Two Kinds of I: One True, One False




Now you can understand {see last week’s post Meditating On How Everything Exists in Mere Name] that the first I is the merely imputed one.[1] The second I – what I referred to earlier as the I on the I–is what appears back to you as an inherently existent independent I.[2] Its particular meaning is that we let our mind believe and apprehend that it is true as it appears. It appears to you as a real I, as a true I from its own side.[3] So the time in which we let our mind believe that it is true as it is perceived is also the time in which we have created the root of all the delusions and karma. Right in the very second of apprehending it as inherently existent, and also holding onto it as existing in that way, we have created the ignorance that is saṃsāra’s root.

This ignorance that is the wrong concept of inherent existence and the source of all suffering is produced with the speed it takes to snap one’s fingers. Yet from that concept is created all the old age, sickness, frightening death, rebirth and all the other unwanted problems that we and others have to constantly experience. So now we can gain some idea of how every problem arises from the very first mistake: clinging to this I appearing back to you as existing from its own side as the real one.

What we have to do is find the opposite of this mistake.[4] We must see the absence of the inherently existent I that appears on top of the merely labeled one (which is the one that actually exists) just as we might put a brocade cover on the table. The false I, in other words, covers the merely labeled I just as a carpet might cover a floor. It is our mind that places this cover in the form of a projected hallucination. [5] We decorate the merely labeled I with an inherently existent appearance.

Because our mind is the producer of this hallucination, we must recognize how this covering projection happens.[6] The hallucination of inherent existence is projected by the negative imprint left on the mental continuum by past ignorance.[7] In other words it was left in the past by the same wrong concept holding onto the I as inherently existent that we can see working in the present. In terms of our view (Prāsaṅgika), emptiness is exactly what is the absence of this inherent existence on the merely labeled I.

Now you can make sense of the philosophical teachings when they mention the emptiness on the I and the emptiness on phenomena. Great meaning comes from being able to recognize what is the refuting object and being able to discriminate it within one’s view.[8] When the teachings say, “emptiness on the vase, on the pillar, on the table, on the I,” you appreciate the enormous significance of what is intended. When you see the emptiness of inherent existence on the merely labeled, you see that the I is totally empty. As a result of that you see that the I exists in mere name. Realization of the total emptiness of the I produces unshakable understanding that the I exists only in mere name. This is what is normally explained according to the experienced lineage lamas of the lamrim tradition.[9]


At the time of realizing the emptiness of the I you realize the conventional truth of the I. More precisely, first you see the I’s emptiness and only subsequently do you realize its conventional truth. The reason for this sequence is that you can only comprehend that the I existing in name-only is the only I that exists when you have refuted the I appearing to exist from its own side without depending on name. Conviction that things exist in name arises only after realization of emptiness.[10] This is because, having realized the I’s emptiness, we understand that the conventionally existent I is what is merely labeled in dependence on the name.[11]

When you see the I on the I, then you understand what the texts mean by the term “the object to be refuted.” Suddenly, due to strong devotion, purification of obstacles and negative karma and collecting extensive merits, it clicks in your mind: this is the refuting object! I can recognize it! Then, without losing the object of your concentration—that you are seeing the I on the I or the real I appearing to you from its own side—you use the many logics available to analyze whether it exists as it appears. Because you have recognized the object to be refuted—the existence of a “real” I from its own side—and are one-pointedly focusing on that, then suddenly you have the surprising recognition that you have finally found the enemy who has always been bothering you. Though it has always been there with you, only now do you suddenly recognize it.

Once recognized, what you must do is to focus on this object of refutation with the recognition that it is a hallucination. You then think that the meaning of hallucination is that it [this false projection] is totally nonexistent. This appearance of existence from the object’s own side is totally nonexistent right there.

If, as just mentioned, all the supporting conditions such as receiving the blessings are intact, then suddenly the I appearing right there as the real one cannot stay. Without choice, without freedom, you suddenly lose it. This doesn’t occur in the manner of losing money from your purse so that it goes somewhere else. Instead, it is lost right there from where it appeared.

Normally I describe just this “not existing there from where it appears” as the mudrā of meditating on emptiness.[12]

Just simple: appearing from there but doesn’t exist from there. Lost.

