Is There An Elephant in the House?




In this post Lama Zopa Rinpoche again rigorously pursues a particular line of questioning: where does the merely labelled M reside?

It is essential to not confuse, or more seriously, conflate this with the search for the truly existent M which doesn’t exist and hence can’t be anywhere found i.e. it resides nowhere. Indeed, this unfindability – in this case – establishes/proves that phenomena (such as the current example of a merely labelled M) do not exist truly or from their own side. Indeed, logically arriving at this sheer unfindability – which is like space – via a mind that analyses the final mode of existence – is how we come to understand how the M which does exist, must do so by depending or relying upon other phenomena such as the mind which labels.[1] This is why Geshe Sonam Rinchen notes (see Even Ants Have It) that realization of how things exist as merely labelled arises subsequent to experiential cognition of emptiness: “This most subtle level of dependence cannot serve as a means to induce understanding of emptiness, since it is only understood fully once emptiness has been cognized.”[2]

Returning to the challenge posed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s question (see the post’s first sentence) the way in which merely labelled M exists must therefore be ascertained by a mind which is free of the “elaborations of the two extremes”: holding things to have “true existence” and holding things to have/be “total non-existence.”[3]

In order to steer the student closer and closer to such an extraordinarily rare and refined understanding, Lama Zopa Rinpoche pushes, and yet again pushes the question “So where is it?” In the process, our preconceptions (which are also compulsively thrown outwards as concretizing projections through the force of innate self-grasping ignorance) concerning objects, whether “found” in the external environment, or the internal environment (which includes our subjective experience) become seriously rattled. Perhaps we might even begin to doubt that a merely labelled M exists at all, not just on the base, but on the blackboard or even in the language classroom, perhaps even in the whole of Australia? Or, conversely, in panic, or logical dismay, we might retreat to our earlier recalcitrant position: M must exist truly or inherently. We are pushing this analysis too far? Surely! At which point we stamp our little foot categorically, nay, petulantly, down. And refuse to budge despite all imploring. Despite all appeals to reason. And with all beneficial and skilful teachings received cast vehemently aside: this Buddhist analysis is over the top! Too much!

The debate (below) between Lama Zopa Rinpoche and student is caught mid-stream. An astute reader will recall that the search for M on the lines which constitute the base of labelling M was extensively presented in Everything Comes From the Mind but is now  extended and even more sharply focused in order to drive us to the now increasingly inescapable “very deep and very profound” realisation point:

“Conventionally existent things (or conventional truths) such as Letter Ms, are not“totally nonexistent” even though “it seems like they are.”

This critical and almost infinitely-honed “seems” is auspicious sign, Lama Zopa Rinpoche concludes,  that finally our “meditation is touching the object of negation.” A cascade of further profound insights can now flow, such as realisation of what subtle dependent arising actually means and entails: something that never before did we know. Sure, we might have heard the words, but now comes the experiential comprehension of how things conventionally exist in reliance upon the most subtle level of dependency: that of mental labelling. In this wondrous way we are led back to that incredulous child who, upon learning the alphabet, discover they can read. An entire new world opens, one shimmering with fresh potential. A threshold, a learning difficulty not before even recognized, has been miraculously dissolved. Transcended. Liberated. I was dyslexic as a child so I know exactly what that felt like. One day, all of a sudden,  I found I could read not just letters, words, but entire sentences, whereupon even my stutter abruptly stopped.

Anyhow, as this post is called Is There An Elephant in the House (and because Lama Zopa Rinpoche also playfully refers to elephants below) we have to directly introduce the topic of elephants. The comically absurd and seemingly culturally endemic image of the elephant in the room is intended analogically and is based on a classic scriptural reference concerning our over-riding goal: to correctly identify the object of negation. Geshe Sopa establishes the context:

If we have gained only a gross understanding and then proceed to meditate on the nonexistence of the two selves imputed by contrived ignorance, in the end we will merely eliminate only the contrived mental afflictions. It is completely absurd to claim that by negating the two selves imputed by contrived ignorance we will remove innate ignorance. Candrakīrti points this out to his opponents in Introduction to the “Middle Way“:

You say, “When selflessness is realized, a permanent self is abandoned,”
Yet you do not accept this to be the object of self-grasping;
Therefore to declare that knowing the absence of such a self
Uproots the subtle view of self is astonishing!

