The Basis for Valid Cognition of Not-Yet-Happenings (continued)
We have been talking about the basis of negation, the basis of imputation, and so on, in terms of the not-yet-happening of the result. And we can understand the difference here: The basis of negation is the absence of the result, and the basis of imputation is the karmic tendency. So on the basis of the absence of the result, there’s a not-yet-happening of the result. Right? When we talk about the not-yet-happening, it’s the temporarily-not-giving-rise-to-the-result, that aspect of the karmic tendency.
I’m just surprised that the basis of the negation for the not-yet-happening is the absence of the result, because then the basis for the negation is a negation. I would have expected that it’s the mental continuum or something.
That doesn’t have to be the case. The basis for the absence of the result is the mental continuum. But let me continue because I figured it out (at least I think I figured it out).
Only if there is a karmic tendency can there be a temporarily-not-giving-rise-to-the-result. Right? Because the temporarily-not-giving-rise-to-the-result is a facet of the karmic tendency. So the not-yet-happening of the result – which is equivalent to the temporarily-not-giving-rise-to-the-result – that’s actually a facet of the karmic tendency, so it’s imputed on the karmic tendency. But there can also be an absence of the result when there’s no karmic cause. You can have an absence of the result whether or not there is a not-yet-happening of the result. So it can only be the basis of negation if there’s a karmic tendency. So, because of that, the absence of the result – the absence of the result is what appears.
What appears? The karmic tendency and the absence of a result. But an absence of the result could appear even if there’s no karmic tendency. Karmic tendency doesn’t appear either – it’s the mental continuum that appears. So a mental continuum appears, and an absence of a result appears. The absence of the result could appear at any time even if there’s no karmic tendency. Remember, you will not experience a result, there will be an absence of a result, if you have not committed a karmic cause. That’s one of the laws of karma.
So the basis of the negation – what is it based on? We have to think in terms of that. What does it depend on? It depends on there being an absence of a result. That’s the basis of the negation. So we have this differentiation here in this case. It’s not always the case that the basis for a negation and the basis for labeling are different. But in this case it is.
Let’s give an example: My rebirth as a frog. Okay, I observe. I look at myself and look at myself in a mirror: I’m not a frog. So there’s no rebirth as a frog. So there’s an absence of a result. Now, that absence of the result could be there whether or not I’ve built up the karmic tendency to be reborn as a frog. So it’s on the basis of seeing that I’m not a frog that I know that there’s a not-yet-happening of being reborn as a frog. However, I could only have a not-yet-happening of being reborn as a frog if I have the karmic tendency for it. So the not-yet-happening of being born as a frog is really that the karmic tendency is temporarily not giving rise to the result. So I can impute the not-yet-happening of being reborn as a frog on the karmic tendency. It’s the only valid imputation for it. But the basis for saying that I’m not yet reborn as a frog is the absence of being a frog now.
Do you see the difference? I mean, this is very important in terms of what does a Buddha see. All that could ever appear is the mental continuum and an absence of a result that hasn’t happened yet. That’s all that could appear. Only what’s presently happening can appear. Okay?
In the last session, you were talking about the basis or the location of a negation, and now you were talking about the basis of imputation.
Right. Those two in this case, the basis of imputation and the basis for the negation, are different.
So the absence of the result is a static negation phenomenon – it doesn’t change from moment to moment (it’s always the case) – but it ceases to exist with the arising of the result. But the not-yet-happening of the result is nonstatic, since each moment, in a sense, it’s getting closer to giving rise to the presently-happening result – it doesn’t really give rise, but – to the arising of the presently-happening result. Once there’s an arising of the result, there’ll no longer be an absence of the result. And if the karmic tendency is only going to give rise to a result once, then the karmic tendency for the result won’t be there anymore. Thus the not-yet-happening of the result will cease to exist because it lacks both a basis for imputation and a location. Do you follow?
It can’t be imputed on the tendency. The temporarily-not-giving-rise-to-its-result doesn’t exist anymore once there’s an arising of the result. And there’s no longer an absence of the result when it is actually arising. We’re not talking about after the result is finished – then again, there’s an absence of the result, but that has to do with the no-longer-happening of the result. Is this clear?
