Mind as Mental Activity
According to the Buddhist definition, mind (sems) is mere clarity and awareness (gsal-rig-tsam) and refers to the individual, subjective mental activity of experiencing things (myong-ba). Clarity means giving rise to cognitive appearances of things (‘char-ba), similar to mental holograms, and awareness refers to cognitively engaging with them (‘jug-pa). Mere implies that this occurs without a separate unaffected, monolithic “me” that is either controlling or observing this activity. The “I” exists, but merely as an imputation based on a continuity of everchanging moments of experiencing everchanging things.
Ways of Being Aware of Something
Ways of being aware of something (shes-pa) include all the types of mental activity. They include:
- Primary consciousnesses (rnam-shes)
- Mental factors (sems-byung, subsidiary awarenesses).
The Sautrantika and Chittamatra systems of tenets add a third type,
- Reflexive awareness (rang-rig).
Reflexive awareness accompanies every moment of non-conceptual and conceptual cognition of an object, although it itself remains always non-conceptual. It focuses on and cognizes only the other awarenesses of the cognition – namely, the primary consciousness and mental factors – as well as their validity. It does not cognize the objects of the primary consciousnesses and mental factors on which it focuses. It plants the nonstatic abstraction (ldan-min ‘du-byed, noncongruent affecting variable) of a mental impression (bag-chags) of the cognition it cognizes, which then allows for subsequently recalling the cognition (dran-pa, mindfulness). Recalling it occurs through conceptual cognition of a mental aspect resembling an object previously cognized and a category (spyi, universal) that mentally derives from the object and into which fit all mental aspects resembling the object.
According to the Gelug tradition, within the Madhyamaka system, only the Yogachara-Svatantrika-Madhyamaka subdivision accepts reflexive awareness. Sautrantika-Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and Prasangika-Madhyamaka reject even its conventional existence (tha-snyad-du yod-pa). According to the non-Gelug schools, all divisions of Madhyamaka accept the conventional existence of reflexive awareness.
All Buddhist systems accept that there are at least six types of primary consciousness:
- Eye consciousness (mig-gi rnam-shes)
- Ear consciousness (rna’i rnam-shes)
- Nose consciousness (sna’i rnam-shes)
- Tongue consciousness (lce’i rnam-shes)
- Body consciousness (lus-kyi rnam-shes)
- Mind consciousness (yid-kyi rnam-shes).
Unlike the Western view of consciousness as a general faculty that can be aware of all sensory and mental objects, Buddhism differentiates six types of consciousness, each of which is specific to one sensory field or to the mental field.
A primary consciousness cognizes merely the essential nature (ngo-bo) of an object, which means the category of phenomenon to which something belongs. For example, eye consciousness cognizes a sight as merely a sight.
The Chittamatra schools add two more types of primary consciousness to make their list of an eightfold network of primary consciousnesses (rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad):
- Deluded awareness (nyon-yid)
- Foundation consciousness, alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundation consciousness, storehouse consciousness).
Alayavijnana is an individual consciousness, not a universal one, underlying all moments of cognition. It cognizes the same objects as the cognitions it underlies, but is a non-determining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa, inattentive cognition) and lacks clarity of its objects. It carries karmic legacies (sa-bon) and the mental impressions of memories, in the sense that both are nonstatic abstractions imputed on the alayavijnana. The continuity of an individual alayavijnana ceases with the attainment of enlightenment.
Deluded awareness aims at the alayavijnana and cognizes its ripening factor (rnam-smin-gi cha) as a false “me.” On a gross level, it cognizes it as a “me” that exists as a static, monolithic entity independently from its aggregates (rtag gcig rang-dbang-can). The aggregates refer to the five aggregate factors (phung-po, Skt. skandha) that comprise each moment of our experience. The five are forms of physical phenomena (including the body), feeling a level of happiness, distinguishing, other affecting variables (emotions and so on), and primary consciousness.
On a subtler level, deluded awareness cognizes the ripening factor of the alayavijnana as a “me” that is a substantially, self-sufficiently knowable entity that can hold its own position (rang-rkya ‘dzin-thub-pa’i rdzas-yod).
According to many authors of the non-Gelug schools, Madhyamaka also accepts that there are eight types of primary consciousness, with alayavijnana and deluded awareness added to the usual six. Many of these authors, however, explain that these two only appear as having truly established existence as their conventional truth, but their deepest truth is their voidness (emptiness) of such false existence. They assert that conventional truth only appears to deluded minds and do not assert, as Gelug does, mere conventionalities (tha-snyad-pa) that lack any appearance of self-established existence and therefore can appear to the mind of a Buddha.
Some non-Gelug authors, however, especially those who assert Mahamadhyamaka and other-voidness, assert an alayavijnana that is equivalent to the abiding Buddha-nature. Others explain various types of alaya in the context of mahamudra and dzogchen teachings.
Gelug authors assert that alayavijnana and deluded awareness do not exist either as conventional truths or as mere conventionalities. Therefore, they assert that all Madhyamaka schools, even Yogachara-Svatantrika, assert only six types of primary consciousness.
General Discussion of Mental Factors
Like primary consciousnesses, mental factors are also merely ways of being aware of something. They are aware of their objects in special ways, but without interpolating (sgro-‘dogs, adding something that is not there) or repudiating (skur-‘debs, denying something that is there). Some perform functions that help the primary consciousness to cognitively take (‘dzin-pa) an object. Others add an emotional flavor to the taking of the object.
A network of mental factors accompanies each moment of primary consciousness and each shares five congruent features (mtshungs-ldan lnga) with the primary consciousness it accompanies, such as all being focused on the same object.
