Identifying The Object Of Refutation Via The Example Of Mental Projection


Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Oz, Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery, Bendigo, Australia, October 2014. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang.





Subject, action, object, friend, enemy, stranger, the people around you, relatives, possessions—all of these are transitory in nature. Due to causes and conditions they change within every second and can stop at any time. This is the nature of causative phenomena.[1] Yet, while transitory in nature, we project an appearance of permanence onto them and wish they existed in that way. Not only do we project permanence onto them but we believe in our projection: permanent friend, permanent enemy, permanent stranger; permanent people around you; permanent environment and permanent possessions! But such things don’t exist. What has happened is that our mind has created something else. We have decorated things with an appearance of permanence and then believed in that.[2] This becomes the basis of our problems and gives rise to our fears, depressions and nervous breakdowns. When things don’t exist in the manner we have projected but instead degenerate and finish, we become distressed. Our life becomes crazy. It becomes a problem simply because it is not what we expect.[3]

Instead, if you were aware of the reality of these phenomena as transitory and looked at them accordingly, when they finished you would feel neither shocked nor frightened. You wouldn’t feel as though you had fallen through the earth or had sunk deep beneath the ocean. You wouldn’t feel so depressed. When you understand that that thing (whatever causative phenomenon it may be)[4] changes, decays, becomes older, stops, it doesn’t appear to you as a problem. It is when you don’t see things as transitory but instead expect the opposite that there are sudden difficulties in your life. There was no problem before but there is now! There was no problem in the morning but now there is a problem in the afternoon. There was no problem an hour ago but right now there is a problem. Though there was no problem a minute ago, there is one just seconds later. So even from this simple example you can see again how problems come from your own mind. They do not come from outside but in dependence on how we think. When you do not see phenomena according to their nature, the expectation is itself the problem because it does not accord with reality. Thus problems are completely to do with your own concept. It is a question of whether you think skillfully and correctly. Because it creates or produces a problem, we can say that not thinking correctly is itself a problem. So, if you can think correctly, that problem will be solved.

The conclusion is that all these causative phenomena are transitory in nature and can stop at any time. Due to being under the control of causes and conditions, causative things are changing, decaying, not only day by day, but hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. What exists in the first second does not exist in the second. What exists in the second second does not exist in the third. According to the Prāsaṅgika School, even within that second the object does not last.[5] But that is totally the opposite of how we see that object, that beautiful flower, that beautiful body. We have the hallucination of permanence right there. We believe in this hallucination as true: these objects will, we feel, last for a long time. According to our projection of permanence, this beautiful body will always be like this. Our projection of permanence therefore acts as a hallucination spreading a cover of permanence over impermanence.[6]




But if, on the other hand, we allow our mind to dwell on impermanence, then immediately we don’t see any reason to cling or to get angry or jealous. Therefore, what is the point of having the unsatisfied mind of desire? What is the point of the mind of anger? Generating such minds is nonsense. Without even analyzing or meditating in terms of their emptiness they are found to be baseless by a valid mind seeing their impermanence. If we understand impermanence we are loathe to engage in negative karma—the cause of saṃsāra and the lower realms. Following the thought of impermanence makes the object of liberation available, whereas following the wrong concept of permanence denies it. Then there is only saṃsāra. So it makes a huge difference in our everyday life.

By practicing mindfulness on impermanence we immediately find peace in our heart. Desire is instantly stopped. Here is a totally different world to the normal one created by desire, in which everything (form, sound, smell, taste and so forth) appears to us as permanent. Such a world is a total hallucination due to being founded upon the deluded concept of permanence together with our attachment to such a view.



Lama Zopa Rinpoch visits with Lynn Miller Coleman as she paints the kangaroo statue, Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery, Australia, October 2014. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang. After Lynn decorated it, Rinpoche added a mantra known as “Enjoyment of the Great Water.” See opening image. According to Rinpoche, just seeing this mantra purifies 100,000 eons of negative karma. Interestingly, and most pertinently, in terms of this current post, the gompa of the Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery, Australia, suffered extensive damage in a fire. However, the kangaroo was “saved.” 



