We have started our discussion of these 12 links, and we saw that they describe the mechanism for how we generate our uncontrollably recurring aggregates – the body and mind and so on – of each lifetime, and, specifically our tainted aggregates. These are these aggregate factors that are generated by unawareness – unawareness specifically of the reality of how persons exist. These 12 links describe how these aggregates then constitute the basis of the foundation on which we experience the first two types of suffering – unhappiness and ordinary happiness. These aggregate factors contain further unawareness and disturbing emotions and attitudes that derive from that unawareness, as well as various karmic tendencies which are built up by acting on the basis of unawareness.
Because these aggregate factors contain these various “taints,” they’re called, then we generate further tainted aggregates in the future with future rebirths. So the whole thing just recurs over and over and over again, almost like a self-perpetuating system. And if we do nothing about it, it just continues uncontrollably. But if we take control, as it were, but not from the basis of some solid “me”: “I’m going to be in control of everything,” then we can stop this chain. We can break it at its weakest point, which is our unawareness, and gain liberation from this uncontrollably recurring cycle of rebirths.
We started going through the 12, and the first one was unawareness. That was specifically unawareness of how persons exist, both ourselves and others. It includes both the doctrinally based unawareness that we have been taught, we had to learn from one of these non-Buddhist Indian systems of tenets – so one of these theories of an atman that we find in the various Hindu and Jain schools, which has to do with basically, what we in the West would call a “soul.” Because we wouldn’t automatically believe that we have a soul and that we identify with this soul, that this soul is “me,” that’s something you’d have to learn; animals wouldn’t believe that they have a soul, for example.
This unawareness link also contains what is more subtle, underlying this type of this doctrinally based unawareness, namely what’s called “automatically arising unawareness.” And this is understood on several levels. The level that is held in common, or asserted in common by all Buddhist schools of philosophy here, is the belief that I exist as some self-sufficiently knowable “me” that can be known all by itself, as in the example we used yesterday of, “I want you to love me for me, myself; not for my money, or my good looks, or my intelligence, or whatever.” Animals have this as well. When the dog sees its master, it thinks, “I’m seeing the master.” It doesn’t certainly think that I’m seeing a body and on the basis of the body is imputed my master.
OK. Now on a deeper level which is asserted only by, for example the Gelug interpretation of Prasangika, which is one of the philosophical schools, then much deeper is this automatically arising feeling or belief that there is something special inside me, something special inside you, which makes me “me” and you “you.” And the habit of this unawareness, in other words, of believing that we exist in these impossible ways, causes our minds to project the appearance and the feeling that we exist like that. And then, with unawareness, we believe that it corresponds to reality; but it doesn’t. Nevertheless, we do exist; it’s not that we don’t exist at all.
But how do we establish that we exist? How do you prove that you exist? How do you prove that anybody else exists? What establishes it? This is the whole issue that is involved in the discussion of what’s usually called “existence.” How things exist. But it’s not really talking about how they exist. It’s talking about how you establish that something exists. What establishes it? That’s an important word to understand. It’s the same word as is used – I’m talking about in Sanskrit (siddha) and Tibetan (grub) – it’s the same word as is used for to prove something. How do you prove it? It’s not talking about what creates me or you. We’re not talking about what creates it. We’re talking about what proves it. So this is the word “establish,” it’s usually translated. What establishes it?
Is it something on the side of the object, of a person, that makes it that you can know the person all by itself? Well, no. Is it some special findable characteristic inside the person that makes them me, or makes them you? No, you can’t find anything like that. Is there a bar code on the side of the person, or a special genetic code? Well, aside from the fact that that’s only there for one lifetime, you might think that, “Well, this is what makes me special,” a fingerprint or something like that. Because, after all, this becomes a very serious question. We look at ourselves, pictures of ourselves, when we were a baby, when we were five years old, fifteen years old, thirty years old... depending on how old we are, at various stages in our life let’s say, sixty years old, and there certainly isn’t, there aren’t any cells in the body that have stayed the same in each of these pictures, in each of these bodies. And yet, “That’s me!” isn’t it? So what makes it “me?”
So we might say, well, the DNA code has stayed the same. But of course the DNA in one cell is not the same exact atoms and so on and molecules as the DNA in another cell that replaces it; so it’s been changing every moment. So you could say, well, the pattern is the same, of the DNA. Well, what’s the pattern? What establishes that there’s a pattern? Are there little lines joining each of the molecules, on the side of the DNA? Well, no. The mind has mentally constructed a pattern based on all these little pieces. That’s what we call “mental labeling” or “imputation.” All patterns and so on are imputations, aren’t they, like mathematical formulas. And each atom of, each molecule of the DNA, and each atom of the molecule, and each part of the atom...I mean it goes on and on. There’s nothing solid findable there. All the wholes are imputed on their parts.
So, what establishes that that’s me in all these pictures? Well, the only thing that establishes it is that there is the word or convention “me” which is labeled on all of these, and it’s valid. Why is it valid? Well, other people who knew me agree and say, “Well yeah, that’s what you looked like when you were a baby.” There’s the convention “me.” So, this is an established convention that this is a word in a language that we understand that has a meaning. There’s a name. Everybody has agreed that my name is “Alex” in this lifetime. So that’s one thing that establishes it, that there actually is a convention.