Some ways of being aware of an object do not fit into the categories of either a primary consciousness or a mental factor. The most common examples are principal awarenesses (gtso-sems). Within a cognition, a principal awareness is an awareness, consisting of the composite of a primary consciousness and its accompanying mental factors, that is the prominent way of being aware of the object of the cognition. It characterizes the type of cognition that is occurring.
An example of a principal awareness is bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the composite of a mind consciousness focused on one’s own individual future enlightenment and such mental factors as the intention to achieve that enlightenment and to benefit all others by means of that attainment. According to the Gelug presentation, the five types of deep awareness (ye-shes) – mirror-like, equalizing, individualizing, accomplishing, and sphere of reality (Skt. dharmadhatu) – are other examples.
Count of the Mental Factors
There are many different systems of abhidharma (chos-mngon-pa, special topics of knowledge), each with its individual count and list of mental factors. Often, the definitions of the awarenesses they assert in common differ as well.
For example, the Theravada system presented in An All-Inclusive Text on Points from Topics of Knowledge (Pali: Abhidhammattha-sangaha) by Anuruddha outlines fifty-two mental factors. The standard Bon treatment of the topic, found in Innermost Core of Topics of Knowledge (mDzod-phug) by Shenrab Miwo (gShen-rab mi-bo), unearthed as a treasure-text (gter-ma, terma) by Shenchen Luga (gShen-chen Klu-dga’), lists fifty-one.
In Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge, Vasubandhu specified forty-six mental factors; while in his Discussion of the Five Aggregate Factors (Phung-po lnga rab-tu byed-pa, Skt. Panchaskandha-prakarana), he listed fifty-one. Vasubandhu’s list of fifty-one differs significantly from the Bon version with the same number. Asanga also presented fifty-one mental factors in his Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge. This list repeats Vasubandhu’s list of fifty-one, but with different definitions of many of the awarenesses and, in a few places, a slight change in their order.
The Madhyamaka schools follow Asanga’s version. Here, we shall present his system, based on the explanations the seventeenth-century Gelug master Yeshey-gyeltsen (Kha-chen Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan) gave in Clearly Indicating the Manner of Primary and Mental factors (Sems-dang sems-byung-gi tshul gsal-bar bstan-pa). We shall indicate some of the basic variations only from Vasubandhu’s Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge, since the Tibetans commonly study this text as well.
- Five ever-functioning mental factors (kun-’gro lnga)
- Five ascertaining ones (yul-nges lnga)
- Eleven constructive emotions (dge-ba bcu-gcig)
- Six root disturbing emotions and attitudes (rtsa-nyon drug)
- Twenty auxiliary disturbing emotions (nye-nyon nyi-shu)
- Four changeable mental factors (gzhan-‘gyur bzhi).
These lists of mental factors are not exhaustive. There are many more than just fifty-one. Many good qualities (yon-tan) cultivated on the Buddhist path are not listed separately – for example, generosity (sbyin-pa), ethical discipline (tshul-khrims), patience (bzod-pa), love (byams-pa), and compassion (snying-rje). The various lists are just of certain significant categories of mental factors.
The Five Ever-Functioning Mental Factors
The five ever-functioning mental factors accompany every moment of cognition.
(1) Feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba, feeling) is how we experience the ripenings of our karma. The ripenings include:
- The aggregate factors with which we are born
- The environment in which we live
- The events that happen to us similar to what we have done in the past
- Our feelings to repeat our past patterns of behavior.
A level of happiness is what we experience as the ripening of constructive karma, and a level of unhappiness is what we experience as the ripening of destructive karma. Happiness, neutral, and unhappiness form an unbroken spectrum. Each may be either physical or mental.
Happiness is that feeling which, when it stops, we wish to meet with it again. Unhappiness or suffering is that feeling which, when it arises, we want to be parted from it. A neutral feeling is one that is neither of the former two.
Feelings of levels of happiness may or may not be upsetting. They are upsetting (zang-zing) when they share five congruent features with craving (sred-pa; thirsting) for the aggregate factors of our experience when they are tainted (zag-bcas) – meaning mixed with confusion – and perpetuating (nyer-len) of samsara. They are non-upsetting (zang-zing med-pa) when they share five congruent features with an arya’s total absorption on voidness (mnyam-bzhag, “meditative equipoise”). Only non-upsetting happiness or a non-upsetting neutral feeling may accompany an arya’s total absorption.
(2) Distinguishing (‘du-shes, recognition) takes an uncommon characteristic feature (mtshan-nyid) of the appearing object (snang-yul) of a non-conceptual cognition or a composite feature (bkra-ba) of the appearing object of a conceptual cognition, and ascribes a conventional significance (tha-snyad ‘dogs-pa) to it. It does not, however, necessarily ascribe a name or mental label to its object, nor does it compare it with previously cognized objects. The mental labeling of words and names is an extremely complex conceptual process. Thus, distinguishing differs greatly from “recognition.”
For example, with non-conceptual visual cognition, we can distinguish colored shapes within the visual sense field, for instance a yellow shape. According to Gelug, we can also distinguish commonsense objects with non-conceptual visual cognition, such as a spoon. In such cases, the distinguishing does not ascribe the name yellow or spoon. In fact, distinguishing here does not even know that the color is yellow or that the object is a spoon. It merely distinguishes it as a conventional item. Thus, even a newborn infant can distinguish light or dark, hot or cold. This is known as the distinguishing that takes a characteristic feature concerning an item (don-la mtshan-mar ‘dzin-pa’i ‘du-shes).