Then on top of this, all these things—subject, action, object; friend, enemy, stranger; even our own body and possessions; indeed, all permanent and impermanent existents—are, in reality, empty. Though they exist as merely imputed or designated by the mind, our mind of ignorance projects true existence onto them. We then apprehend and believe them to exist in this manner.[7] If we realize that they are, in reality, completely empty of true existence, just as in the case of holding impermanent things as permanent, we would see that there is no point at all in having the unhappy, dissatisfied minds of desire and anger or the ignorance that projects true existence onto non-truly existent things.

Everything that exists is empty. So, causative things are not only impermanent but they are also empty.[8] Emptiness is the ultimate or absolute nature of things. The conventional nature is the other (nature of things).[9] If we don’t analyze but just let our mind follow ignorance, we will find ourselves in another world where everything is real from its own side. However, this is only the appearance that occurs when we don’t analyze. When we do analyze, this world is not there. We cannot find it.[10]





Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Causative phenomena refers to those that are conditioned and thus impermanent. They are to be contrasted to non-causative phenomena i.e. those that are not conditioned, or compounded, such as space, analytical cessations, non-analytical cessations, and emptiness. These are all permanent phenomena as they do not arise from causes and conditions and therefore do not change from moment to moment. See Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness, 432. However, from the unique Prāsaṅgika viewpoint, all phenomena are covered by the term “dependent-arising” as all phenomena are dependent on parts and designation by concept and name. Hopkins elaborates:

The Sanskrit word translated by ‘phenomena’ is dharma. Because all dharmas are objects of knowledge (jñeya, shes bya), they can appear to the mind, and thus the word ‘phenomena’ from the Greek phainómenon meaning ‘appearance’ is used as a translation equivalent. There are impermanent and permanent phenomena, and in this system of translation there is no noumenon which is not a phenomenon. For even emptiness is a phenomenon in that it appears to the mind and is an object (viṣhaya, yul); in the Prāsaṅgika system nothing exists independently, in and of itself, as ‘noumenon’ suggests. Even an emptiness is a dependent-arising because it is imputed to a lack of inherent existence which is its basis of imputation and, like all other phenomena, cannot be found when sought amongst its bases of imputation. Just as much as a chair is not its legs, arms, back, or seat, or even their composite, so the emptiness of a chair is not the lack of inherent existence of the legs, arms, back, or seat, or even their composite.” Hopkins, Meditation, 433.

It cannot be the mere lack of inherent existence of the legs, arms” etc. because that mere lack is the basis of designating the emptiness of the chair and the base cannot be itself the designation; otherwise, we would be labelling, superfluously, redundantly,  absurdly, to what is already self-instituted as that labelled thing. Anyhow, the point is that “conditionality’ refers to the dependent-arising of products and indeed all Buddhist schools of tenets accept that products are dependent-arisings inasmuch as all effects depend on causes. Ibid., 434. In this regard, understanding dependence on causes and conditions can be considered a grosser or easier level to comprehend, dependence on parts and conceptual imputation being increasingly more subtle. However, even understanding the first–dependence on causes and conditions–requires finesse. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama often points out, in the Prāsaṅgika system we also say that causes depend on their effects: in dependence on an effect we label, often or even retrospectively, a “cause” corresponding to that effect. Like high and low, this and that, self and other, cause and effect rely upon one another and in this sense establish each other. In in this sense we can say that a result s also responsible for its cause. Mutually dependent, they cannot exist truly, objectively, or from their own side. If a cause, for example, existed inherently, it would be a cause perfectly isolated from its or any effect. In what sense, then, is it a self-established cause? In what sense is it suitable to be called a cause, let alone be identified as one?  At all?

[2] Mention of projecting “an appearance of permanence” onto things and then believing in it (see above) is intended to be understood in the ordinary terms of everyday transactions and must therefore be distinguished from the philosophically derived and asserted view of permanence (rtag lta, śāśvatadarśana) presented within the context of non-Buddhist tenets, where it involves “asserting as existent what is non-existent.” See Hopkins, Meditation, 318–20.

