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. saskāraskandha, 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) they accompany during any moment of cognition. They are congruent with that primary consciousness only 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 do not share five congruent features with the primary consciousness that they accompany. 

Four or Five Congruent Features According to Vaibhashika

According to the Vaibhashika view of Vasubandhu’s Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakośa), the primary consciousness and accompanying mental factors (sems-byung; subsidiary awareness) share four or five features in common. The four features, as Vasubandhu explains in his Autocommentary to “A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod-kyi bshad-pa, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyā) are: 

  • Reliance (rten) – relying on the same cognitive sensor (dbang-po) as the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) for their arising
  • Object (yul) – cognitively aiming at the same focal object (dmigs-yul) as the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen, objective condition) for their arising
  • Congruence (mtshung-pa) – occurring at the same time
  • Mental aspect (rnam-pa) – differentiating and heeding the (same) specific type of sensory information of their shared focal object.

The 18th-century Gelug master Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen (Kha-chen Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan) in A Necklace for a Clear Mind, Clearly Indicating the Manner of Primary Minds and Mental Factors (Sems-dang sems-byung-gi tshul gsal-bar ston-pa blo-gsal mgul-rgyan) explains that when seeing a blue object, for example, just as the primary consciousness is generated in the aspect of blue, so too the mental factors that accompany it are also generated in the aspect of blue. Thus, Vaibhashika asserts direct cognition (dngos-shes) of a focal object with which the consciousness and accompanying mental factors directly take on the mental aspect of their focal object without the intermediary of a mental hologram appearing with this aspect. 

Vasubandhu goes on to explain the additional congruence in the system of five features, but here calls the fourth feature “time” (dus) rather than “congruence”:

  • Substantial entity (rdzas) – just as the primary consciousness constitutes one substantial entity, likewise each of the mental factors as well constitutes one substantial entity. 

Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen explains that just as the consciousness is from the homogeneous class (ris-mthun) as all other instances of that same type of consciousness, but each is its own substantial entity, likewise the mental factors, such as feeling, are also of the same class as other instances of the same type of mental factor, but each also is its own substantial entity. Based on being a substantial entity, each is able to perform its specific, individual function and thus has substantially established existence (rdzas-su grub-pa), equivalent to existence established from its own side.  

The word translated as “substantial entity” (rdzas, Skt. dravya) also means natal source. Thus, in the Vaibhashika system, the primary consciousness and each of the mental factors that accompany it come from their own natal source – namely, their own individual tendency (sa-bon; seed) having the ability to give rise to them.

Five Congruent Features According to Sautrantika, Sautrantika-Svatantrika and Prasangika

The Sautrantika, Sautrantika-Svatantrika and Prasangika tenet systems assert the congruent features of reliance and object in the same way as does Vaibhashika. They define congruence of time slightly differently as arising, abiding and ceasing at the same time as each other. However, they differ greatly concerning the fourth feature:

  • Mental aspect – 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.

Gelugpa interprets these mental holograms as being fully transparent and that cognition of an external commonsense object is through them. Vaibhashika, however, does not accept that an external focal object casts its aspect on a consciousness in the form of a mental hologram. 

Sautrantika and Sautrantika-Svatantrika also accept congruence of substantial entity and natal source in the same way as does Vaibhashika. Prasangika, however, does not assert substantially established existence, although it accepts that the primary consciousness and each of the mental factors come from their own individual tendencies as their natal source. 

Five Congruent Features According to Chittamatra and Yogachara-Svatantrika

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

  • Object focused on (dmigs-pa) – cognizing the identical item as what they are focused on and not different ones from each other
  • Cognitive approach (mthun-par rtogs-pa) – being items that are other types of functional phenomena (dngos-po) from each other and not the same type of functional phenomenon
  • Compatibility (mthun-pa) – being items that are compatible with each other and not incompatible
  • Time (dus) – being “like-time” items and not “unlike-time” items
  • Plane and level (khams-dang sa) – being of compatible planes of samsaric existence or levels of mental constancy, not incompatible planes or levels.