In conceptual cognition, distinguishing ascribes a conventional term or meaning (sgra-don) to its object – the appearing object of the cognition, namely an audio category (sgra-spyi) or a meaning category (don-spyi) – as the exclusion of what is other (gzhan-sel), although this is not a process of eliminating alternative possibilities one by one. Nor do the alternative possibilities need to be present in order to exclude them. Thus, in ascribing a name to its object, such as “yellow” or “spoon,” it distinguishes the category "yellow" from everything that is not that category, such as the category "black," or the category "spoon" from everything that is not that category, such as the category "fork." This is known as the distinguishing that takes a characteristic feature concerning a convention (tha-snyad-la mtshan-mar ‘dzin-pa’i ‘du-shes). Non-conceptual cognition lacks this type of distinguishing.
(3) An urge (sems-pa) causes the mental activity to face an object or to go in its direction. In general, it moves a mental continuum to cognitively take an object. A mental continuum (sems-rgyud, mind-stream) is an individual everlasting sequence of moments of mental activity.
Mental karma (yid-kyi las) is equivalent to a mental urge. According to the Sautrantika, Chittamatra, Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, and the non-Gelug Prasangika-Madhyamaka schools, physical and verbal karmas are also mental urges.
(4) Contacting awareness (reg-pa) differentiates (yongs-su gcod-pa) that the object of a cognition is pleasant (yid-du ‘ong-ba), unpleasant, or neutral, and thus serves as the foundation for experiencing it with a feeling of happiness, unhappiness, or a neutral feeling.
(5) Paying attention or taking to mind (yid-la byed-pa) engages (‘jug-pa) the mental activity with the object. The cognitive engagement may be merely to pay some level of attention to the object, from very little attention to very much. It may also be to focus on the object in a certain way. For example, attention may focus on an object painstakingly, in a resetting manner, uninterruptedly, or effortlessly.
[See: Achieving Shamatha]
Alternatively, or additionally, attention may consider an object in a certain manner. It may consider its object concordantly (tshul-bcas yid-byed; correct consideration) as what it actually is or discordantly (tshul-min yid-byed; incorrect consideration) as what it is not. The four types of paying attention discordantly to the five aggregate factors of our experience is to consider them static rather than nonstatic, happiness rather than problematic (suffering), clean rather than unclean, and having a truly existent self rather than lacking such a self. The four types of paying attention to them concordantly are the opposite of these.
All five ever-functioning mental factors are necessarily present in each moment of cognition of anything. Otherwise, our using the object (longs-su spyod-pa) as an object of cognition would be incomplete.
- We do not actually experience an object, unless we feel some level of happiness on the spectrum from happiness through neutral to unhappiness.
- We do not cognitively take something within a sense field as an object of cognition, unless we distinguish some characteristic feature of it.
- We do not even face or go in the direction of an object of cognition, unless we have an urge toward it.
- We do not have any basis for experiencing the object with a feeling, unless we have contacting awareness to differentiate it as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
- We do not actually engage with the specific object, unless we pay some level of attention to it, even if that level is extremely low.
The Five Ascertaining Mental Factors
Vasubandhu defined the following five in a general manner and asserted that they also accompany every moment of cognition. Asanga called them ascertaining mental factors and gave them definitions that are more specialized. For Asanga, they accompany only constructive cognitions that apprehend (rtogs-pa, understand) their objects and thus they are subcategories of what Vasubandhu defined. They enable mental activity to ascertain (nges-pa) its object, which means to take it with certainty.
(1) Positive intention (‘dun-pa) is not merely the motivation (kun-slong) to obtain any object, to achieve any goal, or to do something with the object or goal once obtained or achieved. It is the wish to have a desired constructive object, to do something with it, or to achieve a desired constructive goal. The intention may be the wish to meet with a constructive object previously cognized, the wish not to be parted from a constructive object presently cognized, or keen interest (don-gnyer) in a constructive object to be attained in the future. Positive intention leads to joyful perseverance (brtson-grus) in obtaining the desired object or attaining the desired goal.
(2) Firm conviction (mos-pa) focuses on a fact that we have validly ascertained to be like this and not like that. Its function is to make our belief that a fact is true (dad-pa) so firm that others’ arguments or opinions will not dissuade us. For Vasubandhu, this mental factor means regard. It merely takes its object to have some level of good qualities – on the spectrum from no good qualities to all good qualities – and may be either accurate or distorted.
(3) Recollecting mindfulness (dran-pa) is not merely holding on to any cognized object without losing it as an object of focus. Here, it prevents mental activity from forgetting about or losing a constructive object with which it is familiar. It has three characteristics:
- The object must be something constructive with which we are familiar (‘dris-pa)
- The aspect (rnam-pa) must be that it is focused on this object and does not forget about or lose it
- The function must be that it prevents mental wandering.
Thus, mindfulness is equivalent to a type of “mental glue” (‘dzin-cha) that holds on to the object of focus without letting go. Its strength spans the spectrum from weak to strong.
(4) Mentally fixating (ting-nge-‘dzin, concentration) is not merely keeping fixed on any object of cognition taken by any type of cognition, including sensory cognition. Here, it makes the mental activity stay single-pointedly engaged, with continuity, focused on a labeled constructive object (btags-pa’i dngos-po). In other words, the object of fixation needs to be something specified by Buddha as constructive. Additionally, the object needs to be taken with mental consciousness. This is because mental labeling is a function restricted to conceptual cognition, which is exclusively mental. Fixation is the mental abiding (gnas-cha) on an object and may vary in strength from weak to strong. It serves as a basis for discriminating awareness.
The Karma Kagyu and Sakya traditions teach focusing on a visual object, such as a Buddha statue, as a method for gaining shamatha (a stilled and settled state of mind). This instruction does not contradict Asanga’s definition of mentally fixating. This is because these traditions mean focusing on the Buddha statue as a commonsense object. According to their assertions, the objects of visual cognition are merely moments of colored shapes. Commonsense objects, such as a Buddha statue, are cognized only by conceptual mental cognition. This is because commonsense objects that extend over time and that extend over the sensibilia cognized by other senses are mentally labeled here on the basis of a sequence of visually cognized moments of colored shapes.
