[As background, see: Impure and Pure Appearances: Non-Gelug Presentation]
Dualistic Appearances, Including Appearances of Truly Existents
When conceptual cognition cognizes something, it does so by producing a dualistic appearance (gnyis-snang) of it.
Dualistic appearances include:
- Appearances of true existence (bden-snang)
- Appearances of absolute absences (med-dgag, non-implicative negations) of true existence
- Appearances of manners of existence that are both
- Appearances of manners of existence that are neither.
For the sake of simplicity, let us speak simply about the first two of these four extremes. Conceptual cognition also produces appearances of truly existents, meaning truly existent “this”s and “that”s (bden-snang) – such as tables and words.
Appearances of Non-truly Existents
Sensory and mental non-conceptual cognitions produce appearances of existents as not-truly “this”s or “that”s, such as collections of patches of colored shapes, or the sounds of consonants and vowels. Conceptual cognition constructs them into “this”s and “that”s, such as tables and words.
- Nyingma masters, such as 19th-century Mipam (‘Ju Mi-pham) calls these non-conceptual appearances “appearances of non-truly existents” (med-snang).
- Mainstream Sakya masters, such as 15th-century Gorampa (Go-ram bSod-nams seng-ge), calls them “appearances of dependently-arising existents” (rten-‘brel snang-ba). Since the 19th-century Rimey (ri-med, nonsectarian) master Kongtrul (Kong-spul Blo-gros mtha’-yas) also uses this term, the Karma Kagyu tradition uses it as well.
Dependently arising, here, means arising dependently on parts. For affected phenomena (‘dus-byas-kyi chos, conditioned phenomena), it also means arising dependently on causes and conditions. Sakya does not use the term with the Gelug-Prasangika meaning of arising dependently on mental labeling – arising as what a label, concept, or word refers to.
The Karma Kagyu, Shangpa Kagyu, and Jonang Sakya traditions and the 15th-century Sakya master Shakya Chogden (gSer-mdog Pan-chen Sha-kya mchog-ldan) interpret dependently-arising appearances as appearances arising dependently from unawareness (ma-rig-pa, ignorance), as in the twelve links of dependent arising (rten-‘brel yan-lag bcu-gnyis).
For the sake of simplicity, let is use only the term “appearances of non-truly existents.”
Impure Appearances and the Unawareness Accompanying Them
The appearances produced by sensory and mental cognitions are impure appearances (ma-dag-pa’i snang-ba, unpurified appearances). They are impure, or unpurified, in the sense that the mental continuums producing them have not been purified, either temporarily or forever, of the obscuring factor (sgrib, obstacles) causing their production. Some form of unawareness always accompanies cognitions producing impure appearances.
Impure appearances include:
- Appearances of all four extreme modes of existence
- Appearances of truly existent “this”s and “that”s
- Appearances of existents as not-truly “this”s and “that”s.
In conceptual cognition, appearances of true existence and of truly existent “this”s and “that”s are accompanied with two grades of unawareness. Both grades are included among the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib, obscurations that are disturbing emotions or attitudes and which prevent liberation):
- The unawareness of not knowing (mi-shes-pa) that the appearances are deceptive
- The unawareness of cognitively taking them to exist in a contradictory manner (phyin-ci log-tu ‘dzin-pa) – in other words, taking them to exist in the way they appear to exist, which is contradictory to how they actually exist. This unawareness is equivalent to grasping for true existence (bden-‘dzin).
In conceptual cognition, appearances of absolute absences of true existence, and in sensory and mental non-conceptual cognitions, appearances of existents as not-truly “this”s or “that”s, are accompanied by only one grade of unawareness. This unawareness is included among the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib, obscurations regarding knowables and which prevent omniscience):
- The unawareness of not knowing that the appearances exist in a manner beyond words and concepts.
The Causes of Impure Appearance-Making
The habits (bag-chags) of the unawareness included among the emotional obscurations produce:
- Conceptual appearances of true existence
- Conceptual appearances of truly existent “this”s and “that”s
- Simultaneous with both appearances, manifest occurrence of the two types of unawareness included among the obscurations preventing liberation.
The habits of the unawareness included among the cognitive obscurations produce:
- Conceptual appearances of absolute absences of true existence
- Conceptual appearances of existents as not-truly “this”s or “that”s
- The non-conceptual appearances of existents as not-truly “this”s or “that”s
- Simultaneously with all three appearances, manifest occurrence of the type of unawareness included among the cognitive obscurations.
The Stages of Eliminating Impure Appearance-Making
When we have eliminated forever the emotional obscurations preventing liberation, we no longer experience conceptual cognition with appearances of true existence or of truly existent “this”s and “that”s. It is in this sense of conceptual cognition, that many non-Gelug masters assert that we are rid of conceptual cognition when we rid ourselves of the emotional obscurations. We are still left, however, with conceptual cognition of the appearances of absolute absences of true existence and of existents as not-truly “this”s and “that”s .
Only when we have totally removed the final three grades of the cognitive obscurations do we stop experiencing conceptual cognition with these latter appearances. At that point, as Buddhas, we no longer experience conceptual cognition, as Gelug agrees. With enlightenment, we also stop experiencing ordinary sensory and mental non-conceptual cognitions with their appearances of existents as not-truly “this”s and “that”s. The omniscient awareness (rnam-mkhyen) of a Buddha experiences only pure appearances (dag-pa’i snang-ba).
[For a more advanced discussion, see: Ridding Oneself of the Obscurations: Nyingma and Sakya]
Pure Appearances and the True Stopping of Impure Appearance-Making
Pure appearances (purified appearances) are appearances of existents as beyond the conceptual categories of truly existent “this”s and “that”s and not-truly existent “this”s and “that”s. Yogic (rnal-‘byor mngon-sum) and clear-light (‘od-gsal) non-conceptual cognitions of non-denumerable (rnam-grangs med-pa) voidness both produce only pure appearances. Non-denumerable voidness is the voidness that is beyond words and concepts (brjod-dang rtog-pa-las ‘das-pa) and which can only be cognized non-conceptually.
A true stopping (‘gog-bden, true cessation) of impure appearance-making, however, occurs only with enlightenment. Before enlightenment, sensory and mental cognition resume producing impure appearances after arising from the total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, meditative equipoise) and subsequent attainment (rjes-thob, post-meditation) phases of yogic or clear-light non-conceptual cognition of non-denumerable voidness.