Objects of Cognition: Advanced Presentation

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[As background, see: Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation]

Historical Introduction

The Buddhist teachings on cognition theory and logic derive from the works of the late 5th-century Indian master Dignaga and of Dharmakirti, the late-6th century disciple of his disciple. Dignaga wrote A Compendium of Validly Cognizing Minds (Tshad-ma kun-btus, Skt. Pramanasamuccaya); Dharmakirti defended it against non-Buddhist Indian theories in his Commentary on Valid Cognition (Tshad-ma rnam-‘grel, Skt: Pramanavarttika).

The various Indian schools of Buddhist tenets (grub-mtha’) differ slightly in their explanations of cognition. Dignaga is the source of the Sautrantika position. Dharmakirti presented mostly the Sautrantika view, but frequently supplemented it with the Chittamatra explanation. Some later masters interpreted Dharmakirti in the light of Madhyamaka.

The Tibetan traditions take the Sautrantika explanation as a basis and then refine it with the explanations of the more sophisticated tenet systems. Accordingly, we shall look here at some points regarding the Sautrantika system of cognition and supplement them with explanations from other systems when they significantly differ.

At first, the Tibetans emphasized study of Dignaga’s works alone, under the influence of Atisha, the early 11th-century Indian master from whom the Kadam tradition derives. In the late 11th-century, the Kadam master Ngog Lotsawa (rNgogs Lo-tsa-ba Blo-ldan shes-rab) shifted the emphasis to the works of Dharmakirti, thus establishing the new epistemology system (tshad-ma gsar-ma). The 13th-century Kadam master Chapa (Phyva-pa Chos-kyi seng-ge), the founder of the Tibetan style of debate and the study of collected topics (bsdus-grwa, “dura”), elaborated on the new system. His interpretations are known as the Chapa-tradition (phyva-lugs).

Chapa’s contemporary, the Sakya master Sakya Pandita (Sa-skya Pandi-ta), refuted many of Chapa’s interpretations of Dharmakirti, based on his study of Sanskrit and of the works of Dharmakirti in their original language, with the Indian master Shakya Shribhadra. His interpretations form the Sapan-tradition (sa-lugs).

Although all four Tibetan traditions claim as their authority Sakya Pandita’s commentaries on cognition theory, the Gelug school follows more closely Chapa’s interpretations. The Nyingma and Kagyu schools follow closely the mainstream Sakya explanation of Sapan’s works. Therefore, we may roughly divide the Tibetan explanations of cognition theory into the Gelug and the non-Gelug presentations. Further, various Tibetan masters also explain differently many assertions of each of the four Indian schools of tenets. Their explanations also fall broadly into the two divisions: Gelug and non-Gelug.

Neither Gelug nor non-Gelug, however, presents a uniform explanation of cognition theory. Several masters within each camp have explained specific points slightly differently in their commentaries. Here, as a foundation for more advanced study, we shall present an overview of the two general positions regarding the main points. For each point, we shall present the assertions shared in common and then the two positions in an alternating fashion. We shall use the explanations given primarily by the late 18th-century master Akya Yongdzin (A-kya Yongs-‘dzin dByangs-can dga-ba’i blo-gros) to represent the Gelug position. This explanation accords with the monastic textbook (yig-cha) tradition of the 16th-century master Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen (rJe-btsun Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan), followed by Sera Je (Se-ra Byes) and Ganden Jangtse (dGa’-ldan Byang-rtse) Monasteries. To represent the non-Gelug position, we shall rely primarily on the explanations given by the 15th-century Sakya master Gorampa (Go-ram bSod-nams seng-ge).

Basic Distinctions among Cognitive Objects

Cognition of an Object

Cognition (shes-pa) of an object may be either non-conceptual (rtog-med) or conceptual (rtog-bcas). Conceptual cognition is through the medium of a conceptual category (spyi, universal) or a concept (rtog-pa), while non-conceptual cognition is not through such a medium.

Note that:

  • sensory cognition (dbang-shes) is always non-conceptual;
  • mental cognition (yid-shes) may be either non-conceptual or conceptual;
  • conceptual cognition is always mental.

Non-conceptual cognition may also be bare cognition of reflexive awareness (rang-rig mngon-sum) or yogic bare cognition (rnal-‘byor mngon-sum).

  • Reflexive awareness (rang-rig, self-awareness) accompanies each moment of cognition and takes the cognition that it accompanies as its object, allowing later recollection (dran-shes) of it.
  • Yogic bare cognition is of subtle nonstaticness (mi-rtag-pa phra-mo, subtle impermanence) or the absolute absence of an impossible “soul” of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-med, identitylessness of a person, selflessness of a person).

For the sake of simplicity, we shall restrict our discussion of non-conceptual cognition here mostly to its sensory form.


Cognitive Objects and Sensibilia

Cognitions have numerous cognitive objects (yul) – objects known in some cognitive manner. Among them are sensibilia and commonsense objects.

Sensibilia are the forms of physical phenomena (gzugs) that, in one moment, occupy an extended location (yul), and which are cognized by a sensory consciousness. As objects well known in the philosophical treatises (bstan-bcos-la grags-pa), sensibilia are thus the smallest spatial units of physical phenomena that are perceptible by the senses in one moment.

Each “patch” of sensibilia occupies an extended location in the sense that it spatially extends over a collection of “molecules” (‘dus-pa’i rdul-phran) specific to its class of cognitive stimulator (skye-mched). Molecules, in turn, are aggregations of substantial particles (rdzas-kyi rdul-phran).

There are four classes of sensibilia:

  • sights (patches of colored shapes),
  • smells,
  • tastes,
  • tactile or physical sensations.

Since sounds do not have spatial extension over a collection of molecules of similar class (rigs-mthun), sounds are not included as sensibilia.

Commonsense Objects and Conventional Objects of Experience

What is a commonsense orange? Is it a sight that we see, a fragrance that we smell, a flavor that we taste, or a tactile sensation that we feel when we hold one in our hands? As an object well known in the world (‘jig-rten-la grags-pa), a commonsense orange is an item that extends over the locations of all four classes of sensibilia. Moreover, a commonsense orange does not exist for just an instant: it endures over time.

Commonsense objects are equivalent to conventional objects of experience (tha-snyad spyod-yul) – objects of ordinary experience to which the conventions of words or concepts refer. Thus, commonsense objects are said to “hold their own individual essential natures” (rang-gi ngo-bo ‘dzin-pa). This means that they have their own individual conventional identities as “this” and “not that,” and are distinguishable from each other – such as a specific item being “an orange” and “not an apple,” or “this orange” and “not that orange.”

Since certain items, such as a liquid, may be experienced as water by humans, pus by clutching ghosts (hungry ghosts), and nectar by divine beings (gods), the qualification needs to be added that commonsense objects have conventional identities established as valid only in relation to certain groups of beings.

Knowable Phenomena and Comprehensible Objects

Knowable phenomena (shes-bya), also called comprehensible objects (gzhal-bya), are cognitive objects that can be known by valid cognition (tshad-ma). They include all existent objects or phenomena.

More specifically, knowable phenomena include:

  • objective entities (rang-mtshan, specifically characterized phenomena),
  • metaphysical entities (spyi-mtshan, generally characterized phenomena).

Objective Entities and Metaphysical Entities

In the Sautrantika system, objective entities are those phenomena whose existence is not established by their being merely something that can be mentally labeled. They can be cognized without having used mental construction (spros-pa, mental fabrication) – meaning without having added anything in order to cognize such objects, beyond their being the sums of their parts. They have substantially established existence (rdzas-su grub-pa), because they are able to perform a function (don-byed nus-pa).