(5) Discriminating awareness (shes-rab, “wisdom”) focuses on an object for analysis and differentiates its strong points from its weaknesses or its good qualities from its faults. It differentiates these on the basis of the four axioms (rigs-pa bzhi): dependency, functionality, establishment by reason, and the nature of things. Thus, as with the other ascertaining mental factors, discriminating awareness understands (rtogs-pa) its object – for instance, whether it is constructive, destructive, or unspecified by Buddha to be either. It functions to turn away indecisive wavering about it.
Vasubandhu called this mental factor intelligent awareness (blo-gros) and defined it as the mental factor that decisively discriminates that something is correct or incorrect, constructive or destructive, and so on. It adds some level of decisiveness to distinguishing an object of cognition – even if that level is extremely weak – and may be either accurate or inaccurate. Thus, intelligent awareness does not necessarily understand its object correctly.
The Eleven Constructive Emotions
(1) Believing a fact to be true (dad-pa) focuses on something existent and knowable, something with good qualities, or an actual potential, and considers it either existent or true, or considers a fact about it as true. Thus, it implies accepting reality.
There are three types:
- Clearheadedly believing a fact about something (dang-ba’i dad-pa) is clear about a fact and, like a water purifier, clears the mind. Vasubandhu specified that it clears the mind of disturbing emotions and attitudes about the object.
- Believing a fact based on reason (yid-ches-kyi dad-pa) considers a fact about something to be true based on thinking about reasons that prove it.
- Believing a fact with an aspiration concerning it (mngon-‘dod-kyi dad-pa) considers true both a fact about something and an aspiration we consequently hold about the object, such as that we can attain a positive goal and that we shall attain it.
(2) Moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha, a sense of saving face) is the sense to refrain from negative behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on ourselves. According to Vasubandhu, this mental factor means having a sense of values. It is respect for positive qualities or persons possessing them.
(3) Care for how our actions reflect on others (khrel-yod) is the sense to refrain from negative behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on those connected with us. Those connected with us may be, for instance, our family, teachers, social group, ethnic group, religious order, or countrymen. For Vasubandhu, this mental factor means having scruples, and is a restraint from being brazenly negative. This and the previous mental factor accompany all constructive states of mind.
(4) Detachment (ma-chags-pa) is a bored disgust with (yid-‘byung) and thus lack of longing desire for compulsive existence (srid-pa) and objects of compulsive existence (srid-pa’i yo-byad). It does not necessarily imply, however, total freedom from all longing desire, but just a degree of freedom from it. Detachment may be from the compulsive pursuits of this life, from compulsive pursuits in any lifetime in general, or from the serenity of a release (Skt. nirvana) from compulsive existence. It serves as a basis for not engaging in faulty behavior (nyes-spyod).
(5) Imperturbability (zhe-sdang med-pa) is not wishing to cause harm (mnar-sems) in response to limited beings (sentient beings), our own suffering, or situations entailing suffering that may arise from either of the two or which may simply be the situations in which the suffering occurs. It does not imply total freedom from anger, and it too serves as a basis for not engaging in faulty behavior.
(6) Lack of naivety (gti-mug med-pa) is the discriminating awareness that is aware of the individual details (so-sor rtog-pa) concerning behavioral cause and effect or concerning reality, and which acts as the opponent for naivety about them. The lack of naivety may arise as something acquired at birth (skyes-thob) from the ripening of karma. Alternatively, it may arise from applying ourselves (sbyor-byung) to listening to or reading scriptural texts, pondering their meaning, or meditating on their correctly comprehended meaning. It does not imply total freedom from naivety, and it too serves as a basis for not engaging in faulty behavior.
(7) Perseverance (brtson-‘grus) is zestful vigor for being constructive. Asanga explained five aspects or divisions:
- Armor-like courage (go-cha’i brtson-‘grus), to endure difficulties, gained from reminding ourselves of the joy with which we undertook what we did,
- Constant and respectful application of ourselves to the task (sbyor-ba’i brtson-‘grus)
- Never becoming disheartened or shrinking back (mi-‘god-ba’i brston-‘grus)
- Never withdrawing (mi-ldog-pa’i brtson-‘grus)
- Never becoming complacent (mi-chog-bar mi-‘dzin-pa’i brtson-‘grus).
(8) A sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs, flexibility) is a sense of suppleness or serviceability (las-su rung-ba) of body and mind that allows the mental activity to remain engaged with a constructive object for as long as we wish. It is attained from having cut the continuity of the body and mind from taking detrimental stances, such as mentally wandering or fidgeting. A sense of fitness induces a non-disturbing exhilarating feeling of physical and mental bliss.
(9) A caring attitude (bag-yod, carefulness) is a mental factor that, while remaining in a state of detachment, imperturbability, lack of naivety, and joyful perseverance, causes us to meditate on constructive things and safeguards against leaning toward tainted (negative) things. In other words, being disgusted with and not longing for compulsive existence, not wanting to cause harm in response to its suffering, not being naive about the effects of our behavior, and taking joy in acting constructively, a caring attitude brings us to act constructively and to refrain from destructive behavior. This is because we care about the situations of others and ourselves and about the effects of our actions on both; we take them seriously.
(10) Equilibrium (btang-snyoms) or serenity is a mental factor that, while remaining in a state of detachment, imperturbability, lack of naivety, and joyful perseverance, allows the mental activity to remain effortlessly undisturbed, without flightiness or dullness, in a natural state of spontaneity and openness.
(11) Not being cruel (rnam-par mi-‘tshe-ba) is not merely the imperturbability of not wishing to cause harm to limited beings who are suffering or to irritate or to annoy them. It has, in addition, compassion (snying-rje), the wish for them to be free of their suffering and its causes.