But it doesn’t go anywhere. Just there it is lost, empty.[13]

Due to the ignorance that is the concept of inherent existence, what the mind has been holding onto from beginningless rebirths and holding onto as one hundred percent true, as real, from there, is suddenly lost. Just there. Suddenly you have the experience that there is nothing there on which to hold.[14]

Before you held onto this “real I” appearing from there thinking, “Oh, this I is going to catch cold”; “this I is going to get sick”; “this I is afraid”; “this I is going to die”; “this I is not going to get married, not have children, not make money, not pay the expenses, not be remembered on my birthday”—what else? Twenty-four hours a day are consumed in this manner and not just in this lifetime but from beginningless rebirths!



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography


[1] Merely or just nominally imputed (ming du btags pa tsam); merely posited (btags tsam); merely posited by name and thought (ming dang rtog pas btags tsam). His Holiness the Dalai Lama points out the significance of this “mere” when applied to the person:

[A]ccording to the Consequence School, just the mere-I is posited as an illustration of a person, that is to say, something that is a person; they maintain that there is nothing–from among the mental and physical aggregates that are the bases of designation of a person–that can be found to be the person.

Dalai Lama, The Dalai Lama at Harvard, 202.

Other Buddhist tenet systems, on the other hand, claim to find something from amongst the aggregates that is an illustration of the person. For example, the Great Exposition School hold the “mere collection of the mental and physical aggregates that are its basis of imputation” as such an illustration.” See Sopa and Hopkins, Cutting Through Appearances, 196. The Sūtra School Following Reasoning hold “the actual person” to be “a subtle neutral type of mental consciousness because this consciousness exists continuously–through deep sleep, during meditative equipoise, and from lifetime to lifetime (ibid.,239). The Sūtra School Following Scripture “assert that the continuum of the aggregates is an illustration of the person [i.e. the continuum of the aggregates is the person] (ibid., 238). The Mind Only School Followers of Scripture “assert eight consciousnesses; therefore they assert that the mental consciousness and the mind-basis-of-all is the person” (ibid. 267) whereas the Followers of Reasoning assert “that the mental consciousness is the illustration of a person.” (ibid). Both “Yogic Autonomists and Sūtric Autonomists assert that [a subtle neutral] mental consciousness is an illustration of [i.e. is] the person” (ibid., 287). And, to return to the Consequentialists, they “assert that a person is the mere I that is imputed in dependence upon its bases of imputation, which are either the five mental and physical aggregates [in the Desire and Form Realms] and or the four aggregates [in the Formless Realm]” ibid., 307.

Gon-chik-jik-may-wang-bo summarizes: “In the Consequentialist system, a person is the dependently imputed I, not the mental consciousness, nor the composite of aggregates, nor the mind-basis of all as the other systems say (ibid, 307-8).

Though technically-speaking, “persons are necessarily compositional factors that are neither form nor consciousness” this doesn’t mean that a person is somehow to be found as any of the aggregates:

A person is not any of her/her bases of designation and shares the qualities of all the mental and physical aggregates. Therefore, persons are included in the fourth aggregate, among non-associated compositional factors. Though a person is thus technically an instance of the fourth aggregate, a person is still not any of the aggregates that serve as that person’s bases of imputation. (ibid., 308).

The stress here is on the words “that serve as that person’s” i.e. a person is a technical instance or example of a member of the general collective class known as non-associated compositional factors. If a person, as a classified merely imputed phenomena, has to be put somewhere, it is there. But this does not mean that the person is somehow sitting in the aggregate, waiting to be revealed or seen. 

[2] Lest we become bewildered by this talk of two ‘I’s, it is crucial to distinguish their respective meanings in terms of to what they refer? Pabongka, discussing from the perspective of the intending meditator, says:

The “I” exists in two ways: 1) there is an I that is merely conventional, and 2) there is an I that is grasped by the innate self-grasping. With respect to the conventionally existent I, this is the mere thought “I did not do such a thing” when we are accused of stealing. For example, this is similar to an illusory horse or elephant, the moon in water or a form reflected in a mirror, which arise as mere appearances. After that, you say very strongly, “I did not do such a thing,” and the thought “I, I” vividly appears, that that is the nonexistent causal I which is the I of the innate I-grasping. When you are observing that, once you place your mind upon the sphere of the majority of the mind and with one subtle corner of the mind examine it, it is like someone trying to catch a small bird. When observing it with [one corner of the mind], if we say, “The I is not my body and mind,” and a vividly appearing sense of it appears, then that is the self which is the object of negation.