He follows this up in Commentary on the “Introduction to the ‘Middle Way‘”:

These things are mutually unrelated. This is clearly explained by means of an example:

If is as if, when seeing a snake in an alcove of your room,
Someone says “There’s no elephant here” to dispel your fear,
And indeed your fear of the snake dissipates;
Oh, the other person must be joking!

See Sopa, Steps, Volume Five, 242. The crux, one that is also borne by the analysis of the Letter M below, is that we must distinguish contrived from innate ignorance; otherwise we are in danger of missing (failing to identify) our “real” target while erroneously believing we have struck it head-on, nonetheless:

Simply meditating on the nonexistence of things imputed by philosophers, such as partless atoms and so on, will not eliminate the cause of the beginningless experience of suffering–the innate ignorance holding the self and phenomena to be inherently existent (ibid).

So just how does the truly existent M appear and from where? And how is it to be distinguished from the merely imputed M? Is that also findable on the base? And what if we mistake one for the other? What confusion, not to mention trouble, might then ensue? These are the sorts of huge questions the elephant in the house begs. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche rhetorically puts it: “So if there is an elephant in the house it is findable?”


cropped lama zopa teaching



Rinpoche: You said there’s no M on the base, right?

Student: That’s right.

Rinpoche: So, what is that? Is that a merely M or the truly existent M?

Student: The merely labelled M.

Rinpoche: Truly existent M is not there?

Student: It’s not anywhere.

Rinpoche: Not in Australia? Anyway, so the merely labelled M is there on the base?

Student: That’s right.

Rinpoche: So where is it?

Student: It is on the base but it can’t be found on the base.

Rinpoche: So, it is there? It is there on the base?

Student: That’s right.

pink-italic-alphabet cropped

Rinpoche: OK. Is it on that first line?

Student: If you try looking, you won’t find it, and it’s not on the first line, no.

Rinpoche: Not on the first line. The merely labelled M is not on the first line?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: Not on the second line?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: Not on the third line?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: Not on the fourth line?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: So, it’s not there?

Student: It’s on the four lines. It’s merely labelled on the four lines. It exists on the four lines.

Rinpoche: So, it exists on the four lines. So that means that M is not on each line, but M is on the four lines. So the M is divided in pieces? Into four pieces? The label is divided into four pieces, some part of the label? The label is divided into four pieces?

Student: No it’s imputed on the four. It’s not divided. It’s imputed on the four lines.

Rinpoche: But you said there’s M on the four lines right?

Student: That’s right.

Rinpoche: There’s M. So that means the label M is on the four lines.

Student: It exists on the four lines yes,

Rinpoche: The label, the label M is on the four lines?

Student: Yes, it is not anywhere else.

Rinpoche: So, it is on the four lines OK. So, if there’s a cow in this house it means you can find the cow in the house, right?

Student: Right.

Rinpoche: So if there is an elephant in the house it is findable?

Student. Yes, you can find it.

Rinpoche: So, it’s findable?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: Anyway, in the same way, the M is findable on the base of the four lines, right?

Student: The M…

Rinpoche: Because the M exists there on the four lines, so it should be findable there?

Student: M can be found, but it can’t be found when you search the base.

Rinpoche: Ah, so M cannot be found on the four lines? You can’t find M on the base right?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: When you search the base itself?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: So, anyway, when you search the base you can’t find it?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: You can’t find it?

Student: That’s right.


Image Retrieved from:

Rinpoche: So if you can’t find an elephant in this house, then that means the elephant doesn’t exist, right? If you don’t see an elephant on this throne, if you don’t find an elephant on this throne, that means an elephant doesn’t exist on this throne. There is no elephant on this throne, right?

Student: That’s right.

Rinpoche: Right, so you can’t find M on that base, right?

Student: The M exists on the base, but you can’t find it when you search the base. If you search the aggregates of the elephant you won’t find it either.

Rinpoche: No, I’m just talking. I’m not expanding! So can you find M on the four lines when you search or not? I’m talking about the merely labelled M.

Student: When you search the four lines you can’t find M.

Rinpoche: Right. When you search the four lines for the merely labelled M you can’t find it. But can you find it when you search on the four lines?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: You can’t find it. So it’s not there?