The Passing Away of the Karmic Cause
From another point of view, the karmic tendency is – now here’s yet another technical term – it’s a basis that indicates (mtshan-gzhi) that there’s a passing-away (zhig-pa) of the karmic cause, which is also imputable as a negation phenomenon on a mental continuum. But the karmic tendency is not the same as the passing-away of the cause. In other words, if there’s a karmic tendency, what does it indicate? It indicates that there’s a passing-away of the cause. A passing-away of the cause is equivalent to the no-longer-happening of the cause – now we’re talking about what in the West we talk about as the past, but it’s not a thing – but the karmic tendency itself is not the passing-away of the cause.
You see, it’s this passing away of a cause that changes from moment to moment since it’s getting closer to… Well, it all depends. You can have a passing away of the cause; that’s going to last forever, isn’t it? It’s with this mechanism of the passing-aways and the no-longer-happenings and so on that we make a connection from a cause to an effect on a mental continuum in terms of karma. So they’re quite important phenomena here.
I just have a question about this term passing-away. Passing-away sounds like there is something that is still passing-away – which you can’t mean, because it’s already no longer happening. So I’m a bit confused about that term.
Well, maybe passed-away. The point is that the previous moment of passing-away will pass away to give the next moment of the passing-away. So it is a dynamic thing: it is passing-away. The passed-away? That doesn’t sound right, the passed-away.
In any case, the passing-away is equivalent to the no-longer-happening.
It’s an ongoing thing that is still the case: when there is a no-longer-happening, you still have the passing-away all the time. That’s what I’m asking about.
The passing-away is moving; it’s passing further and further away. But it’s not a thing that is passing away – it’s the passing-away itself, which is equivalent to the no-longer-happening.
So my point here is that the karmic tendency indicates that there’s a passing-away, but they’re not equivalent. Because that karmic tendency, once it ripens, will no longer be there, but there’ll still be a passing-away of the cause. Okay? I mean, this is interesting in terms of a Buddha knowing the past. Karmic tendency could indicate the past – you know, the passing-away of something, the no-longer-happening of something – but a Buddha isn’t inferring it from the karmic tendency because the karmic tendency could be no longer there (you’d still have a no-longer-happening and you have a passing-away). Do you follow?
If I have the karmic tendency to be reborn as a frog once, that indicates the passing-away, the no-longer-happening of the cause (calling an arhat “You frog” or something like that). So that karmic tendency could ripen, and there could be that rebirth as a frog. So what happens after that? This happened many, many thousands of years ago. A Buddha comes along and sees me and knows the no-longer-happening of that cause (I called an arhat a frog). So that’s still present even though the karmic tendency isn’t there.
So for a Buddha to know what is not yet happening, you have to have the karmic tendency. But to know what is no longer happening, you don’t have to have the karmic tendency. That’s why we have to differentiate these various types of phenomena. Do you follow?
We still have a problem with the passing-away. Is there a technical definition for what a passing-away is or what the term signifies? Because the way the word is normally used, the passing-away of something would be gone once the phenomenon is finished or the causes have finished.
That’s why I added here for the passing-away of the cause that its basis of negation is the absence of the cause on the mental continuum.
But in Tibetan is a passing-away really like something passes away? I’m just trying to understand the concept. How can there be a nonstatic passing-away all the time?
It passes away. It passes further and further away. Passing-away is just my attempt to translate the word shikpa (zhig-pa), which is one of the most difficult technical terms in the whole discussion here.
I think there’s a misunderstanding because this passing away sounds more like a fading out.
Passing-away – it’s not fading; it doesn’t degenerate. Now this is the interesting thing. Remember the no-longer-happening of a cause, and the not-yet-happening of a cause for that matter, are these implicative negation phenomena (ma-yin dgag). Right? We had the nonimplicative negation (med-dgag) and the implicative negation.
The nonimplicative – once it negates something, it doesn’t leave anything in its wake (bkag-shul), which means that it doesn’t implicitly imply something afterwards. The wake is like what a speedboat leaves behind it when it goes. So it doesn’t implicitly imply something. So the absence of the result or the absence of the cause, which negates the presence of the cause, doesn’t leave anything, doesn’t implicitly imply anything. So that doesn’t change. That’s static.
