Meditating On How Everything Exists in Mere Name

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KYABJE ZOPA RINPOCHE:

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Here we should meditate a little bit on how everything exists in mere name.

Think:

Because everything exists in mere name, everything is totally empty.

This conclusion should appear in my heart: there is not the slightest atom of inherent existence.

And while all phenomena—from the I, aggregates, down to the atoms, down to the seconds of consciousness—are empty, they exist.

They exist in mere name by being merely labeled by the mind.

*********

Earlier I described the essential preliminaries for realizing emptiness. Your mind must be made ready by gathering all the necessary conditions: practicing strong guru devotion, and purification and collection of extensive merits. Then—when together with an imprint left by having listened to the teachings on emptiness in the past, and having reflected and meditated as much as one is able—just hearing two words from a text such as Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s notes to Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Origination (in which Tsongkhapa praises Guru Śākyamuni Buddha for having realized the unification of emptiness and dependent arising and teaching it to sentient beings) will cause the meaning to suddenly click in your mind.

For example, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo explains how there is I on the I and vase on the vase. This does not seem to make sense. But when you hear it, due to having all the assembled conditions, it suddenly has great meaning. Taken from the Red Commentary and based on Pabongka Rinpoche’s own realizations, it is a way of discussing the object to be refuted—the false object.[1]

When you hear these few words it is like you suddenly wake up. Or you may see these words and then, when you go out and look at the outside world, the colorful objects, the thangkas and brocades, any bright objects, then, suddenly, you recognize that blue on the blue, red on the red.

Then you look at the ceiling and it appears to be a real ceiling from there![2] This view—that things exist from there—has always been with you from beginningless rebirths. But although it has been there all the time, you haven’t recognized it before. Then, due to the conditions of practice, you suddenly recognize it.

For example, when you look at your I, you see the I on that I. It is always there. It is always there in the sense that it has been appearing as independent, inherently existent, not merely labeled by the mind twenty-four hours a day. All that time of appearing in that way it has been apprehended as true. Because of believing in the apprehension of what is not true as true we have been blocked in our recognition of the false I. The I on the I, the real I appearing from there, is a hallucination, it is false.

By not recognizing the false I that does not exist as a false I we are unable to see that it is empty—totally empty. Without realizing the emptiness of the I we are unable to eliminate the root of existence and therefore cut the root of saṃsāra, due to which, from beginningless rebirths until now, we have been suffering and dying and being reborn and experiencing all the suffering in between.

LABELING AND INHERENT EXISTENCE

How do we apprehend the first I, the one the false I appears to cover?

When someone asks what you are doing, before even answering that, your mind thinks of what your body is doing and what your mind is doing. Then, if your mind sees that your body is sitting, it makes up the label “I am sitting.” Or if your mind sees that your consciousness and mental factors are listening and paying attention to teachings, it makes up the label “I am listening.” Likewise, when your mind is happy, it makes up the label “I am happy” or, if your mind is sad, “I am sad.” The thought that creates the label merely imputes “I am happy” or “I am sad” and then believes in that.

Day and night, from birth till death, depending on what your body and mind are doing, seeing that action, your thought constantly creates labels, merely imputing the I and merely imputing the action of the I. From beginningless rebirths until enlightenment, this is what we do.

The essential point to realize here is that it is our mind that constantly makes up the label “I” and merely labels all our actions and experiences in dependence upon what the aggregates are doing, experiencing and so forth.[3] Therefore the I exists in mere name. The I is merely labeled by the mind. What exists is merely labeled by the mind. And what doesn’t exist is what appears back to you as not merely labeled by the mind.[4]

In terms of sequence, first our mind labels and subsequently what is merely labeled immediately appears back to us as not merely mentally labeled.[5] First our mind labels “I” in dependence on our actions. Then, immediately after that, the I appears back to us as not merely labeled by mind.

This one appearing back as not merely labeled is the false I. This false I is what doesn’t exist. This false I that doesn’t exist is the total opposite to the reality of the I that exists in mere name and as merely imputed by the mind.[6] So this I is empty of existing from its own side. It is empty of inherent existence. The false I that we perceive and that appears to us is defined as false because it is the opposite or the total contradiction of the reality of the I that is merely imputed by thought.[7]

So the I is empty of existing in this false way. It is empty of existing from its own side. It is empty of inherent existence.

