Mental Labeling and Imputation

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To understand the Gelug Prasangika presentation of dependent arising (rten-’byung ’brel-ba) and the voidness of self-established existence (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa; inherent existence), we need to understand the distinctions this school draws between imputation, mental labeling and designation. All three are referred to by the same verb in Tibetan (dogs-pa, past tense: btags-pa), which in the colloquial language means: “to tie,” “to ascribe,” or “to be tied,” “to be ascribed.”

This threefold division is suggested by the Gelug Prasangika assertion of three types of definitional imputedly knowable phenomena (btags-yod):

  • Imputedly knowable as something imputed on a basis (rten-nas btags-pa’i btags-yod) – such types of phenomena are involved with “imputation”
  • Imputedly knowable as something imputed by conceptual cognition (rtog-pas btags-pa’i btags-yod) – such types of phenomena are involved with “mental labeling”
  • Imputedly knowable as something posited by names and tags (ming-dang brda’i bzhag-pa’i btags-yod) – such types of phenomena are involved with “designation.”

The original Sanskrit term for an imputedly knowable phenomenon, prajnaptisat, is compound of prajnapti and sat. “Prajnapti” is the passive causal participle of the verbal form from which the term “prajna, discriminating awareness” and thus means “something that is caused to be discriminated (or known) by something else.” “Sat” means “existence” and so “existence as something that is caused to be discriminatingly known by something else.” The Tibetan definition is a validly knowable phenomenon that, when cognized, relies on actual cognition of something else – namely, a basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi):

  • Either both immediately preceding and simultaneously with it
  • Or only immediately before it in the case of voidness (emptiness), lack of an impossible soul (bdag-med, selflessness) and true stoppings (gog-bden, true cessations).

According to Gelug Prasangika, this is the coarse level of being imputedly knowable. The subtle, definitional level refers to all three types of phenomena arising dependently on a basis for imputation, not existing independently of their basis for imputation and totally lacking anything on the side of its basis for imputation, such as its individual defining characteristic mark (mtshan-nyid, Skt. lakshana), that has the power to establish its existence. In this more subtle sense, the Tibetan term “btags-yod” is better translated as “imputedly existent,” rather than as “imputedly knowable” as used for the more coarse sense of the technical term. From the point of view of this subtler level, all three divisions are equivalent; but from the point of view of the coarser level, there are differences, and this is what we shall explore.


Nonstatic Noncongruent Affecting Variables and Static Phenomena

Nonstatic noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ’du-byed), such as persons, periods of time, and impermanence (nonstaticness) and certain static phenomena, such as voidnesses and space, are phenomena that are imputations on a basis. Such types of imputed phenomena cannot exist independently of their bases for imputation; and, likewise, their bases for imputation cannot exist independently of what are imputations on them, otherwise they wouldn’t be bases for their imputation. And although the non-Prasangika tenet systems assert that the defining characteristic marks of such phenomena are findable in their bases for imputation, Prasangika refutes this soundly. Thus, noncongruent affecting variables and certain static phenomena are “imputedly existent.”

  • A noncongruent affecting variable is a nonstatic phenomenon that is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something, and which does not share five things in common, such as cognitive object, with the primary consciousness and mental factors that it accompanies.

For example, a person (gang-zag) cannot exist independently of five aggregate factors of experience (phung-po lnga; five aggregates) and the five aggregate factors of experience cannot exist independently of a person that is an imputation on them. For the sake of simplicity, let us refer to the five aggregates as just a body and a mind, since in any cognition in which only one of the five aggregates is cognized, the person is also simultaneously cognized.

A body and mind cannot exist as a body and mind independently of there being a person as an imputation on them, and a person cannot exist independently of a body and mind. In other words, something that is an imputation on a basis and the basis on which it is an imputation arise dependently on each other. One does not create the other. A body and mind do not first exist by themselves and then create a person, and a person does not first exist by itself and then creates a body and mind. Moreover, conceptual thought does not create a person either. Whether or not a foetus is aware of itself as a person or thinks "I am a person," it is still a person. 

