Clarification of Questions on Emptiness

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Today we are going to have a meditation session on the material we’ve covered concerning voidness (emptiness). Before we actually do the meditations, what was suggested that might be helpful would be to break into small groups, perhaps of four or five people, for you to discuss with each other what each of you understand voidness to mean. At the conclusion of that ten-minute discussion, one representative from each group can present what the group has decided is the meaning of voidness; and then if it needs to be corrected I can say something. Once we have established clearly what we mean by voidness, then we can work to identify the object to be negated – the first point in the four-point analysis.

So, please arrange yourselves in groups of four or five and we can begin.


Good; I hope you’ve all enjoyed your discussions with each other. It seemed to be quite lively. Let’s begin with the various groups and see what conclusion you came to and if your understanding need to be refined. So, let’s start on this side.

Emptiness Does Not Mean Impermanence

We discussed what the actual meaning of Buddhism is, and realized that it is to explore where we came from and where are we going. We think the main purpose of the previous teachings on voidness was to realize what a static “me” is and what a nonstatic “me” is.

What we are trying to do with Buddhism of course is to overcome suffering, so it’s not just an intellectual exercise to understand what is true and what's not true. That’s why the emphasis is on the four noble truths and the relationship between ourselves and these four noble truths: suffering, its cause, stopping, and the understanding that will bring about that stopping. So when you say to differentiate between a static “me” and a nonstatic “me," then we have to understand that the purpose of that type of discussion is to understand that we are not a static being that’s not affected by anything. And voidness is understanding that there’s no such thing – that’s impossible – and completely removing, stopping that type of belief and that type of projection of appearance.

So, next group.

Understanding Emptiness Does Not Mean Stopping Mental Labeling

We understood the meaning of voidness is to realize that there is no self-sufficiently knowable existence of things, and that we are actually projecting different qualities onto objects and trying to cognize things with our labels, which we are producing by ourselves; and the limitations of these labels limits us to realize the nature of all objects.

That’s not quite correct. Mental labeling doesn’t create things and it’s not that we are trying to stop mental labeling. What we’re saying is that the only way to establish or prove that something exists is that it is what a label refers to on a basis. So, mental labeling itself is not the problem. The problem is understanding the relationship between what the label refers to and the basis; but even a Buddha has mental labeling.

Mental labeling just means that you know the various names that people use for different things, which you need to know in order to be able to communicate with anyone. In the case of a Buddha, this mental labeling is non-conceptual; in everybody else’s case it is conceptual. So being conceptual in our case, conceptual cognition is perceiving things through categories. And when we are perceiving things through categories, the categories have the appearance of being truly existent. You have a category "dog" and, when we think of a dog, there could be a mental representation that represents a dog for us when we think of one. There can be a word that designates that category of "dog." So when we speak about mental labeling in the case of a Buddha, it’s only in terms of words, not categories. If it’s with a category, then the implication of that is that the category is like a box, and that all the items exist truly inside a box of this category. So that’s impossible.

But mental labeling itself just describes the process of imputation, and whether a word is associated with it or not doesn’t matter. So it’s not that we want to stop labeling – although eventually we want to stop categorizing and seeing everything in boxes; that’s beside the point. As a Buddha we’ll need to know words so that we can communicate.

It’s very interesting when you look at a Buddha’s speech. A Buddha speaks and everybody understands it in their own language; so what language is Buddha speaking in? That’s a very interesting question. But anyway this has to do with non-conceptual mental labeling – the way a Buddha’s speech works.

But in any case you can only establish what something is in terms of what a mental label refers to; and what we’re refuting with voidness is an impossible way of existing of this referent object in relation to the base; they're neither totally identical with each other nor are they totally separate from each other. So one really needs to understand mental labeling, and that’s referred to as dependent arising. So it’s very important to specify what is the object of refutation. It’s not mental labeling itself, but it is how mental labeling works.

Okay; next group?

Emptiness Is Not a Total Absence of a Nonexistent Object, But a Total Absence of an Impossible Way of Establishing the Existence of an Object

We understood that voidness is a negation. It’s a total lack of something, a complete cutting off of the idea of a true findable “me" or self. So there is no true findable self, but that’s on the basis of our past understanding that the self is nonstatic, changing. It is based on parts and it’s dependent upon a body and mind; and on a more subtle level, it’s designated upon a basis with no referent object. But we misunderstand the referent “me” and we posit something in the label; we give true existence to the label. So we’re negating that impossible findable “me” in the referent "I" that’s in the location of the aggregates. So we cut that impossible "I" and then afterwards have the understanding of a dependently arising "I" upon the basis, the aggregates, changeable.

