Distinctions in Terms of Ways of Cognizing

Decisive Determination and Apprehension

A decisive determination (nges-shes, determining cognition) is a cognition that ascertains (nges-pa) its own object (rang-yul) correctly by decisively cutting it off from incorrect interpolations (sgro-’dogs bcad-pa) that it is something other than itself.

  • Its own object refers to its involved object (‘jug-yul).
  • Its decisively determined object is known as a “clear-cut item” (bcad-don).

Thus, in correctly identifying its involved object, a decisive determination induces immediate certainty of that object, such that recollection of the cognition can later occur.

Gelug

Decisive determination of an object is called an apprehension (rtogs-pa, understanding). Both non-conceptual and conceptual cognitions may apprehend their own involved objects, decisively determining them as “this,” “nothing other than this” and “not that.”

  • Non-conceptual apprehension does not determine, and thus does not comprehend, its involved object, for instance a commonsense table, as being a “table.” It mere decisively determines that it is “this object,” “not anything else.”
  • Only conceptual apprehension decisively determines what category its involved object fits into and thus comprehends that it is, for instance, a table.

This assertion follows from the facts that:

  • Both non-conceptual and conceptual cognitions cognize commonsense objects.
  • Apprehensions experience commonsense objects as holding their own essential natures as “this” and “not that” individual conventional item.

Decisive determination of an object, then, does not necessarily entail cognition of a static category mentally labeled on the object – such as an audio category (sgra-spyi), entailing a word or a name, or a meaning/object category (don-spyi), of which the object is an individual instance. Such mental labeling of fitting an object into a category occurs exclusively in conceptual cognition of that object. These two types of categories will be discussed later, below.

Thus, with non-conceptual decisive determination, we experience a table as a table, and not as a tree, when we bump into a table in the dark; and we experience it as “this” table and not as any other table. In order to have this decisive determination, we do not need to think the word table or think that what we experienced is an instance of what the word table means. In other words, we can non-conceptually experience the item as a table and as this specific table, without knowing that it is a table or which specific table it is.

An episode of apprehension of an object, whether non-conceptual or conceptual, begins with a valid cognition (tshad-ma) – one that is freshly established – followed by a phase of non-fresh subsequent cognition (bcas-shes).  In an episode of non-conceptual apprehension of an object, the last moment is a non-determining cognition of what appears (snang-la ma-nges-pa, inattentive perception). An object still appears, but is no longer decisively determined as “this” and “not that.” Non-determining cognition occurs only with non-conceptual cognition, not with conceptual cognition.

Except in the case of an arya’s non-conceptual total absorption (mnyam-bzhag) cognition of voidness (emptiness), any single moment of non-conceptual cognition, by itself, is a non-determining cognition of what appears. This is because a single moment (one sixty-fifth of the time of a finger-snap) is too short a time for decisively determining what appears to it. A sequence of moments of non-conceptual cognition is required to establish apprehension. Thus, each moment within the context of the sequence, both initial and subsequent, is considered an apprehension, despite each individual moment by itself not being an apprehension.

Non-Gelug

The term “rtogs-pa” is used exclusively for the yogic non-conceptual cognition of an arya, in which case it can be translated as a “realization.”

Non-conceptual cognition does not decisively determine (identify) its involved object. It merely cognitively takes hold (‘dzin-pa) of its involved object.

Decisive determination (ascertainment) of an involved object, that it is “this” and “not that,” occurs only with a conceptual cognition that immediately follows an episode of non-conceptual sensory cognition. Consequently, non-conceptual cognition is a non-determining cognition of what appears. Further, since each moment in an episode of non-conceptual sensory cognition gives rise to a mental aspect of a different moment of external sensibilia or sound, there is no subsequent cognition of non-conceptual sensory cognition.  Only conceptual cognition can ascertain its involved object accurately and decisively.

Obvious, Obscure, and Extremely Obscure Objects

Gelug

An involved object is obvious (mngon-gyur-ba) if it can be explicitly apprehended by sensory non-conceptual cognition (dbang-mngon tshad-ma). Explicit apprehension will be explained later, below. Obvious objects may only be an objective entity.

An involved object is obscure (lkog-pa) if it can be explicitly apprehended only by an inferential cognition (rjes-dpag tshad-ma) that relies on a line of reasoning (rtags) or on renown (grags). All inferential cognition is conceptual. Obscure objects may be any validly knowable phenomenon, whether an objective or a metaphysical entity.