The emphasis here on “assertion” (as in “asserted view”) highlights the active didactic employment of various assertions to argue for the existence of things which, though nonexistent in reality, are certainly not held to be nonexistent by such tenet holders. Ibid. Our projection of permanence onto conventionally existent impermanent things (or products), on the other hand, is instinctive in that it isn’t generated by tenets though it may be supported by them.

In particular, we must distinguish the habitual or compulsive projection of permanence onto everyday things by ordinary (non-philosophical) persons from those specific views of holders of what is known technically as the extreme of permanence, or reification (rtag mtha’, śaśvatānta). As Buddhist tenet holders, they (as reificationalists) philosophically advocate existence from the object’s own side (rang ngos nas grub pa, svarūpasiddhi), inherent (or intrinsic) existence (rang bzhin/rang bzhin gyis grub pa, svabhāva/svabhāvasiddha/svarūpa) etc. According to the Prāsaṅgika Mādhyamika system, even the Svātantrika Mādhyamika system can be said to assert an extreme of permanence in this specially-qualified regard. For discussion, see Hopkins, Meditation, 451–52. Note: sometimes the extreme of permanence is also translated as the extreme of eternalism. 

[3] Milarepa, from a realized renunciate yogic perspective, sang of the folly of grasping at impermanent things as permanent:

To constantly dwell in the charnel grounds
Of decrepit-walled cities is extremely foolish.

Spouses are just like guests at a gathering.
To bicker and fight with them is extremely foolish.

The self-resounding of illusory words of renown,
To get attached to these is extremely foolish.

Enemies that are fleeting just like a flower,
To risk your life fighting them is extremely foolish.

Towards the borrowed wealth that’s like a dewdrop,
To be knotted up with miserliness is extremely foolish.

See “The Song of the Snow”, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, translated by Christopher Stagg, 39.

[4] Causative phenomena are things that come about in dependence on causes. Because they are produced by causes and conditions (rgyu rkyen, hetupratyaya) they can also be known as produced thing, or product (’dus byas, saṃkṛta). See Zopa, Virtue and Reality, 69. As they may interdependently “cause” other phenomena, products are also causes, but are not causes of themselves. See the Dalai Lama, From Here to Enlightenment, 40.

[5] On this point, Tegchok writes, “The point is that a thing’s disintegration doesn’t require any other cause than the very cause that brought about its production. In other words, arising and disintegration do not result from two separate causes: one that brings about the arising of one o’clock [his chosen example] and another cause that makes it cease. Similarly, the causes for a flower to bloom and wilt are the same.” Insight, 67.

This point requires deep consideration. We tend to think of impermanence as something that happens to things.   It seems as though there is some kind of separate independent external agency or principle that makes or causes things to disintegrate. But the reality, as being stated, is the opposite. Take our current body (which is an example of a causative phenomenon): there is not a moment or juncture of time when it started to disintegrate, say, when we hit middle age! It is disintegrating from moment to moment as inexorably as that wilting flower. Even the foetus in the womb is disintegrating. Of course, if it wasn’t impermanent by nature, it could not evolve, in dependence on causes and conditions, into a “fully-fledged” body ready for birth, allowing of course for the “successful” aggregation of conditions allowing for such an outcome.

To understand that disintegration “is not a separate entity but the nature of the thing itself which exists for only a single instant” and thus “does not have causes other than those of its production” we rely on the work of the great Buddhist dialectician Dharmakīrti. Georges Dreyfus, via Sapan, captures the essence of what in the monasteries is a source of complex invigorating debate:

Sapan explains Dharmakīrti’s idea:

Question: What is disintegration?

Answer: [Disintegration] is  not to be thought of as the state of disintegratedness [of something already] disintegrated, [for] this is a nothing. Rather, the mere [fact] that [something] does not remain for a second moment onward after having been produced for a single moment from its causes is called disintegration. There is no separate phenomenon called disintegration. Accordingly, [Dharmakīrti] says in his Commentary: “In order to know that the disintegration of things does not rely on anything else, it is said that it [the disintegration] has no cause on the basis of mind superimposing a distinction [between the thing and its disintegration].

