The Basis for Imputation Versus the Referent Object of the Imputation

The Need for Having a Strong Foundation for Studying This Text

After listening to teachings, in the end, don’t just make a mandala offering and go off and practice, not having understood anything. That is not the procedure. Whatever you haven’t understood, you should think about it, figure it out and then go off and practice. When you approach the study of a text, like this chapter, it is important to spend a great deal of time on the beginning portion and gain an extensive and stable good understanding of the framework of this text, particularly here with the presentation of the various schools of tenets. 

When you have a good understanding of these tenet systems, then when you go through the rest of the chapter and come to the refutations of the positions of the different tenet, you will be able to fill in the details and understand something from the very condensed discussions. If you just race through the chapter, without a firm understanding of the context within which it is being presented, you will get very little out of it. Therefore, it is important to build up this strength of deep understanding at the beginning. It would be like, even if a strong man were to come up and punch this building, still the building wouldn’t shake. Likewise, if you have a deep understanding of the framework at the beginning, then the subtle arguments later in the text will not throw you off balance. You’ll be able to understand them.

Checking People’s Understanding

During the last two days, we’ve been discussing the main points at the beginning of the text, which is the presentation of the two truths in the various tenet systems. The two truths are discussed in terms of their divisions, their definitions, and the types of persons who gain an understanding of them. 

What did you understand in terms of the statement from the text that the views of the progressively higher yogis undermine the positions of the lower ones? What did you understand from that?

It means that the upper schools agree with what the lower schools assert as what needs to be refuted. The higher schools then go further and refute even what was being asserted by the lower schools.

Right. Chittamatra asserts that ways of being aware of something have true, unimputed existence. Madhyamaka asserts that there is no such thing as true, unimputed existence. So, the Madhyamaka view undermines and harms the Chittamatra view. For instance, Bhavaviveka presents the line of reasoning, the eye does not ultimately view a sight. If the eye ultimately viewed a sight, it could also view a sound, like an ear sensor views a sound. If they had true, unimputed existence, then an eye sensor could view a sound and an ear sensor could view a sight. This is called a “comparison line of reasoning.” It is like asserting that humans eat grass like horses eat grass. So, the reason for stating the absurd conclusion that eye consciousness sees a sound, based on the eye sensor meeting a sound, is because they would do that if they had true unimputed existence. If something has true, unimputed existence, it should be able to do anything.

For instance, what if someone asks us if a person is the collection of all their parts? With the example of the automobile, or chariot, is it merely a collection of all its parts? What about if we just pile all the parts on the floor? Is that the car? No, it’s not a car. It’s when we put all the parts together and it is ready to drive away, that then it’s a car. Anybody to whom that question is asked would reply intelligently like that. What would you say?

I would say that the car is not the pile of the parts on the floor.

Are there people who say that the person is just the collection of various parts and facets?  

Yes.

Wouldn’t it behoove that person to think about this example of a car and try to relate it to the thing that is to be proven or disproven? By looking at the example of the fact that the pile of parts of the car that is on the floor is not the car, a person would have to think about whether he or she is also a collection of the parts, aspects and facets of “me.” Would thinking about this example of the parts of the automobile adversely affect or undermine and damage this assertion that a person actually is the collection of the parts? Have you thought about that? Does this example of the piles of parts of the car on the floor damage the assertion that we are the collection of all our aggregate parts and factors? 

Yes. 

No, it does not damage it, as no one in their right mind would say that they are just the pile of parts on the floor piled up. Would anyone really accept this line of reasoning as being relevant to who they are as a person? I think no one would say that they are the collection of all their parts. However, when asked what are they, they would have to say something, so they would have to say that, as a person, they are merely the collection of all their parts and facets. What line of reasoning are we going to use to disprove that?

They would say that when all the parts are assembled, what is driving around is the car, and not something else. Prasangika doesn’t accept that. You have to think about this and analyze over and again in order to understand. It’s difficult. When it’s said that it’s not this, and not that, and not that, you can’t just give up and forget about it. 

The Basis for Imputation and the Referent Object of the Imputation

To say that the mere collection of the parts is “me” is not correct. The self of a person is imputedly existent; it’s not the mere collection, even if all the parts and aspects are put together and functioning. If the self were its basis, then the basis for imputation and the referent object of the imputation would be the same. But a person is the referent object of the imputation; it is not the basis for imputation. It is an imputation phenomenon existing and knowable on the basis of the mere collection of the aggregates. This is the Prasangika position. 

So, if you said that the self is not the basis for imputation, then what would the others say? They say that the self is the basis for imputation, and we say that the self is the referent object of the imputation. So, if we say that the self is the referent object of the imputation and not the basis for imputation, what would they reply? 

Each of the aggregates by themselves are not the basis for imputation. It is only by depending on the mere collection of the aggregates that there is the self. So, the mere collection of the aggregates is the basis for imputation. The basis for imputation and the referent object of the imputation are mutually exclusive. If Prasangika says that in a debate, then what do the others say in return?

All the tenet systems accept that there is a basis for imputation. None of them say there is no basis for imputation. A basis relied upon and something that relies on it are established in our cognition together. Although each of the aggregates can be the basis for imputation, it is merely the collection of all the aggregates that is actually the basis for imputation. After all, people experience another sentient being in terms of the mere collection of their aggregates. But is the mere collection of the aggregates the person? When you search for a person, what you find is the mere collection of the aggregates as the basis for a person. But when you take apart the aggregates and examine roughly, it is difficult to immediately understand, because the mere collection of the aggregates is what appeared as the person.