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NOTES

Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] This text is perhaps by the Gelug lineage lama, Khedrup Sangye Yeshe, and may be the basis of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Lama Zopa Rinpoche advises further research is needed on this point. Considered phonetically, the Tibetan for “red commentary” (dmar khrid) can mean “to expose,” “make very clear” or “present vividly as it is.” See also Klein, Path, 3–4.

Though I have been unable to track down this reference, in Liberation, Pabongka  says:

In this process, while you are looking into exactly how the “I” appears to your instinctive grasping at a self, the “I” may present itself in various ways. Sometimes the “I” may seem like something imputed on the body, sometimes on the mind. This is not the genuine way the “I” presents itself to the instinctive grasping of the “I.” The body and mind, which are the bases of imputation, as well as the person–all merge into the one undifferentiated set. The self-evident “I” plainly appears to not be just some name imputed on this set. It appears instead to be something established as being self-sufficient. If the “I” seems to be like this, you have rightly pereived the way the object to be refuted appears to you. Once recognized, it is easy to refute.

But regarding its elusiveness regarding identification, Pabongka then cautions:

This key point is a subtle one; sometimes the mistakable is in taking it too far and at other times in not taking it far enough. If you do not identify the object of refutation, it will always present itself to you; when you try to identify it, it stays hidden among the set of mind and body, and you will not find it. If you were, for example, to go to the edge of a high cliff, in your fear you would think, “I might fall,” not “My body might fall” or “My mind might fall.” The body and mind are inseparable, like the mixture of milk and water, The self-evident “I,” which is the thing that might fall over the cliff, will arise on top of the mind and body–that is it.

See Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, revised edition, 631. [Italics mine]. For continuation of this quote in relation not to “I” but to other phenomena such as monasteries, and of course, vases or pots, see  note 6 in Identifying The Object Of Refutation Via The Example Of Mental Projection.

It would seem that, as the base of imputation is mixed with the appearance of relative truth, it becomes possible to talk of the  “I” on top of the “I” rather than the I on top of just the base of imputation. The emphasis here is on our lived cognitive experience when ruled by self-grasping ignorance together with its imprints i.e. it makes sense within the terms of setting up our ultimate analysis so that we  will know how to effectively meditate.

[2] Given the context, “from there” would appear to be a concise variation of the classical term “established from the object’s own side” (rang ngos nas grub pa, svarūpasiddhi), but geared now to dynamically describe the freshly-lived moment of apprehension wherein things do appear to “arise” or “come” “from there!” Seemingly without any constructive or projective work on our part! The vernacular nature of this prepositional exclamation is entirely appropriate as we are talking about how we experience phenomena not in philosophically-contrived, but in instinctive every-day ordinary terms. We are trying to catch out the object of negation on the wing as it were.

[3] Exploring the same point, also via Tsongkhapa, Jinpa writes:

In brief, if we examine the nature of every single instance of the thought ‘I am,’ we find that it occurs only in reliance upon one of our aggregates or a composite of more than one. All thoughts such as ‘I am going,’ ‘I shall eat,’ ‘I am ecstatic,’ ‘I am unhappy,’ ‘I am cold,’ ‘I thought about so and so,’ ‘I remember,’ and so on inevitably relate either to a physical or a mental state of ourselves. In other words, there is nothing in our experience to suggest that our I-consciousness can arise in a total vacuum or without any context.

Jinpa now pushes a little further to wonder whether we must therefore conclude that the status of the aggregates as the base of designation (bdags gzhi) must be (understood as) an objective one. On the contrary, he says:

Tsongkhapa seems to suggest that the status of the aggregates as a designative base is not an objective one. It is not only relative to the designation, but more importantly, there is an element of temporal relativity as well. Generally speaking, we have no problem with the relative nature of such identities as ‘president,’ ‘prime minister,’ ‘cook,’ ‘plumber,’ and so on, which are so obviously contingent upon the nature of their corresponding jobs. Yet, underlying all of this must be a presupposed unity that is the object of our natural sense of self or I-consciousness. This is what Tsongkhapa is suggesting.

Self, Reality and Reason, 120. The word “presupposed” betrays the conceptual activity involved in determining a base.