An involved object is extremely obscure (shin-tu lkog-pa) if it can only be explicitly apprehended by a valid inferential cognition that relies on conviction (yid-ches). Conviction, here, is that someone is a valid source of information (skyes-bu tshad-ma) and therefore that any information that this person gives is correct. Extremely obscure objects may also be any validly knowable phenomenon.

For example, the presence of smoke (a commonsense object with spatial and temporal extension) rising from the chimney of a house on a mountain is obvious because it can be seen.

The presence of fire in the house on the mountain is obscure: it is not visible. Nevertheless, it can be validly known inferentially by relying on the line of reasoning, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”

The name of the person living in the house on the mountain is extremely obscure: it cannot be known through either sensory cognition or reasoning. It can only be known by relying on someone who correctly knows this information or on a valid up-to-date data bank, and by inferring that if the source of the information is valid, the information must be correct.

The smoke, the fire, and the name of the person are all objective entities. The only difference is that the smoke is obvious, the fire is obscure, and the name of the person is extremely obscure.

Non-Gelug

An involved object is obvious if it can be cognized by sensory non-conceptual cognition. Obvious phenomena include all moments of all objective sensibilia and sound.

An involved object is obscure if it can be decisively determined by an inferential cognition that relies on a line of reasoning or on renown.

An involved object is extremely obscure if it can be decisively determined only by an inferential cognition that relies on conviction.

For example, in what is conventionally considered seeing smoke rising from the chimney of a house on a mountain, moments of slightly different gray-colored shapes are obvious, because they can be seen.

The presence of both smoke and fire is obscure: neither can be directly seen.

  • The presence of smoke can be validly known inferentially by relying on renown that the application of the mental synthesis smoke on a mental hologram resembling smoke mentally constructed from a succession of slightly different gray shapes is a correct application of what is signified by a word.
  • The presence of fire can be validly known by relying on a valid line of reasoning, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”

The name of the person living in the house is extremely obscure: it cannot be known through either sensory cognition or reasoning. It can only be known by relying on someone who correctly knows this information or on a valid up-to-date data bank, and by inferring that if the source of the information is valid, the information must be correct.

Only the moments of slightly different gray-colored shapes are objective entities, and they are obvious. The smoke, the fire, and the name of the person are all metaphysical entities, although the mental holograms resembling them in the conceptual cognition of them are objective entities. The smoke and fire are obscure and the name is extremely obscure.

Explicit and Implicit Apprehension

Gelug

Apprehension of an object in either non-conceptual or conceptual cognition may be:

  • Explicit apprehension (dngos-su rtogs-pa)
  • Implicit apprehension (shugs-la rtogs-pa).

In explicit apprehension, a mental hologram (rnam-pa, mental semblance, mental aspect) of the apprehended object arises.

  • Only objective entities and only obvious ones may be explicitly apprehended non-conceptually by sensory cognition, but this is the case only with unenlightened beings.
  • In the case of Buddhas, obscure and extremely obscure objective entities may also be explicitly apprehended non-conceptually by omniscient awareness (rnam-mkhyen).

Noncongruent affecting variables are objective entities whose existence is established on the side of their basis for imputation, either a form of physical phenomena or a way of being aware of something. Further, their defining characteristic is findable on the side on their basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi). To apprehend noncongruent affecting variables, first their basis for imputation must be explicitly apprehended and then they can be explicitly apprehended simultaneously with their basis.

Noncongruent affecting variables have no form and so cannot appear on their own. Those that are obvious can be explicitly apprehended non-conceptually by sensory cognition only when the form of their explicitly apprehended basis first appears. For example,

  • A person (gang-zag) is explicitly apprehended non-conceptually by sensory cognition together with explicit non-conceptual apprehension of some cluster of aggregates. When you see a body walking down the street, you are seeing an obvious person walking down the street.
  • The gross impermanence of a nonstatic phenomenon is explicitly apprehended non-conceptually together with the explicit non-conceptual apprehension of that object disintegrating. When you see a clay jug shattering when it falls and hits the floor, you are seeing its obvious gross nonstaticness – its coming to an end.