  • A person (gang-zag), for example, is an imputation on a set of five aggregate factors (phung-po lnga, five aggregates); it is not merely something that can be mentally labeled by a mental construct. Persons perform functions and, therefore, are substantially existent objective entities.

Metaphysical entities are those phenomena whose existence is established by their being merely something that can be mentally labeled (rtog-pas btags-tsam-gyis grub-pa). They merely can be labeled on the basis of objective entities. Their existence is not substantially established (rdzas-su ma-grub-pa), because they are unable to perform a function.

Gelug

Objective entities can be validly cognized by either non-conceptual or conceptual valid cognition. Metaphysical entities can be validly cognized only within the context of valid conceptual cognition.

Non-Gelug

Objective entities can be validly cognized only by valid non-conceptual cognition. Metaphysical entities can be validly cognized only by valid conceptual cognition. Thus each of the two types of entities can only be validly cognized by one type of valid way of knowing.


Gelug Non-Gelug
Objective entities cognized by
non-conceptual or
conceptual valid cognition
cognized by
valid non-conceptual cognition
Metaphysical entities cognized only within the context
of valid conceptual cognition
cognized only by
valid conceptual cognition

Objective and Metaphysical Entities – Specific Presentation

Gelug

Objective entities include all nonstatic phenomena – phenomena that change from moment to moment.

Nonstatic phenomena include:

  • forms of physical phenomena (gzugs),
  • ways of being aware of something (shes-pa),
  • non-concomitant affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed, non-associated compositional factors), such as nonstaticness (impermanence) and persons (gang-zag). Nonstaticness is the non-endurance of an item for a second moment.

Here, we shall deal primarily with forms of physical phenomena. They include:

  • commonsense objects, such as oranges and apples,
  • their conventional identities as “this” and “not that,”
  • the sensibilia that comprise commonsense objects,
  • the molecules and moments over which the commonsense objects and their sensibilia extend,
  • the moments over which commonsense sounds extend.

Dharmakirti specified objective entities as those phenomena that are determinate (nges-pa) or unmixed (ma-‘dres-pa) in terms of spatial location (yul), temporal location (dus), and essential nature (ngo-bo) as an individual knowable item.

  • Spatially determinate means that the western portion of an object does not exist in the east.
  • Temporally determinate means that something that exists in the morning has a definite end, for instance when it ceases to exist in the evening.
  • Being individual by essential nature means that something is distinguishable from other objects.
  • Thus, being unmixed means being not mixed up with or indistinguishable from something else.

Since these three criteria can apply both to nonstatic and static (rtag-pa, permanent) phenomena, they cannot be intended as a strict definition of objective entities. Dharmakirti used them only as criteria for refuting the non-Buddhist Nyaya view of universals as indivisible entities inhering equally in all their instances.

Metaphysical entities include all static phenomena – phenomena that do not change from moment to moment.

Static phenomena include:

  • the conceptual categories (spyi, universals) orange and apple, of which all individual oranges and apples are instances of items that fit into them,
  • the absence of a peel imputed on a peeled apple.

Non-Gelug

Objective entities are specifically characterized phenomena. They include all individual items (bye-brag).

Individual items, as Dharmakirti defined them, are those phenomena that are determinate or unmixed in terms of spatial location, temporal location, and essential nature as an individual. The non-Gelug scholars interpret Dharmakirti's characteristics here differently from the way that the Gelug ones do:

  • Spatial location means situated in a specific perceptible unit of spatial location.
  • Temporal location means situated in a specific unit (a moment) of temporal location.
  • Being individual by essential nature means that the items do not require mental construction from the synthesis of other items, such as spatial units of different sensibilia, temporal parts, or other individual items resembling them. Thus, individual items hold their own essential natures merely as being individuals; they do not hold essential natures as being “this” and “not that” conventional object.
  • Thus, being unmixed means not being mentally constructed from the synthesis of other items.

Individual items include all nonstatic phenomena:

  • moments of forms of physical phenomena – namely, moments of sensibilia and of sound,
  • moments of ways of being aware of something,
  • moments of non-concomitant affecting variables, such as moments of nonstaticness and of persons.

Here, we shall deal primarily with forms of physical phenomena. In this category, individual items, then, refer only to:

  • moments of collections of perceptible units of specific types of sensibilia, such as a collection of patches of colored shapes comprising a sight,
  • moments of the collections of molecules over which specific types of sensibilia extend,
  • moments of sounds.

These are the only things that we actually see, hear, smell, taste, or physically sense.

Metaphysical entities are generally characterized phenomena. They include all categories (mental syntheses).

Categories are those phenomena that are held in common (thun-mong-ba) by other phenomena: they are that into which other phenomena “go together” (rjes-‘gro) or fit. They are not simply collections (tshogs-pa) of individual items. Categories do not have determinate spatial locations, temporal locations, or essential natures as individual unsynthesized items. They are mentally (conceptually) constructed (spros-pa, fabricated) by a mental synthesis of individual items that are instances of them, or by a mental synthesis of the spatial, sensorial, and/or temporal parts on which they are imputed.

Thus, categories include:

  • the categories orange and apple, of which all individual oranges and apples are instances of items that fit into them,
  • a commonsense orange, as a mental synthesis of the individual sensibilia of sight, smell, taste, and physical sensation,
  • the sight of a commonsense orange (and not simply just a sight), as a mental synthesis of a collection of patches of colored shapes,
  • a commonsense orange, as a mental synthesis of a succession of individual moments of either of the above two mental syntheses,
  • a conventional identity as “an orange” imputed on any of the above three mental syntheses.

Therefore, although commonsense objects exist, they are merely metaphysical entities, not objectively real. They can be validly known only by the conceptual cognition that mentally constructs and imputes them on the individual items of which they are a mental synthesis.

Involved Objects and Objects Existing as Cognitively Taken

The involved object (‘jug-yul, engaged object, object of application) of a cognition is the main object with which a particular cognition involves itself (‘jug-pa, engages, cognitively enters).

The involved object is equivalent to the object existing as cognitively taken (‘dzin-stangs-kyi yul).

Gelug

The involved object in either non-conceptual or conceptual cognition is a commonsense object, for example an apple, and those nonstatic features (yon-tan, qualities) of the apple with which the cognition is actually involved. It is not possible for some feature of a commonsense object, such as the shape of an apple, to be the involved object of a cognition unless that cognition also takes as its involved object the commonsense object of which that feature is a quality.

The nonstatic features may be:

  • sensibilia of the apple, such as its sight or tactile sensation,
  • the nonstaticness of the apple,
  • the apple as an apple,
  • the apple as an item fitting in the category apple.

Thus, only objective entities are the involved objects of either non-conceptual or conceptual cognition.

This statement, however, needs qualification. Although such metaphysical entities as the category apple are not the involved objects of a conceptual cognition that takes a commonsense apple as its involved object, nevertheless they are the involved objects of the non-conceptual bare cognition of reflexive awareness that accompanies that conceptual cognition.

Non-Gelug

The involved object in non-conceptual cognition is:

  • a moment of sensibilia,
  • or a moment of sound.

The involved objects in a conceptual cognition are:

  • a commonsense object, for example an apple,
  • such metaphysical features of the apple as:
  • the apple as an apple,
  • the apple as an instance of an item in the category apple,
  • the apple as an instance of what the word apple signifies.