Whereas the no-longer-happening of the cause leaves in its wake after the negation – it implies – its arising with the ceasing of the cause. It implicitly implies its arising with the ceasing of the cause, and they’re simultaneous. With the ceasing of the cause, that’s equivalent to the arising of the passing-away of the cause. The ceasing of the cause is simultaneous with or equivalent to the arising of the passing-away of the cause. And that passing-away will generate a next moment of passing-away, a next moment of passing-away, and it’s a continuity.
So whether we say passing-away or passed away… Shikpa literally means “disintegration.” But Geshe Tenzin Zangpo gave an incredibly complicated explanation, which I must say I still haven’t figured out, even though I transcribed it. Because how you actually understand what it means in Tibetan has a lot to do with where you put the emphasis in a sentence, and my Tibetan is not sophisticated enough to get that, and Serkong Rinpoche’s English is not sophisticated enough to get that. So it’s still in the process of cooking. But this is admittedly one of the most difficult concepts in this whole discussion, this passing-away. So that’s at least my current attempt to explain it. But do you get that idea? That’s what it leaves in its wake. That’s what Geshe-la explained.
Does it leave a mark?
No, it implicitly implies that. It’s not explicit.
Can a Buddha see it?
No, a Buddha can only see the mental continuum and the absence of the cause and the absence of the result.
So how does a Buddha see the past?
Well, that’s just it. We’ll get to that, because it’s slightly different. And I must say I haven’t figured it out completely. If one could figure it out completely, I guess he’d be a Buddha or something like that, but anyway. These are just pieces of the puzzle, of an incredibly complicated puzzle.
So the no-longer-happening of the cause leaves in its wake the arising of the passing-away?
Yes. This passing-away or the no-longer-happening, it’s arising with the ceasing of the cause, simultaneously with the ceasing of the cause. All of this makes a great deal of sense in conjunction with understanding this definition of time in Buddhism: it’s an interval. So that interval is constantly getting longer the further the continuity of the passing-away of a cause from the presently happening cause. So that interval is getting longer and longer, but it’s not that time is a thing that’s passing; it’s a measurement of an interval.
Now, just as the karmic tendency indicates the presence of a passing-away of the cause, the presently happening result is the basis that indicates there’s a passing away of both the karmic cause and the karmic tendency for the result.
What Does a Buddha Know in Having Omniscient Deep Awareness of the Three Times?
Now, very interesting. What does a Buddha know when a Buddha has omniscient deep awareness of the three times? Well, this is very difficult. Because a Buddha would know the time – which means the interval – what’s the length of this passing-away from the cause and what is the interval until the not-yet-happening of the result will cease and there will be an arising of the presently happening result. So in a sense he knows the times of these, the intervals.
But also a Buddha would know the result that will or can happen but which is not yet happening (I think this is a better way of translating it because the Tibetan word could be understood in both ways). And a result that will or can happen but which is not yet happening is an affirmation phenomenon. What is not the issue in this term is that it’s not yet happening. A not-yet-happening result, that’s a negation phenomenon because it negates a presently-happening result. But here a result that will or can happen but just parenthetically it’s not happening yet is an affirmation phenomenon. Okay? In other words, it’s a type of result that’s not specified in terms of the negation of a result that’s presently happening.
And one more point: The result that will or can happen but which is not yet happening is not a result that’s presently happening. It’s not presently happening anywhere. It’s absent. Even for a Buddha it would have to be absent. It’s not that there is this big spatial-temporal grid and Buddha sees it somewhere.
So what does a Buddha know when a Buddha knows a result that will or can happen but which is not yet happening and similarly a cause that is no longer happening? These are affirmation phenomena.
The cause is no longer happening, so what is actually appearing is an absence of a presently happening cause. The cause itself is an affirmation phenomenon. What appears is an absence of it. What appears is a mental continuum, and there’s the no-longer-happening of the cause.