Student: The M is on the four lines.

Rinpoche: So the merely labelled M is not there?

Student: The merely labelled M is there.

Rinpoche: That’s the same because…

Student: You can find the M but you can’t find the M on the base.

Rinpoche: So merely labelled M is not there. Because it’s exactly the same as the elephant. If you can’t find it on the throne, that means it doesn’t exist on the throne. There’s no elephant on the throne, right?

Student: That’s right.

Rinpoche: So it’s the same. If you can’t find the M on that line, then that means M is not there. There is no M on that line.

Student: I think the same would be if you can find the M on the blackboard but you can’t find it on the four lines. You can find the M on the blackboard where you write the four lines, but you can’t find the M on the four lines.

Rinpoche: Oh, so that’s one tsa![4] So now you can’t find it at all: M on the four lines, right? Can’t find it on them. Can’t find it on them. Can’t find it on them! Does everyone agree? If it’s findable there, even the merely labelled M, then it would become truly existent. That is what the Prāsaṅgika debates with the Svātantrika School.

Everyone agrees you can’t find M on the four lines. But don’t you label M on that base? Don’t you label M on that base? You don’t label it on the blackboard! You label it on the four lines.[5] If you accept that we labelled M on the four lines, then it would be there on the four lines?


So, anyway, this is all something to be investigated. That’s why I normally prefer to say “relating to the aggregates.” You label I relating to the aggregates in the sense of connecting to the aggregates.[6] Personally I feel that is a much better way of putting it as it is so much clearer. The risk of using “on” is that you might believe that the label is on the base. It is also clearer to put the base, the four lines, as the reason why M exists. Because of the reason—the base –”M” is merely imputed by relating to that. In the Mādhyamika commentary of Sera Jé’s Chökyi Gyältsen, it is said that the reason that anything exists is because of the base. It exists because of the importance of the base’s existence—like that.

According to Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche, the learned ones have two ways of putting it. One says it is not there on the base and the other that it is. But Rinpoche stressed that, in either case, it still means that it is merely labelled. Geshe Sopa says that it shouldn’t be said that it’s not there on the base, however the idea that it isn’t seems more comfortable.

I’m not sure how others present it, but personally I am more comfortable with saying that it isn’t.[7]


We must complete discussing the piles of wrong views we have when M appears to us! Earlier in the section on the role of the tenets in crystallizing the object of refutation we discussed how the object of refutation, according to the Svātantrika, was the object existing without depending on appearing to a nondefective mind which then labelled it. Such an object (for them) would be truly existent from its own side. Though this is the object to be refuted according to the Svātantrika, we also have this wrong view when we see, for example, the M.

But while the Svātantrikas agree that phenomena such as the I or the M are labelled by the mind in dependence on appearing to a nondefective awareness, they also believe that it should be findable on the base—in the case of the I on the aggregates, and the M—on the lines. For them, neither person nor phenomena is merely labelled by mind.[8] According to the Prāsaṅgikas it is exactly this extra degree of existence the Svātantrikas say is findable from its own side that is the subtle object of refutation. This something additional—not merely imputed by the mind—this something slightly extra is, for the Prāsaṅgikas, completely empty.

Totally nonexistent right there!

If we understand this, then we have realized the middle way view free of the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. As I mentioned, this is Guru Śākyamuni Buddha’s, Nāgārjuna’s and Lama Tsongkhapa’s view also. M’s appearance as something slightly more than what is merely labelled is the subtle hallucination that is to be refuted.




In your meditation it is very good if you can get to the point where you can recognize that the M, like everything that exists, exists as merely labelled. This means that you are not thinking they are totally nonexistent but merely dependently existent. But in terms of realizing emptiness, if you can get to the very deep and very profound point where, though you realize they are not totally nonexistent it seems like they are, that is a sign that your meditation is touching the object of negation. That is a sign you are actually doing emptiness meditation. Also it brings you closer to understanding the other deep and subtle point: how things exist as extremely subtle dependent arisings.[9]



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Geshe Jampa Tegchog:

Nothing can ever be found that is self-existent or that exists by itself independently of other phenomena. Whatever appears to the mind, both inner objects relation to sentient beings’ minds and outer objects in the environment, is merely labeled by mind. If we analyze the final mode of existence of the subject–the mind which labels–we find that it too is free from elaborations of the two extremes of true existence and total non-existence. Thus the final way of existing of both object and subject is that they do not exist from their own side. They are like space, which in this context is defined as a mere lack of tangibility and obstruction. Wherever we look in space, we never find anything tangible or any impediment. Similarly, if we look for existence from its own side in any phenomena, we never find it. We simply find freedom from the elaborations of the two extremes.