[4] Pabongka Rinpoche illustrates how what is merely labeled by the mind must be distinguished from what appears back as not merely labeled by the mind. Analysis can be employed to do this. He uses the example of a horse which, or rather, who, from the Buddhist perspective, is also a person:

The conventional I is not nonexistent but is an existent phenomena. The way in which it is existent can be expressed with the following analogy: The terms “lama” and “Kind Sir” that are imputed upon the basis of imputation are mere imputations of the mind that are factually concordant. [In contrast], the I that possesses an existence able to establish itself [Tib. tshugs thub tu grub pa’i nga] is not an existent phenomenon but is nonexistent. For example, if we use the term “horse,” it is not the body and mind of a horse but a horse that is able to establish itself that arises vividly [to our minds] and that is the object of negation of that inherently existent horse. Furthermore, the body of the horse is not the horse. If it were the horse, then we could also ride the corpse of a horse, however, it is not possible to ride on such a thing [as a dead horse]. If its mind were the horse, then once it died it should also exist as something to be ridden in the intermediate state. It is not possible to ride that, either; therefore the mind of the horse is also not the horse. Although there is more to explain, if we [think of] it in this way, it will be easy to understand.

Query: Well then, just what is the horse?

Reply: The term “horse” is a mere mental designation of conceptual imputation upon the mere collection of body and mind that is the basis of imputation of a horse: that is the horse. That is an existent phenomenon and is the conventionally existent horse. That is the person. For that reason, the horse that appears as being able to establish itself is not a mere appearance to our minds when we use the term “horse”; instead it is the object of negation. Such a horse [that appears as though truly existent] is nonexistent, just like the example that “my body is not the I.”

See Pabongka, The Essence of the Vast and Profound, 607.

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Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo (1878-1941)

[5] This essential point becomes clearer when we understand that the apprehension of, say, a truly existent table (or a truly existent I) and the apprehension of a conventionally existent I (or conventionally existent table etc.) are not two aspects of a single consciousness. If they were, as Yeshey Tupden notes, “there would be only the one appearance (snang ba, pratibhāsa) [of the conventionally existent table] and hence not the [mistaken] apprehension (’dzin pa, grāhaka).” He elaborates:

If one apprehended a [mere] pillar, therefore, one would not apprehend it as true [that is, inherently existent]. Thus, there must be two consciousnesses, for the true existence of the pillar appears to one, but [the consciousness] apprehending the [mere] pillar does not apprehend true existence. The apprehension of a truly existent pillar is a conception of true existence. True existence is what [the mind] adheres to. The consciousness apprehending the [conventionally existent] pillar [actually] apprehends the pillar.” It therefore follows, as he stresses, that these two apprehensions occur sequentially—an impossibility if they were one mind: “First one apprehends (’dzin) the pillar, then the truly existent pillar. The two apprehensions are not simultaneous because they are different substantial entities (rdzas, dravya); they are two different thoughts (rtog pa gnyis) and, generally speaking, two thoughts are not produced simultaneously. These apprehensions occur not in a single moment but serially; nonetheless, the appearances are simultaneous.

He carefully qualifies this last point:

When one apprehends the [actual, conventionally existent] pillar, one does not apprehend the truly existent pillar; when one apprehends the truly existent pillar, one does not apprehend the [conventionally existent] pillar. Nevertheless, the [actual] pillar appears to the consciousness apprehending the truly existent pillar. The two appearances can exist simultaneously; the two [types of apprehension] cannot.

Klein, Path, 105–6.

Therefore, when Lama Zopa Rinpoche states that the I immediately “appears back as not mentally labeled” he is referring to the serial evolutionary manner in which we first apprehend the conventionally existent “I” in dependence upon labeling it to a functioning base. Then,  incumbent upon this, and through the force of innate self-grasping ignorance, we apprehend that merely labeled ‘I’ to truly exist. It is in this way that we can talk of the merely imputed ‘I’ and the ‘I’ from its own side that covers/obscures it  appearing simultaneously i.e. in that what is merely  conceptually imputed appears now as objectively existent: “from there.” But appearing “from there” doesn’t mean that the merely imputed I ceases to exist. It is–speaking figuratively–obscured “under” the “cover” that is the superimposition projected by innate self-grasping ignorance. It still appears but can’t be ascertained as merely imputed by thought because it (the merely inputed I)  is now appearing as inherently existent and is being conceptually apprehended as existing in this way. Therefore we are “blocked” in its recognition (as a merely imputed and thus non-inherently existent thing), just as we are blocked in identifying the object of negation because of believing in true existence and grasping, without interrogation, things as really inherently or truly existing.. That is, as they appear.