First of all, what we are negating is not an object – the impossible “me.” We are negating an impossible way of existing of the conventional “me. “ So there is a conventional “me,” and that conventional “me” is dependently arising. Dependently arising – we have to understand the three levels of that.

  • Dependently arising on causes and conditions – these are all the things that affect me although they don’t create “me.”
  • Dependently arising on parts – we do many different things; that doesn’t create “me” either.
  • Dependently arising in terms of mental labeling – which also doesn’t create “me.”

So, the fact that the self is dependently arising has to be understood not in terms of the creation of the self, but in terms of how you establish or prove or demonstrate that there is a self.

The Difference between Impossible Existence and Impossible Ways of Establishing Existence

There was a question that came in the questions that you submitted, which had to do with what the difference is between impossible existence and impossible way of establishing existence of something. If we want to get very precise, voidness is not refuting an impossible way of existing; that’s not the words that are used. The actual Tibetan or Sanskrit word is "an impossible way of establishing or proving that something exists."

If we are talking about a way of existing that is speaking from the side of the object, the cause of our problems is not external. It’s not that we have to remove something external. The cause of the problem is the confusion on our own minds, and so what we have to get rid of are obscurations on our minds. So the question here is an issue between what’s valid and what’s not valid.

In the study of Buddhism, what we train in are what are valid ways of knowing something, so that we can have a correct understanding. In terms of what are valid ways of knowing, we have bare perception or straightforward perception – depending on which tenet system we’re speaking of – and we have inference, inferential understanding. Inference has three types:

  • One is depending on logic.
  • One is that when you hear a sound, you infer the meaning of the sound, of the word – so that’s inference based on popular convention, popular agreement, that this sound has this meaning. That’s how we have words and the meaning of words. Otherwise, how do you know when you hear a sound that it’s a word and it has meaning? If you don’t know the language, you just hear the sound, you don’t infer any meaning.
  • And then there’s inference based on authority. "When was my birthday?" You can’t possibly know that by ourselves, so you have to ask somebody who knows and you have to ask somebody who’s trustworthy like your mother. And if you are confident that your mother has no reason to lie to you, then you can infer that what she says is correct.

So, those are all inferences.

In addition to studying valid ways of knowing, we study valid lines of reasoning, in other words, valid logic – what is valid and what’s invalid. Therefore, the whole discussion that is involved with the understanding of voidness has to do with what is a valid way of establishing or proving that there is a self, and then what is a valid way of knowing, of cognizing, a self. Because our way of understanding and perceiving a self is illogical, therefore our cognition of a self is distorted. Not only is it distorted, which means that it’s incorrect, but it’s deceptive because it really seems as if it exists in this false way in which we project.

So, what we want to do is to show that the way that we think proves that there is a self is illogical, and therefore we infer that there’s no such thing as the way in which we imagine you could prove that there’s a self. What is an invalid way of proving there’s a self, that the self exists – we disprove that; we show that that’s invalid. Then you can stop your incorrect inference. So if we think what proves that something exists is that it functions, it does something, then that would prove that my distorted cognition – that projection of what I imagine is “me” or what I imagine is out there – exists because it functions and affects “me,” it makes “me” unhappy, it causes me problems. From the Vaibhashika point of view: what establishes that something exists is that it’s known. Well, I could know my complete false appearance. Does that prove that it exists? No, that doesn’t prove that it's correct, that it is valid. We’re not talking about does it exist, but is it valid? No, that’s not a valid perception.

So the only valid way to establish that there is such a “me” is nothing on the side of the “me” or on the side of any object that demonstrates or proves that it exists by its own power. We can only demonstrate that something exists in terms of mental labeling – remember? – so the three criteria that Chandrakirti mentions:

  • There’s a convention, so mental labeling. What demonstrates that somebody is a king? Well, there is the label "king." In our case of course we think in terms of the category of "king." A Buddha doesn’t have to think in terms of the category; that all kings fit into this category like a box – a caste, like it’s a box. Nevertheless, there is the convention "king" and there’s a group of people that agree on that and a society, and "king" refers to something. So, king is established in terms of what that word refers to on the basis of a person that performs a certain function as someone who has been chosen, etc.

Then, what are the other two criteria for demonstrating that it is valid, valid cognition?

  • A mind that validly perceives conventional truth doesn’t contradict it;
  • And a mind that validly cognizes deepest truth doesn’t contradict it.