Pabongka, The Essence of the Vast and Profound, 606.

[3] Similarly, Khensur Jampa Tegchok details the need to distinguish two objects in this regard: “It’s like a person with jaundice perceiving a Himalayan mountain as yellow. The yellow mountain doesn’t exist, but the person with jaundice does exist. Just so, while the object of negation—the truly existent self—doesn’t exist, the mind grasping at that false ‘I’ does exist.” See Khensur Jampa Tegchok, Easy Path, 245.

[4] The very particular meaning of ‘opposite’ in this context was detailed in last week’s post: Meditating On How Everything Exists in Mere Name

His Holiness the Dalai Lama highlights a special dynamic contingent upon recognition of ignorance’s opposite: “A conceiver of inherent existence and a consciousness that has a contradictory mode of apprehension are respectively the eradicated and eradicator. Therefore, it is natural that if one becomes stronger, the other will become weaker.” See Dalai Lama, The Buddhism of Tibet and The Key to the Middle Way, 81. The scriptural sources are from Dharmakirti’s Commentary on (Dignāga’s) ‘Compendium of Valid Cognisers‘ (Pramāṇavārttika, Chapter 1): 

An ascertaining mind and a falsely superimposing mind
Are entities of eradicator and that which is eradicated.

And (Chapter 1):

All [defects such as desires] have as their antidote [the wisdom of selflessness]
In that their decrease and increase depend [on the increase and decrease of that wisdom].
So through familiarity the mind assumes the nature of
That wisdom–thus in time the contaminations are extinguished. (ibid, 80)

On the same topic Geshe Sopa says:

You may wonder: “Why aren’t the two consciousnesses mutually harmful? If one thing harms another simply by contradicting it, then why doesn’t the reverse happen too? Why doesn’t an invalid consciousness harm valid consciousness? Why is the wisdom realizing emptiness always the harmer of the egotistical grasping?” In Commentary on Valid Cognition Dharmakīrti says that a valid consciousness harms an invalid consciousness “because it has a different nature based on truth.” He explains that the egotistic view and the wisdom understanding selflessness grasp their respective objects in directly opposite ways. Their natures are utterly different. Although two ways of holding the object struggle with one another temporarily, eventually the wisdom realizing selflessness completely destroys the self-grasping egotistic view. The self-grasping mind cannot destroy the wisdom realizing selflessness because that wisdom relies on the truth, whereas self-grasping relies on falsehood. Truth harms falsehood.

See Sopa, Steps, Volume Five, 198. Herein lies the very meaning of buddha-nature and the possibility of full enlightenment for each and every sentient being. 

[5] Existence in the manner of covering its basis of designation (gnon pa’i tshul du yod pa). Hopkins also gives a typical example of this use of “something that covers a certain area” to capture the (elusive yet pervasive) mode of appearance of the object of negation. He says:

For instance, looking at a table, we see something that covers a certain area. However, through applying Middle Way reasonings, we can understand that there is nothing covering the parts; at that point, we have to accept that all valid cognitions we have now are mistaken with respect to this important point even if those cognitions are right about the mere presence or absence of an object.

 Emptiness Yoga, 42.

Focusing on the issue of the mode of “appearance” (snang tshul), as Lama Zopa Rinpoche is doing here, at this point he illustrates:

Suppose we take as an example an eye consciousness looking at a white bedspread. What appears to this eye consciousness is something white that seems to cover a certain area. Therefore, this white bedspread is appearing differently from how it actually exists; it appears to be a truly existent bedspread that is able to cover its bases of designation, which are the many white threads. Thus, the eye consciousness to which this appears is mistaken from the viewpoint of its appearing object. However, the eye consciousness itself does not mistakenly conceive the white bedspread in that way; it does not take this appearance and affirm it. Thus, from the viewpoint of its object of engagement, which is just the white bedspread, it is non-mistaken…The mistaken part of our sense perceptions is the appearance of objects as inherently existent” (ibid., 129–30).

white bedspread

[6] This recognition is not at all easy to achieve because, as Geshe Sopa observes:
“Prior to attaining buddhahood, any awareness that is not the direct realization of śūnyatā is mistaken, in that its object appears inherently existent.” Sopa, Steps, Volume Five, 185.