Among noncongruent affecting variables and static phenomena, however, we must differentiate: 

(1) Those that last as long as their bases of imputation, for instance a person as an imputation on an individual continuum of five aggregates or the impermanence, voidness or space of an apple. 

  • A person lasts as long as the individual continuum of five aggregates on which it is an imputation lasts: namely, forever, with no beginning and no end. 
  • The nonstaticness, voidness and space of an apple lasts as long as the apple on which they are imputations last: they have a beginning and an end  simultaneously with the arising and ceasing of the apple. 

(2) Those that are adventitious, arising and ceasing at different times from the basis on which they become imputations, for instance tendencies, constant habits, and object and audio categories. 

  • The tendencies (sa-bon) of the disturbing emotions, including those of unawareness, and the constant habits (bag-chags) of grasping for truly established existence are imputations, roughly speaking, on a mental continuum. Like the mental continuum on which they are imputations, they have no beginning, but unlike their bases for imputation, they can have an end with a true stopping of them. 
  • Karmic tendencies and object and audio categories are also imputations, roughly speaking, on a mental continuum. Unlike the mental continuum on which they are imputations, however, karmic tendencies have a beginning immediately after a karmic action and can have an end with their total purification and thus a true stopping of them. Object categories, such as the category of "computer," have a beginning on our mental continuums when we first learn of computers; and audio categories, such as the category of the sound of the word "computer," have a beginning when we learn the word. All categories can have an end on our mental continuums with the attainment of enlightenment.
  • The mental continuums on which tendencies, constant habits and object and audio categories are imputations serve as bases for imputation only so long as these imputations last. Before the arising of these imputations and after their ceasing, the mental continuums still exist as mental continuums, with no beginning and no end, but they do not exist as bases for imputation of these tendencies, constant habits and categories.   

Nonstatic noncongruent affecting variables and static phenomena, as imputed phenomena, are imputedly knowable in the coarse sense of the term. When we see the body of a person, for example, the focal object (dmigs-yul), equivalent to the appearing object (snang-yul), of the cognition includes both the body and the person; they exist inseparably from each other. In other words, we see the combination of a body and a person as an imputation on it and that combination appears in our cognition. Nevertheless, we first explicitly apprehend (dngos-su rtogs-pa) the body and then explicitly apprehend both the body and the person.

  • Apprehension of an object means cognition of it that is both accurate and decisive.
  • With explicit apprehension, a cognitive appearance (rnam-pa, a mental hologram) of the involved object (’jug-yul) appears in the cognition.
  • The involved object of a cognition is the main object that the cognition engages itself with.

Thus, the explicit apprehension first ascertains (nges-pa) the body that appears to it: in other words, it decisively cuts the body off from everything else that is simultaneously seen around it. Thus the explicit apprehension is accompanied by implicit apprehension of “nothing other than itself.” Thus nothing other than itself is apprehended with it.

  • This type of “nothing other than itself” (ldog-pa) is called an “individually characterized object exclusion of something else” (don rang-mtshan-gyi gzhan-sel, object exclusion, object isolator). It is a nonstatic objective entity.

Then the explicit apprehension ascertains both the body and a person. In doing so, it decisively excludes apprehending anything else that is an imputation on the body, such as its impermanence. In the first moment, then, the involved object of the cognition is the body and in the second moment the involved objects are both the body and the person. This is the case despite the fact that the combination of the body and person as an imputation on it is the focal object and appearing object of both moments of the explicit apprehension.

The same analysis applies to seeing a nonstatic object and its nonstaticness (impermanence) or its motion. For instance, in the first moment of seeing a car pass by, our explicit apprehension ascertains the car; and in the second moment, when it has moved, it ascertains both the car and its motion. Nevertheless, while the car is passing by, the car and its motion do not exist independently of each other.

In the case of non-conceptual cognition of voidness, an object and its voidness also do not exist independently of each other. When seeing the object, in the first moment we ascertain the object. In the second moment we ascertain both the object and the impossible way of existing that is projected on it. In the third moment, with the correct and decisive understanding that this impossible way of existing does not correspond to anything real, we cut off all appearances of both the object and this impossible way of existing. We apprehend only its voidness – the total absence of this impossible way of existing. In this case, cognition of voidness relies on an immediately preceding cognition of its basis for imputation, namely the object, but does not occur with simultaneous cognition of its basis. 