Everything that demonstrates that it is a valid cognition – all of that’s from the side of the mind. Convention, so mental labeling; and different levels of valid cognition, or my own valid cognition if I, for instance, put my glasses on – that’ contradicts that there’s a blur in front of me, so we see clearly.

What we refuting is not the impossibly existing “me" from the side of the object; what we’re refuting is an impossible way of demonstrating how that “me” exists, an impossible way of establishing such a “me,” which of course then implies how it exists. But then it becomes very interesting, doesn’t it? Although it doesn’t prove that something exists just because it does something or just because it can be known; but that doesn’t disprove that things do things and can be known, does it? So, one can go deeper and deeper in trying to understand all of this.

Okay, next group.

Prasangika Logic Does Not Establish Anything; It Just Points Out Absurd Conclusions

We concluded that voidness means an absence of impossible ways of existing. What we’re still confused about is that if we are talking about impossible ways of establishing that something exists, if we are just unable to prove that something exists in an impossible way, then it doesn’t prove that it actually doesn’t exist in an impossible way.

That’s a very interesting question. If I may summarize it: your inability to prove something doesn't necessarily disprove it; it could merely be that you lack the skill to disprove it.

We have to look a little bit more closely in terms of what we mean by "establish" or "prove." With Prasangika logic, we're not trying to establish or prove something, since to try to do so implies there is something findably existent that we are trying to establish. This is the Prasangika objection to the logic used in the non-Prasangika tenet systems. Prasangika logic is just intended to show the absurd conclusions that would follow from others' assertions, so that opponents in a debate realize that that their assertions are illogical. Let me explain.

When you refute, let’s say, the Vaibhashika position that things are substantially existent because they can be known, or the Sautrantika position that non-static phenomena truly exist because they function, the refutation is not specifically in terms of that position itself when we talk about voidness. What the texts do, what our understanding does, is that we show that there is some self-contradictions in your system because within your system the implication is that things that don’t exist could also have self-established existence as a non-existent thing. So this is just showing logical inconsistencies in your system.

But when we are working with the refutations in terms of voidness, then we are looking at the characteristics that you ascribe to a self. So, for instance, that a self is static, has no parts, and once liberated could go off into a realm by itself with no body or mind. Then when we look at that in the context of a self that is labeled on aggregates – then it doesn’t work. A self that has those characteristics, which exists in that way in which you non-Buddhists are asserting, in the context of it working with a body and mind – that is totally illogical, because either that self has to be identical with the basis or something totally separate according to what you say, according to your assertion. Therefore your way of asserting how the self exists with these characteristics is false because both possibilities are illogical.

The self has defining characteristics. Everything has defining characteristics. Those defining characteristics do not have the power to establish something by itself; the defining characteristics themselves are mentally labeled. Like for instance, the example I always use, are things like emotions. We have a huge spectrum of emotions. Everybody experiences certain things. Is there love? Yes, there’s love, but we had to agree on the definition of it within the huge spectrum of emotions that we feel. And what we are experiencing needs to fulfill that definition. So it has the defining characteristics, but the defining characteristics aren’t on the side of the emotion; it was just that people agreed on the defining characteristics of some experiences and gave it a name. The way our minds work we need categories – the category "love" – but then categories imply a box, called "love," existing independently, established by its own power, and then we search for some emotion to fit into that box: "I’m looking for love." So you make "love" into a truly existent box and then we want to fit what we feel into that box.

So, defining characteristics are mentally labeled. They are not on the side of the object; they're not findable on the side of the object having the power by themselves to make it "love." So what we are refuting here is that a self having the defining characteristics of static and partless, can exist by itself.

The mental factor of distinguishing focuses on a defining characteristic of something, and distinguishes that it’s this and not that. Like we distinguish the colored shapes that I’m seeing as defining characteristics: these are the colored shapes that constitute the body of Galina, and I can distinguish the colored shapes that make up the wall behind it; otherwise, you can’t know anything. So, if I, perceiving the self, perceiving “me,” distinguish the defining characteristics of a static, partless self that can exist by itself – that’s invalid cognition. That is incorrect distinguishing because although you might mentally label the self as having those characteristics, but nevertheless that’s impossible. So, that self can’t be established as having those characteristic features. Why? Because then it couldn’t relate to the body and mind, being totally separate from them, or it would be identical to it; there are all these illogical consequences that follow.