Ordinary people who have not realized of śūnyatā cannot therefore determine (in the sense of estimate) the manner in which sense consciousnesses, while they may be valid in relation to the conventional existence of the object, are nonetheless mistaken in relation to how those objects exist in reality i.e. as not inherently existent, even though they appear so. The implication (and reason why we haven’t recognised we even have a problem, Nasa): “Conventional knowledge cannot establish that the sense consciousnesses are mistaken regarding the appearance of inherently existence. So from the perspective of conventional knowledge ordinary sense consciousnesses are correct and thus valid” (ibid., 187-8).

In terms of our immediate discussion, this explains why we can’t simply see things as non-inherently existent, by dint of reading a blog or somehow willing ourselves to do so. As Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche is explaining, not only can we not identify our mind “as the producer of this hallucination [of false existence]” but neither can we recognize how this covering projection happens” in terms of the operation of afflicted and non-afflicted ignorance. Afflicted ignorance refers to a “distorted awareness, a mental factor that things to be truly or inherently existent. Non-afflicted ignorance refers to the imprints that afflictied ignorance leaves on the mindstream which “cause things to appear truly existent.” See Sopa, ibid., 187.

Nor can we “recognise” how Arya beings because they have directly realized emptiness “do not hold this appearance to be true” yet even they “still have minds arising that hold them in this way.” ibid. 187.

In a broader sense then, “covering projections” refers to the thoroughly ubiquitous or even relentless manner in which ignorance obscures the actual nature of the things that constitute our ordinary reality:

“This mind grasping at true existence, as well as its imprints, obscures the ultimate truth of all things. So conventional truth means: true from the perspective of ignorance–the total obscurer. Candrakīrti says in Introduction to the “Middle Way“:

Ignorance obscures all because it conceals true nature;
Owing to it anything fabricated appears to be true.
The Muni declared this to be conventional truth
And fabricated things to be conventionally existent. (6.28) Ibid. 187.

In relation to this verse, Geshe Sopa points out:

“In this verse there are three occurrence of the word kun rdzob, translated variously as “obscures” or “conventional.” Each of these occurrences presents a different use of the term. The first refers to the ignorance and the imprints it leaves on the mindstream, which obscures the ultimate nature of all things. The second refers to things that appear to be true to a mind influenced by ignorance, these are called conventional truths, or truths for the total obscurer. The third refers to how these things exist; things exist conventionally because they are based on conventional knowledge of phenomena. Therefore conventional truth and conventionally existent are quite different notions” (ibid., 187-8).

[7] Geshe Sopa describes how these subtle imprints that cause the mistaken appearance of things as inherently existent are still intact even in the case of Hinayana arhats:

“You may wonder, “How can there by anything left to purify once one has eliminated all desire, hatred, and ignorance from the root? Surely one must be enlightened?” According to the Prāsaṅgika system, Hinayana arhats have completely removed the mental afflictions (which are minds) and their seeds (which are not minds). Both of these constitute the obstructions to liberation. Arhats have removed grasping at inherent existence and have attained liberation from samsara. Yet they have not attained the highest goal–the Dharma body–because they still have the subtle stains, or imprints, that generate the mistaken appearance of things as inherently existent. These imprints are different fro the mental afflictions and their seeds, which can be understood using the following analogy. Suppose you keep a smelly rotten object wrapped in a piece of cloth for a long time, If you decide to clean that cloth, first you have to remove the dirty object it contains. But even after you have discarded that object and washed the cloth, a slight odor still remains in the cloth. No blemish is visible, but a subtle stain remains. This is similar to what happens within the mindstream once all the mental afflictions and their seeds have been removed; a subtle reside is left. This stain is an obstruction to omniscience–the Dharma body. Due to this kind of obscuration an arhat cannot fulfill all the aims accomplished by a buddha.”