Thus,

  • objective entities are the involved objects of only non-conceptual cognition,
  • metaphysical entities are the involved objects of only conceptual cognition.

Distinctions in Terms of Ways of Cognizing

Decisive Determination and Apprehension of an Involved Object

Apprehension (rtogs-pa, understanding) decisively determines (nges-pa, ascertains) its involved object correctly by decisively cutting it off from incorrect interpolations (sgro-‘dogs bcad-pa) that it is something other than itself. Thus, in correctly identifying its involved object, it induces immediate certainty of that object, such that recollection of the involved object can later occur.

Gelug

Both valid non-conceptual and valid conceptual cognitions apprehend their involved objects, decisively determining them as “this” and “not that.”

In other words, when we apprehend a commonsense apple by either validly seeing or thinking of it, we experience the apple (the involved object) as an apple and we can correctly remember later that we experienced the apple as an apple. We do not experience the apple as an orange; nor do we validly remember that we experienced the apple as an orange. Similarly, with apprehension, we experience the apple as this specific apple and not any other apple, and we correctly remember later that we experienced it as such.

This assertion follows from the facts that

  • both non-conceptual and conceptual cognitions cognize commonsense objects,
  • valid cognition experiences commonsense objects as holding their essential natures as “this” and “not that” individual conventional item.

In an episode of non-conceptual cognition of an involved object, however, 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.”

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 is considered an apprehension, despite each individual moment by itself not being an apprehension.

Decisive determination of an object does not necessarily entail cognition of a static category mentally labeled on the involved object, such as an audio category (sgra-spyi) entailing a word or a name or a meaning category (don-spyi), of which the object is an individual instance. Such mental labeling of fitting an objective entity into a category occurs exclusively in conceptual cognition of that entity. 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 an orange, 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.

Non-Gelug

Non-conceptual cognition does not apprehend (identify) its involved object. It merely cognitively takes hold of (‘dzin-pa) 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 a moment of non-conceptual cognition. Consequently, non-conceptual mental cognition is a non-determinating cognition of what appears (inattentive perception). Only conceptual cognition apprehends its involved object.

Obvious, Obscure, and Extremely Obscure Objects

An involved object is obvious (mngon-gyur-ba) if it can be cognized by valid sensory non-conceptual cognition (dbang-mngon tshad-ma). Obvious objects may be any objective entity.

An involved object is obscure (lkog-pa) if it can only be cognized by a valid 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 cognized 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.

Gelug

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

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 (rnam-pa, mental semblance, mental hologram) resembling smoke mentally constructed from a succession of slightly different gray shapes is a correct application of a term.
  • 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. The first two are obscure and the third is extremely obscure.

Clarity, Awareness, and Mental Activity (Mind)

In cognizing an involved object – whether obvious, obscure, or extremely obscure – a cognition gives rise (‘char-ba, shar-ba) to a cognitive appearance (snang-ba, cognitive representation) of something simultaneously with cognitively engaging (‘jug-pa, cognitively involving itself) with it. The cognitive appearance is like a mental hologram resembling the involved object, and it too is an involved object of the cognition.

Giving rise to a cognitive appearance of something simultaneously with cognitively engaging with it are, respectively, the defining characteristics of making something cognitively clear (gsal, cognitively revealing something, clarity) and making an awareness of something (rig, awareness).

The mere making of something cognitively clear and the mere making an awareness of something (gsal-rig tsam) are, in turn, the defining characteristics of mental activity (sems, mind).

The word mere indicates that mental activity occurs without a “me” or a “mind” existing as an independent entity, separate from the mental activity, and serving as the agent that is making the activity happen. In fact, in any action, mental or physical, there is no such thing as an agent existing as an unaffected (‘dus ma-byas, static, permanent), monolithic (gcig, one), separate entity independently of the action, either making the action happen or observing it occur.

Making something cognitively clear does not require the object being clear in the sense of it being in focus. The appearance of a blur may also cognitively arise.

Making an awareness of something does not require the awareness being conscious. Nor does it necessarily entail knowing the conventional identity of what becomes cognitively apparent. A cognition may have minimal attention (yid-la byed-pa) accompanying it and may lack cognitive certainty (nges-pa).

Explicit and Implicit Apprehension

Gelug

Apprehension of an involved 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 of an involved object, a mental hologram (rnam-pa, mental semblance, mental aspect) of the involved object itself arises. Only obvious objective entities may be explicitly apprehended by valid bare non-conceptual 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).

Any phenomenon – obvious, obscure, or extremely obscure; nonstatic or static; objective or metaphysical – may be explicitly apprehended by valid inferential (conceptual) cognition.

In implicit apprehension of an involved object, only a mental hologram resembling the basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi) of the involved object arises, but not a mental hologram resembling the involved object itself. Only obvious objective entities may be implicitly apprehended by valid sensory non-conceptual cognition.

For example, when valid visual cognition explicitly apprehends an apple, it implicitly apprehends negation phenomena (dgag-pa, negatingly known phenomena) such as “not an orange,” “not anything other than an apple,” “not any apple other than this apple,” and so on. Only a mental hologram resembling an apple arises in the cognition. No mental hologram resembling “not-an-orange” arises. All such negation phenomena are called “individually characterized object exclusions of something else” (don rang-mtshan-gyi gzhan-sel, object exclusions) and are nonstatic objective entities.

  • 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.
  • In the case of Buddhas, all metaphysical entities may be implicitly apprehended non-conceptually by omniscient awareness.

[See: Exclusions]

Either metaphysical or objective entities may be implicitly apprehended by valid inferential cognition.

  • In the case of metaphysical entities, such as conceptual categories, only the reflexive awareness that 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.
  • In the case of objective entities, such as object exclusions, the mental consciousness of the conceptual cognition itself implicitly apprehends them.

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.

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 apprehends the metaphysical entities that are its involved objects. In decisively determining an involved object, a mental hologram seemingly resembling a metaphysical entity always arises. Such apprehension does not bear the technical term explicit apprehension.

Objects in Non-conceptual Cognition

Mental Holograms in Non-conceptual Cognition

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, an external object (phyi-don) casts (gtod) a mental aspect (rnam-pa) – or mental impression, mental image – of itself on the sensory consciousness that cognizes it. Mental aspects or images are somewhat like mental holograms.

  • An external object is one that exists prior to the cognition of it and functions as the natal source (rdzas) of the mental hologram that arises in its cognition.
  • A natal source of something is what produces it, like the potter’s wheel for a clay pot or an oven for a baked bread.

The mental hologram may be the mental semblance of a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, or a physical sensation. It is a mental semblance, however, of only the objective entities that the specific sense consciousness can cognize. Visual consciousness, for example, cannot take on the mental hologram of a sound or a taste.

Moreover, in cognizing an external object, a cognition gives rise only to a mental hologram resembling the external object. It does not give rise to the external object itself.

According to the Chittamatra (mind-only) tenet system, there are no such things as external objects. In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the mental hologram that arises comes from the same natal source as the sensory consciousness of it – namely, both come from the same karmic tendency (sa-bon, karmic seed, karmic legacy) as their common natal source.

According to the Vaibhashika system, sensory non-conceptual cognition directly contacts and cognizes external objects, without giving rise to a mental hologram resembling them.

Gelug

The external object that casts a mental impression on a sensory consciousness of itself is a commonsense object as an objective entity.

  • Consider the example of sensory non-conceptual cognition of an apple, such as seeing an apple or tasting an apple. Like a mental impression, the mental hologram of an apple that appears in the sensory cognition resembles the external commonsense apple in all the nonstatic features that are explicitly apprehensible by the sensory consciousness that assumes that mental aspect (the mental hologram).