So the only way that we can come to the conclusion that the self doesn’t have these defining characteristics and that’s not what establishes how it exists is by the logic of pointing out absurd conclusions. We need to use inference from logic because we're dealing with something that is not obvious. What is deceptive is that it feels as though the self exists in this way, as though it has these defining characteristics. But that’s what we have to identify in the first step of the four-point analysis, to recognize the object to be refuted – how it feels like that, how almost unconsciously we think like that. We might not formulate it that way, but we think like that because it feels like that.

So, when working with these defining characteristics and so on, we have to discount all sorts of things that are impossible. We have to see that certain defining characteristics that we imagine are there aren’t there at all; or even – the Svatantrika position – that the defining characteristics that pertain to the object, the person, don’t have the power to establish it by themselves, or in conjunction with being lit up by mental labeling.

Next group:

Emptiness as a Non-Implicative Negation Is Not a Nihilist Position

From my point of view the main goal of Buddhism is to realize how things actually exist in reality. And in our daily life, because of the lack of information of external objects, we think of them in terms of (findable) defining characteristics and projecting those characteristics, which are not there. Using Buddhist methods we’re trying to figure out how things exist in reality using the methods of cutting off the ways in which things don’t exist, to being left with the way how things actually exist. We can separate voidness and the object of negation, so first we’re trying to define the object of negation and then to figure out that this actual object of negation doesn’t exist in reality.


So, to do this actually we have to use two paths or two ways. First is an implicative and second is a non-implicative negation. One way I understand and the other way I actually don’t quite understand. With implicative negation, we’re trying to negate some characteristics, so we’re analyzing impossible ways of existing of object and reject them, and what is left is actually how things exist. The second way is non-implicative negation, when we are saying that everything doesn’t exist. And I cannot get the subtle boundary: what makes this second method different from a nihilist point of view?

First of all the difference between an implicative and non-implicative negation: "this" – I’m pointing to my watch – "this is not a dog." That’s an implicative negation. When I say "This is not a dog," I refute "dog" or negate "dog." The words of the negation leave something behind that they imply. 'This watch is not a dog" leaves behind that this is something else. So the negation leaves behind the affirmation this is a watch, as if it is established as a watch and all that I’m negating is that it’s a dog.

But in a non-implicative negation, "there is no dog" or "there is no flying saucer" or "there is no such thing as something that can establish its existence by its own power" or "there is no such way of existing as self-established existence with regard to anything," these are non-implicative negations. We are not stating that something existent is devoid of something that is non-existent. So when we are negating something with voidness, we're negating something that never existed, and specifically we’re negating a way of existing that never existed and could never exist, because it’s impossible, and we are not implying anything further with the words of the negation.

Further, we’re not starting with an affirmation of how something exists and then removing something from it – removing the false projection that we superimpose on that object, even if we are focusing on “no such thing” as what we removed. We are not first affirming that objects exist as dependent arisings and then negating from them that they have self-established existence. Nor are we first affirming existence established merely in terms of dependent arising and negating that it is self-established existence. The refutation is not "dependently arising existence is not self-established existence." We are not asserting something on the side of the object that we are affirming and then negating something that is impossible that is additional about it. The negation is merely "There is no such thing as self-established existence." Such a negation is non-implicative and the words of the negation do not leave anything behind that they imply.

Now, when we are no longer focused on "no such thing" in total absorption, then during the subsequent attainment or subsequent realization phase of our meditation, something appears. We explicitly understand that the existence of what appears is established merely in terms of mental labeling, while implicitly understanding there is no such thing as self-established existence.

This is very subtle. The Sautrantika, Chittamatra and Svatantrika tenet systems also assert that total absorption on identitylessness (selflessness) or on voidness focuses on a non-implicative negation. In Svatantrika, the negation is "There is no such thing as true, unimputedly established existence." During subsequent attainment, when phenomena appear, they explicitly understand the existence of them to be self-established, because they appear. So, what's the difference between the Prasangika negation: "There is no such thing as the self-established existence of merely dependently arising phenomena" – in which "merely dependently arising phenomena" is just the location or basis of the object of negation and is therefore included as part of the object being refuted – and the Svatantrika negation "There is no such thing as true, unimputed existence of self-established phenomena" – in which "self-established phenomena" are also just the location or basis of the object of negation? Both of these negations are non-implicative.