Sopa, Steps, Volume 5, 61.

Though these stains can be eradicated and thus their continuance permanently severed, they have, nonetheless, accompanied us since beginningless time. Speaking from the all-important cognitive perspective, because phenomena have always appeared to exist from their own side there has been little cause to interrogate whether or not they exist in the manner in which they appear, at least, until now!

[8] Tsongkhapa is similarly categorical:

“With regard to delineating the absence of true existence in phenomena, if you do not understand well just what true establishment is, as well as how [phenomena] are apprehended as truly existent, the view of suchness will definitely go astray. Shāntideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds says that if the thing imputed, the generality [or image] of the object of negation, does not appear well to your awareness, it is impossible to apprehend well the non-existence of the object of negation….Furthermore, mere identification of (1) a true establishment that is superficially imputed by proponents of tenets and (2) [the consciousness] apprehending such true establishment is not sufficient. Because of this, it is most essential to identify well the innate apprehension of true establishment that has operated beginninglessly and exists both in those whose awarenesses have been affected through [study of] tenets and in those whose awarenesses have not been affected in this way, and to identify the true establishment apprehended by this [mind]. For if you have not identified these, even if you refute an object of negation through reasoning, the adherence to true establishment that has operated beginninglessly is not harmed at all, due to which the meaning at this point would be lost. Furthermore, having initially identified the apprehension of true establishment in your own [mental] continuum, you ought to know how the reasonings serve to disprove the object of that [apprehension] directly and indirectly. For, refutation and proof only directed outside are of very little benefit.”

See Hopkins, Final Exposition, 186–87. True establishment (bden par grub pa/ dngos po, satya-siddhi).

[9] For example, Pabongka explains the state of attainment subsequent to realization of emptiness in exactly these terms:

In our state of subsequent attainment that has refuted a self-supporting I, or in other words, when [our meditative equipoise] diminishes and we perceive whatever remains, we realize that all phenomena, such as the I and so forth, that seem to be vividly self-supporting are in fact nonexistent and are mere bases of imputation upon which we impute–and the I is a mere appearance of a mere conventional designation of the mind and is merely nominal. We should train ourselves [to realize that all phenomena and the I] are like an illusory horse and elephant that, though they appear to have true existence and appear as manifestations, are [in fact] false, like illusions. The Prasangikas also explain this by saying they exist as mere nominal imputations. Once we are satisfied with the fact that their way of existing is as mere nominal imputations, we should remain in that state. If [phenomena] are conventionally existent, they are capable of performing the function of an existent [phenomenon], and all principals of actions, agents, and objects are admissible…With respect to that fact that although the I does not inherently exist, conventional [phenomena] do exist, [we refer to] the conventionally existent I by saying “I am going,” “I am sitting,” “I am hungry,” “I am full,” and so on, which does not exist as more than a mere appearance and mere name. Therefore, that which is conventionally existent is the mere appearance of I. With that [understanding] we ][need to] establish that the I lacks inherent existence. If we understand that the I lacks inherent existence with that approach using a single basis, it will be possible to transfer [this understanding] to all other phenomena [Aryadeva’s] Four Hundred Stanzas states:

Whoever is a viewer of one thing
Is proclaimed to be the viewer of all.
That which is the emptiness of one thing
Is the emptiness of all.

See Pabongka, The Essence, 618-9.

Geshe Sopa also explains how it is only after “engaging in ultimate analysis” that one can see or setablish how things conventionally validly exist:

A valid conventional sense consciousness is what establishes forms and so on to exist. In contrast, a mind that arises in dependence on ultimate analysis is what establishes forms and so on not to exist inherently: this is not a conventional consciousness at all. It is only after engaging in ultimate analysis and understand śūnyatā that one can understand that valid consciousnesses, as well as their objects, are mistaken. There is nothing wrong with conventional consciousnesses or with what they establish. Their objects exist and are perceived by conventional valid knowledge. But their objects do not exist in the way that they are perceived. For example, a pot does exist, and it is perceived by conventional valid knowledge. But the pot is perceived as inherently existent by that conventional valid knowledge. Since it does not exist inherently, this valid knowledge is mistaken only with regard to the way it is seen to exist. However, this mistaken aspect is understood only after having generated valid knowledge analyzing the ultimate. 