See Dreyfus, Recognizing Reality, 64. The topic is explored extensively in that text. For a concise account of the contrast between  upper Buddhist tenet systems, from the lower, see Sopa, Steps on the Path, Volume 5, 363.

For example, Sopa notes, “some Vaibhāṣikas say that these process occur sequentially: first a thing arises, then it abides, and finally it perishes” ibid. But, as he points out, this account “only describes gross impermanence” ibid. Unlike subtle impermanence, gross impermanence does “require another cause that occurs later” ibid. For example, the vase ceases when it is dropped and smashed. Its cessation in that form is dependent on the application of the external agency that is capable of smashing it. The upper schools, on the other hand, as is being pointed out, and now referring to  subtle impermanence, say that “as soon as something, such as sound, comes into existence, it is already disintegrating” and moreover, that “[t]his occurs naturally owing to the cause of its arising; it does not need another cause to perish. So, in a subtle sense, from the moment we are born we do not abide for more than an instant” ibid. Returning to the Kyabje Zopa’s argument, It is this reality that is being obscured by the ignorance grasping at impermanent things as permanent. Due to our lack of examination and insight we compulsively cling to today’s person as though it was the same as our yesterday’s person. Hence all our expectations, goals etc. are fabricated accordingly, including our superannuation and retirement plans. Even when we are on our death-bed we make plans for tomorrow.: what juice shall I sip through my straw? Not that ghastly sour apple juice that made me vomit today!

For rigorous details  of the unique features of the Prāsaṅgika’s School’s presentation (which, though grounded in Dharmakīrti’s account  differs in subtle yet significant ways because, unlike “most Buddhist epistemologists” they don’t accept “coarse objects as real”) see Dreyfus ibid, 111-114. See also Cozort, Unique Tenets of the Middle Way Consequence School, 190-220.

Centra to, or rather, underlining  this tenet-based discussion (alluded to by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche above) is the manner in which the Prāsaṅgika can argue for  a compatibility between duration and momentariness precisely because, like all phenomena, causal phenomena do not inherent exist. As Dreyfus pinpoints, in this regard Geluk scholars such as Kay-drup (speaking on behalf of the Prāsaṅgika’s School) deliberately accord with worldly commonsense: “Objects change from moment without necessarily ceasing to exist. For example, consider a jar described by commonsense to have lasted for seven years.” Dreyfus, ibid, 111. Yet to say that this vase has lasted for seven years is not to deny that “this jar is made of a succession of infinitesimal moments that disintegrate as soon as they are produced” ibid. For Geluk scholars, the vase lasting for a period of time is conventionally (or commonsensically) “real” and yet cannot “be reduced to its constitutive elements” ibid, 112. If it could it would be established as not just commonsensically or conventionally real but really-real i.e. as actually “findable” from the side ofor withinits base of imputation. And, if it existed that way,  how could the vase ever be  produced? Let alone have temporal duration?  And how could we ever die? Let alone be found on the linoleum of the office floor, well, dead. Even though it was our  birthday! It is a premise of the Geluk-Prāsaṅgika presentation that a “disintegratedness” is a conditioned and therefore a functioning thing. 


[6] In the same way that “[o]ur projection of permanence therefore acts as a hallucination spreading a cover of permanence over impermanence” so does our projection of true existence act as a hallucination spreading a cover of true existence over phenomena that lack true existence. Regarding the meaning of “covering” in this context,  Pabongkha Rinpoche explains:

Likewise, when you go for a gallop on a horse, you do not mean the horse’s mind or body when you say “horse”. “Horse” is not merely a name imputed on the set of both of them. You apprehend the horse to be the self-evident thing covered by [the term] “horse.” When you speak of Sera or Drepung, you are not distinguishing between the external buildings such as the main temples, and the monks, etc., that are inside them. The basis of imputation is the collection of the physical environments of these monasteries together with their contents. Over this collection will arise the self-evident thing equal in size and extent to “Sera and Drepung”–it is it. When you talk of a scholar, the basis of imputation is merely the set of his mind and body. But something self-evident and quite independent of anything else presents itself to you.