In Commentary on (Asanga’s)Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa’i bshad pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccayabhāṣyā), Jinaputra Yashomitra (rGyal-ba’i sras Grags-pa’i bshes-gnyen, Skt. Jīnaputra Yaśomitra) explains the last four of these:

  • Cognitive approach – in any cognition, a consciousness is not congruent with another consciousness and a feeling, for instance, is not congruent with another feeling
  • Compatibility – without incompatible pairs of mental factors, such as longing desire and hostility, or constructive and destructive
  • Time – without items of two different times, such as a pair of presently happening and not-yet-happening ones or a pair of no-longer-happening and presently happening ones
  • Plane and level – without items of different planes or levels, such as a pair of ones existing on the plane of sensory objects of desire (desire realm) and the plane of ethereal forms (form realm), or on the first level of mental constancy (the first dhyana) and the second level. 

Tsongkhapa’s disciple, Gyaltsab Je (rGyal tshab rJe Dar-ma rin-chen), in The Essence of an Ocean of Special Topics of Knowledge, An Excellent Explanation (Legs-par bshad-pa chos mngon rgya-mtsho’i snying-po), his commentary on Asanga’s text, explains them with some different names, in a different order and somewhat differently:

  • Natal source (rdzas) – in any cognition, the mental factors, such as feeling, that accompany a primary consciousness originating with only one from a homogeneous class (ris-mthun) and not two. Further, although, in cognizing one item that they are focused on, the primary consciousness and accompanying mental factors being established from only each of their homogeneous classes and not needing to be from other ones. 

Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen explains that “not need to be from other ones” means that they do not originate from different natal sources from each other. In other words, the primary consciousness, accompanying mental factors and object focused on in any cognition all arise from the same natal source, a karmic tendency for that cognition. This Chittamatra assertion is in contrast with the Vaibhashika one that each component in a cognition originates from its own natal source, its own tendency.

  • Object focused on – being directed at the same object focused on and its same aspect (rnam-pa).

In accord with the True Aspectarian interpretation of Chittamatra, Gelugpa asserts that sensory non-conceptual cognition cognizes commonsense objects that extend over all their sensory information and over time, despite the existence of these objects not being established externally to the consciousness cognizing them. Thus, although sensory non-conceptual cognition lacks an external focal object (dmigs-yul) that exists prior to the cognition of it, it does have a commonsense object as its object focused on. The appearing object of the cognition, however, is a focal aspect (dmigs-rnam) of that object, somewhat like a mental hologram of the sensory information that the type of sensory consciousness of the cognition can cognize through the power of the cognitive sensor involved – for instance, the colored form of a sight that eye consciousness can cognize through the power of the photosensitive cells of the eyes.

  • Essential nature (ngo-bo) – when directed at the same object focused on and the same focal aspect, being compatible, for instance with all being disturbing or not, or constructive or destructive. 
  • Time (dus) – having the same arising, abiding and ceasing 
  • Plane (khams, realm) and level of mind (sa) – being items within the same plane of samsaric existence or within the same level of mental constancy (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyāna). There are three planes of samsaric existence: the plane of sensory objects of desire (‘dod-khams, desire realm), the plane of ethereal forms (gzugs-khams, form realm), and the plane of formless beings (gzugs-med khams, formless realm).

Congruent Affecting Variables

All mental factors are congruent affecting variables. The aggregate of affecting variables contains all of them other than feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba) and distinguishing (‘du-shes, recognition). Although the latter two mental factors 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 imputation phenomena on the basis of a mental continuum, they produce effects on that continuum. They are included in the aggregate of other affecting variables, but do not share five congruent features with the primary consciousness and mental factors they accompany. Examples include positive karmic potentials (bsod-rnams, Skt. puṇya), negative karmic potential (sdig-pa. Skt. pāpa), tendencies, habits (bag-chags) and the conventional “me” (nga).