Sopa, Steps, Volume Five, 189. Italics mine.

[10] Regarding this subsequent conviction, or certainty, Minyak Kunzang Sönam (b.1823) Geluk scholar and also heart student of the Great Dza Patrul Rinpoche, says:

“If you were to ask how does our Prasangika tradition posit a valid relative truth, it is as follows. Once one has found certainty in the view of emptiness which is the realisation that all phenomena and individuals, besides being merely conceptually imputed, do not exist objectively, through the confidence in the emptiness aspect, later on one will unmistakenly and validly establish the appearance aspect, i.e. all the relative phenomena characterised by particular functions, arising and cessation, coming and going, and so on, and gain certainty about this. Thus if the two types of certainty in the emptiness aspect and the appearance aspect support each other, relative truth is validly established; this is what we mean by relative existence. If this were not the case, there would be no ground for correctly positing a validly existent relative truth….To say a little more about what this means: when one seeks some understanding of the Prasangika view, because of the certainty regarding the appearance aspect, i.e. interdependence, one necessarily has certainty regarding the emptiness aspect. Thus only an individual who has gained the view will understand that emptiness means interdependent origination. Subsequently, as a sign that one has acquired a full understanding of the view, one gains certainty regarding the emptiness aspect, and this leads to a greater understanding of the appearance aspect. Because one realizes that all phenomena are inherently empty, one is all the more able to understand how conventional relative truth works….As of the point at which emptiness is understood to mean interdependent origination: to see all outer and inner phenomena as being nothing at all is not seeing the real nature of interdependent origination. If they were nothing at all, these phenomena would not depend on causes and conditions or on a basis for designation; they would be like flowers growing in the sky.”

Kenchen Kunzang Pelden and Minyak Kunzang Sönam, Wisdom: Two Buddhist Commentaries, 220-22.

[11] The term “real in name and concept only (btags yod, prajñaptisat)” again seems relevant here. Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche noted, when reviewing this portion of the manuscript (Emily Hsu, unpublished notes, 15 October 2012), that “phenomena exist conventionally. Thus we can talk of ‘conventional existence’ (kun rdzob du yod). Rinpoche added, “Emptiness is a kun rdzob du yod but not a kun rdzob bden pa (truth for an all-obscuring mind).”

Tegchok similarly distinguishes:

In addition, while nothing exists ultimately, all phenomena, including emptiness, exist conventionally. If something exists, it exists conventionally. That is the only type of existence there is. Ultimate existence is the same as inherent existence, and that does not exist at all. Initially it may sound strange to say, ‘Emptiness exists conventionally,’ but when we think about the meaning of these terms, it becomes clear.

Insight, 242.

Further on this perhaps initially perplexing point, Yeshey Tupden writes:

The Illumination of the Thought states that the meaning of emptiness is well known to a conventional consciousness. Although discussed in the context of Svātantrika tenets, this assertion also carries over to Prāsaṅgika. Is the meaning of emptiness as a lack of inherent existence well known to a nonanalytical conventional consciousness? Yes, it is. Does such a consciousness posit it? Yes, because it is posited by the conventional consciousness to which it appears. We have said that any established base (gzhi grub), even emptiness, is necessarily conventionally established.

See Klein, Path, 48–49. Thus “emptiness conventionally exists” (ibid., 48).



Detailing the need to (be able to) distinguish conventional truth from conventional existence, Tupden details:

A convention [also refers to a consciousness which] imputes. For example, the thought apprehending a pot understands the convention ‘pot,’ and the thought apprehending a pillar understands the convention ‘pillar.’ Just as there are thoughts apprehending the various kinds of products, so there are also realizers of more subtle things such as impermanence, the lack of true existence, and so forth. Reality (chos nyid, dharmatā) itself is posited by the force of convention and is conventionally existent, these two [terms] being coextensive. If reality were not posited by the force of convention, it would exist from its own side. Being so posited, it is conventionally, not ultimately, existent. It is, however, an ultimate truth (ibid., 138).