Sensory non-conceptual cognition can explicitly apprehend only forms of physical phenomena specific to it and such non-concomitant affecting variables as nonstaticness.

  • For example, in seeing an apple, the apple casts a mental impression on the visual consciousness that sees it. The mental impression or hologram resembles the patches of colored shapes that comprise the sight of the apple, and the apple itself. But, not only that, the mental hologram also resembles the gross nonstaticness of the apple. This is because visual consciousness can also “see” the gross nonstaticness of an apple when it collapses.
  • Visual cognition of an apple being cooked may decisively determine either the sight of the cooking apple or the nonstaticness of the apple, depending on what it decisively determines concerning its mental hologram. Only what the cognition decisively determines of its mental hologram is the involved object of that cognition.
  • Thus, not all features or qualities of the mental hologram that appears in a valid sensory cognition are necessarily its involved objects. Only those qualities that the valid sensory cognition apprehends are its involved objects and only those qualities are decisively determined. Others qualities may appear in the cognition, but if the cognition pays little attention to them, it lacks decisive determination of them as “this” and “not that.” Consequently, they are not the involved objects of the cognition and are not apprehended by the cognition.

Non-Gelug

The external object that casts an impression (a mental hologram) on sensory consciousness of it is a moment of sensibilia, such as a moment of colored shapes, or a moment of sound. Only such individual items are objective external entities.

  • According to a minority position within the non-Gelug camp, as represented by the 15th-century Sakya master Shakya Chogden (gSer-mdog Pan-chen Sha-kya mchog-ldan), the external object that casts a mental impression here is a moment merely of molecules. In the case of objects of visual cognition, the molecules would be similar to colored pixels. Only moments of molecules are objective entities, not moments of sensibilia, such as patches of colored shapes. Sensibilia are metaphysical entities.

Since sensory non-conceptual cognition does not decisively determine anything about its object, the mental hologram that appears to sensory non-conceptual cognition cannot resemble some nonstatic features that are its involved objects and some that are not its involved objects. The entire mental hologram that appears in sensory non-conceptual cognition resembles the involved object.

  • The mental hologram (the mental hologram) in the cognition is the directly involved object.
  • The external object (a moment of external sensibilia or a moment of external sound) is the indirectly involved object. The difference between the two will be explained below.

Level of Transparency of Mental Holograms

Gelug

The mental impression cast on a sensory consciousness by an external objective entity is cognitively transparent. In other words, when non-conceptually cognizing the mental hologram of an external objective entity such as a commonsense object, the mental hologram does not veil the commonsense object. Rather, the sensory non-conceptual cognition directly contacts the external commonsense object, albeit through the transparency of a mental hologram.

Thus, in the sensory non-conceptual cognition of a commonsense object, the external commonsense object actually appears through the totally transparent mental hologram cast by it on the consciousness.

Non-Gelug

The mental impression cast on a sensory consciousness by an external objective entity, such as a moment of an external patch of colored shape, is opaque. Only the mental hologram appears in sensory non-conceptual cognition.

  • The mental hologram is directly cognized (dngos-su rig) by the cognition.
  • The moment of the external patch of colored shape that casts a mental hologram on the sensory consciousness of it is indirectly cognized (shugs-la rig) by that sensory cognition.

This distinction derives from the non-Gelug literal assertion of the momentariness of nonstatic phenomena. The moment of the external patch of colored shape that existed as the direct cause (dngos-rgyu) of the sensory cognition of it has ceased to exist the immediately following moment when the sensory cognition with the mental hologram cast by it occurs. In this sense, the moment of the external patch of colored shape is hidden (lkog na-mo) in the sensory cognition.

  • Being hidden in a cognition, however, is not equivalent to an involved object being obscure. Obscure phenomena can only be validly known inferentially by relying on a line of reasoning or renown. The presence of a moment of an external patch of colored shape that is cognized by a sensory cognition, however, is not something that can only be inferred. The moment of an external patch of colored shape is cognized non-conceptually by sensory cognition, but only indirectly.
  • Nor is the indirect cognition of a moment of an external patch of colored shape a case of a cognition of something in which little or no attention is paid to an object. In such cases, the object not paid much attention to is still present and appears to the cognition. Here, however, the moment of an external patch of colored shape indirectly cognized by the sensory cognition of it no longer exists when the sensory cognition of it occurs the next moment. Therefore, the attention in the cognition is focused only on the mental hologram (the directly involved object of the cognition).

Focal Objects and Focal Holograms

The focal object (dmigs-yul) is the object toward which a cognition aims and which serves as the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen) of the cognition. Focal objects exist prior to the cognitions of them and have their own continuums different from those of the cognitions of them. They are the external objective entities that cast mental impressions of themselves on the consciousnesses that cognize them.

According to the Chittamatra system, although sensory non-conceptual cognitions have involved objects, they do not have focal objects. They do not arise from the focal condition of external objects existing independently of mental activity (mind).

  • Instead, sensory cognitions have focal holograms (dmigs-rnam, focal aspects), which are the mental aspects (mental holograms) that sensory consciousnesses assume in cognizing their involved objects.
  • The focal hologram in a sensory cognition arises from (is produced by) the same natal source as the sensory consciousness of it – namely, from the same karmic tendency (sa-bon, karmic seed, karmic legacy). It does not arise from (it is not produced by) an external focal object as its natal source.

Gelug

Only those features of focal objects (commonsense objects) that are decisively determined by sensory non-conceptual cognitions of them are the involved objects of those cognitions.

Non-Gelug

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the focal object of the cognition (a moment of sensibilia) is only indirectly cognized. Nevertheless, the focal object, in its entirety, is still an involved object of the cognition.

Appearing Objects and Cognitively Taken Objects in Non-Conceptual Cognition

The appearing object (snang-yul) is the direct object (dngos-yul) that arises in a cognition, as if it were directly in front of the consciousness (blo-ngor). It is a mental derivative (gzugs-brnyan, mental reflection) of a cognitive object.

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the appearing object is equivalent to the mental hologram that appears. It is a mental derivative of an external objective entity.

Gelug

The appearing object (the fully transparent mental hologram) in sensory non-conceptual cognition is equivalent to the cognition’s cognitively taken object (gzung-yul, held object). It is a full transparency of an external commonsense object.

The appearing object here is not necessary equivalent, however, to the cognition’s involved object, which may be merely certain nonstatic features of the appearing (cognitively taken) object.

Non-Gelug

The cognitively taken object of a cognition is defined as the external objective entity that serves as the direct cause of the cognition.

  • Thus, in sensory non-conceptual cognition, the cognitively taken object is the moment of external sensibilia that the cognition indirectly cognizes.
  • The appearing object (mental derivative) is only the directly cognized opaque mental hologram of the cognitively taken object, and not the cognitively taken external object itself.