  • Note that the above explanation pertains only to when we apprehend voidness. This does not mean that every time we apprehend the basis for imputation of a voidness, we will also apprehend its voidness. Every time we see our body, for instance, if we lack the discriminating awareness of voidness, we do not cognize accurately and decisively its voidness. 

[See: Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation]

Whole Objects

Also included among imputed phenomena are whole objects (cha-can) as imputations on physical and/or temporal parts (cha). Parts of a whole cannot exist as parts of that whole independently of the whole that they are parts of, and a whole cannot exist independently of its parts. There may be just a piece of a pie left when the rest of the pie has been eaten; however, a piece of a pie can only exist as a piece dependently on there having been a whole pie that it was a piece of.

As another example, when we look at a room, although we can see only part of it at a time; nevertheless, conventionally we say we are looking at the room. The part that we see is not a part of nothing; it is a part of the room. The room as a whole does not exist as identical to only the part that we see in our field of vision, nor does the room exist as something totally separate from the part that we see. The room as a whole is an imputation on the parts and pervades all the parts. Although one part of the room may have been built before the rest; nevertheless the whole room and its parts exist dependently on each other. The technical term is that they are dependent arisings (rten-cing ’brel-bar ’byung-ba); in other words they arise or exist dependently on each other.

The same analysis applies to a whole as an imputation on temporal parts, for instance watching a football game. We see only one moment of the game at a time; we cannot see the entire game all in one moment. But each moment of watching, we conventionally call “watching the game,” despite the fact that we are seeing just a temporal part of the game. The whole game is not identical with any moment of it, nor does the game as a whole exist separately from any moment of it. Rather, the whole event is an imputation on each moment of what we are watching and pervades or extends over all the moments.

Unlike imputedly knowable objects, such as motion, however, we do not first cognize a part of something and then in the next moment cognize both that part and the whole that is an imputation on it. We cognize a part and the whole as an imputation on it simultaneously. When we see part of a room, we are simultaneously seeing a room; and when we watch a few moments of a football game, we are watching a football game. We might not even have seen every part of a room when we just looked in, and we might not have seen an entire football game; nevertheless, conventionally we saw the room and we watched the ballgame.

The same analysis applies to seeing a person. Although we may see someone for only a moment or for only a short time, the person as a whole, validly knowable object extends not only over this entire lifetime, but also over all lifetimes, with no beginning and no end. When I am having a meeting with Mary, for instance, I am not just seeing one moment of Mary; in each moment I am seeing the Mary who has a whole life, as well as countless past and future lives, despite the fact that she is saying or doing something different in each moment of the encounter.

Further, when I see Mary, I am only seeing Mary as an imputation on the form aggregate of her body. Although I do not cognize the other four aggregates on which Mary is an imputation – her consciousness, feelings, distinguishings and emotions – nevertheless, I am seeing Mary as a person that is an imputation on all five aggregates.

Conventional Commonsense Objects

Likewise included among imputed objects are conventional objects (tha-snyad-pa, Skt. vyavahara). These include forms of physical phenomena that extend over the information gathered from all the senses and over time, and which are imputations on the data from any one sense in any one moment. Such types of conventional objects are also known as “commonsense physical objects” (jig-rten-la grags-pa).

For example, when we see an orange, we not only see a colored shape, but we see a commonsense orange that has other characteristic sensory qualities as well, such as a smell, a taste and a tactile sensation. Moreover, although we see an orange only one moment at a time, a commonsense orange does not exist for just one moment. Its conventional existence extends over time.

As is the case with seeing a room and watching a football game, seeing the colored shape of an orange and seeing the orange occur simultaneously. We might never smell or taste that orange or hold it in our hand; nevertheless, when we see an orange colored sphere, we are seeing a commonsense orange that can be smelled, tasted and held.

Such phenomena as wholes and commonsense conventional objects are known as “collection syntheses (tshogs-spyi).”