Yeshey Tupden then draws the essential conclusion:

Because [an object] is not its own way of being, it is a conventional truth and a truth of convention (tha snyad bden pa).” Moreover, “The consciousness that realizes a thing’s way of being, that understands its lack of true existence, is not [described as] conventional in the sense of conventional truth. Previously, we said that an ultimate consciousness was one of hearing, thinking, or meditating. However, such a consciousness is not an ultimate truth, since being a consciousness necessarily precludes being an ultimate truth. But such a consciousness can realize an ultimate truth; it is a valid realization consciousness [and] a valid convention (tha snyad tshad ma). [This assertion is required by the previous series of reflections.] Ibid.

Klein is pointing to the fact that debates circulate around this point.

[12] Again, as was the earlier case with the spider (see post) the following terms are suggested: existence established at the place where something is mentally labeled to be (btags sar grub pa); existence established at the place where something seems to exist (yod sar grub pa); existence established in the place where mind makes something appear to be (snang sar grub pa). Ian Coghlan proposes these terms might also be translated as btags sar grub pa (established at the site where it is imputed); yod sar grub pa (established at the site where it exists); snang sar grub pa (established at the site where it appears). (Private correspondence, 26 July 2013).

The use of “site” especially underscores the notion of placement or location involved in (appearing to) exist “from there where it appears.” Sometimes Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche also refers to “the mudra [seal] of the gag cha [the object to be refuted]. This makes it clear that the emphasis is on the sheer non-findability of the object that did really really really appear to exist from there i.e. independently of mind imputing in dependence on the base etc.

[13] His Holiness the Dalai Lama says: “When I use analysis, I understand that what originally seemed to be so palpable does not at all exist in this way. The person that appeared to exist so forthrightly just plain can’t be found.” See Dalai Lama, How To See Yourself, 153. For the meaning of this emphatic “just plain cannot” see the next note. Then, subsequent to this non-findability, “This which seemed to exist in itself is seen to depend on thought” (ibid). And personally applying the analysis:

Then what Tenzin Gyatso is there? For sure, nothing can be found–not as part of the mind body complex, not depending on the mind-body complex as a separate entity, not in possession of the mind body complex, and not even as the continuum of the mind-body complex. It is clear that the self is merely set up in dependence upon the mind body complex. (ibid/. 152)

[14] In technical terms, and in the Gelug tradition, emptiness is referred to as a non-affirming negation (med dgag): a negation that does not imply anything positive in its place. See Hopkins, Meditation, 10. Elsewhere Hopkins refers to it as a “mere exclusionary elimination.” See Final Exposition, 29, footnote d.

It is in this sense that there is “nothing there on which to hold,” as Lama Zopa Rinpoche puts it. The Dalai Lama cautions, and then details, why we mustn’t mistake emptiness for a positive quality:

With the object of the negation being inherent existence, however, we are not negating an entity separate from the base of the negation, a phenomenon, but rather we are negating a mode of existence of the base of the negation itself. Thus we mean that the base of the negation, a phenomenon, does not exist in the manner of the object of the negation, its own inherent existence. Therefore, without ascertaining just what the object of the negation is of which phenomena are empty, that is, without ascertaining the measure of what self is in the theory of selflessness, we cannot understand the meaning of an emptiness. A mere vacuity without any sense of ‘the object of the negation is this’ and ‘it is not that’ is utterly not the meaning of an emptiness.

Buddhism of Tibet, 58. See also Gyatso, Harmony, 87.

We might consider here that emptiness is also to be established as unfindable on its designative base i.e. it also cannot be found to ultimately exist. The Dalai Lama illustrates,

The final nature of a sprout is an object found by a consciousness analyzing the mode of subsistence of the sprout, and, relative to the sprout, this emptiness of inherent existence is its ultimate nature, but when the final nature of the sprout as taken as the substratum and its mode of establishment is analyzed, it also is not found. The final nature of the sprout has become the substratum, and the final nature of the final nature of the sprout is found. It is in this sense that the emptiness of emptiness is set forth.

Harvard, 209.





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