In terms of identifying the object of negation the point is that because the two appearances (conventional existence and true existence) can be simultaneous they may be mixed. As Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey puts it, “The relative self is mixed with the concept of a false or non-existent self, and it is on this error that light must be shed.” Tibetan Tradition, 176. Pabongka Rinpoche similarly observes:

[A]t the moment, all phenomena, any things that appear to us—the self, the aggregates, Mount Meru, houses, etc.—present themselves to us ordinary people in such a way that their appearance is a mixture of an appearance of relative truth and true [existence]. So we have no way of dividing things into ‘those that appear to exist truly’ and ‘those that do not appear to exist truly.’ Everything appears to exist truly; and so the way everything impresses itself on the mind appears to us, without exception, mixed with the object to be refuted. Thus the way things appear to us is the way the object of refutation appears, or [if you like] the way things established as true would appear. Leave it at that, because it is futile to seek the object of refutation elsewhere. Changkya Roelpa Dorje said:

Now a few of us with clearer minds_
Cling to slogans such as s”self-contained” and “established as true,”
Yet leave self-evident appearances alone.
They seem to seek a thing to be refuted with horns [on its head]!

Do not say these blurry things
Are the shadowless face of the Mother.
If you do much talking but don’t hit the target to be refuted,
I fear the old Mother will run away!

Pabongka concludes:

Changkya Roelpai Dorje said:

You do not have to search for it: The thing, O seeker, is you.

In other words, you do not have to look far afield to find emptiness; the thing abides together with you, the seeker. Thus, meditate continuously for months or years solely on the identification of the object to be refuted!

Liberation, 631-2.

Tangka_impérial_de_Changkya_Hutuktu_Rolpai_Dorje_(1717-1786)_d

Chagkya Rölpé Dorjé (1717-1786)

Having observed the sequence of our two apprehensions of the pillar or the vase or the horse, the I, whatever, it is worth noting a potential and common mistake that might arise if we mistakingly restrict (our understanding of) the existence of a merely imputed thing to the period of time in which we are actually or actively engaged in imputing it i.e. it doesn’t exist when we are not.  This is because this immediate (and thus always current or contemporary) act of imputing is what we construe dependent origination to entirely mean. Put another way, we have misinterpreted the meaning of dependent origination by underestimating its implications or even its reach. Leading up to this point, His Holiness the Dalai Lama first outlines how the I exists and then the mind:

Of course we exist. Conventionally we experience life as “‘I’ am thinking; “I” am seeing; ‘I’ am deciding to do this or that.: Conventionally we describe what is happening in this way, and it is a correct description. “I” am thinking and deciding, not anybody else. This is a conventional truth. But, what is absent is an actual, findable “me” sitting in our head doing all this. We do not exist in the manner in which we appear to exist–in the manner of existence our mind gives rise to an appearance of when it gives rise to an appearance or feeling of “me.” When we understand voidness, we understand the absence of this fantasized, impossible way of existing. We understand that this way of existing does not refer to anything real. “I” exist, but not in this fantasized, impossible manner. What am “I” and how do “I” exist? The only thing we can say is that “I” am or exist simply as what the mental label or word “I” or “me” refers to when it is labeled onto an individual stream of continuity of experience as its basis. Such a “me” exists like an illusion in that “I” appear to be a solid, independent entity, but am not. However, “I” am not an illusion.

Next we apply this understanding of voidness to mind itself. Experience, or the mere arising and engaging in contents of experience, does not exist in any fantasized, impossible way. It is not something absolute or transcendent that functions inside us, as either a solid or an abstract “thing.” If it were, it should be able to exist on its own. But experience or mind has contents, and its continuity has sequence that arises dependently on previous moments of experience according to the principles of causes and effect. It cannot exist independently of these, all on its own.

How can we describe how it exists? We can only say that mind is or exists simply as what the mental label or work “mind” refers to when it is labeled onto a mere arising and engaging with contents of experience. Mind exists by virtue simply of labeling. The word “simply” does not imply that mind is merely the word “mind.” A word signifies its meaning. It is not the same thing as its meaning. Mind can know something, the word “mind” cannot. Nor does “simply” imply that mind only exists when someone actively labels it and says or thinks “mind.” If it did, we would hardly ever have a mind. “Simply” merely excludes there being anything solid or ultimately findable on the side of the mere arising and engaging that renders it “mind,” independently existing on its own. We can say no more.

See His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Gelug/ Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, 79-80. [italics mine]. Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche talked of the emptiness of the mind in the last post Existing In Mere Name Relating To The Base. See also the earlier post on Mahamudra called Mahāmudrā: Part Four.