A Buddha looks at you. A Buddha sees just what’s presently happening. I mean, there’s an absence of that cause that’s no longer happening, and there’s an absence of the result that will or can happen but that is not yet happening. They’re not present. Why? Because there’s no such thing as a common locus – in other words, something that can be a result that can or will happen but is not happening yet, a result that’s presently happening, and a result that’s no longer happening. So you can’t have a no-longer-happening cause presently happening and appearing. You can’t have a result that can happen but is not yet happening also being a result that is happening now and appearing. There’s no common locus. There’s nothing that is both. We have to find some word that actually means that.
That’s the only thing that appears, you said? So there’s a difference between what he knows and what appears.
Yes. That’s the only thing that appears.
This is a very difficult point. Does a Buddha know everything that is absent? You can know things nonconceptually either implicitly or explicitly. Nonconceptually explicitly means it appears; implicitly means it doesn’t appear. So explicitly it appears this is an apple, and implicitly – remember we had these double negations – it’s nothing but an apple, so the absence of everything that’s not an apple. Remember we had that complicated discussion? The fat Devadatta does not eat during the night. So explicitly it appears not eating during the night. But because he’s fat, it’s implicit that he eats during the day, and you can know that nonconceptually. So the problem is, even for the nonconceptual cognition of a Buddha, it can’t be implicit. This is the problem. So how does something that is absent appear? How is it known explicitly. That I haven’t solved yet.
But for an arya’s absorption into voidness, voidness appears explicitly, doesn’t it?
Voidness appears explicitly. I mean, this is the difference. Voidness appears explicitly. It’s an absence of true existence. So true existence doesn’t appear. But what about the absence of a vase from the table that doesn’t come back? Or the absence of a vase that could come back? Does the vase appear? No. Do you know the vase? Well, yes. But does the vase appear? No.
Do you know it conceptually or nonconceptually? Well, then we have to go back to – and this is my working hypothesis, not a final conclusion – we have to go back to the definition of a negation phenomenon. It’s a validly knowable phenomenon that’s apprehended in a manner in which an object to be negated is explicitly precluded by the conceptual cognition – the conceptual cognition – that cognizes the phenomenon. So what’s no longer present (the cause) or what is not yet presently happening (a result that is not yet presently happening) could be conceptualized. It could be conceptualized. A Buddha doesn’t know it conceptually because a Buddha doesn’t have conceptual cognition. But I think from this definition – again it’s just a working hypothesis – what would happen could be conceptualized, but I’m going to have to add another piece to the puzzle here in terms of karma, in terms of certainty and uncertainty of karma.
I have trouble understanding where this is leading to.
Where this is leading to is: The only thing that can appear is what’s presently happening. When you look at the tabletop and you know there’s an absence of a vase located there, you would have to know a vase. But would a vase appear? No. Would you imply it? No. Would you have to know it conceptually at that moment? No. It could be conceptualized. That’s what the definition of negation phenomenon said. It’s precluded by the conceptual cognition that cognizes the phenomenon.
So I think this is the direction to go to try to figure out how a Buddha knows these things which are absent, the result that will or can happen but is not yet happening and the cause that’s no longer happening. That’s the point. A Buddha would have to know it nonconceptually, explicitly; but it couldn’t appear because it’s absent. And then we have to bring in the whole Prasangika analysis. In terms of what’s not yet happened: It’s not nonexistent, but if it was truly nonexistent, it could never stop being nonexistent, etc. If it was already existent, how could it come about to happen?
The question is: When a Buddha knows a result that will or can happen but is not happening yet, how does a Buddha know that? Does it have to appear to a Buddha’s cognition? That’s why I spoke about explicit, implicit, and so on. It’s not known implicitly, because a Buddha knows everything nonconceptually and explicitly. So that’s the question.
All you have really is a not-yet-happening of a result and an absence of a result and so on. So how does a Buddha know the result that is not yet happening but could happen? Because a Buddha’s omniscient, so he has to know that. But it can’t be happening now so that it appears and a Buddha sees it. It can’t appear to a Buddha, as far as I understand. So how does a Buddha know it? A Buddha knows it because it can be conceptualized. Does a Buddha conceptualize it? No. Does a Buddha know the objects of conceptual cognition? Yes, because a Buddha knows what you’re perceiving. So it could be conceptualized. I think that’s the only way to solve this.