See Geshe Jampa Tegchog, Transforming Adversity into Courage: The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas, edited by Thubten Chodron (Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca, New York, Boulder, Colorado, 2005), 222.

In relation to how the extremes are fostered, Thubten Jinpa makes the following vital observation:

Tsongkhapa argues that those who maintain that the Prāsaṅgikas do not accept the existence of everyday objects even on the conventional level do so because of their failure to appreciate the subtle distinction between that which is ‘not found through reasoning’ and that which is ‘negated by reasoning.’ Furthermore, according to Tsongkhapa, they are ignorant of the critical distinction between the different domains of ultimate and conventional discourses.

See Jinpa, Self, Reality and Reason, 56.

[2] Geshe Sonam Rinchen, The Three Principles, 113. Lama Zopa Rinpoche replies to a qualm that might arise:

Student: In the texts, it says that we don’t realise that things are merely labeled by mind until after we realise emptiness. So how can we use the reason that things are really labeled by mind as a proof that things are empty if we can’t realise that they’re merely labeled by mind until after we’ve realised emptiness?

Lama Zopa Rinpoche: It’s like this. There’s no contradiction. Being merely labeled by mind indicates how things come into existence. At this moment, this is not something you know through analytical meditation, not something you know by realising emptiness.”

The implication: it can be or is already knowable by ordinary everyday awareness. See Interview on Emptiness, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives, 5.

[3] See Geshe Jama Tegchog, note 1 (above).

[4] This is an often forcefully-shouted technical debating term used by the Challenger to indicate that the Defender has just contradicted, perhaps fatally, their own argument. According to Dreyfus, in a debate, this exclamation signifies “the moment of triumph for the questioner, who will express his victory by saying, ‘The root thesis is finished’ (rtsa ba’i dam bca’ tshar) or, more briefly, ‘Oh, it’s finished!’ (o’ tshar). This is the end of this debate, with the clear victory of the questioner.” The Sound of Two hands Clapping, 216.

[5] This is to be understood in terms of convention: at some point it is decided that a certain configuration of marks will be called M and will be asked to consensually function as such within a larger system of conceptually-devised but physically executed marks collectively held (within the frame or set of that system) to be suitable as basis for labelling all the 26 aggregated letters or members of the English alphabet. There is nothing more to it than that i.e. there is nothing inherently present or naturally installed in the designative base (Tib: bdags gzhi) that renders it suitable to receive or attract the label or designation (Tib: btags chos). This is according to Prāsaṅgika tenets as Lama Zopa Rinpoche has been illustrating. The base, in other words, is empty of existing as a base from its own side. 

Neither is there anything intrinsic in the label that propels it, steers it of its own accord as it were, towards a particular designative base, just as a bee might head for a pollen-laden flower. The relationship of base to label is therefore to be understood in terms of mutual dependence. In this sense it is a functional one. The same can be said of the base of designation of person (the personal aggregates) and the I designated to them: “As argued earlier, for Tsongkhapa, the person is designated in reliance upon his or her aggregates. hence, the person is the designation, and the aggregates are the designative basis. There is a mutual dependence between the two: the concept of one cannot be coherent without the other.” See Jinpa, Self, Reality and Reason In Tibetan Philosophy, 119-20.

Returning to the letter M, it therefore makes no sense (it is incoherent in fact) to label the letter M in dependence on the base suitable to be labeled ‘blackboard’. But this unsuitability is only because that base (composed of flat black carbon surface able to receive chalk marks etc.) has not been nominated as suitable to be labeled M or any other name pertaining to letters of the alphabet. Again, it is as simple as that. Of course, hypothetically-speaking, and to stretch a point,  if we all agreed, nonetheless, that that black surface should be nominated M (and we taught our children such accordingly), it would then happily function as M, because that is what we have nominally agreed it to be and, as agents, how we have decided it might (be put to) work as instrument of our intended operations: to serve as writing surface. 