The Six Root Disturbing Emotions and Attitudes
A disturbing emotion or attitude (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha, “afflictive emotion”) is one that when it arises, causes us to lose our peace of mind (rab-tu mi-zhi-ba) and incapacitates us so that we lose self-control. There are six root ones, which act as the roots of the auxiliary disturbing emotions and attitudes. Vasubandhu classified five of the six as being without an outlook on life (lta-min nyon-mongs). Thus, they are disturbing emotions or mental states. The sixth is a set of five with an outlook on life (nyon-mongs lta-ba can) and thus comprises five disturbing attitudes. Asanga called this set of five “disturbing deluded outlooks on life” (lta-ba nyon-mongs-can). Let us call them “deluded outlooks” for short.
Except for the Vaibhashika school of tenets, all other Indian Buddhist tenet systems (grub-mtha’) assert that, other than a few exceptions, all disturbing emotions and attitudes have two levels: doctrinally based (kun-brtags) and automatically arising (lhan-skyes). Doctrinally based disturbing emotions and attitudes arise based on the conceptual framework of a distorted outlook on life. Automatically arising ones occur without such a basis.
Among the disturbing emotions without an outlook, the exception is indecisive wavering and, among those with an outlook, the exceptions are holding a deluded outlook as supreme, an outlook of holding deluded morality or conduct as supreme, and a distorted outlook. These exceptions have no automatically arising form and occur only doctrinally based. The Sautrantika tenet system also does not assert an automatically arising form of an extreme outlook. The Vaibhashika tenet system does not assert an automatically arising form of any disturbing attitude (deluded outlook). According to its assertions, all five deluded outlooks are exclusively doctrinally based.
(1) Longing desire (‘dod-chags) aims at any external or internal tainted object (associated with confusion) – either animate or inanimate – and wishes to acquire it based on regarding the object as attractive by its very nature. It functions to bring us suffering. Although longing desire or greed may occur with either sensory or mental cognition, it is based on a conceptual interpolation beforehand. Note that sensory cognition is always non-conceptual, while mental cognition may be either non-conceptual or conceptual. The preceding interpolation either exaggerates the good qualities of the desired object or adds good qualities that it lacks. Thus, the conceptual interpolation pays attention to the desired object in a discordant manner (incorrect consideration) – for example, considering something dirty (a body filled with excrement) as clean.
From a Western perspective, we may add that when longing desire is aimed at another person or group, it may take the form of wishing to possess the person or group as belonging to us or for us to belong to the person or group. It also would seem that longing desire is often additionally supported by a conceptual repudiation or denial beforehand of the negative qualities of its object.
Vasubandhu defined this root disturbing emotion as attachment or possessiveness. It is wishing not to let go of either any of the five types of desirable sensory objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations) (‘dod-pa’i ‘dod-chags) or of our own compulsive existence (srid-pa’i ‘dod-chags). It is also based on an exaggeration or a discordant way of paying attention to a tainted object. Attachment to desirable sensory objects is attachment to objects of the plane of desirable sensory objects (‘dod-khams, desire realm). Attachment to compulsive existence is attachment to the objects of the plane of ethereal forms (gzugs-khams, form realm) or the plane of formless beings (gzugs-med khams, formless realm). This means attachment to the deep states of meditative trance attained in those realms.
(2) Anger (khong-khro) aims at another limited being, our own suffering, or situations entailing suffering that may arise from either of the two or which may simply be the situations in which the suffering occurs. It is impatient with them (mi-bzod-pa) and wishes to get rid of them such as by damaging or hurting them with ill-will (gnod-sems) or by striking out against them with a pugnacious attitude (kun-nas mnar-sems). It is based on regarding its object as unattractive or repulsive by its very nature and it functions to bring us suffering. Hostility (zhe-sdang) is a subcategory of anger and is directed primarily, although not exclusively, at limited beings.
As with longing desire, although anger may occur with either sensory or mental cognition, it is based on a conceptual interpolation beforehand. The interpolation either exaggerates the negative qualities of the object or adds negative qualities that it lacks. Thus, the conceptual interpolation pays attention to the object in a discordant manner – for example, incorrectly considering something not at fault to be at fault.
From a Western perspective, we may add that when anger or hostility is aimed at another person or group, it may take the form of rejecting the person or group. Alternatively, because of fear of being rejected by the person or group, we may redirect the anger at ourselves. It would also seem that anger is often additionally supported by a conceptual repudiation or denial beforehand of the good qualities of its object.
(3) Arrogance (nga-rgyal, pride) is a puffed-up mind (khengs-pa) based on a deluded outlook toward a transitory network (‘jig-lta). As explained below, this deluded outlook focuses on some aspect or network of aspects from among our five aggregates and identifies it as an unaffected, monolithic “me” separate from the aggregates and lording over them. From among the various forms and levels of a deluded outlook toward a transitory network, it is based specifically on automatically arising grasping for “me” (ngar-‘dzin lhan-skyes). It functions to make us not appreciate others or respect the good qualities of others (mi-gus-pa) and to prevent us from learning anything. There are seven types:
- Arrogance (nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone inferior to myself in some quality.
- Exaggerated arrogance (lhag-pa’i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone equal to myself in some quality.
- Outrageous arrogance (nga-rgyal-las-kyang nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone superior to myself in some quality.
- Egotistic arrogance (nga’o snyam-pa’i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that thinks “me” while focusing on our own samsara-perpetuating aggregates (nyer-len-gyi phung-po).
- False or anticipatory arrogance (mngon-par nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I have attained some quality that I have not actually attained or not yet attained.
- Modest arrogance (cung-zad snyam-pa’i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels that I am just a little bit inferior compared to someone vastly superior to myself in some quality, but still superior to almost everyone else.