Wouldn’t this boil down to just the point that a Buddha perceives the totality of everything and all the possibilities on that?
Right, the Buddha sees the totality of everything, so in that totality there’s all the possibilities. And that’s why I said we have to add yet another piece to this, which is the certainty and uncertainty of karma. But first we have to get past this point, and then I will add this thing of certainty or uncertainty of karma.
You wrote that Serkong Rinpoche could see that a fire was going to start in a shrine room. Can you explain this briefly?
This is what I’m trying to explain, is what somebody sees when they see the future, as we would say in the West. There’s a difference between seeing something that is presently happening at a distance that you can’t see with your ordinary sense perception. That’s different from knowing something that has not yet happened. The not-yet-happening of something or the thing that has not yet happened – and this is what I’m trying to explain – the thing that has not yet happened can’t be presently happening and appearing because there’s nothing that is both not yet happened and presently happening. This is what I’m trying to explain. Okay? Clear.
Now, something that is the result that can or will happen but which is not yet happening is currently absent. It’s not present here and now. Nevertheless, although it’s absent it’s not truly and totally nonexistent. We have to do the Prasangika understanding here: If it were nonexistent, it could never stop being nonexistent. Nor is it truly existent (for instance, in an unmanifest form inside its cause, already fixed and determined, or somewhere in another parallel universe and just waiting for the circumstances to pop out). Also if it was already present but in an unmanifest form, it wouldn’t have to arise.
So the existence of a result that can or will happen but which is not yet happening is not established by something findable on the side of that result which either makes it the result or makes it not yet happening. It’s merely what the label result that can or will happen but which is not yet happening refers to on the basis of its obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) – that’s the karmic tendency – that can give rise to a result that’s presently happening. So a result that is not yet happening doesn’t give rise to a presently happening result. It’s the karmic tendency that gives rise to it. When you have the presently arising result, it’s simultaneous with the ceasing of the result that’s not yet happened; the result that’s not yet happened doesn’t become the result that’s happening. Is that clear? So you really have to understand voidness here, how that result that could or would happen but is not yet happening exists. It’s not totally nonexistent, it’s not truly existent, but nevertheless it’s absent, it’s not here, it’s not presently happening, and it can’t appear.
Certainty and Uncertainty of Karmic Results
When we talk about certainty and uncertainty of karma, of these impulses, there are three possibilities or three parameters:
- Either it can be enacted or not enacted. That’s irrelevant here. If it’s not enacted, then it’s just a mental karma, so that’s irrelevant here.
- And then there’s certainty or uncertainty as to whether it will give rise at all to a presently happening result. In other words, all karmic tendencies can be purified away. So there’s no certainty, from a Mahayana point of view, that any karmic impulse or tendency will definitely give its result. So that is one aspect.
- Another aspect is the certainty or uncertainty about the time of its ripening:
- It will ripen in this lifetime, which is just like super-strong positive or negative actions to your parents or your teachers and so on.
- What will ripen in the immediately following lifetime, which are the five heinous negative actions or crimes (killing an arhat, killing your mother and father, etc.).
- And what will ripen at some time after that. So there can be certainty that it will ripen at some time after that next life or there can be no certainty really of when it will ripen.
But what is interesting here in the discussion of certainty or uncertainty of karma is that it never talks about there being certainty or uncertainty about the specific details of what will be the presently happening result that will arise from the karmic impulse or tendency. There’s no discussion of that. So that’s because, regardless of what type of karmic impulse it is, it is an affected phenomenon (’dus-byas-kyi chos). It’s nonstatic. It can be affected by: Do you repeat the action again (then the result will be stronger)? Do you regret it later again? Do you still feel happy about it? All these things are variables that will change the ripening. From a Mahayana point of view, even if you’re in a bardo of a next lifetime, prayers can change what will be the birth that follows that.
