Wisdom, 186.

Again, Geshe Jampa Gyatso comments:

However, Lama Tsongkhapa says: ”The mere identification of a true existence that is superficially imputed by proponents of tenets and of the consciousness conceiving such true existence is not sufficient.” One has to identify the innate conception of true existence and then ask oneself whether the referent object exists as it is conceived. It does not. It is important to have a clear meaning generality of the non-existence of the referent object of the conception of true existence. As Lama Tsongkhapa says: “It is a very important essential to identify well the innate conception of true existence…and to identify the true existence that is conceived by that mind.” The referent object of the innate conception of true existence   does not exist; this very understanding harms this innate conception of true existence. This harm to the innate conception of true existence is what one is striving to accomplish. On the other hand, if one does not identify the non-existence of the referent object of the innate conception of true existence, the point is lost. In Lama Tsongkhapa’s Essence of Eloquence, it says that there is no point giving a reward to demons who live in the eastern direction when one means to give it to those who live in the western direction. Likewise, if one does not harm the referent object of the innate conception of true existence, refuting an object through reasoning becomes meaningless. Once the referent object of the innate conception of true existence is identified, one should strive to harm it both directly and indirectly.” Gyatso, ibid., 1-2.

[3] This example may be substituted with the letter M (the subject of the last post) or any other phenomena. Indeed, it has particular pertinence to substitute one’s own name and apply analysis as to  how one comes to appear in the world as that named thing and, more intriguingly, more poignantly, appear (even) to ourselves as someone no longer merely named or nominated, but now somehow essentially, or truly, independently, that named thing: a Ross, or Patricia or Zahid by virtue of real nature, inviolable essence. It is this (hallucinated) entity we innately grasp and affirm (according to innate self-grasping ignorance) as the most real one when our captor calls out: “Ross, step forward. You are next to be executed. Put your head here!” 

[4] During a lamrim meditation course at Vajrapani Institute in 1988, Lama Zopa Rinpoche similarly explained: “By meditating in this way, one concludes that nothing that you see exists from the side of the base. Things don’t exist except from the label’s side—the side of the label. Nothing exists from the side of the base. In the teachings we use the Tibetan term the term btags yod [Skt: prajñaptisat], which means imputedly (btag) existent (yod).” The full context of Rinpoche’s statement is found in   LYWA Archive number 304002. In the same teaching, Rinpoche states, “They [things] exist only from the side of the label. From the side of the mind. Every existent thing is merely imputed by thought.” It therefore becomes necessary to delineate this “mere imputation by thought” from the Svātantrika view holding, in the words of Yeshey Tupden, that “phenomena do not have a mode of subsistence which is not posited by the mind [but do have a mode of subsistence which is so posited].” See Klein, Path, 126. He pursues the point:

Svātantrika asserts a mode of being that is just posited by the mind, but not a mode of subsistence that is merely designatedly existent—that is, not one just nominally imputed (ming du btags pa tsam med). Prāsaṅgikas accept phenomena as just nominally imputed, meaning that phenomena are not established as their own basic disposition (gshis su ma grub pa). In Svātantrika…phenomena both are established as bases and have a mode of subsistence. In Prāsaṅgika the ‘mode of subsistence’ of phenomena is merely imputed nominally, and designated nominally, but it is not called a mode of subsistence. It is just said that phenomena themselves are so designated” (ibid.). To summarize: “The Svātantrikas assert the lack of being merely nominally designated; Prāsaṅgikas say that something which is not merely nominally designated does not exist [because everything which does exist is so designated]. This is the difference in the two Mādhyamika schools’ objects of negation” (ibid.,128).

Yeshey Tupden proposes a convenient way of “thinking” the tenet distinctions in terms of the “relative weight or power assigned to subject and object.” He writes,

To be posited by the force of the mind means that a thing is elaborated or emanated by the mind; that is, the mind has power with respect to it. [In Svātantrika] the mind has a little power; the object also has a little power, about half and half to each. In Prāsaṅgika the mind has more power, one hundred percent, and the object has none. In Cittamātra, too, more than half of the power is with the mind. That is my thought. The books do not say this, but if we make a new convention and do it well, this is fine (ibid.).

It is now obvious that when Lama Zopa Rinpoche declares that Jan Paul “is just a mere label” we are nonetheless able to dispel, along tenet-lines, Tegchok’s provocative query, “Does that mean that only names exist?…Thinking that apart from the name nothing else exists is the extreme of nihilism.” Insight, 109. Yes, Jan Paul is name-only but this does not mean he is entirely or purely a linguistic device: a word or concept can’t, for example, walk to the supermarket or drink a cup of tea. 

That Rinpoche so frequently in teachings augments “exists in mere name” to “exists in mere name in dependence upon a valid base of designation” proposes how a Prāsaṅgika can maintain “that except for being posited by the mind, phenomena do not exist” yet not be “like the horns of a rabbit.” See Klein, Path, 126. The horns of a rabbit “although…also posited by the mind” are “undermined by valid cognition and incapable of performing functions as [conventionally existent] things are able to do” (ibid.), whereas the merely labeled Jan Paul is not so undermined. Indeed, he is quite capable of satisfactory performance but only provided he is labeled in dependence upon a valid base. Yet, even then, his “mode of subsistence” (see Yeshey Tupden above) is merely designated nominally and is thus not “really called” a mode of subsistence at all. To grant him such grounding would award him too much credit, if not also, too much substance–as Jean Paul. Remember, the problem is one of over-estimation. 

[5] Though Jan Paul is “labelled on the aggregates” it is valuable to consider whether this means just one, or any one, or a combination, or even a complete or totalized combination of the aggregates is required (to function as) a valid designative base of Jan Paul. Yeshey Tupden pertinently observes,

There is a person, which is merely imputed by the mind. Although one needs to identify a person on the basis of some aggregate, there is no definiteness as to which aggregate this will be. A person can merely be imputed ‘there.’ Similarly, if I ask you to bring me a thermos, it is not necessary to conceive of its extended parts (yan lag, aṅga). You simply bring it; you do not inspect each of the different parts and ask, ‘Is this the thermos?’ If I say, ‘Pour tea into the thermos,’ you pour it in. See Klein, Path, 136.

This same question equally applies to where is the mere M to be found? This will be pursued further, indeed, to its analytical conclusion, in the next post. We might say that the very question is finally put to rest!

[6] For a major classic collection of thought transformation texts, see Thupten Jinpa, Mind Training: The Great Collection (Boston: Wisdom, 2006). See also Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kadampa Teachings, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives. 




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