- Distorted arrogance (log-pa’i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels that some deviant aspect that I have fallen to (khol-sar shor-ba) is a good quality that I have attained – for instance, being a good hunter.
Vasubandhu mentioned that some Buddhist texts list nine types of arrogance, but they can be subsumed under three of the above categories – arrogance, exaggerated arrogance, and modest arrogance. The nine are puffed-up minds that feel:
- I am superior to others
- I am equal to others
- I am inferior to others
- Others are superior to me
- Others are equal to me
- Others are inferior to me
- There is no one superior to me
- There is no one equal to me
- There is no one inferior to me.
(4) Unawareness (ma-rig-pa, ignorance), according to both Asanga and Vasubandhu, is the bewilderment or dumbfoundedness (rmongs-pa) of not knowing (mi-shes-pa) behavioral cause and effect or the very nature of reality (de-kho-na-nyid). Bewilderment is a heaviness of mind and body. Unawareness, then, as a disturbing state of mind that causes and perpetuates uncontrollably recurring rebirth (samsara), does not include not knowing someone’s name. Unawareness produces distorted certainty (log-par nges-pa), indecisive wavering, and complete befuddlement (kun-nas nyon-mongs-pa). In other words, unawareness makes us stubborn in our certainty about something incorrect, insecure and unsure of ourselves, and stressed.
According to A Commentary on (Dignaga’s “Compendium of) Validly Cognizing Minds” (Tshad-ma rnam-‘grel, Skt. Pramanavarttika) by Dharmakirti, unawareness is also the murky-mindedness of apprehending something in an inverted way (phyin-ci log-tu ‘dzin-pa).
Destructive behavior arises from and is accompanied by unawareness of behavioral cause and effect. Thus, Asanga explained that through this type of unawareness we build up the karma to experience worse states of rebirth. Unawareness of the true nature of reality gives rise to and accompanies any activity – destructive, constructive, or unspecified. Focusing only on constructive behavior, Asanga explained that through this type of unawareness we build up the karma to experience better states of samsaric rebirth.
According to Vasubandhu and all Hinayana tenet systems (Vaibhashika and Sautrantika), unawareness of the true nature of reality refers only to unawareness of how persons (gang-zag) exist, both ourselves and others. This is because the Hinayana schools do not assert a lack of impossible identity of phenomena (chos-kyi bdag-med, selflessness of phenomena, identitylessness of phenomena).
According to the Sakya and Nyingma interpretations of Prasangika and all four Tibetan traditions’ interpretations of the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and Chittamatra views, Asanga’s reference to unawareness of the true nature of reality also does not include unawareness of how phenomena exist. This is because they assert that unawareness of how phenomena exist is not a disturbing state of mind and does not prevent liberation. They include this mental factor among the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib), in other words the obscurations regarding all knowables and which prevent omniscience.
The Gelug and Karma Kagyu interpretations of the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view include unawareness of the true nature of how all phenomena exist as a form of unawareness that is a disturbing state of mind. Thus, they include it in Asanga’s reference and in the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib), in other words the obscurations that are disturbing emotions and attitudes and which prevent liberation.
Naivety (gti-mug) is a subcategory of unawareness and, when used in its strict sense, refers only to the unawareness that accompanies destructive states of mind – both unawareness of behavioral cause and effect and of the true nature of reality.
Longing desire (or attachment, depending on the definition), hostility, and naivety are the three poisonous emotions (dug-gsum).
(5) Indecisive wavering (the-tshoms, doubt) is entertaining two minds about what is true – in other words, wavering between accepting or rejecting what is true. What is true refers to such facts as the four noble truths and behavioral cause and effect. Moreover, the wavering may tend more to the side of what is true, more to the side of what is false, or be evenly divided between the two. Indecisive wavering functions as a basis for not engaging with what is constructive.
Asanga pointed out that the main cause of problems here is disturbing, deluded indecisive wavering (the-tshoms nyon-mongs-can). It refers to the wavering that tends more toward an incorrect decision about what is true. It is the troublemaker because, if the wavering tends toward what is correct or is even divided, it could lead to engaging in what is constructive.
(6) Deluded outlooks view their objects in a certain way. They seek and regard their objects as things to latch on to (yul-‘tshol-ba), without they themselves scrutinizing, analyzing, or investigating them. In other words, they merely have an attitude toward their objects. They occur only during conceptual cognition and are accompanied by either an interpolation or a repudiation. As mental factors, however, they themselves do not interpolate or repudiate anything.
There are five deluded outlooks. Asanga explained that each is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness (shes-rab nyon-mongs-can). They are not subcategories, however, of the discriminating awareness that is an ascertaining mental factor. This is because they do not fulfill Asanga’s criterion for this ascertaining awareness, that they understand their objects correctly.
Moreover, Asanga explained that each of the five deluded outlooks entails:
- Tolerance for the deluded outlook, since it lacks the discrimination to see that it brings suffering
- Attachment to it, since it does not realize that it is deluded
- Consideration of it as intelligent
- A conceptual framework that it tightly holds on to
- Speculation that it is correct.
The Five Deluded Outlooks
(1) A deluded outlook toward a transitory network (‘jig-tshogs-la lta-ba, ‘jig-lta, false view of a transitory network) seeks and latches on to some transitory network from our own samsara-perpetuating five aggregates as a basis on which to interpolate (project) an accompanying conceptual framework (attitude) that it tightly holds on to. The conceptual framework is that of “me” (nga, bdag) or “mine” (nga’i-ba, bdag-gi-ba). It does not focus on the aggregates of anyone else. The “me” or “mine” here, however, do not refer to the conventionally existent ones, but rather to the false ones that do not correspond to anything real at all. The false “me” may be either a static monolith that can exist independently of the aggregate factors (rtag-gcig-rang-dbang-gi bdag) or a self-sufficiently knowable “me” (rang-rkya thub-‘dzin-pa’i bdag). Thus, a deluded outlook toward a transitory network is based on unawareness of how the conventional “me” exists and is accompanied by grasping for the impossible soul of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-‘dzin). This grasping for the impossible soul of a person is what actually projects the interpolation of a false “me” or “mine,” not the deluded outlook itself.