In the case of Svatantrika, the line of reasoning they use to negate true, unimputed existence affirms as its topic "self-established phenomena" and then the thesis it is proving is that they lack true, unimputed existence, because such existence is impossible. After demonstrating that such existence is impossible, Svatantrika comes to the conclusion "There is no such thing as true, unimputed existence of self-established phenomena." Prasangika logic does not start by first asserting "merely dependently arising phenomena" and then trying to prove that they lack self-established existence. Prasangika logic merely points out the absurd conclusions that would follow if there were such a thing as self-established existence. The logic Prasangika uses does not affirm anything.

Another point: Svatantrika argues that if phenomena did not have self-established existence, they could not appear; therefore since phenomena do appear, they have self-established existence. Svatantrika logic thus affirms self-established existence. Nagarjuna argues in Prasangika style, if phenomena had self-established existence, they could not appear; therefore, since phenomena do appear, they lack self-established existence. Prasangika logic doesn't affirm anything; it just refutes. As Tsongkhapa wrote in Three Principal Aspects of the Path, "Appearance eliminates the extreme of existence and voidness eliminates the extreme of non-existence." So in contrast with the Svatantrika position that appearance affirms self-established existence, which Prasangika identifies as the extreme of absolutism, the Prasangika position is that appearance negates the extreme of self-established existence.

All of that obviously is not easy to follow and digest quickly, I’m sorry. But you really have to think deeply about it: what we see subsequent to the non-implicative negation wasn’t something that we affirmed was sitting there already, but we just didn't see it before. Our understanding is not: "It was sitting there like this all along and I just didn’t realize it." That is quite different from understanding: "What I was projecting was completely false; nevertheless, when I stop projecting what’s impossible, there is still an appearance that merely dependently arises." The whole flavor of the correct understanding is quite different; you're never saying anything from the point of view of what’s on the side of the object. But we are not negating that there are objects. There are objects. So a non-implicative negation is not a nihilist position.

Because Defining Characteristic Marks Are Not Established as Findable on the Side of Objects, Different Groups Can Validly Label Things Differently

Next group:

We are trying to find out what voidness is by searching for a definition of voidness. So we defined it as impossible ways of existing of an object or an absence of impossible way of establishing its existence. So, what are these impossible ways of existing? First there is permanence; so from moment to moment everything is changing and nothing stays the same. It seems obvious from a conventional point of view, but from a subtler or deeper point of view, it’s not so obvious.

I have to interject here that we were speaking in terms of the self, of the person. If we speak in terms of phenomena, there are certain phenomena that are static, that don’t change. These are facts about things like their voidness, or categories. You could replace one category with another category, but a category itself doesn’t do anything. We were speaking about a person, self, “me.” Go on.

Second, we think that nothing has defining characteristics established from its own side.

Yes, that pertains to everything; not just the self.

So the same object might be completely different for different subjects in different conditions and circumstances. Is this correct?

Yes, that's correct. This is the example of humans perceiving something as a glass of water; hungry ghosts perceiving it as pus; and the gods perceiving it as nectar. All three are correct from the point of view of the class of beings that are perceiving it. So, there are defining characteristics of water, pus, and nectar; but they don’t exist on the side of this object establishing it as these three, because it couldn’t be all three at the same time. If a defining characteristic established it by its own power, from its own side, it could only be one thing; it couldn’t be several things. So the example that I love to use is we have twelve eggs. If we look at the characteristics, they are divisible into three groups of four, four groups of three, six groups of two, two groups of six. Where are those defining characteristics of being divisible by four or being divisible by three? Can you find them in the twelve eggs? No. Can they be divided into three groups of four, etc.? Yes. So this divisibility by three or four – that is established by the mental label and is valid for those who want to make a three-egg omelet or a two-egg omelet or a four-egg omelet. They are all correct depending on the mental label, but the mental label can’t be found on the side of the twelve eggs. That’s the solution to the water, pus, nectar paradox.

Understanding Emptiness Eliminates Even Unconscious Grasping

I have a question about our perceiving different things and phenomena. As far as I understood, our perceiving things in impossible ways of existing happen almost unconsciously or instinctively. So we see them as truly existent, self-sufficiently knowable, established from their own side, indivisible or having a line around them – it just feels like that. So my question is, how is it possible to stop this false belief with logical methods if it is unconscious and instinctive?

Well, the terminology that’s used in the Buddhist jargon is that this false belief – this ignorance – is automatically arising; nobody had to teach us that. Our belief that such an appearance corresponds to how things actually exist can also be doctrinally-based: we first had to learn that it corresponded to reality and then we believed it and, anyway, it feels like that. Now, how do we get convinced through logic that there’s no such thing?