In short, as Ketsang Jamyang Monlam says, any and every phenomenon is said to be “this” or “that.” “This” or “that” equal in size and extent to the basis of imputation presents itself, This is the ultimate object of refutation by logic. It has been described as “the thing to which you direct your grasping at true existence” or as “the object of negation” that is supposed to be established as true when one does not recognize that it only appears to be true.

See Pabangka, Liberation in the Palm of your Hand, revised edition, 631.

Pabongka further stresses that the object of negation must not be mistaken for some object that is the contrivance of “some theoretical form of the view.” Rather, we must allow it to present itself to us–freshly and nakedly as it were–without the filtering mechanism of preconceptions and assumptions:

When you recognize only part of the object of refutation, and slavishly make use of the many different arguments put forth in the Madhyamaka classics, your analysis will only be through the medium of mental images gained secondhand of “being established as true” or “self-sufficient.” Everything will be mere words. You will make no inroads into your grasping at true existence at all. If you do not allow the object of refutation to present itself to you of its own accord and instead merely refabricate the thought of “I” for your fresh object of refutation to be used in analysis, you will arrive only at some theoretical form of the view.


The great efficacy of Kyabje Zopa’s approach via the projective experience of “permanence” is that it enables us to glimpse, experientially, the manner in which our projective capacity is itself entirely capable of coating or covering over and thus fundamentally obscuring (in the sense of concealing) the actual nature of things. Also, it powerfully highlights that such a capacity stems entirely from our own mind.

[7] A careful reader will note the two-part aspect of this grasping: it first projects–in the sense of superimposes–true existence onto merely labeled things such as friends and enemies and then, in dependence upon that superimposed appearance, apprehends and believes them “to exist in this manner.” In other words we adhere to that mistaken estimation of their existence. Pabongkha Rinpoche also gives the classic example of friends and enemies grasped in this distorted inappropriate way: “Je Gungtang [Jampalyang Rinpoche] proclaimed:

Today they are your affectionate friends, [yet]
Through the conceptions of a single good or bad word
And superimposition, the next day they are true enemies;
Sever yourself from adhering to prejudice.

Translator David Gonzalez pertinently glosses:

This verse utilizes a number of terms generally associated with philosophical texts. “Conceptions” is a translation of the Tibetan term rnam rtog, which generally refers to a type of conceptual elaboration or overestimation based on terms and ideas. “Superimposition” is sgro btags in Tibetan, and in this instance is specifically related to rnam rtog as the reification of the perceived object established by the imputation of the associated conceptual elaborations “Adhering” is dzin pa in Tibetan and refers to subsequently grasping or apprehending those superimpositions that are imputed upon the perceived object through conceptual elaborations and believing them to be an inherent attribute of an inherently existent object.

See Pabongka Rinpoche, The Essence of the Vast and the Profound, 385.

Geshe Jampa Tegchok indicates a further refinement:

[T]he mind to which the table appears to exist from its own side–in this case, the visual consciousness that apprehends the table–is not the conception of true existence. When objects appear to our five sense consciousnesses–the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile consciousnesses–and our mental consciousness, they appear as if they existed from their own side. After they appear in this way, another mind comes along which conceives of them being exactly like that: existing from their own side, without depending on causes and conditions, or anything else. That mind is the inborn conception of true existence. It is a mental, not a sense consciousness. This is the unknowing ignorance to which objects appear to exist from their own side, and which then conceives of them as actually existing in that way.

See Geshe Jampa Tegchok, Transforming Adversity into Joy, 225-6.

[8] Jeffrey Hopkins extrapolates the vital point concerning how recognition of the dependent-arising of impermanent phenomena leads implicitly to recognition that they also lack independent or true or natural existence:

The dependent-arising of impermanent phenomena is itself a sign that products are not produced from themselves, naturally existent others, both or causelessly. The first alternative and the last two alternatives require no qualification; however, the second, production from other, does require the qualification ‘naturally existent.’ For products [what Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche is calling causal phenomena] are indeed conventionally produced from causes that are conventionally existent others. There is no production, even conventionally, which can bear analysis, but there is conventionally existent self and other and conventionally existent production from what is other. Self and other are mutually dependent as are cause and effect. Because of being interdependent, they cannot be naturally existent, that is to say, established by way of their own character. It is by way of this conditionality that a Prāsaṅgika accepts phenomena.

See Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness, 433. For more on this topic see my very personal post This Side That Side.

The Prāsaṅgika make another uncommon or unique claim concerning the efficacy of the cessation of a deed that is pertinent to this discussion of cause and effect:

However, the Consequentialists [Prāsaṅgika] say that when a deed ceases, it does not utterly cease with absolutely no continuation, as an inherently existent cessation would imply. Therefore, nothing extra is needed to carry it over to other lifetimes. In the Consequence School the state of the cessation of an action, being empty of inherent existence and impermanent, is sufficient to cause an effect that might arise eons later.

See Hopkins, Emptiness, Yoga, 59. Hence the efficacy of that causal and thus impermanent phenomena–karma– that is non-inherently existent; merely conceptually imputed by thought. The 

[9] This is a reference to the two truths: ultimate truth and truth for the all-obscuring mind (conventional truth). Known as the two truths they represent one of the most difficult yet essential Buddhist topics and are a key focus of Buddhist tenets. Tsongkhapa writes, “The definition of ultimate truth is that given in Chandrakīrti’s Supplement…as explained earlier—that which is found by a perception of a real object of knowledge. Chandrakīrti’s commentary on that says:

Concerning that, with respect to the ultimate its own entity is found through being the object of the specific pristine wisdom of those perceiving the real. It is not established by way of its own selfhood. This is one nature [of an object, the other being its conventional nature].

See Hopkins, Final Exposition, 122–23. An ultimate truth, in other words, is that which is “found by the uncontaminated pristine wisdom comprehending suchness” (ibid., 123). It refers to the final mode of being of conventionalities, i.e., emptiness. The Dalai Lama points out, “the reality of the emptiness of inherent existence is the final mode of subsistence of phenomena” since “no matter how much one analyzes, there is no final mode of subsistence other than it.” Harvard, 32. As Jamyang Shepa explains, ultimate truth “is called ‘truth’ since it does not deceive trainees [by] not abiding the way it appears or since the mode of appearance and the mode of abiding are concordant—not being discordant like false conventionalities.” See Final Exposition, 121, footnote g. And, “In short,” writes Tegchok, a conventional truth is an object “known by consciousnesses that perceive falsities—objects that appear to exist from their own side to minds influenced by ignorance.” Insight, 232.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama similarly points out, and in reference to the Heart Sūtra:

The line “Emptiness is not other than form, form too is not other than emptiness” indicates the necessity of understanding the Buddha’s teaching on the two truths. The first of these two truths is the truth of everyday convention, while the second, ultimate truth, is the truth arrived at through analysis into the ultimate mode of being of things. Nagarjuna makes reference to this in Fundamentals of the Middle Way:

The teachings revealed by the buddhas
are done so in terms of the two truths–
the conventional truth of the world
and the ultimate truth.

We perceive conventional truth, that is, the relative world in all its diversity, through our everyday use of mind and our sense faculties. However, it is only through penetrating analysis that we are able to perceive ultimate truth, the true nature of things and events. To perceive this is to perceive the suchness of phenomena, their ultimate mode of being, which is the ultimate truth about the nature of reality. Although many Indian schools of thought–both Buddhist and non-Buddhist–understand the nature of reality in terms of two truths, the more subtle understanding entails realization of the two truths not as two separate, independent realities but rather as two aspects of a single reality. It is essential that we clearly grasp this distinction.

See Dalai Lama, Essence of the Heart Sutra, 118-9.

For further elaboration of the definition of conventional truth (truth for the all-obscuring mind), see Tsongkhapa’s chapter called “Basis of Division of the Two Truths” in his Middle Length Lam Rim, translated in Final Exposition, 103–8. For a comprehensive account of meanings, definitions, debates and the division of phenomena into (just) two truths, see ibid.,121–49. See also the Dalai Lama, Essence, 117–18. See also Tsongkhapa, Ocean, 482–89. A comprehensive overview (together with critical debates) is found in Guy Newland, Two Truths; see especially 136–57.