Non-Conceptual Cognition: Object in Gelug and Non-Gelug

Gelug
external object
Gelug
mental hologram
Non-Gelug
external object
Non-Gelug
mental hologram
fully transparent mental derivative
opaque mental derivative
commonsense object,
conventional identity as “this” and “not that,”
spatial & temporal parts
commonsense object,
conventional identity as “this” and “not that,”
spatial & temporal parts
a moment of sensibilia a moment of sensibilia
appearing object
appearing object does not appear
appearing object
cognitively taken object
assumes the full aspect of the cognitively taken object cognitively taken object assumes the aspect of the cognitively taken object
focal object
focal object
involved object (within the domain of the appearing, cognitively taken focal object) involved object (within the domain of the appearing, cognitively taken focal object) involved object
involved object
explicitly apprehended
indirectly cognized (hidden)
directly cognized
decisively determined as “this” and “not that” commonsense object
decisively determined as “this” and “not that” commonsense object
merely held,
not decisively determined as either a commonsense object or as “this” and “not that” commonsense object
Merely held,
not decisively determined as either a commonsense object or as “this” and “not that” commonsense object

Objects in Conceptual Cognition

Mental Holograms and Appearing, Involved, Focal, and Cognitively Taken Objects in Conceptual Cognition

Conceptual cognition mentally labels (‘dogs-pa) a metaphysical entity, such as a conceptual category or concept, onto the mental aspect (the mental hologram) it assumes, and mixes the two. Conceptual cognition is always a deceptive cognition (‘khrul-shes), because it takes this mixture to be an objective entity, existing externally.

  • Of the two items confused with each other, one is the appearing object (snang-yul), as if it were directly in front of the mental consciousness.
  • The other is a mental representation (snang-ba, mental appearance), which simply appears (snang) or arises.

For the sake of simplicity, we shall restrict our description of conceptual cognition in the remainder of this article to the presentation of conceptual cognition containing mental exclusions of something else (blo’i gzhan-sel, mental exclusions, mental eliminations). Mental exclusions are static metaphysical negation phenomena and include both conceptual categories and conceptually isolated items (ldog-pa, conceptual isolates, distinguishers).

  • Among negation phenomena, the type that static mental exclusions are is an implicative negation phenomenon (ma-yin dgag).
  • An implicative negation phenomenon is an exclusion of something else in which, after the sounds of the words that exclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they leave behind in their wake (bkag-shul), explicitly or implicitly, something else.

Thus, we shall omit from our description the presentation of inferential cognition in which a line of reasoning is validly cognized. We shall also omit the presentation of conceptual cognition of concepts that are non-implicative negation phenomena (med-dgag, nonaffirming negations).

  • A non-implicative negation phenomenon is an exclusion of something else in which, after the sounds of the words that exclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they do not leave behind in their wake, explicitly or implicitly, something else.
  • In simple terms, non-implicative negation phenomena are static, metaphysical entities that are merely the absences of something. They include:
    • the absence of a peel on a peeled apple,
    • space (nam-mkha’) – the absence of any material object that could be contacted in a location and that would obstruct something being there,
    • the absolute absence of an impossible “soul” of a person.

[See: Negation Phenomena: Implicative and Non-implicative]

Gelug

The mental hologram that appears in conceptual cognition is a mental representation of an external objective entity (a commonsense object), such as a specific apple. As in sensory non-conceptual cognition, the mental hologram is fully transparent. The external objective entity cognized through it serves as the focal object of the cognition.

  • Thus, both non-conceptual and conceptual cognitions have focal objects.
  • In conceptual cognition, however, the focal object does not need to be present at the time and location of the cognition involving it, as in the case of a remembrance of seeing the apple yesterday.

As in valid sensory non-conceptual cognition, the nonstatic features of the focal object and of the fully transparent mental hologram resembling it in valid conceptual cognition are the explicitly apprehended involved objects.

When explicitly apprehending one or more involved objects, a valid conceptual cognition may simultaneously implicitly apprehend other objects. Those objects would also be the involved objects of the conceptual cognition.

  • In the case of conceptual cognition explicitly apprehending an apple, for example, the implicitly apprehended involved objects may include object exclusions, such as “not an orange” and “nothing other than an apple.”

More specifically, the fully transparent mental representation that actually appears in the conceptual cognition of the apple is a conceptually isolated item (conceptual isolate). Like the object exclusion nothing other than an apple, a conceptually isolated item is an implicative negation phenomenon. Specifically, the type of implicative negation phenomenon that both conceptual isolates and object exclusions are is a “nothing-other-than” (ma-yin-pa-las log-pa). In other words, both leave behind in their wakes what is left when we exclude or eliminate everything that is not a specific object. In this case, they leave behind what is left when we exclude everything that is “other than the apple” – in other words, everything that is “not the apple.” Thus, both leave behind “the apple.” Object exclusions, however, are nonstatic objective entities; whereas, conceptually isolated items are static metaphysical entities.

  • Conceptually isolated items may be either “items conceptually isolated as an individual item” (rang-ldog) or “items conceptually isolated as a category” (spyi-ldog).
  • Object exclusions are also called “items conceptually isolated as bases for labeling” (gzhi-ldog).
  • The defining characteristic mark (mtshan-nyid, definition) of a validly knowable phenomenon is called an “item conceptually isolated as a signifier” (don-ldog).

Because the conceptual isolate nothing other than the apple leaves behind in its wake “the apple,” we can say, in a sense, that the metaphysical, conceptually isolated item is equivalent to the objective entity the apple. As static phenomena, conceptual isolates lack any physical features of their own. For example, the conceptually isolated item nothing other than the apple lacks the colored shape of the apple. However, because of the equivalence of this conceptually isolated item with the apple that is specifies, and because the conceptual isolate is fully transparent, a mental hologram resembling the colored shape of the apple and resembling the apple itself appears through the conceptual isolate in the conceptual cognition. This is the case even if the apple is not present at the time when a conceptual cognition occurs, such as when recalling the apple. Thus, as a mental representation of the objective apple, the conceptually isolated item serves as a mental hologram resembling the apple.

The appearing object in a conceptual cognition – the object seemingly directly in front of the mental consciousness – is not the conceptually isolated item, however. The appearing object is a conceptual category, such as the category apple. Like conceptual isolates, conceptual categories are static, metaphysical mental exclusions of something else and implicative negation phenomena. The conceptual category apple is “nothing other than the category apple.”

Conceptual categories are mental derivatives (mental reflections) of the individual objective entities that fit into them. For example, the conceptual category apple is a mental derivative mentally constructed from all individual commonsense apples, regardless of their shape, size, color, texture, or taste.

In conceptual cognition, conceptual categories, such as apple, are imputed on and thus mixed with conceptual isolates, such as nothing other than this specific apple. Through this conceptually isolated item, the conceptual category is thus imputed on and mixed with the specific objective apple. In this way, the conceptual cognition conceptually cognizes this specific individual apple as “an apple,” associating with it the word apple and the meaning of that word.

The conceptual cognition is deceptive, however, because in mixing a specific individual item with a conceptual category, it gives the deceptive appearance that apples in general look like this specific individual apple. As another example, when we think of “a dog” in general, a mental image of our pet spaniel may arise in our minds. It deceptively appears as though our pet spaniel is what “dogs” in general look like.

Conceptual categories, as mental derivatives of commonsense objects, are semitransparent metaphysical entities. Thus, in the conceptual cognition of a specific objective commonsense apple, the specific apple is cognized through a semitransparent mental derivative of all apples (the conceptual category apple) and a fully transparent mental representation of the specific apple (the conceptually isolated item nothing other than the specific apple). Because the conceptual category is a semitransparent filter, it partially veils the appearance of the specific apple. In other words, the appearance of the specific apple in the conceptual cognition is not vivid, no matter how clear and in focus it might be.

The appearing objects of conceptual cognitions (conceptual categories) are also their cognitively taken objects. Thus, in both non-conceptual and conceptual cognitions, the appearing objects are equivalent to the cognitively taken objects.

  • In sensory non-conceptual cognition, both are external objective commonsense objects.
  • In conceptual cognition, both are static metaphysical entities.