If you take apart the aggregates, each of them by itself is not a person, just as each of the parts of a car is not the car. The engine by itself is not the car. People would say that only all the parts, when assembled and functioning, is the car. The same with the collection of the aggregates and the person. A group of things is not just one member of the group. So, when you take apart the collection of aggregates and examine them, none of them are a person. Only the mere collection of the aggregates is the person, they would say, because when asked to give an example of a person, they would set as the example a mere collection of aggregates. 

But what you set as an example of a person when just talking about someone or when participating in a debate has to be examined with logic, because setting as an example of a person the mere collection of aggregates amounts to asserting that the basis for imputation and referent object of the imputation are the same. We say that a person is dependent on the mere collection of aggregates, the mere collection of parts. So, when approaching this topic, you mustn’t just speak glibly, but rather analyze and think deeply first. If the mere collection of the aggregates is a person, then the basis for imputation and referent object of the imputation are the same, and that won’t do.

For example, if the body and mind taken together are the self, then the self does not go to a future life. If the self is the mind, then to say that the self eats food would be incorrect. If both the body and the mind were the self, then the absurd conclusion would be that there are two selves. But if the collection of the two is the self, as with the example of the chariot and the collection of its parts, then the basis for imputation and the referent object of the imputation would be the same. But there is nothing else that you can set as being the self. 

We, however, say that it won’t do to assert that the basis for imputation and the referent object of the imputation are the same. We can’t say, though, that the mere collection of the aggregates is not the basis for imputation of the self, can we? Are each of the five aggregates, for instance consciousness, the self? It won’t do to say that there are five selves. The self is something that is an imputation phenomenon that relies on the mere collection of the aggregates of the moment as its basis. The five aggregates aren’t the basis, the basis is the mere collection of the five aggregates. That is the basis for designation of the self, “me.”

All of this is not easy. You need to work through each of the lines of reasoning for refuting true, unimputed existence and analyze deeply. Only then will you slowly be able to gain certainty about the self. If you can’t set a basis for imputation of the self, then you are left with asserting a truly and unimputedly existent self. Or you can’t set anything as being the self. Then you are really in trouble. 

When the other schools assert that the mind has true, unimputed existence, they are saying that the mind is something that actually exists, something that is real. If you know that the mind is a real phenomenon, then since all phenomena are the same, you would know that all phenomena are likewise real. But if you don’t know the actual situation of one thing – that it lacks true, unimputed existence – how would you understand that there is no such thing as true, unimputed existence? If there is such a thing as true, unimputed existence and that is real, how could there not be other things that are like that?

When we say that the mere collection of aggregates is the basis for imputation, then we are regarding as the basis for imputation something that is not any of the aggregates. But that isn’t saying that among the mere collection of aggregates there is no consciousness. So, if we say that, since the basis for imputation is not any of the individual aggregates, it must be something other than what is in the mere collection of aggregates, what could you set? You would be at a loss.

Using Mutually Acceptable Examples for Proving a Thesis

But is it always necessary to debate using lines of reasoning? There is a debate about this. Gyaltsab Je says in his commentary, “It is incorrect that the reasoning of yogis who apprehend that there are no self-establishing natures undermines the tenet systems of ordinary, common beings, because there isn’t anything that establishes that there are no self-establishing natures. But suppose you object, saying, if there are no self-establishing natures, then does the training in generosity and so on for the sake of Buddhahood as the result become meaningless? Well, if it does, then the self-contradiction absurdly follows that it isn’t the case that there isn’t anything that establishes that there are no self-establishing natures. This is because both Madhyamikas and those who assert truly existent functional phenomena establish the lack of self-establishing natures by relying on examples such as dreams and illusions and so on, which are accepted and well-known as being false. And so, the self-contradiction absurdly follows that if there are no self-establishing natures, then it isn’t the case that the training in generosity and so on for the sake of Buddhahood as the result becomes meaningless. This is because, generosity and so on, for the sake of attaining as a result Buddhahood and so on, even when there are no self-establishing natures, still is engaged in, held by the discriminating awareness that, when not analyzing with gross detection and scrutinizing with subtle discernment, apprehends these false phenomena to be like an illusion.”   

Therefore, the root text says,

(4) Through differences in their intelligence, yogis too are undermined by progressively higher ones, by means of examples accepted by both and because, when not scrutinizing, (both accept that causes function) for the sake of the result.

Both refers to the Madhyamikas and those that assert truly existent functional phenomena. Examples refers to illusions and dreams, which both accept as examples of things that are false. As for in order to establish the lack of self-establishing natures, the issue is what can establish that there are no self-establishing natures? We say that there are no such things as self-establishing natures. The others say to that, if there were no such things as self-establishing natures, then the trainings in generosity and so on would be meaningless. This is the absurd conclusion that would follow, they say. We say no, there are no self-establishing natures, and because of that, the trainings in generosity and so on are meaningful. For the sake of the result refers to the attainment of Buddhahood. This is because, even when there are no such things as self-establishing nature, still, when not analyzing with gross detection and scrutinizing with subtle discernment, generosity and so on, like an illusion, function. They funtion when held with discriminating awareness, to bring about the attainment of Buddhahood as their result. This is what the verse and the commentary are saying.  

Let’s leave it here for this session.

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