And, as I said, everybody who knew me – I mean, I don’t know what I looked like when I was a baby – but everybody else who knew me, who remember correctly, identify it correctly and say, “Yeah, that was you.” So that establishes that this is me. It’s not contradicted by people who actually remembered me and saw me then. It’s not that my mother says, “Oh, that wasn’t you, that was your brother in the baby picture.” And it’s not contradicted by a mind that validly sees the deepest truth. In other words, if someone thinks, “solidly, permanently existing me.” Well, that’s wrong, because obviously we’ve changed throughout our lifetime. So anyone who understands how things exist would see, “Yes it’s you. But yeah you’ve changed throughout your lifetime. You’ve grown. Learned things, so on. You don’t still wet in your diaper.”
So, it’s only this convention or word “me” that establishes that that’s me, isn’t it, when it’s validly applied. And even the valid criteria are all from the side of a mind; they’re not from the side of the object. And I am not created by the word “me” – if nobody said “me,” “me,” “me” or “you,” “you,” “you,” that I wouldn’t exist; that’s absurd. If I went through life not thinking “me,” “me,” “me,” would that make me not exist? No. So, the mental label, the word, doesn’t create the object. And, I’m not just a word. A word, after all, is just a combination of meaningless sounds that somebody decided that this is a word and gave it a meaning.
What is “me?” Me. What am I? I am...well, the only thing that you can say is that I’m what the word “me” refers to, it’s referent object – it’s the technical word – it’s what the “me” refers to on the basis of an ever-changing stream of aggregates, body, mind, emotions, etc. And on the basis of that type of “me,” this is what actually does exist, we function, don’t we? Experience things. We do things. So what is impossible here is to imagine that the word “me,” or any word for that matter, has a – now, here we have to make a very subtle distinction – that there is a referent thing that corresponds to it that you can find.
A referent thing is some sort of thing in a box, the box “me,” or the box “you,” or the box “table,” or the box “good,” or the box “bad,” corresponding to an entry in the dictionary that the word which in the dictionary is of a little box by itself, that there’s a referent thing on the side of reality that’s there in boxes, like, like in the dictionary. And it’s in this box; it’s not in that box. That’s what’s impossible. So words refer to something, but not to some findable thing in a box. If I existed, if “me” existed as some sort of thing in a box to be known all by itself, etc., it could never change. It could never do anything. It could never interact with anything. It would be encapsulated in plastic, sitting there. That’s impossible. We don’t exist like that – although it feels as though we exist like that. That’s the problem. And we just don’t know; it’s unawareness.
You, box. You, thing. You don’t appreciate me. You don’t love me. You’re bad. Permanent. Never changing. In a box. That’s you. And then we get obviously very upset, don’t we? And we “grasp” – is the word that’s used – we perceive the other person to exist like that because our mind projects that nonsense and we believe it. That it refers to a referent thing, that’s really who this person is. Then we get angry and then we yell at them and that builds up karma and that sets in motion the whole samsaric process. But it was you – that is a valid label. You ignored me, or you didn’t do this or you did that. “You” is just what that word refers to, but not something in a box. But “you” is simply labeled on the basis of the body, mind, speech, emotions, whatever it was that was involved in that moment when you said something nasty to me, or did something that I didn’t like.
But all those aggregate factors, emotions, and mind, and body, and health, and all these sort of things that that moment, well, none of those exist in little boxes either. They were affected by millions and millions of causes and conditions, not only what’s presently happening, but going back in the past in the family and what you were doing before and all these other things. And you don’t just exist like a still photograph. I mean that’s often really the way that we view people, and ourselves, and things in the world; it’s like a still photograph. It’s not even color; it’s black and white. It doesn’t even get all the dimensions of it and then – frozen! The world doesn’t exist like a still picture. It’s a movie, if you want to use this analogy of film. But we freeze it. “Aaah! You said that! That’s you. You’re nasty. You don’t love me.” So the movie goes on and in all the later moments when you’re doing other things and interacting in other ways, well, that’s still you, isn’t it?
So...and it’s only when you freeze something into a photograph and then make it established from its own side as that’s really the way that you are… but then you get really angry. And if you see – well, you know – continuity, every moment influenced by millions and millions of things and I can label “you” on it, I can label “me” on my whole stream of these continuity of the aggregates, then it diffuses the whole thing. There’s no reason to get angry. What are you getting angry at?
So, with unawareness, the first link, then we believe that it’s in reference to persons, and myself, and you. We exist in these impossible ways, that, you know, there’s something like a still photograph, something on our own side that’s there, making, you know, establishing that special characteristic of nasty or something like that that makes me “me.” Or even just simply a line around us that makes “me” as a knowable thing. So we have this unawareness. We are confused about that. On the basis of that, we get disturbing emotions. On the basis of the disturbing emotions, we act in a way that creates karma, so either constructively or destructively based on this false idea and belief in an impossible “me.”