There are also kind syntheses (rigs-spyi) of what kind of object something is, although we might not know what kind of object it is when we cognize the object. An animal, for instance, cannot exist as an animal without being some kind of animal – a dog, a cat, and so on. A word cannot be simply a word without being a word of some specific language. Or more generally, a validly knowable object cannot exist as a validly knowable object without being some kind of validly knowable object, for instance a person or a door. Kind syntheses are imputations on collection syntheses.

The question, however, is how can we account for some validly knowable object being a person and not something else, for instance a door? According to the Gelug Prasangika assertions, when we analyze from the point of view of either superficial truth or deepest truth, we cannot find anything left on the side of the object.

  • The superficial truth (kun-rdzob bden-pa, concealer truth, obscurational truth, apparent truth) of any phenomenon is its appearance as having its own essential nature (rang-gi ngo-bo) – its nature of being what it is – established by a findable self-establishing nature (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa) that is taken as true by unawareness (ignorance). This appearance of a self-establishing nature is deceptive and false. It is a concealer (kun-rdzob-pa); it conceals a deeper truth about the object. The appearance of what something conventionally is may be accurate or inaccurate.
  • The deepest truth (don-dam bden-pa) of any phenomenon is its actual nature (chos-nyid), namely its self-nature (rang-bzhin) voidness (emptiness) – the total absence of such a self-establishing nature, since there is no such thing.

We cannot find anything on the side of the person or on the side of its basis for imputation (a body and a mind) that establishes it as a person, either by its own power or by its own power in conjunction with being mentally labeled as a person. Nor can we find its voidness. Nevertheless, this does not invalidate that there are persons as conventional objects and we can validly cognize them. The only thing that can account for there being persons as conventional objects is mental labeling alone.

In more detail, conventional objects, or commonsense objects, are also called “dharmas” (chos), phenomena. A phenomenon is defined as something that holds its own essential nature (rang-gi ngo-bo ’dzin-pa). The only thing that can account for phenomena holding their own essential natures of what they conventionally are is mental labeling alone. Therefore, we need to understand correctly what exactly mental labeling is.

Mental Labeling

Categories and Conceptually Implied Members of the Category

Mental labeling involves a static category and a conceptually implied member of the category (zhen-yul, conceptually implied object). Both can only be cognized conceptually. 

There are two types of categories or, in terms of set theory, two kinds of sets: audio categories (sgra-spyi) and object/meaning categories (don-spyi).

  • An audio category would be, for example, the category of the sound of the word “dog.”
  • An object/meaning category would be, for example, the category of all objects that can be classified as dogs and as the meaning of the audio category “dog.”

Each of these two types of categories is an imputation on a conceptually implied member of the category. This means that a category and a conceptually implied member of the category arise dependently on each other. Neither of the two create each other; neither of the two can exist independently of each other; and neither of the two can be cognized independently of each other.

A new object category and a conceptually implied member of that new category, such as with the object category “dark matter,” may have a start to their existence as validly knowable objects with the initial proposal of the theory of dark matter. But, being static phenomena, categories do not grow organically from causes and conditions like a flower does from a seed, water, soil and sunshine. Moreover, they do not change from moment to moment like a flower does as it grows and then withers.

The Meaning of “Mental Labeling”

Mental labeling involves:

  • A category
  • A conceptually implied member of the category on which the category is an imputation
  • An individual item fit into the category as a specific member of it.

With mental labeling, a conceptual cognition mentally labels on an individual item the “conceptual package” – the concept (rtog-pa) – of a category and a conceptually implied member of the category. This is the meaning of “mental labeling.” It is somewhat like pasting something on something else.

Items that can be fit into a category as a specific member of it include both static and nonstatic phenomena, but these items do not necessarily have to be fit into a category in order to be validly cognized. Except for categories themselves, other static phenomena and all nonstatic phenomena can also be cognized non-conceptually.