But that does not mean it would become an actual letter of the alphabet!  Rather, in this case it has been a mere superficial matter of modifying language in order to rename a blackboard ‘M’. In the meantime, we might have communally decided to redesignate the actual alphabet letter M something else entirely (i.e. something non- M) in which case it could still successfully work as a distinct serviceable member of the set or closed economy of alphabet letters, albeit under its new nomenclature. But again, this is only because and when we have consensually agreed that it might be so.  Future generations might not know that this “new” letter (labeled to four arranged lines and now sounded/uttered differently) was ever called M in some historical past. Nor that the new letter is new. This is proof that it was never intrinsically M.  Nor intrinsically  a new letter. Nor, for that matter, that the specially configured four lines was ever the base of labelling M for it no longer appears as such under, or according to the new consensual conventional designatory system.

Again we recall that base  and label are mutually dependent. Consider: even the number of alphabet letters is nominal; it has merely been agreed-upon, just as has the requirement to read from left to right. See the post Empty Words.

In Australia we travel on the left-hand side of the road! Our steering wheels are positioned accordingly. So again, we are not dealing with sheer semantics. Consider the pedestrian crossing composed of painted zebra stripes: our very lives hang in the operational balance of sheer convention. 


[6] The variant “labeling by depending upon the base” is also found in some English translations of Tibetan texts. Jeffrey Hopkins observes that an alternative phrasing “labelling to the base” (also frequently found) must be approached with some caution: “If the person were the composite or aggregation of the mental and physical aggregates or even if it were designated to the composite or aggregation of the mental and physical aggregates, that composite would be the person. Rather, the person is designated in dependence upon the mental and physical aggregates.” See Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Exposition, 205, footnote b. Italics are Hopkin’s.

The implication: in merely labelling we are not engaging  (in the sense of indicating towards) something that is already constituted substantially as the labelled thing i.e. the person labeled is not (already established or findable as) the composite of mental and physical aggregates. Hence the qualifying significance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s insertion of the word “relating” in “relating to the base.” Or, we impute by “connecting” to the base.

Hopkins makes the same point from a slightly different perspective: “In Ge-luk-pa scholastic literature it is said that “only name” does not mean “merely sounds” even though names are sounds, since otherwise the only phenomena that would exist would be sounds.” See Hopkins, Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Wisdom, 206, footnote b. The logic: this consequence would follow if we hold “only name” to mean sound only for even the referent objects of sounds (what is signified) would be merely other sounds. The loop is then inescapable.  Also, if we take “merely nominally existent” to mean not existing by way of phenomena’s own character, but existing as pure nominality itself, then how would we distinguish between the utterance “car” and the car that knocks us over, or conveys us around? Or conversely, why couldn’t we knock someone fatally over  by merely shouting out: ‘car’! 

Again we must consider that the label “car” is designated by relating to the composite parts: the bits and pieces of the engine, wheels, doors, the metal chassis, etc. all engineered and assembled in such a way as to enable  the serviceable activity and locomotion required of a car. Yet if we investigate further we find that each of these composite parts is also “only name” as is their assemblage. They don’t objectively or truly exist on their respective  bases where they appear to be. Nor does the car’s function. 

[7] In a private interview with the Western nun Thubten Chodron (Sravasti Abbey, 29 January 2005), Lama Zopa Rinpoche further explored this subtle debate point (see pages 12-13):

“Not only can’t you find a truly existent I on the aggregates; you can’t find a merely labeled I on the aggregates either. Many people seem to say that the merely labeled I is on the aggregates but that there is no truly existent I. This is an interesting point. If the merely labeled I is on the aggregates, then where is it? This becomes a huge question. Where is it? For example, if we say there is a merely labeled table on this base—four legs and a flat top—then where is it? Is the merely labeled table on top or on the right side or on the left side? If we say a merely labeled table is on this base we should be able to find it. Where is it? It becomes very difficult to say exactly where.