[10] We cannot find it because, in reality, it does not exist. Considered in a more technical sense, when we search for the object of negation, via exhaustive logical analysis, we are finally faced with the absolute conclusion that, although it appears to exist, right there, as the true and inalienable nature of the object itself, in reality, such a truly existent object does not exist (or is findable) at all. It is entirely an hallucinated projection that, once superimposed so that it is “covering” or “decorating” the merely imputed phenomenon (with which it appears indissolubly mixed) is read back (erroneously) as the actual nature of the thing itself: precisely what Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche is describing.

Regarding arriving at this sheer non-findability, via logical analysis, Gen Lamrimpa explains:

This brings us to the fourth essential point, namely that an inherently existent entity, such as a truly existent “I,” does not exist either as a single phenomenon nor as a multiple phenomenon. It does not exist at all, in any way whatsoever. This is called the essential point of inclusiveness. It is an all-inclusive principle: since it is neither single nor plural, it does not exist. By seeking out a truly existent phenomenon by means of the four essential points , such true existence as a single or multiple entity is not found, so it is therefore refuted. Through this mode of logical analysis, one consequence follows upon another, and the result is the refutation of true existence. It is at this very moment, as one arrives at the certain conclusion that this truly existent phenomenon does not exist either as a single entity or as multiple entities and therefore does not exist at all, that one is led to a realization of emptiness.

See Geshe Lamrimpa, Realizing Emptiness, 77.

This is what Kyabje Zopa means when he says “However, this is only an appearance that occurs when we don’t analyze. When we do analyze, this world is not there. We cannot find it.” The classic analysis called Four Essential Points will be the extensive subject of a sequence of future posts. Likewise, in the context of another classic “ultimate analysis” (don dam dpyod pa’i rigs pa) called the sevenfold analysis of a chariot:

We can quickly come to understand emptiness by depending on the examination of a chariot. If a thing–such as a chariot–was inherently existent, the chariot and its parts would exist in one of the ways specified in the sevenfold ultimate analysis. A chariot and its parts do exist in such relationships conventionally but not inherently. Inherent existence means that something is identified in terms of its own inherent nature., not simply in dependence on a name. Ultimate analysis is the search for that nature comprehensively through those seven ways. When we do not find anything of that nature, we understand that the thing being analyzed is without inherent existence. Candrakrti’s Commentary on the “Introduction to the Middle Way” says:

Worldly conventional things do not exist in terms of this analysis;
yet they exist in terms of being commonly accepted without analysis.
Therefore when a yogi analyzes things by means of this very process, he very quickly fathoms the depths of reality. How is this so?

How could what does not exist in the seven ways be said to exist?
A yogi does not find it to exist,
Thus he also easily enters into reality.
Here you should accept it to be established in this way too.

See Geshe Sopa, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 5, 440. The purpose of an ultimate analysis, therefore, is not to determine whether conventionally existent things or conventionalities, such as “I” or “vase” exist. To engage in this way would (potentially) damage our faith in the existence of conventionalities. This is because, when analytically  sought in their parts etc, they also will not be found. Instead, it is aimed at realizing the ultimate nature of the reality of things such as ‘I’s and vases i.e. their lack of inherent existence–precisely what is projected or (erroneously) conceptually imputed by ignorance grasping at true existence.

As Kyabje Zopa will explain in a forthcoming post, this returns us to the essential of identifying the object of negation (or refutation): “The reason is that what you have been analyzing is not the object of refutation but the merely labelled vase. When you can’t find the vase there you think that it doesn’t exist. Such a conclusion offers no help in realizing the emptiness of the vase because it destroys what actually exists. Because it doesn’t harm the object of ignorance at all it leads you into the danger of concluding that the vase does not exist.” Thus we slide into the extreme of nihilism, one that will deny the very possibility of the valid conventional existence of the multitude of things. 



Fallen stamens beneath a Flowering Gum (Eucalyptus Ficifolia) in Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, 2017.  Photograph Ross Moore. 

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