  • Items that can be mentally labeled with the package of an audio category and a conceptually implied member of the audio category include all vocalizations of the sound of a word in all voices, all volumes and all accents. Whenever we hear someone say “dog,” for example, it is through mental labeling with the audio category “dog” and a conceptually implied member of this category that, no matter how the person utters the sound, we are able to understand it as being the sound “dog.”
  • The structure is the same with object/meaning categories such as the object category “dog,” which is also the meaning category of the audio category “dog.” Items that can be mentally labeled with the conceptual package of this object/meaning category and a conceptually implied member of this category include a large assortment of animals that look quite different from each other. Yet, through mental labeling with this conceptual package – this concept of “a dog” – we are able to understand all of them as being “dogs.”
  • This is the case even if the category is a null set: a category in which the number of items that can be assigned with the status of being a specific member of that category is zero. For instance there is the category “dark matter,” even though no items have yet been found that can be labeled with this category and the conceptually implied member of this category. In the case of the category “self-establishing nature,” specific members of this category can never be found because none have ever existed, none presently exist and none can ever exist. Nevertheless, there can be a conceptually implied representation of a member of this category.

Conceptual Cognition

To simplify our presentation, let us abbreviate the conceptual package of a category as an imputation on a conceptually implied member of the category as “a concept.”

Conceptual cognition (rtog-bcas) of something is always through the medium of a concept and it entails mentally labeling the concept onto some individual item. Non-conceptual cognition (rtog-med), in contrast, is cognition of something without any such an intermediary.

Consider the case of collection syntheses and kind syntheses, for instance the conventional object “a dog.” We can see the combination of a colored shape plus, imputedly existent on it as a basis, the collection synthesis and kind synthesis “dog.” This is sensory non-conceptual cognition of the conventional object “a dog.” Although, conventionally, this object is a dog, the visual cognition does not distinguish it as a dog, as opposed to it being a cat or being anything else other than itself; it merely distinguishes it as this individual object and any other one also in the field of vision.

We may then think, either verbally or nonverbally, “This is a dog.” That is now conceptual cognition of the conventional object “a dog.” While seeing the dog, we conceptually cognize the concept of “a dog” and, mixing it with what we see, we mentally label the concept on the dog. In a sense, when we mentally label the conventional object “dog” with the concept of “a dog,” we fit what we see into a static category, like fitting it into a fixed box.

Often there are many associations that go along with the concept of something, which in this case would be the various meaning categories of what dogs mean to us, for instance “cute” or “danger.” But when we just see the animal, although that animal is in fact a dog, not a cat or anything else, we do not yet think, “This is a dog” and we do not yet make any associations.

The Difference between Imputation and Mental Labeling

The difference between imputation and mental labeling can best be illustrated by comparing non-conceptual and conceptual cognition of a person.

Noncongruent affecting variables such as persons are imputations on an individual body and mind. For the sake of simplicity, let us just speak of an individual person as an imputation on an individual live body. The imputation (a person) and its basis for imputation (a live body) are inseparable from each other. We cannot cognize one without also cognizing the other. As such, the “package” of a person and the live body on which it is an imputation can be cognized either conceptually or non-conceptually. In this way, as an imputedly knowable object, we can think of a person or see a person.

A category such as “person” and a conceptually implied member of the category “person” on which it is an imputation are also inseparable, but the conceptual package of the two can only be imputedly known conceptually, never non-conceptually. This conceptual package – this concept of “a person” – is mentally labeled by conceptual cognition on the package of a specific, individual person and the specific, individual live body on which it is an imputation. As a mental labeling, the concept is also imputedly knowable only in conceptual cognition, never non-conceptually. To simplify even further, let us refer to the package of a specific, individual person as an imputation on a specific, individual live body as just a specific, individual person.

  • We cannot cognize the concept of “a person” without that concept mentally labeled, conceptually, on some specific item. In this case the item that this concept is labeled on is a specific, individual person. For example, we cannot think of the concept we have of Mary without that concept being mentally labeled on Mary, whether or not Mary is present when we are thinking of her.
  • However, we can cognize non-conceptually Mary, as in the case of seeing her, without mentally labeling Mary with the concept we have of her.

This is one of the main differences between imputation and mental labeling:

  • The two items in an imputation relationship with each other cannot be cognized separately.
  • Of the two items in a mental labeling relationship with each other, such as this one of a specific person or of persons in general, although the concept of “a person” cannot be cognized separately from what it is mentally labeled on, what it can be labeled on, a specific, individual person can be cognized separately from the concept of “a person.”