Do you remember last summer when Geshe Sopa Rinpoche was teaching I asked where on the base the merely labeled table is? I think it would have to cover the whole base. The merely labeled table would have to cover the entire base, every atom of it, or it would have to exist on one side or the other. We can’t find it on one side or the other, in one part or another, so the merely labeled table must cover the entire base, every atom of it. Then it becomes very interesting. Then if you cut it in half you should have two merely labeled tables. But if we break a table into pieces we see only pieces, and there should be a merely labeled table on every piece. Take a little piece and it would be a merely labeled table because table exists on the whole object. So that is totally absurd! Many faults arise.

I find it much clearer to say that there’s not even a merely labeled table on the base. Geshe Sopa Rinpoche debated with me. At that time I think we were talking about the person, so I said a merely labeled person is in this room, on this seat, but it’s not on the aggregates. It’s much simpler, much easier, to say this. I don’t see any confusion in it. The person is on the bed, but not on the aggregates. Why is the person on the bed? Because the aggregates are there. But the person is not on the aggregates, because if it were, it should be findable when we search for it.”

For full text see Interview on Emptiness at  Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. Refer also to Hopkins: “For instance, if a table objectively existed, it would subsist from its own side as opposed to being imputed, or designated, from the subject’s side. This is called ‘existence with the basis of designation.’ The basis of designation of a table is all the parts of a table—four legs, a top, and so forth; on them, with them, right with them, is a table. This is the way ‘self,’ inherent existence, appears, and this is how we feel it; this is how we conceive it.” Hopkins, Emptiness Yoga, 87 (italics mine). Existence in the manner of covering its basis of designation, gnon pa’i tshul du yod pa; existence right in the basis of designation, gdags gzhi’i steng nas grub pa; existence in the object (of) designation, btags yul gyi steng nas grub pa—are all terms invoked here.

[8] Similarly, writes Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, “The Autonomists [Svātantrikas] still hold parts and whole to exist from their own side and to exist by way of their own characteristics however. With respect to the mode of being of phenomena, the Autonomists’ special position is that they assert a mode of being which is established from the object’s own side, but which is posited through the power of appearing to a non-defective awareness. Their principal explanation of how phenomena are selfless therefore is that they are empty of existing from their own side without depending on being posited by a non-defective awareness.” The Harmony, of Emptiness and Dependent Arising, 44.

[9] This refers to how the existence of things “is established simply in terms of mind’s mentally labeling or imputing them,” a realisation contingent upon refutation of the subtle object of negation as Lama Zopa Rinpoche has described. Lama Zopa Rinpoche further describes: 

The extremely subtle one [dependent arising] is this: because there is a valid base, when the mind sees that valid base, it merely imputes, simply makes up the label this and that. What exists is simply that, nothing else. There’s nothing more real there, nothing extra than what is merely imputed by mind by seeing the valid base and whether a phenomena exists depends upon whether there is a valid base for that or not. The reason it exists is because a valid base exists and the mind merely imputes this or that in dependence upon that base, This is subtle dependent arising according to the Prasangika system.” See Interview on Emptiness, page 23.

The reference is therefore to how the existence of things “is established simply in terms of mind’s mentally labeling or imputing them” as His Holiness the Dalai Lama summarises and then elaborates via the analogy of a dream:

Similarly, with respect to all knowable phenomena, an existence on top of, or from the depths of, any of them as something that does not merely rely on being simply what can be mentally labeled–an existence of any of them with an identity as “this” or “that” that is not established by virtue simply of the fact that they can be labelled as such by conventions or names–is the subtle object to be refuted…The Seventh Dalai Lama Kelzang-gyatso has elaborated on this example and point. When we are asleep, we experience in our dreams various appearances arising, such as of mountains and fences, pastures, livestock, houses, and so on. Similarly, we experience various appearances of illusion arising through our visual perception being under the effect of a conjurer’s spell. These are merely things that our mind makes appear. There are no actual objects at the basis where these appearances are arising that are establishing their existence. Their existence as appearances is established simply in terms of mind’s mentally labeling or imputing them. Likewise, all phenomena–whether self or other, samsara or nirvana–are simply what can be mentally labelled by conventions and names. This is because nothing can ultimately be found existing as what can be labelled either in, on, or as, its basis for labeling. A solid mountain cannot ultimately be found in, on or as the appearance of one in a dream. Likewise a solid “me” cannot ultimately be found in, on or as the transitory collection of aggregates–a body, mind and so forth–as the basis for labeling one.

See H.H. The Dalai Lama, A Root Text for the Precious Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, 322.










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