If we are tempted to search for the real existence of something beyond this “simply” and thus something beyond being merely labeled, we are stepping back into the very reification (of some objective independent existence)  that we are seeking, at the outset, to destroy. Thus, to return to His Holiness’s quote above, we are falling into the folly or conceit of seeking to say more. In tenet-terms we would have revealed ourselves as recalcitrant Realists. As Tsongkhapa says:

This excellent system, most marvellous,
Some individuals who are not so learned
have entangled it in utter confusion, 
Just like the tangled balbaza grass.

See Tsongkhapa, In Praise of Dependent Origination, translated by Thubten Jinpa, Verse 46.

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Not tangled balbaza grass but a modern equivalent

[6] Khensur Jampa points out that the I appears to exist from its own side to both the “valid I-apprehending mind and the erroneous I-grasping mind:

Here is the sequence of how the I-apprehending and the I-grasping manifest according to the Prasangika system. First the aggregates, which are the basis of designation of I, appear to our minds. The aggregates are a valid basis of designation of I, and in dependence on them we impute I. As soon as the I is imputed, the I-apprehending mind arises; its object is the mere I that exists by merely labeled in dependence on the continuity of the aggregates or in dependence on the aggregates. It is a valid mind. After that, in some but not all cases, the I-grasping mind will arise. To both the valid I-apprehending mind and the erroneous I-grasping mind, the I appears to exist from its own side. But the valid mind does not think the I is inherently existent, even though that is how it appears. It does not assent to or agree with that appearance, although it does not disagree with or refute it either. However, in the case of the I-grasping mind, not only does the I appear as if it existed from its own side and exists inherently, but that mind also thinks there is an inherently existent I. It believes that the appearance of an inherently existent I is true; it assents to and agrees with that appearance, and thus it grasps at an inherently existing I.

See Khensur Jampa Tegchok, Insight, 86-7.

Considering the same situation from the objective rather than subjective angle, the apprehended or engaged object (see note below) of the I-grasping mind  is the exact opposite of the apprehended or engaged object of the valid I-apprehending mind: one is false or erroneous and one is conventionally valid. Moreover, considering the situation logically, as Kyabje Zopa is asking us to do, existing in dependence on being merely labeled by mind is entirely incompatible with existing without dependence on being merely labeled by mind. These two “options” are mutually exclusive as they are dichotomous. It follows that a single phenomena cannot have or bear inherent and non-inherent qualities at the same time. Indeed, a phenomena that doesn’t exist in dependence on being merely labeled by mind can’t be established or found as existing at all. It is a total non-existent! That is the conclusion to be logically reached.

It is a unique subtle feature of the Prāsaṅgika presentation that though sensory objects, through the force of the latencies of grasping at true existence,  appear to an ordinary sense consciousness as existing from their own side (i.e. independently of being merely labelled by mind) this does not negate the fact (which is to say there is no contradiction) that they can nonetheless be validly known as conventional existents by a valid cognition which ascertains them.  This leads us back to Kyabje Zopa’s use of “false” – as in false I or false vase. The opposite of ‘false’ or deceptive, is ‘true’ (as in valid).

Regarding this, Tsongkhapa says:  “In what sense is it deceptive? As Candrakirti puts it, “it exists in one way but appears in another.” This means that the five objects–forms, sounds, and so forth–are not established by way of their intrinsic character, but appear to the sensory consciousnesses as though they were, Therefore, those sensory consciousnesses are not valid with regard to the intrinsic character of their objects.” See Tsonghapa, The Great Treatise, Volume Three, 166.

As Tsongkhapa further says:

According to the master Candrakirti, if something were established by way of its intrinsic character, or essence, it would be something true. Hence a valid cognition that posited such a truly existent object would have to be valid regarding the object’s intrinsic character. However, because objects are false, the valid cognition that posits them does not have to valid regarding their intrinsic character. For, Candrakirti’s Commentary on the “Four Hundred Stanzas says:

It is not reasonable that worldly perception should cancel perception of reality, because worldly perception is valid only for the world, and because the objects it observes have a false and deceptive quality.

Therefore, since Candrakirti is refuting the logician’s position that sensory consciousness are valid regarding the intrinsic character of objects, he need not refute the position that they are simply valid cognitions.

Consequently, Candrakirti is not giving  a general refutation of the position that there are valid cognitions among conventional consciousnesses. If he were, then it would not be reasonable for him to say, “As the world sees it, a valid cognition is simply a non-deceptive consciousness,” because he would have refuted the validity of every sort of conventional consciousness. Candrakirti refutes essentially existent valid cognitions and objects of comprehension; he does not refute valid cognitions and objects of comprehension that are contingently posited dependent arisings (Ibid, 166-7).