Detailed Analysis of the Three Main Components of Mental Labeling

The Mental Label

Technically, the category in a conceptual cognition is an exclusion (sel-ba, Skt, apoha) – more specifically, a mental exclusion of something else (blo’i gzhan-sel). Such an exclusion phenomenon is a static isolator (ldog-pa, specifier), namely a “nothing other than” (ma-yin-pa-las log-pa) or more literally, “what is the reverse of being not something.” The “nothing other than” specifies and isolates an item as being a specific, individual member of a category: for example, “nothing other than a specific, individual member of the category ‘person.’” Such an isolator is also called “an isolator specifying an individual item” (rang-ldog) or “an isolator from a category” (spyi-ldog). The two terms are equivalent.

As an exclusion of something else, an isolator is a negation phenomenon (dgag-pa, negatingly known phenomenon) – a valid knowable phenomenon in which an object to be negated is explicitly precluded by the conceptual cognition that cognizes it. Specifically, it is an implicative negation phenomenon (ma-yin dgag): an exclusion of something else in which, after the sounds of the words that explicitly preclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they throw in their wake, explicitly or both explicitly and implicitly, both an affirmation phenomenon and a negation phenomenon. An affirmation phenomenon (sgrub-pa) is one that is established as a validly knowable phenomenon without an object to be negated being explicitly precluded by the sounds of the words that express it.

To understand something thrown in the wake of a negation (bkag-shul), consider the implicative negation “the person I am thinking of is not a woman.” The object to be negated is “a woman.” After the sound of the words of the statement have precluded that it is a woman I am thinking of, they explicitly throw in their wake both that it is a person (an affirmation phenomenon) I am thinking of and that it is not a woman (a negation phenomenon). Implicitly, the sound of the words of the statement throw in their wake that it is a man I am thinking of, because I am thinking of a person.

In the conceptual cognition of a person, the category “person” appears (arises) in the cognition as the mental isolator “nothing other than a person.” This implicative negation phenomenon that appears leaves in its wake explicitly the mental appearance (snang-ba) of a person and that it is not something other than a person, and implicitly a person.

The mental appearance of a person is a static mental representation of a person. It cannot do anything. As a static phenomenon, it has no form of its own. Nevertheless, some mental form appears in a conceptual cognition, whether that conceptual cognition occurs while seeing someone or simply thinking about him or her. Since a person also has no form and is imputedly existent on a body, for instance, the static mental representation of the actual person can take the mental form of the body on which the person is an imputation, or it might take the mental form of the sound of his or her voice or just the mental sound of the person’s name. In fact, the person cannot appear or be cognized separately from the body or voice on which he or she is an imputation. Let us consider again just the case of the person as an imputation on the body.

The mental form that arises in the conceptual cognition is that of the conceptually implied object (zhen-yul) – a mental hologram (rnam-pa) of the form of a commonsense body with a person as an imputation phenomenon on it as its basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi). This conceptually implied object – a nonstatic objective entity – is, in turn, the basis for imputation of the three metaphysical entities (1) the category “person,” (2) the mental isolator “nothing other than a person” and (3) the mental appearance (mental representation) of a person.

The entire package of these three static phenomena and the non-static conceptually implied object – what we have been calling a “conceptual package” or “a concept” – constitute the mental label (btags). As a simplification, the mental label is often reduced to just the category.  

The Basis for Labeling

The basis for labeling (gdags-gzhi) the conceptual package of a person is a commonsense person as an imputation phenomenon on a commonsense body that may or may not be present and, even if present, may or may not be simultaneously seen. Note that the Tibetan term for a basis for imputation and a basis for labeling is the same.

The category appearing (arising) as a mental isolator is semi-transparent. Through it, the mental consciousness cognizes, in a semi-concealed manner, the explicitly thrown mental representation that is imputed on the mental hologram of the conceptually implied object that, as its basis for imputation, gives the mental representation its form. The mental hologram of the conceptually implied object is fully transparent.