Non-Gelug

What appears (arises) in conceptual cognition are mental syntheses and the conceptual categories into which these mental syntheses fit. These two types of metaphysical entities are the involved objects of conceptual cognition. The mental syntheses and categories are mental representations – for instance, the mental representation of a commonsense object, such as a commonsense apple, and the mental representation of the conceptual category into which it fits, such as “apple.”

The appearing object of a conceptual cognition is a mental derivative (mental reflection) of the mental synthesis and conceptual category. It is a conceptually isolated item that stands for the mentally synthesized commonsense object and category in the conceptual cognition. It too is a static metaphysical entity. As the appearing object, the conceptually isolated item is the object that is seemingly directly in front of the mental consciousness of the conceptual cognition.

The conceptually isolated item is a mental exclusion of something else – namely, it is the type of implicative negation phenomenon that is a “nothing other than.” In the case of the conceptual cognition of a commonsense apple, the conceptually isolated item is “nothing other than a commonsense apple.” What is left in the wake of the negation phenomenon when we have excluded “everything other than a commonsense apple” is “a commonsense apple.”

  • The type of exclusion of something else known as an “individually characterized object exclusion of something else” is also the type of implicative negation phenomenon that is a “nothing other than.” The object exclusion is merely a fact about, for instance, a commonsense apple – namely, that it is nothing other than a commonsense apple.
  • Despite its technical name individually characterized object exclusion of something else, the fact itself is not an individually characterized object. It is a fact that individually or specifically characterizes a commonsense object. The fact itself is a static metaphysical entity and is not equivalent to the commonsense apple.
  • A conceptually isolated item, on the other hand, refers to the appearing object in a conceptual cognition of a commonsense object, such as a commonsense apple. It specifies an individual commonsense apple as a mental derivative of the mental synthesis commonsense apple and the category apple.

Being a static metaphysical entity, the conceptually isolated item nothing other than a commonsense apple lacks any objective physical characteristics of its own. Neither “a commonsense apple,” nor “nothing other than a commonsense apple,” exists objectively with objective sensibilia, such as a colored shape or texture. Both a commonsense apple and its conceptual isolate are merely mental syntheses. Yet, in order to conceive of and think about a commonsense apple, a conceptual cognition must take on a mental hologram that seemingly resembles a commonsense apple. The mental hologram that it takes on is the conceptual isolate. Thus, despite being a metaphysical entity, the conceptually isolated item, as the appearing object, resembles what seems to be the colored shape of a specific individual commonsense apple. It is not, however, that an objective colored shape is appearing in the conceptual cognition, let alone an object commonsense apple.

As a mental derivative of a mentally synthesized commonsense apple and of the conceptual category commonsense apple, the conceptually isolated item stands for the shared commonality (gzhi-mthun, common locus) of all items that would fit into the mental synthesis or category. It is not equivalent to the mental synthesis a commonsense apple.

  • In the case of the mental synthesis a commonsense apple, the conceptually isolated item stands for the shared commonality of the mental holograms in the conceptual cognition that seemingly resemble colored shapes and tactile sensations. This shared commonality allows for both types of mental hologram to be validly labeled by the conceptual cognition as “a commonsense apple.”
  • In the case of the category commonsense apple, the conceptually isolated item stands for the commonality of all mental holograms that seemingly resemble individual commonsense apples. This shared commonality allows for all of them to be validly labeled as “apples,” regardless of what seems to be their shapes, sizes, colors, textures, or tastes.

The conceptually isolated item, as the focal aspect of the conceptual cognition, is an opaque mental hologram. Objective entities, such as moments of patches of colored shapes, do not appear through them. In fact, conceptual cognition does not cognize any objective entities at all, not even indirectly, and thus lacks any focal object.

The conceptual category or mental synthesis is superimposed (mentally labeled, imputed) on the conceptually isolated item that derives from it. The conceptual cognition cognizes the conceptually isolated item – in this case, a mental hologram that seemingly resembles “a commonsense apple” in the conceptual category apple – through the mental synthesis commonsense apple and conceptual category apple. However, since the mental synthesis and conceptual category are both semitransparent mental representations, they partially veil the mental hologram that is the appearing object of the conceptual cognition. Thus, the mental hologram seemingly resembling a commonsense apple in the category apple does not appear vividly. This is the case no matter how clear or how much in focus this mental derivative may be.

The conceptual cognition is deceptive, because it confusingly appears as though the appearing object – the conceptual isolate of a commonsense object, such as an apple – is an external objective entity. Commonsense objects in conceptual categories, however, are merely metaphysical entities. They are mental representations that arise and appear only in conceptual cognition.

Since cognitively taken objects are defined as the direct causes of the cognitions of them and since conceptual cognitions do not have external objective entities present as their direct causes, conceptual cognitions do not have cognitively taken objects.

  • Thus, appearing objects are not synonymous with cognitively taken objects.


Conceptual Cognition: External Object in Gelug and Non-Gelug Traditions

Gelug
external object
Non-Gelug
external object
moments of sensibilia,
commonsense object (as an objective collection synthesis
and an objective kind synthesis),
conventional identity as “this” and “not that,”
spatial & temporal parts
a moment
of objective sensibilia
appears,
partly veiled
does not appear
no cognitively taken object
focal object no focal object
involved object not involved
explicitly apprehended
decisively determined as an item
that fits in “these” and “not those” conceptual categories
conceptually implied object object conceptually implied as the signifier,
conceptually implied object being signified


Categories in Reference to Conventional Objects

In the most general terms, a category (spyi, universal, generality) is a phenomenon shared in common by the individuals (bye-brag) on which it is imputed. Here, when discussing assertions shared by the Gelug and non-Gelug traditions, we are using the term imputed in its most general sense. In some cases, it is clearer to translate the Tibetan term for category as a “mental synthesis” or as a “synthesis” for short.

Among categories, we may differentiate:

  • categories in reference to conventional objects,
  • categories in reference to language.

In reference to conventional objects, there are three main types of categories:

  • collection mental syntheses (tshogs-spyi),
  • kind mental syntheses (rigs-spyi),
  • object mental syntheses (don-spyi).

Collection mental syntheses are wholes imputed on spatial, sensorial, and/or temporal parts. The parts may be connected with each other, as in the case of the parts of an apple or a body. Alternatively, the parts may be unconnected and merely gathered together, such as in the case of a forest and the trees that comprise it.

Consider the example of “an apple.” “An apple,” as a whole item, can be imputed on

  • a collection of patches of colored shapes,
  • a collection of tactile sensations of variously shaped surfaces,
  • a collection of the previous two collections,
  • a collection of peel, pulp and seeds,
  • a collection of molecules,
  • a collection of moments of any or all of the previous collections.

A whole is a category into which several items fit. This is because it can be imputed on any of the above collections of parts.

Because collection syntheses extend over time, they are also called vertical mental syntheses (gong-ma’i spyi).

Kind mental syntheses are the type of phenomenon that a specific individual item is an instance of, such as “an apple” imputed on a specific instance of something having legs and a flat surface.

  • Similar items of varying design and individual items of the same design may be instances of the kind synthesis apple.
  • In other words, a kind synthesis specifies the conventional identity of something.

The kind of phenomenon that something is constitutes a category into which many items fit. This is because it can be imputed on any item having the characteristic marks of that kind of phenomenon.

Because kind syntheses extend over instances of them, they are also called horizontal mental syntheses (thad-ka’i spyi).