We realize, through logic, that what I’m perceiving doesn't correspond to reality: it doesn’t correspond to anything real. The more that we are familiar with that, then the more we start to believe that that is correct. And so then, as I was explaining previously about mindfulness, we have to remind ourselves that this deceptive appearance is like a dream or whatever. But still we deal with things; it doesn’t mean that we don’t deal with things. Let's use a general example: a problem. There’s a situation where we’re out of work or our children are doing poorly in school or whatever the situation is. And of course, every moment of our experience is different and has different things that we’re seeing and doing and feeling and so on, because each moment of our life is changing. But we are picking our certain distinguishing characteristics of our experience and it can be labeled as "a problem." In our society we have such a convention as "problems;" people speak in terms of problems. And if we ask others who are valid sources of information, they’d agree, "Yeah, you have a problem." But does this problem exist establishing itself – this horrible problem out there – like a monster? Anybody who sees deepest truth would say "That’s false; it doesn’t exist as some monster out there, just standing there making trouble for you."

So, we clear that away our false belief with the understanding of voidness, our false belief that so-called "problem" is existing as some sort of horrible thing out there. There is still each moment of our experience with various defining characteristics and we could label it "a problem;" that would be valid if we understand well, what is a problem? A "problem" just what the word "problem" refers to on the basis of each moment of my experience. And then we realize that this situation has arisen from causes and conditions and therefore I deal with it by bringing about further causes and conditions, and the situation will change.

But we understand all the levels of dependent arising; just adding one cause isn’t going to make the whole thing go away and now there’s no more problem. It’s dependent on many parts, many causes, many conditions. So to get rid of that problem of unemployment and children doing badly, many many things have to change. It's not just "It was all my fault." To think like that is a false understanding of cause and effect: "The problem came from one cause; it was all my fault. I’m bad; I’m a bad parent." That’s a misunderstanding of cause and effect.

Because we negate impossible ways of existing, we can deal with the problem and the problem can be affected by causes and conditions. It can’t be affected by anything if it’s just sitting as solid monster out there.

Phenomena Are Not Like Blank Cassettes onto Which Mental Labeling Projects Defining Characteristics

Now the last group:

To explain voidness, we were using the example of a pie. For example, we have a group of people and each person would taste the pie and experience it with a different taste. One person will experience it as sweet; the other as sour or bitter. It would mean that pie is free from any of these characteristics. So after that we can conclude that only the pie is left. But if you try to divide the pie to infinite pieces, we can actually realize that there is no pie, and "pie" is only a label on which we put on the pieces of pie.

First of all you have the misconception here that everything is like a blank diskette and all the characteristics are then placed on it by mental labeling. It’s not that there are blank diskettes all around us and we are projecting sweet, sour – things like that. Things do conventionally have defining characteristics, but you can’t find the characteristics on the side of the object. You can’t find the characteristics all sitting there on the side of the object, because then it would be terribly crowded, wouldn’t it? But, nevertheless, conventionally, there are defining characteristics and it appears as though they're on the side of the object, but it isn’t like that. There are defining characteristics, but they lack the power from their own side to establish the existence of the phenomena characterized by them. But that requires a great deal of reflection to understand that.

I think we were talking about that, that an object doesn’t have defining characteristics.

An object does have defining characteristics, but you can’t find them. The twelve eggs can be divided into three or four groups…

So, voidness then would be an impossible way of establishing these defining characteristics.

Voidness would be that the defining characteristics don’t have the power to establish what something is from its own side or when lit up by mental labeling.

Can you say that each object potentially has all defining characteristics?

No, because then nothing would have individuality. Also, as we saw, there are certain defining characteristics that are just impossible. For instance, the self doesn’t have the characteristics of being static and partless. We imagine that they have those defining characteristics, but that’s incorrect.

To go back to this example of the water, pus, and nectar: we shouldn’t think that it’s liquid that the three types of beings are seeing as water, pus, or nectar. Even being liquid is mentally labeled. You see, that’s the example of the blank cassette – that it’s actually a liquid from its own side and the three groups are perceiving it differently. And there’s not even the defining characteristic on the side of the object here that by its own power wraps it in plastic and makes it a knowable thing, and makes a very solid boundary between the molecules of whatever it is and the molecules of the air on the other side – nothing like that. Nevertheless, when we are not analyzing through our electron microscope, it’s a conventional object and we can validly see it and it validly functions. And as it says in the texts, then you have to be satisfied with it; that’s enough.