If a basis for labeling is present and cognized with a separate sensory nonconceptual cognition accompanying the conceptual cognition, the conceptual cognition mentally labels the conceptual package onto this basis for labeling and cognizes it, in a semi-concealed manner, through the conceptual package. Because of this semi-concealment, the basis for labeling, in this case a commonsense person as an imputation on a commonsense body, is not as vivid as when simply seeing the person. Through the conceptually implied object, the conceptual package mentally labels the commonsense person as a specific member of the category “person.”

The Referent Object of the Mental Label

As explained above, as an implicative negation, the mental isolator explicitly throws in the wake of the negation a static mental representation of a member of a category – in our example, a mental representation of a person. Implicitly, it throws a person, which does not appear in the conceptual cognition. This implicitly thrown person is the referent object (btags-chos) of the mental label. It is what the conceptual package (the concept) of a person refers to on the basis of a commonsense person as an imputation on a body and serving as the basis for labeling.

The appearance of a commonsense person as an imputation on a commonsense body that we see, and which is the basis for labeling a person, is a conventional truth (kun-rdzob bden-pa). It appears to be self-established (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa) by the power of a self-establishing nature (rang-bzhin) and a defining characteristic mark, both of which are findable on the side of the body as the basis for imputation of the person. All the components of the conceptual package labeled on it also appear to be self-established in the same way.

A Referent “Thing”

A referent “thing” (btags-don) is an actual self-established referent object, one that, upon analysis, can be found and which serves as a focal support (dmigs-rten) backing up and holding the referent object. Prasangika refutes even the conventional existence of such a referent “thing.”

Summary of the Three Main Components of Mental Labeling

The three main components of mental labeling, then, are:

  • A mental label
  • A basis for labeling
  • A referent object of the mental label.

A person is imputedly existent on a body. This is a fact about persons that is the case whether we see a person with non-conceptual sensory cognition or think about a person with conceptual mental cognition. With conceptual cognition of a person, however, a mental label is labeled (pasted) on a specific, individual person as its basis for labeling.

The mental label is the package of a conceptually implied person as an imputation on a conceptually implied body and, imputed on this conceptually implied person:

  • A static mental representation of a person that takes the form of the conceptually implied body
  • A static mental isolator (nothing other than a member of the category “a person”) that specifies this representation as what it explicitly throws
  • A static category of a person that appears as this mental isolator.

Note that the form of the body in the mental hologram may correspond to the form that we see when the person is standing in front of us. Or it may be an arbitrary form of what the body of the person looks like that merely represents the person when we think of him or her when the person is absent. Even if corresponds to the form we see, the form we see is not the focal object giving rise to the conceptual cognition.

The referent object of the mental labeling of the category “person” on a specific individual person as the basis for labeling is the actual specific, individual person as a member of the category “person.” In detail, the referent object (the conventional person) is what the mental isolator,” as an isolator specifying an individual item, implicitly throws in its tracks after it has precluded all other members of the category “person.” In more basic terms, the referent object of the concept we have of Mary when we project that concept onto Mary simply as a person is Mary as someone corresponding to the concept that we have of her.

The mental labeling interpolates (sgro-‘dogs, projects) onto the actual person, then, the status of being a member of the category “person.” The mental labeling, however, does not create the person. The person is imputedly existent on the basis of a body whether or not the person is mentally labeled as a member of the category “person.”

  • Interpolation means adding or projecting onto something something else that is not naturally there or not naturally the case, like adding a feather to an arrow.

Thus, the existence of the referent object of the mental label is not established in the manner of an affirmation phenomenon (sgrub-pa).

  • An affirmation phenomenon is an item defined in terms of the establishment of an item (for instance by it having a findable defining characteristic mark or it being a findable referent “thing” [btags-don]), without an object to be negated being explicitly precluded by the sounds that express it.
  • Note that “established” (grub-pa) and “affirmation phenomenon” (sgrub-pa) are two inflections of the same word in Tibetan.

Instead of being established as an affirmation phenomenon, the referent object is simply accounted for in terms of an implicative negation phenomenon. This does not mean, however, that the referent object is established as a negation phenomenon. It is simply what is implicitly thrown in the wake of the negation phenomenon “nothing other than a member of the category.” When you conceptually exclude everything other than the referent object, the referent object is what is left.­