In more detail, a deluded outlook toward a transitory network is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness that “grasps” at a transitory network of aggregates as being identical with “me” (ngar-‘dzin), namely with a false “me.” Or it grasps at them as “mine” (nga-yir ‘dzin), in other words as totally different from a false “me,” for instance as their possessor, their controller, or their inhabitant. “Grasping” here means to conceptually cognize its object through the medium of one or more interpolated categories and to consider the interpolation of these categories to be correct. The conceptual categories constitute the conceptual framework that this deluded outlook tightly holds on to. In this case, the interpolated categories include both an impossible false “me” and either “totally identical (one)” or “totally different (many).”
Moreover, a deluded outlook toward a transitory network seeks and latches on to one or more of our aggregate factors, based on distinguishing one or more of them from everything else. As a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness, it adds certainty to this distinguishing. Incorrect consideration (paying attention discordantly) also accompanies this deluded outlook and is the mental factor that actually regards (takes to mind) the aggregate factor or factors focused on as being the interpolated categories.
According to Tsongkhapa, a deluded outlook toward a transitory network does not actually focus on the aggregates, as Vasubandhu and Asanga explain. According to his Gelug Prasangika system, it focuses on the conventional “me,” which is imputed on a transitory network of our aggregate factors. Moreover, the false “me” that it holds on to tightly is also one that has truly established existence.
(2) An extreme outlook (mthar-‘dzin-par lta-ba, mthar-lta) regards our five samsara-perpetuating aggregates in either an eternalist (rtag-pa) or nihilistic (‘chad-pa) way. In his Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo), Tsongkhapa clarified this by explaining that an extreme outlook is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness that focuses on the conventional “me” that the previous disturbing attitude identified with a transitory network. It considers the conventional “me” either as having this identity permanently or as not having continuity in future lives. According to Vasubandhu, an extreme outlook views the samsara-producing aggregate factors themselves as either lasting eternally or ending totally at death, with no continuity in future lives.
(3) Holding a deluded outlook as supreme (lta-ba mchog-tu ‘dzin-pa, an outlook of false supremacy) regards as supreme one of our deluded outlooks and the samsara-perpetuating aggregates based on which the deluded outlook is produced. Tsongkhapa specified that the outlook at which this disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness aims may be our deluded outlook of a transitory network, our extreme outlook, or our distorted outlook. According to Vasubandhu, this disturbing attitude may regard the samsara-perpetuating aggregates, based on which any of the above three deluded outlooks is produced, with the discordant attention that they are totally clean by nature or a source of true happiness.
(4) An outlook of holding deluded morality or conduct as supreme (tshul-khrims-dang brtul-zhugs mchog-tu ‘dzin-pa) regards as purified, liberated, and definitely delivered some deluded morality, some deluded conduct, and the samsara-perpetuating aggregate factors that give rise to the deluded morality and conduct. This deluded outlook derives from holding a deluded outlook of a transitory network, an extreme outlook, or a distorted outlook. It regards the deluded morality and conduct as a path that purifies (‘dag-pa) us from negative karmic force (sdig-pa, negative potentials), liberates (grol-ba) us from disturbing emotions, and definitely delivers (nges-par ‘byin-pa) us from samsara (uncontrollably recurring rebirth). It also regards the samsara-producing aggregates disciplined by them as being purified, liberated, and definitely delivered through the deluded morality and conduct.
Tsongkhapa explained that deluded morality is ridding ourselves of some trivial manner of behavior that is meaningless to give up, such as standing on two feet. Deluded conduct is decisively to engage our way of dressing and our bodies and speech in some trivial manner that is meaningless to adopt, such as the ascetic practice of standing naked on one foot in the hot sun.
(5) A distorted outlook (log-lta, false view) regards an actual cause, an actual effect, an actual functioning, or an existent phenomenon as not being actual or existent. Thus, it is accompanied with at repudiation, for example, of the fact that constructive behavior and destructive behavior are the actual causes of experiencing happiness and unhappiness. The repudiation may be of the fact that happiness and unhappiness are the effects or results that ripen from positive and negative karmic forces. It may be of the fact that past and future lives actually function; or it may be of the fact that the attainment of liberation and enlightenment exists.
According to Tsongkhapa and the Gelug-Prasangika school, a distorted outlook may also regard a false cause, a false effect, a false functioning, or a nonexistent phenomenon as true or existent. Thus, it may also be accompanied by an interpolation, for example, that primal matter (gtso-bo) or the Hindu god Ishvara is the cause or creator of limited beings.
The Twenty Auxiliary Disturbing Emotions
The twenty auxiliary disturbing emotions derive from the three poisonous emotions of longing desire, hostility, or naivety.
(1) Hatred (khro-ba) is a part of hostility and is the harsh intention to cause harm.
(2) Resentment (khon-‘dzin) is a part of hostility and is holding a grudge. It sustains the intention to take revenge and to retaliate for harm that we or our loved ones have received.
(3) Concealment of having acted improperly (‘chab-pa) is a part of naivety and is to hide and not admit, either to others or to ourselves, our uncommendable actions (kha-na ma-tho-ba). These may be naturally uncommendable actions (rang-bzhin-gyi kha-na ma-tho-ba), such as the destructive action of killing a mosquito. Alternatively, they may be prohibited uncommendable actions (bcas-pa’i kha-na ma-tho-ba) – neutral actions that Buddha prohibited for certain individuals and which we vowed to refrain from, such as eating after noon if we are a full monk or nun.
