The next link (nyer-len, Skt. upadana) is usually translated as “grasping,” but it’s not at all the same word as used in “grasping for true existence” (‘dzin-pa, Skt. graha) or any of the other usages for the word “grasping.” Therefore, it’s not helpful to translate it with the same word. It’s not the same word in any of the original languages. The word means literally “an obtainer.” It’s something that will obtain for us the next set of aggregates.
Remember, we had these two adjectives that can be applied to the aggregates. Tainted aggregates mean that they come from unawareness. Obtainer aggregates are aggregates that contain the mechanism to perpetuate themselves, so that we will obtain more. So, among the aggregates, there are these obtainer disturbing emotions and obtainer disturbing attitudes, and there’s a list of them that can arise following thirsting.
The first of these is obtainer desire. This is a disturbing emotion directed at some desirable sensory object. For example, when we’re unhappy, we want delicious food. Some people think, “I’m so unhappy, I’ll have some chocolate, that will make me happy. I will be parted from that unhappiness.” We can feel that way about getting a hug – that the physical sensation of a hug somehow is going to make us happy. But of course, we’re thinking about a very ordinary type of happiness. You hug for too long, that becomes a problem, doesn’t it? “Let go!”
Also, when we’re happy, we don’t want to be parted from that. An easy example is that warm comfortable feeling lying in bed when the alarm clock goes off and we don’t want to be parted from both the happiness that we’re feeling and also the comfortable physical sensation we are experiencing in bed. In this case, the actual object with obtainer desire is that physical sensation, but the object can be a sight or sound or anything sensory object like that.
If we are experiencing a certain type of pleasant sensation or object, we don’t want it to go away or decline. This arises in connection with what we were experiencing before, that thirst not to be parted from the feeling of happiness. There are many types of examples. If we think in terms of death, when somebody is dying and asks for someone to “hold my hand,” it’s as if somehow that physical sensation is going to keep them from dying, that type of thing. Or, it could be having friends or our loved ones around. That attachment, that desire, is also going to be involved in activating throwing karma. This is because it is when we realize we can’t hold onto them that we grab for another rebirth. This obtainer also has this connotation to grab out for something in the next life, when we can’t keep what we have now. Okay?
Then we have the list of obtainer deluded outlooks. These deluded outlooks occur only in conceptual cognitions. They latch onto some object within our aggregates as a basis onto which the conceptual minds in which they occur project certain attitudes. It’s very difficult to find the words to translate these things; sometimes “disturbing attitudes” work in conjunction with the projecting mechanism, although the disturbing attitude doesn’t actually project the attitude.
The first obtainer deluded outlook listed is a distorted outlook. One type of distorted outlook would be to deny that in a next life we will experience any effects of our behavior from this lifetime. We’re accepting that there is rebirth, but we think that when we die, it’s like our hard drive will be wiped clean and we start with a fresh hard drive, a fresh slate. It’s an attitude in which we’re latching onto a future life and then projecting onto it that our mental continuums will be a wiped, clean hard drive.
That’s one variant. The other variant is a denial of rebirth all together. In this case, we think that this life is the only one for an independently existing “me.” Again, we project that we will not experience any consequences of what we’ve done in this lifetime.
We could have a similar attitude in our daily life, thinking that there’s no effect of what we do, for instance if we smoke and are in complete denial that it is going to affect our health. Even if we know that there is a warning on the cigarette box that smoking damages our health and is deadly, we don’t really believe that. It doesn’t really sink in. We imagine there are no effects of what we do. Even though we might deny that there will be any effect of what we’re doing, nevertheless what we’re building up from all that smoking is obviously going to ripen into something. We activate the mechanism that will bring about the ripening by continuing to smoke with that denial that it has any effect.
We need to try to find practical everyday experiences that we can use as examples for these various disturbing attitudes to help us understand them. However, this disturbing outlook applies specifically to the time of death. We either believe that there are no future lives and therefore there are no results of our actions; or, even if we believe in future lives, we start each life with a clean slate with no consequences.
Everything really depends on how convinced we are of this or whether we have any doubts in terms of how really confirmed we are in this type of attitude. Still, it is a disturbing one. It’s not really in accord with reality, so we don’t really do anything to ensure that we don’t have more problems in the future. Basically, by holding such disturbing attitudes we are perpetuating samsara. Also, we should keep in mind that many of these disturbing outlooks are going to network together; not just one may occur.
The next disturbing outlook is an extreme outlook. This is the belief that our present body and minds with the truly established identity of “me” will last forever. It’s a denial of the gross impermanence of death. “I’m not going to die.” It’s very interesting, no matter how old you are, most people will still consider themselves young. We’re in our eighties, “Well, we’re still young. It’s the people in their nineties, they’re the old ones.” In a retirement village, it’s amazing how the people there still consider themselves young and only the ones in the nursing facilities are the old ones. They believe that their bodies and minds have the true identity, “me,” and they’re going to last forever. That is a denial of the gross impermanence of death.
