Meditating On How The Object of Refutation Is There All Of The Time





What we must realize as empty is what we see all of the time.

It is always there in our view.

Every time we observe the I, whether night or day, it is there.

Every time we observe the five aggregates and sense objects—form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects and other phenomena—whether night or day, it is there.[1]

What you have to realize is empty is with us twenty-four hours a day.

Whenever we look at the I, the gag cha—the false object that is to be refuted—appears on the I.[2]

Whenever we look at a form, it appears on the form.

Whenever we hear sound, it’s there on the sound.

When we smell, it’s there on the smell.

It’s there when we smell that false smell.


Because that false smell on the smell is the gag cha, the object to be refuted.[3]

It is also there when we taste the false taste that doesn’t exist.[4]

As soon as we contact an object, the false object of contact, which doesn’t exist and is to be refuted, is there.

Even in terms of the mind and its objects, it is there.

Again, on these phenomena (thoughts and so forth), there is the false object, the object to be refuted.[5]






Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Geshe Rabten explains how (in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s words) “what we must realize as empty is what we see all of the time” in terms of the manner in which the imputed object and the object of negation are mixed and we cannot tease them apart:

At present, whatever internal or external phenomena appear to us, they do so mixed together with the object-to-be-negated. This is due to the ignorance in our mind which mars our perceptions. As a result of this, whatever we perceive appears to us in a manner deformed by this ignorance. Hence, the actual object appears to us mingled with a fiction projected by the ignorance in our mind. Whenever we see a form with our visual consciousness or hear a sound with our auditory consciousness, our perception of it is distorted by ignorance, so that the actual form or sound and the projection due to ignorance mingle and appear together. All our other sensory consciousnesses of smell, touch and taste are also pervaded by ignorance in this way. Upon the basis of these mistaken sensory perceptions, we then cling mentally to these distorted appearances as real. We hold this false mental image to be the real appearance of the object and then cling to this image as though the object truly existed in this way.

Treasury, 212–13.

[2] Venerable Lobsang Gyatso  describes three ways in which “false” (as in “false object”) can be understood. The first accords with the way the word is “most commonly used in the world,” e.g., being falsely accused of stealing or thinking a stationary train is moving when passed by another train. The second can be distinguished “according to someone’s tenets or beliefs,” e.g., Buddhists regard the “opinion that the mind is a material phenomenon as false.” The third is “the one closely connected with the Buddhist presentation of the ultimate nature of phenomena and occurs in the phrase ‘falsely existent.’”

As both he (and Lama Zopa Rinpoche) elaborate, “All phenomena appear to an ordinary consciousness to exist from their own side, but when investigated are found to have no such mode of existence whatsoever. For this reason, according to the Consequentialists [Prāsaṅgikas], all phenomena are falsely existent and therefore non-truly existent.” But  this is not to say we cannot discriminate between water that “really is wet and water that is merely a mirage on a hot day.” Gyatso, rHarmony, 45–46.

[3] To appreciate the significant import  of Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche’s mantra-like reiteration of “on” it is necessary to know that what is being placed “on” (as it were) is an imputed thing that is the mental image of the object of negation itself. Geshe Sopa elaborates:

Śāntideva says in Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds:

Without having identified the imputed thing,
You cannot apprehend its absence.

In this context the “imputed thing” refers to the mental image of the object of negation itself–inherent existence–which is superimposed on the thing perceived. We cannot negate inherent existence unless we recognize this mental image, and we recognize it by developing an understanding of how something might exist if it were to exist inherently. A mental image of inherent existence occurs naturally to most people. Our ordinary sense consciousnesses perceive everything as inherently existent; it is the way that we, as ordinary beings, experience the world and ourselves. Based on this mistaken perception our conceptual consciousnesses tend to hold things as inherently existent. Such thinking arises naturally, though it may arise, in addition, owing to philosophical beliefs. In any case, as soon as an object appears to the mind, it appears to exist inherently, and a conceptual consciousness will often grasp it to exist as it appears. The object that appears to our minds is merely conventionally imputed, but we do not see it as imputed, in this way. We see it as existing from its own side, objectively. This means that we always see it and frequently conceive of it an inherently existent–which is an additional imputation on top of the conventional thing itself. [Italics mine]. The mind that naturally grasps things as inherently existent actually grasps the objet of negation–inherent existence–but can’t ascertain it as such. Only a mind of wisdom, generated through ultimate analysis, can recognize the object of negation; such a mind can clearly identify the mental image of inherent existence and then negate it.

Geshe Sopa, Steps on the Path, Volume five, 73.

[4] Hopkins indicates Jangkya Rolpai Dorje’s description of self as objective existence (yul gyi steng nas grub pa) as valuable in assisting understanding of how the object of refutation appears:

Jang-gya describes self as objective existence. Therefore, a selflessness is an absence of objective existence, a phenomenon’s lack of inherent existence; similarly, a conception or apprehension of self is a conception of objective existence—existence right with the object, integral to the object’s basis of designation. 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 that 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. But, in fact, it does not exist in that way, in its own right.

Emptiness Yoga, 86–87 (italics mine).

[5] Jampa illustrates:

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.

Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa, Easy Path, 245.

Rather than a table, Tsongkhapa gives the following example of a pillar tin order to capture howo how we apprehend the object of negation of self in relation to the person. Jampa explains:

He uses the analogy of walking in pitch darkness, reaching out your hand, and suddenly touching a pillar. At such a moment, the pillar appears very solid to you. The pillar doesn’t seem at all to depend on anything—on having been constructed, on its parts, or on the label ‘pillar.’ The experience of the self that is the object of negation is similar. Lama Tsongkhapa also says that that self appears like a lingering thought, always there is the back of your mind. This is likened to how when you touch a pillar in the dark, the pillar seems to you to have always been in that spot, primordially present. And he says that that self also appears vividly to you.

Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa, Easy Path, 244.

If we return to the snake example in note 1 of We Are Like Children Howling With Despair, just as the hallucinated snake seems to “cover” the parts of the coiled rope so that only a snake appears back (though of course it is mixed with the appearance of the rope) so does the snake that is merely labelled to its appropriate parts: referring to those validly pertaining to the base of labelling snake such as the elongated writhing body, the shiny speckled scales, the coiling shape, the darting tongue, the bottomless vacant eye observing, with implacable stillness our naked foot approaching, etc.






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