Object mental syntheses are the conceptual categories of commonsense objects used when thinking of, verbalizing, imagining (visualizing), or remembering commonsense objects.

Gelug

A category is defined as an individual set, class, or whole imputed on a collection of subsets, individual members of a set, individual instances of a class, or individual parts.

There are two ontological types of categories:

  • categories that are functional phenomena (spyi dngos-po-ba),
  • categories that are nonfunctional phenomena (spyi dngos-po ma-yin-pa).

Functional phenomena (dngos-po) are synonymous with nonstatic phenomena – objective entities. Nonfunctional phenomena (dngos-med) are synonymous with static phenomena – metaphysical entities.

Let us call categories that are functional phenomena “nonstatic mental syntheses.” They may be cognized either non-conceptually or conceptually. They include:

  • collection mental syntheses,
  • kind mental syntheses.

Since collection and kind syntheses are objective entities, they appear in sensory non-conceptual cognition as part of the focal objects (equivalent to the mental holograms, appearing objects, and cognitively taken objects). When ascertained, they may also be the involved objects explicitly apprehended by the sensory non-conceptual cognition of them. As objective entities, they are imputations and not merely things that can be mentally labeled conceptually.

Thus, when we see a collection of parts, we also see the whole that they comprise and the type of phenomenon that the whole is (its conventional identity). For example, when we see the legs and flat surface of a table or the shape and color of a table, these parts simultaneously also appear as a whole item and as a table. This non-conceptual cognition, however, does not apply (designate) a word or name to the item.

We shall call categories that are nonfunctional phenomena “static categories.” They are cognized only conceptually. They include:

  • object categories.

Non-Gelug

  • A category is defined as a mentally constructed synthesis (spros-pa, mental fabrication) of individual items.
  • All categories (mental syntheses) are nonfunctional (static) phenomena, metaphysical entities.
  • Collection and kind mental syntheses are subcategories of object categories.

Because collection mental syntheses and kind mental syntheses are static metaphysical phenomena, they do not appear in sensory non-conceptual cognition. They appear only in conceptual cognition. This is consistent with the assertion that sensory non-conceptual cognition does not decisively determine its object as a “this” and “not that.”

Consider the example of seeing something.

  • In moment one (the moment immediately preceding the moment when the seeing of something actually takes place), a moment of an external patch of colored shapes occurs. This external objective entity is the indirectly cognized focal object and cognitively taken object of the seeing.
  • In moment two (the moment when the seeing actually occurs), a mental hologram representing the previous moment of the patch of colored shapes arises. The previous moment of the patch of colored shapes no longer exists. This “internal” objective entity is the directly cognized appearing object and the involved object. The mental representation appears merely as a patch of colored shapes. It does not appear as a whole commonsense object, let alone one that is an instance of “this” and “not that” – for example as “an apple” and “not an orange.”
  • In moment three (the moment of conceptual cognition immediately following the non-conceptual seeing), a mental hologram resembling a whole commonsense item with the conventional identity an apple occurs, as a mental synthesis. The mental hologram resembling a commonsense apple is the appearing object of the conceptual cognition of the apple. The metaphysical entity apple from which it derives is the involved object.

Cognizing a sentence as a whole (based on hearing the sound of only one consonant or vowel at a time) and cognizing the motion of something (based on seeing some item in only one position and location at a time) are similarly conceptual processes.

Some non-Gelug scholars, such as Shakya Chogden, assert that the mental holograms that appear in visual non-conceptual cognition are mental representations of only a moment of a collection of molecules. The cognitive appearance of even colored shapes occurs only in conceptual cognition.

Conceptual Cognition: Category in Gelug and Non-Gelug Traditions

Gelug
Category
Non-Gelug
Category
mental derivative of external objects
mental representation of a commonsense object
semitransparent semitransparent
audio categories, audio and meaning/object categories commonsense object as a collection synthesis and kind synthesis,

audio and meaning/object categories
appearing object appears
cognitively taken object
involved object of only the reflexive awareness of the conceptual cognition involved object
implicitly apprehended only by reflexive awareness
decisively determined implicitly by
reflexive awareness as “these” and “not those” categories
decisively determined as an item that fits
in “these” and “not those” categories and mental syntheses

mistaken for the conceptually implied object object that is the actual signifier, object actually signified by the mental aspect,

mistaken for the conceptually implied object signified

Conceptual Cognition with Object Categories

Gelug

Object categories are the semitransparent appearing objects in conceptual cognition. They are superimposed (mentally labeled) on and confused with mental representations of the involved objects of the conceptual cognition – namely, external objective entities.

Consider the example of the nonverbal conceptual cognition of a form of physical phenomenon, such as when thinking of the sight, smell, taste, or tactile sensation of an external commonsense object, for instance an orange.

A mental hologram arises resembling:

  • a specific set of sensibilia of the external commonsense object,
  • the nonstatic collection synthesis of the sensibilia constituting a whole object,
  • the nonstatic kind synthesis of the sense data constituting “this” kind of object, and “not that” kind – an orange, not an apple.

This threefold mental hologram is a fully transparent mental representation of a specific external objective set of sensibilia, a collection synthesis, and a kind synthesis. The objective set of sensibilia, the objective collection synthesis, and the objective kind synthesis are all cognized through this mental hologram resembling them.

The semitransparent appearing object (the conceptual category) with which the totally transparent mental hologram is mixed is an object category, as in the case of imagining or remembering an orange, but without associating the word orange with what mentally appears.

  • In the case of imagining an orange, a fully transparent mental hologram resembling a specific commonsense orange arises. An objective specific commonsense orange appears through it. The mental hologram and specific commonsense orange are mixed with the semitransparent object synthesis oranges in general, with which the mental representation is confused.
  • In the case of remembering a specific commonsense orange, the specific commonsense orange appears through a fully transparent mental hologram that resembles it. These are mixed with the semitransparent object synthesis a specific “public” orange. A specific public orange is one that anyone could have seen from any angle when we saw that specific commonsense orange. The appearance of the specific commonsense orange may also be mixed with the semitransparent object synthesis the specific commonsense orange whether seen, smelled, tasted, or touched.

Non-Gelug

Object categories (mental syntheses) appear as the involved objects of conceptual cognitions in which the appearing objects are opaque mental representations of commonsense objects (opaque mental holograms that resemble commonsense objects). The object categories are superimposed (imputed) on and confused with the mental representations.

Consider the nonverbal conceptual cognition of the sight of an orange. This may occur immediately after seeing a moment of an external spherical patch of orange color, or later imagining or remembering a commonsense orange.

An opaque mental hologram resembling a commonsense orange arises as the appearing object of the conceptual cognition. A moment of a specific external spherical patch of orange color is not even indirectly cognized.

The mental hologram, a mental representation of a commonsense orange, is confused with the object categories imputed on it. The mentally fabricated and projected object categories (mental syntheses) with which the mental representation is identified are:

  • a whole object with temporal continuity,
  • a “real” commonsense orange,
  • either oranges in general or a specific “public” orange visible to anyone.

Categories in Reference to Language

In reference to language, there are two types of categories:

  • audio categories (sgra-spyi, sound universals),
  • meaning categories (don-spyi, meaning universals).

Audio categories are acoustic patterns adopted as conventions (tha-snyad) in a particular language by the members of a specific society. As the acoustic patterns of words, such as “orange,” and not the sounds of words (which are collection syntheses and kind syntheses), they are categories in the sense that they are imputable on sounds made in a variety of voices, pitches, volumes, and pronunciations. The sounds may be made audibly by a voice, a mechanical device, or a natural phenomenon; or they may be merely mental. Audio categories by themselves do not have any meanings associated with them.