The other variant of this extreme outlook, which is very interesting, is that there’s no continuity after death. When we are dead, it’s like we go into a big nothing. It’s interesting because if we think that we’re going to somehow go into a big nothing when we die, why are we afraid of that? Yet most people are afraid of that, aren’t they? There are always exceptions, but for many people that’s a frightening thing. “Now I am nothing,” and if you think about it, actually it is a belief that you’re going to go on forever as a nothing. “I’m dead, but it’s ‘me’ that is dead, and I’m going to be dead forever.” After all, there’s no end to being dead. It’s not that we’re going to stop being dead. “I’m dead forever and I have become this big nothing.” This is a weird attitude, actually. So, with extreme outlooks, we believe that either we’re not going to die or we’re going to merge with the big nothing when we die and go into nothingness forever.
Holding a Deluded Outlook as Supreme
Then, we have holding a deluded outlook as supreme. With incorrect consideration, we regard our aggregates, our bodies and so on as totally pure and clean and a source of true happiness. With this deluded outlook we hold such an attitude as supreme. We think it’s totally true and will lead to liberation if we fully realize it. We believe the body is so wonderful – the attitude of “body beautiful” – it’s clean, it’s wonderful, and it’s our source of happiness. We think that if we just ensure that everything is perfect with this body, then we will be liberated. We then strongly maintain that it’s the best attitude to have. It could lead to: “If I have a perfect physique, or a facelift and look good, this is going to bring lasting happiness.” We take this to be the supreme view. Or, “If I could look good in the coffin when I die and have my hair done really nicely...” I mean, really, what kind of attitude is that?
The other variant of this deluded outlook is the reverse of this: we hold as the supreme attitude leading to lasting happiness the attitude that the body is dirty, impure, and a source of all evil. Come on, this type of thing is very deluded, isn’t it?
What is said to be deluded, in these deluded outlooks as supreme, is considering that these attitudes will lead to liberation. If we worship our body as “my temple,” for example, that could bring us to liberation. On the other hand, it is also deluded to believe that thinking, with a strong negative attitude, the body to be some hellish thing will bring liberation.
Holding Deluded Morality or Deluded Conduct as Supreme
Then the next one is the disturbing attitude of holding deluded morality or conduct as supreme. Deluded morality is ridding ourselves of some trivial manner of behavior that’s meaningless to give up, particularly under the circumstance of dying. An example would be giving up unhealthy food when we’re in the final stages of terminal cancer. We’re dying, so what difference does it make whether we eat ice cream and cake? “Oh, it’s bad for me.” Come on, we’re dying, so this is deluded morality. It is the attitude that this will help in some way and make things okay – that if we just stop eating junk food when we’re dying that somehow we won’t die.
The other is deluded conduct. It’s to dress, act, or speak in some trivial manner that again is meaningless to adopt in the face of imminent death. For instance, clutching a good luck charm when we’re dying, trusting that this is going to save us somehow; or bathing in the Ganges River before we die, believing that this is going to purify us of all our sins and we will go to heaven or something like that.
We are convinced that acting in these trivial ways will purify us of anything negative, liberate us from all our worries and definitely deliver us to a better fate. Deluded morality is giving up something and deluded conduct is doing something, both of which are trivial, and thinking that somehow this is going to liberate us.
A Deluded Outlook toward a Transitory Network
The last obtainer deluded outlook is the most crucial in terms of what we have to try to recognize in each moment and work on. This real troublemaker is the disturbing attitude of a deluded outlook toward a transitory network. That’s the technical jargon. Network refers to the network of our aggregates. Transitory means that it is not lasting; it changes from moment to moment.
The deluded outlook toward it is that we identify with something in our aggregates. As we have already discussed, it does this by throwing out a net of “me and mine.” According to the non-Prasangika views, it throws out the net of “me” on something in the aggregates. The body or the mind, that’s “me;” or, that it’s “mine” to control, that it’s the habitat of this solid “me” that lives inside it and possesses it and controls it and uses it for enjoyment. “I’m going to use my body to have as much fun as I can.” “I’m going to use my brain to figure this out and get ahead, get a good job.” It’s as if there’s a little me sitting behind the control board at a chair, this type of thing. It is throwing out this net of me and mine onto the aggregates.
The Prasangika view is that we actually throw it out onto the conventional “me” in relation to the aggregates, either as simply “me” or as “me as the possessor of them as mine.” There are these two variant explanations of this disturbing attitude of it and both are helpful.
These are all the aspects of the obtainer link and these obtain the next rebirth and perpetuate samsara.