Multiple Possible Results of a Karmic Tendency
So there’s a wide range of things that could affect it. That’s why I think we have to speak in terms of results that can or will happen. Will? I don’t think there’s anything that definitely will. I mean, you’ll know that if you don’t purify it, this is going to happen, this will happen, but then there are many, many different possibilities. So that’s what we really have to think about, because all these different possibilities: Do they actually appear to a Buddha? Well, they’re not present, so how could they appear? And they’re not truly nonexistent, they’re not truly existent – does a Buddha infer it? A Buddha doesn’t know things conceptually. But our definition of a negation phenomenon is that it’s precluded by conceptual cognition, so it could be conceived – a Buddha doesn’t have to conceive of it – it could be conceived that this result would happen, that result would happen, that result would happen, and so on. So I think these are the pieces of the puzzle that we really have to work with.
When a Buddha cognizes a karmic tendency on someone’s mental continuum and an absence of a result, does he cognize all possible results that maybe can happen in general but are not yet happening but doesn’t know which result will happen? That’s seems unlikely, doesn’t it? Especially because the result that can or will happen but which is not yet happening doesn’t transform into the presently happening result. Or does a Buddha see the one result that definitely will happen but which is not yet happening, and then he sees some results that could happen but which are not yet happening and definitely won’t happen, and he also sees other results that could never have happened and are not yet happening? I mean, what does a Buddha actually know (see isn’t the proper word here, I’m sorry)?
What does a Buddha know? Here are all the possibilities, and a Buddha knows which one definitely will happen? Well, there is no such thing in terms of karma. And although the karmic tendency is the obtainer cause, like the seed giving rise to the result that will, in a sense, when it ends, then you will have directly, as a result of it, the result that’s presently happening, you can’t say that it’s only from the tendency. If we’re going to talk about a basis of labeling being a cause – even though the cause is no longer present at the time of the result – you have to bring in all different types of causes (now we get into abhidharma). So you have to bring in the circumstances as well. I mean, there is a certain type of cause that does occur at the same time, like the elements that make up something (they’re a cause, in a sense, but they’re not a temporal cause). So the result that’s presently happening depends on all these other things. You can’t really say, “Well, it’s located in an unmanifest form in the seed.” If there’s no circumstances, the seed won’t ripen.
So I’m just indicating here further lines that we need to analyze and think about. But it certainly isn’t that – it can’t be the case – that there is a result that it’s absolutely definite that this is going to happen. Because it isn’t the result that definitely is going to happen that transforms into the presently happening result – it’s the seed that transforms into it – all you have is an absence of a result. So what does a Buddha actually know when a Buddha knows the past or the present or the future?
Maybe he only knows when the circumstances are there.
But the circumstances will arise also based on other people’s karma. You killed somebody, and so now there’s a tendency for you to be killed. Well, but there has to be a circumstance. Let’s say for being hit by a car: somebody has to drive a car, and they have to have the karmic tendency to kill somebody again by driving a car and hitting them with a car, and there has to be the circumstances of a road, and there has to be the circumstances of the light turning red or green. There’s all sorts of things that have to come together. So a Buddha knows all of that, but is it in a fluid state? And I think you’d have to say it’s in a fluid state. The world is in flux. That is certainly impermanence. That’s one of the basic teachings. So it can’t be fixed and that a Buddha sees it fixed. Otherwise you have this idea of block time. It’s not fixed; it’s constantly fluid, being affected by so many different things.
And free will also comes in?
And free will as well. We choose what to do, choose one thing or another thing.
So are there larger probabilities that something will happen? Well, yes, but that will change. Because what will ripen for your next rebirth? Which seeds are going to be activated? Well, the ones that are activated by the strongest disturbing emotion? And at the time of death, do you have a strong disturbing emotion? And if everything is equal, what have you done most recently? I mean, there’s all these different variables that could change. So a Buddha is aware of all these variables, I would think. And a Buddha would know all the probabilities. So there are certain things that are more likely to happen sooner; but nothing is definite, except that:
- If you experience unhappiness, it’s a result of destructive behavior.
- If you experience happiness, it’s the result of constructive behavior.
- If you haven’t done something, you won’t experience a result.
- And the force of the negative action will get stronger and stronger the longer it has gone without you regretting it.
There are only four laws of karma. Okay?
We could go on for a very long time, but we have to end and stop here. So let’s end with a dedication. Whatever positive force or understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.
[For a fuller analysis subsequent to this lecture, see: A Buddha's Knowledge of the Past, Present, and Future]