  • Although the classical Buddhist texts do not mention them, we may, by extension, speak of written categories. Written categories would be patterns of lines and dots adopted as conventions for representing words in a particular language by members of a particular society. They are categories in the sense that they can be mentally labeled on lines and dots appearing in a variety of colors, scripts, handwriting, levels of darkness, and substances out of which they are made. The lines and dots may be written by hand, mechanically produced, or naturally occurring.
  • Likewise, we may speak of gesture categories, such as those that are used in sign languages, which are adopted as conventions for representing words.
  • We may also speak of tactile sensation categories, such as patterns of tactile sensations of raised dots that are used in Braille systems, which are adopted as conventions for representing words.

Meaning categories are patterns of significance of acoustic patterns, adopted as the meanings of words in a particular language by members of a specific society. By extension, meaning categories could also be patterns of significance of written patterns, gesture patterns, or tactile sensation patterns. Meanings do not exist inherently within sounds, lines and dots, gestures, or tactile sensations. They are merely conventions coined, assigned to acoustic patterns and so on, and used as categories by the members of a specific society in order to communicate. For example, depending on the meaning category conventionally assigned to it, the same acoustic pattern can mean “to,” “too,” or “two” in English or “you” in mispronounced French. Similarly, the same written pattern, for instance “bear,” can mean “a large furry mammal” or “to endure something.”

Moreover, meaning categories are categories in the sense that they can be mentally labeled on all the slightly different meanings that each person in a language group associates with a particular acoustic pattern of a word. Further, they are categories also in the sense that they can be mentally labeled on acoustic patterns each time the acoustic pattern is used by any person and even by the same person.

Meaning categories refer not only to patterns of significance of acoustic patterns and so on, but also sometimes to patterns of objects that acoustic patterns and so on signify. In such cases, meaning categories are equivalent to object mental syntheses. For this reason, meaning categories may also be termed “meaning/object categories.”

Gelug

In verbal conceptual cognition, we think of (1) the objective sounds of the vowels and consonants audible during the sequence of moments required to hear the sound of entire commonsense words. We think as well of the objective sounds of entire commonsense words as (2) objective collection syntheses and (3) objective kind syntheses. We think of all three through fully transparent mental holograms resembling them all.

Verbal conceptual cognition thinks of the above three through semitransparent conceptual categories. It imputes these categories on and mixes them with the objective sounds and syntheses, as well as the mental holograms resembling them. The conceptual categories may be:

  • merely an audio category, as in the case of thinking the word voidness without having any idea of what it means, or
  • both an audio category and a meaning category, as in the case of thinking the word voidness together with a meaning associated with the word, even if that meaning is inaccurate.

Consider the case of preverbal conceptual cognition, such as when a preverbal baby thinks of its mother when it misses her and cries. A mental hologram resembling the form of a physical phenomenon, such as a mental sight, sound, smell, taste, or physical sensation, together with a collection and a kind synthesis, arises. The conceptual category with which it is mixed is:

  • merely a meaning category. Although the baby does not yet know the word mother, it conceives of the meaning of the audio category mother. This meaning category is fit (rung) to be applied to the audio category mother when the baby learns the word mother.

Non-Gelug

In verbal conceptual thinking, opaque mental holograms seemingly resembling commonsense conventional words as collection syntheses and kind syntheses arise as the appearing objects. The conceptual cognition does not cognize, even indirectly, the objective sounds of sequences of vowels and consonants. The commonsense conventional words, as mentally synthesized wholes, are merely metaphysical entities.

The conceptual categories that verbal conceptual cognition imputes on the mental holograms and with which they are mixed include:

  • collection syntheses,
  • kind syntheses,
  • audio categories, and
  • meaning categories or meaning/object categories.

Conceptual thought related to language does not occur with only an audio category or only a meaning/object category. It always occurs with a combination of the two.

Conceptually Implied Objects

Conceptually implied objects (zhen-yul, conceived objects, implied objects) are, literally, the objects on which conceptual categories or concepts cling. They are phenomena exclusively of conceptual cognition. Non-conceptual cognition does not have conceptually implied objects.

Gelug

Consider the conceptual cognition that verbally thinks an objective commonsense word – for example “orange.”

If the verbal conceptual cognition apprehends only the sound of the word orange, the external objective sound of the commonsense word orange is the involved object.

The appearing objects are the semitransparent audio category orange and the meaning/object category of what the audio category orange signifies.

The conceptually implied object of the audio category is the external objective sound of the commonsense word orange (the involved object). The conceptually implied object of the meaning/object category is the external objective commonsense orange.

Non-Gelug

In the conceptual cognition that verbally thinks a commonsense word such as “orange,” the appearing object is an opaque mental hologram that seemingly resembles the sound of the entire commonsense word orange.

The audio category orange and the meaning/object category of what the audio category orange signifies appear (arise) in the cognition as the involved objects.

Since verbal conceptual cognition always involves both audio categories and meaning/object categories, such cognition always has two conceptually implied objects:

  • the object conceptually implied as a signifier (zhen-pa’i brjod-byed),
  • the conceptually implied object being signified (zhen-pa’i brjod-bya).

They must be differentiated from:

  • the object that is the actual signifier (dngos-kyi brjod-byed),
  • the object actually signified (dngos-kyi brjod-bya).

The object that is the actual signifier of the commonsense orange is the audio category orange (the involved object). The objects conceptually implied as the signifiers of the commonsense orange are the external momentary sounds of vowels and consonants, as heard one by one.

The object actually signified by the mental hologram that seemingly resembles a commonsense orange is the meaning/object category commonsense orange (the involved object). The conceptually implied object being signified is a moment of external sensibilia, such as a spherical patch of orange color.

Summary of Conceptual Cognition

Gelug

external object mental hologram
(conceptual isolate)
category
mental derivative of external objects
conceptual representation of an external object
fully transparent semitransparent
moments of sensibilia,

commonsense object (as an objective collection synthesis
and an objective kind synthesis),

conventional identity as “this” and “not that,”

spatial & temporal parts
resembles moments of sensibilia,

resembles a commonsense object (as a collection synthesis and kind synthesis),

conventional identity as “this” and “not that,”

resembles spatial & temporal parts
audio categories,
audio and meaning/object categories
appears,
partly veiled
appears,
partly veiled
appearing object

cognitively taken object
focal object
involved object involved object
involved object of only the reflexive awareness of the conceptual cognition
explicitly apprehended
implicitly apprehended only by reflexive awareness
decisively determined as an item that fits in “these” and “not those” conceptual categories decisively determined as an item that fits in “these” and “not those” conceptual categories decisively determined implicitly by
reflexive awareness as “these” and “not those” categories
conceptually implied object
mistaken for the conceptually implied object


Non-Gelug

external object mental aspect
(conceptual isolate,
focal aspect)
category

mental derivative of external objects

mental representation of a commonsense object
opaque
semitransparent
a moment
of objective sensibilia
resembles a commonsense object
commonsense object
as a collection synthesis and kind synthesis,

audio and meaning/object categories
does not appear
appearing object,
partly veiled
appears
no cognitively taken object
no focal object

not involved

involved object


decisively determined as an item that fits in “these” and “not those” categories and mental syntheses
object conceptually implied as the signifier,

conceptually implied object being signified

object that is the actual signifier, object actually signified by the mental aspect,

mistaken for the conceptually implied object signified