Any phenomenon – obvious, obscure, or extremely obscure; nonstatic or static; objective or metaphysical – may be explicitly apprehended conceptually by inferential cognition. For example,

  • In the inferential cognition that sound is impermanent because it is an affected phenomenon, the explicitly apprehended object is the obvious objective entity “sound” and its subtle nonstaticness, which is an objective noncongruent affecting variable, but an obscure one. Subtle nonstaticness refers to the moment-to-moment changing of a nonstatic phenomenon.
  • In the inferential cognition that space is permanent (static) because it is an unaffected phenomenon, the explicitly apprehended object is the obscure metaphysical entity “space” and its permanence, which is also an obscure metaphysical entity.

In implicit apprehension, only a mental hologram resembling the obvious objective entity that is the basis for imputation of the implicitly apprehended object arises, but not a mental hologram resembling the implicitly apprehended object itself.

  • Both obvious objective entities and certain metaphysical entities may be implicitly apprehended non-conceptually by sensory cognition.
  • Either objective entities or metaphysical entities may be implicitly apprehended by inferential cognition.
  • In the case of Buddhas, all metaphysical entities may be implicitly apprehended non-conceptually by omniscient awareness.

Some obvious noncongruent affecting variables can only be non-conceptually apprehended implicitly by sensory cognition.  For example, when you explicitly apprehend non-conceptually with audio cognition the sound of your doorbell ringing, you implicitly apprehend also non-conceptually the presence of the body of a  person, as well as a person, ringing your bell as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the sound.

Another example is when your visual cognition explicitly apprehends non-conceptually an apple as “this object,” it implicitly apprehends also non-conceptually the negation phenomena (dgag-pa, negatingly known phenomena) “not that object” (ma-yin-pa) and “nothing other than this object” (ma-yin-pa-las log-pa). Only a mental hologram resembling an apple arises in the cognition. No mental hologram resembling “not that object” or “nothing other than this object” arises.

  • “Not that object” and “nothing other than this object” are both the same essential entity (rdzas-gcig) as “this object” and thus are the same type of phenomenon as the object that is their basis for imputation. In the case of a commonsense object such as an apple or the sound of a doorbell ringing, these two negation phenomena are forms of physical phenomena.
  • Although, as imputation phenomena, they cannot exist independently of their basis for imputation and cannot be cognized independently of their basis; nevertheless, unlike other imputation phenomena, their basis for imputation does not need to be cognized first. This is because these two types of negation phenomena and their basis for imputation are established in a cognition simultaneously as a single substantial entity (sgrub-sde rdzas-gcig).
  • Because of their being established in a cognition simultaneously as a single substantial entity, there is also the assertion that these two negation phenomena and their basis for imputation are both explicitly apprehended non-conceptually. There is much debate on this point among Gelug masters.

Negation phenomena are exclusions of something else (gzhan-sel, exclusions, eliminations of what is other), in which an object to be negated (dgag-bya) is explicitly precluded by the conceptual cognition that cognizes the phenomenon.

There are three types of exclusions of something else:

  • In the case of objective entities, such as the object exclusions – for instance, “not an orange” and “nothing other than an apple” – that are imputation phenomena on the basis of the objective entities – such as an “apple” – explicitly apprehended in the conceptual cognition, the mental consciousness of the conceptual cognition itself implicitly apprehends them.
  • In the case of metaphysical entities, such as mental exclusions – for instance, the meaning/object category “apple” – and absences – for example, the absence of anything tangible and obstructive between the branch of the tree and the ground that accounts for the apple falling to the ground – only the reflexive awareness that is part of and accompanies the conceptual cognition implicitly apprehends them. Reflexive awareness implicitly apprehends them non-conceptually, while the mental consciousness of the conceptual cognition does not apprehend them at all. But, since this implicit apprehension occurs within the context of a conceptual cognition, the apprehension can be considered conceptual implicit apprehension.

Non-Gelug

There is no such thing as implicit apprehension, either in non-conceptual or conceptual cognition, in which a cognitive object is decisively determined without a mental hologram resembling it arising. Since implicit apprehension and explicit apprehension are terms that arise dependently on each other, explicit apprehension is also not asserted.

As already noted, non-conceptual cognition does not apprehend its involved objects, because non-conceptual cognition does not decisively determine the objective entities that are its involved objects.

Valid conceptual cognition decisively determines the metaphysical entities that appear in them as mental syntheses of commonsense objects as well as the objective mental holograms that resemble these mental syntheses. Such decisive determination does not bear the technical term explicit apprehension.

A mental synthesis of a commonsense object is an individually characterized object exclusion of something else (an object exclusion). As a metaphysical entity, it is static. Thus, all three types of exclusions: object exclusions, mental exclusions and absences are static metaphysical entities.

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