Tsongkhapa elaborately explores these points in his chapter “Valid Establishment” Chapter thirteen, pp. 163-75.  Significantly this whole section of Tsonghapa’s text takes place under the sub-heading “You cannot eradicate conventional phenomena by refuting them through investigating whether valid cognition establishes them.” For particular discussion of the meaning of “worldly perception that is valid only for the world” or “from the worldly perspective” see Geshe Sopa, Steps, Volume Five, 166-8. As Geshe Sopa succinctly says: a correct consciousness from a worldly perspective “is a consciousness that cannot be established as wrong by conventional valid cognition within the continuum of a person who has not realized emptiness” (Ibid, 166).  If this is not understood, many confusions arise regarding how conventional valid knowledgetogether with its objects–can be established. For example, not everything that is merely imputed by name, conventionally exists. If it did, who would not be a millionaire? 

[7] Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche’s reference to “the opposite” or, a little later on, to “total contradiction” has very particular and very important meaning in this context. The false I and the I that is merely imputed by name stand in exact antithetical relation to one another. Geshe Jampa Tegchok approaches this same point  from the  subjective stance, that is to say,  in relation to the minds of ignorance and wisdom themselves that respectively hold those two opposing or contradictory objects. As consciousnesses are mutually dependent on their objects and objects on their consciousnesses we arrive at the same point:

Ignorance is the discordant class which is contradictory to the wisdom realizing selflessness This means that it is exactly the opposite of this wisdom. It is not just a lack of, or non-existence of this wisdom; nor is it just something other than this wisdom. In this context, this wisdom is the concordant class. Ignorance is not this wisdom, therefore it is in the discordant class. Moreover, ignorance is contradictory to the wisdom so it is the contradictory discordant class of that wisdom.

Khensur Jampa Tegchok now spells out the full implication:

If ignorance is the exact opposite of the wisdom realizing selflessness, we need to know what that wisdom apprehends and what is contradictory to it. What that wisdom apprehends, that is, its object of the mode of apprehension, is selflessness. The object of the mode of apprehension (Tib. ‘dzin btangs kyi yul) is synonymous with the engaged object (Tib. ‘jug yul) of that mind, that is, the main object with which that mind is concerned, For example, in the case of the wisdom realizing emptiness, the main object with which it is concerned is emptiness, non-true existence. The wisdom realizing emptiness apprehends a lack of existence from its own side. The contradictory discordant class, the opposite of this lack of existence from its own side, is true existence, Apprehending true existence means apprehending something as existing without depending on causes, conditions, or any other factors. The main object with which ignorance is concerned is a truly existent one, and this kind of object does not exist at all Self-grasping ignorance is a mind that apprehends existences from its own side, so we can see it is exactly contradictory to the wisdom realizing emptiness.

See Tegchok, Transforming Adversity, 235-6.

Khensurla

In terms of how to practice in order to free oneself from cyclic existence, Tsongkhapa says:

In the twenty-sixth chapter [of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā] two approaches to life are distinguished: engaging in cyclic existence through ignorance, and freeing oneself from cyclic existence through the elimination of ignorance. It says:

The cessation of ignorance occurs through
Exercising wisdom in meditating on this. [xxv1: 11cd]

So through meditating on the facts regarding the way things really are, ignorance is dispelled. Therefore, nirvana and cyclic existence, respectively, exist in virtue of seeing or not seeing the way things really are. So, if this ignorance is not identified, the method of eliminating it cannot be known. This would be like shooting an arrow without seeing the target. Therefore this ignorance should be identified. It is not just not seeing the way things really are nor just any old thing. Instead it is the diametrical opposite of that, maintaining the antithetical mode of apprehension. Therefore it grasps its object as really existent, as it is said in Śūnyatāsaptati,

To posit things arisen through causes and conditions
As real
Is what the teacher calls “ignorance.”
The twelve limbs arise from that.”

See Tsongkhapa, Ocean of Reasoning, 34-5. [Italics mine]. The rub: only by generating the  “diametrical opposite” of that afflicted ignorance that maintains  “an antithetical mode of apprehension” to wisdom, can wisdom itself be established and perform its eliminatory work: none-other than collapsing and dissolving–in their very place–the fabrications of true existence which were never supported by reality, even though they appeared totally real. And this is done by realizing the non-existence of the referent object of innate self-grasping, namely, inherent existence or the “self ” that is to be refuted.

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