Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables

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[As background for this discussion, see: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregates]

The Aggregate of Other Affecting Variables

Among the five aggregate factors (phung-po, Skt. skandha) that compose each of moment of cognition, the aggregate of other affecting variables (‘du-byed-kyi phung-po, Skt. samskaraskandha, aggregate of karmic formations, aggregate of volitions) contains two types of affecting variables:

  • Congruent affecting variables (ldan-pa’i ‘du-byed)
  • Noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed).

Congruent affecting variables share five congruent features (mtshungs-ldan lnga, five things in common) with the primary consciousness (rnam-shes) during that moment of cognition. They are only congruent with that primary consciousness in terms of these five variables, but not congruent in all ways. They are not identical with the primary consciousness that they accompany.

The noncongruent affecting variables in this aggregate accompany the cognition, affect the experience, but do not share five congruent features with the primary consciousness of the cognition.

Five Congruent Features According to Vaibhashika

According to the Vaibhashika view of Vasubandhu’s A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha), as explained by the seventeenth-century Gelug master Yeshe Gyaltsen (Kha-chen Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan) in Clearly Indicating the Manner of Primary Minds and Mental Factors (Sems-dang sems-byung-gi tshul gsal-bar bstan-pa), the five congruent features are:

  1. Reliance (rten) – relying on the same cognitive sensor (dbang-po) as the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) for their arising
  2. Object (yul) – cognitively aiming at the same focal object (dmigs-yul) as the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen, objective condition) for their arising
  3. Mental aspect (rnam-pa) – giving rise to the same cognitive semblance (mental hologram) of the focal object as the aspect of the focal object cast on them and which they assume or take on,
  4. Time (dus) – arising, abiding, and ceasing simultaneously
  5. Natal source (rdzas, substantial entity) – although coming from their own individual natal sources – referring to individual karmic tendencies (sa-bon, karmic seeds, karmic legacies) – coming from natal sources that have the same slant (ris-mthun). Thus, they work harmoniously together without clashing, for instance within the structure of a single belief (dad-pa) or intention (‘dun-pa).

Note that the explanation here of “mental aspect” as referring to a “mental hologram,” is in accordance with the Sautrantika interpretation of Vasubandhu. Gelugpa interprets these mental holograms as being fully transparent and that cognition of an external commonsense object is through them. This explanation is also asserted by Sautrantika Svatantrika and Prasangika. Vaibhashika, however, does not accept that an external focal object casts its aspect on a consciousness in the form of a mental hologram. Vaibhashika asserts that sensory non-conceptual cognition is direct cognition (dngos-shes) of its focal object without such an intermediary. 

For Vaibhashika, material objects are made of conglomerates of gross particles, each of which is made up of eight partless subparticles: earth, water, fire, wind, sight, smell, taste and physical sensation. Whichever subparticle predominates determines which type of conglomerate particle it is. There is no sound subparticle; sound is considered a vibration. 

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the focal object comprises these conglomerates of gross particles. The mental aspect shared in common by the primary consciousness and mental factors is not a mental hologram cast on them by these conglomerate particles. Rather, it is each of the specific aspects (bye-brag) of these particles from which the cognition takes the focal object as its object, by relying on its associated cognitive sensors. In the case of a cognition relying on the eye sensors, for example, the aspects would be color and shape.  

Five Congruent Features According to Chittamatra

According to the Chittamatra view of Asanga’s An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), as explained by Yeshe Gyaltsen, the five congruent features are:

  1. Natal source (rdzas) – the congruent affecting variables that accompany a primary consciousness all arising from a single natal source (a single karmic tendency) having the same slant as that of the primary consciousness, and not from several different natal sources with the same slant.
  2. Focal aspect (dmigs-rnam) – since Chittamatra does not accept that cognition arises from a focal condition or that it has an actual focal object, this congruent feature refers to assuming the same cognitive aspect as what they cognitively aim at,
  3. Essential nature (ngo-bo) – meaning the type of phenomenon they are as ways of cognizing something; namely, destructive, constructive, or unspecified,
  4. Time (dus) – arising, abiding, and ceasing simultaneously,
  5. Plane (khams, realm) and bhumi-level of mind (sa, Skt. bhumi) – being items within the same plane of samsaric existence or within the same bhumi-level of mind of an arya bodhisattva. There are three planes of samsaric existence: the plane of sensory desires (‘dod-khams, desire realm), the plane of ethereal forms (gzugs-khams, form realm), and the plane of formless beings (gzugs-med khams, formless realm). There are ten bhumi-levels of mind of arya bodhisattvas (those with nonconceptual cognition of voidness), spanning the seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam, path of seeing) and the accustoming pathway mind (sgom-lam, path of meditation).

Congruent Affecting Variables

The congruent affecting variables consist of all types of subsidiary awareness of an object (sems-byung, mental factor, secondary mind) other than feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba) and distinguishing (‘du-shes, recognition). Although the latter two types of subsidiary awareness share five congruent features with the primary consciousness that they accompany, they constitute their own individual aggregate factors.

Noncongruent Affecting Variables

Noncongruent affecting variables are nonstatic (impermanent) phenomena that are neither forms of physical phenomena (gzugs) nor ways of being aware of something (shes-pa). As imputations on a mental continuum, they produce effects on that continuum. Examples include legacies (seeds, tendencies) of previous actions and of disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs), habits (bag-chags), and the conventional “me” (nga).