(4) Outrage (‘tshig-pa) is a part of hostility and is the intention to speak abusively, based on hatred and resentment.
(5) Envy (phrag-dog) is a part of hostility and is a disturbing emotion that is unable to bear others’ good qualities or good fortune, due to excessive attachment to our own gain or to the respect we receive. This is not quite the same as the English word "envy," which, in addition, wishes to have these qualities or good fortune ourselves and often has the wish for the other person to be deprived of them. It is also not the same as the English word "jealousy," when used in the context of an emotional relationship.
(6) Miserliness (ser-sna) is a part of longing desire and is an attachment to material gain or respect and, not wanting to give up any possessions, clings to them and does not want to share them with others or use them ourselves. Thus, miserliness is more than the English word stinginess. Stinginess is merely unwillingness to share or to use something we possess. It lacks the aspect of hoarding that miserliness possesses.
(7) Pretension (sgyu) is in the categories of longing desire and naivety. Because of excessive attachment to our material gain and the respect we receive, and activated by wanting to deceive others, pretension is pretending to exhibit or claiming to have a good quality that we lack.
(8) Concealment of shortcomings or hypocrisy (g.yo) is a part of longing desire and naivety. Because of excessive attachment to our material gain and the respect we receive, this is the state of mind to hide our shortcomings and faults from others.
(9) Smugness or conceit (rgyags-pa) is a part of longing desire. From seeing signs of a long life or of any other samsaric glory, based of being healthy, young, wealthy, and so on, smugness is a puffed-up mind that feels happy about and takes pleasure in this.
(10) Cruelty (rnam-par ‘tshe-ba) is a part of hostility and has three forms.
- Hooliganism (snying-rje-ba med-pa) is a cruel lack of compassion with which we wish to cause mischief or harm to others.
- Self-destructiveness (snying-brtse-ba med-pa) is a cruel lack of self-love with which we wish to cause mischief or harm to ourselves.
- Taking perverse pleasure (brtse-ba med-pa) is cruelly rejoicing when seeing or hearing of others’ suffering.
(11) No moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha med-pa, no sense of honor) is a part of any of the three poisonous emotions. It is the lack of any sense to refrain from destructive behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on ourselves. According to Vasubandhu, this mental factor means having no sense of values. It is a lack of respect for positive qualities or persons possessing them.
(12) No care for how our actions reflect on others (khrel-med) is a part of any of the three poisonous emotions. It is the lack of any sense to refrain from destructive behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on those connected to us. Such persons may include our family, teachers, social group, ethnic group, religious order, or countrymen. For Vasubandhu, this mental factor means having no scruples, and is a lack of restraint from being brazenly negative. This and the previous mental factor accompany all destructive states of mind.
(13) Foggy-mindedness (rmugs-pa) is a part of naivety. It is a heavy feeling of body and mind that makes the mind unclear, unserviceable, and incapable either of giving rise to a cognitive appearance of its object or of apprehending the object correctly. When the mind actually becomes unclear, due to foggy-mindedness, this is mental dullness (bying-ba).
(14) Flightiness of mind (rgod-pa) is a part of longing desire. It is the mental factor that causes our attention to fly off from its object and to recollect or think about something attractive that we have previously experienced instead. Thus, it causes us to lose our peace of mind.
(15) Disbelieving a fact (ma-dad-pa) is a part of naivety and has three forms that are the contrary of the three forms of believing a fact to be true.
- Disbelieving a fact that is based on reason, such as disbelieving behavioral cause and effect.
- Disbelieving a fact, such as the good qualities of the Three Jewels of Refuge, such that it causes our mind to become muddied with disturbing emotions and attitudes and to become unhappy.
- Disbelieving a fact, such as the existence of the possibility for us to attain liberation, such that we have no interest in it and no aspiration to attain it.
(16) Laziness (le-lo) is a part of naivety. With laziness, the mind does not go out to or engage with something constructive because of clinging to the pleasures of sleep, lying down, relaxing, and so on. There are three types:
- Lethargy and procrastination (sgyid-lugs), not feeling like doing something constructive now and putting off until later because of apathy toward the uncontrollably recurring sufferings of samsara, clinging to the pleasure of being idle, or craving sleep as an escape.
- Clinging to negative or trivial activities or things (bya-ba ngan-zhen), such as gambling, drinking, friends who are bad influences on us, going to parties, and so on.
- Discouragement and feelings of inadequacy (zhum-pa).
(17) Not caring (bag-med, carelessness, recklessness). Based on longing desire, hostility, naivety, or laziness, not caring is the state of mind not to engage in anything constructive and not to restrain from activities tainted with confusion. It is not taking seriously and thus not caring about the effects of our behavior.
(18) Forgetting (brjed-nges). Based on recollection of something toward which we have a disturbing emotion or attitude, forgetting is losing our object of focus so that it will wander to that disturbing object. Forgetting about an object of focus or forgetfulness serves as the basis for mental wandering (rnam-par g.yeng-ba).
(19) Being unalert (shes-bzhin ma-yin-pa) is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness associated with longing desire, hostility, or naivety, that causes us to enter into improper physical, verbal, or mental activity without knowing correctly what is proper or improper. Thus, we do not take steps to correct or prevent our improper behavior.
(20) Mental wandering (rnam-par g.yeng-ba) is a part of longing desire, hostility, or naivety. It is the mental factor that, due to any of the poisonous emotions, causes our mind to be distracted from its object of focus. If we are distracted due to longing desire, the object of our desire need not be something we are already familiar with, as in the case of flightiness of mind.
The Four Changeable Mental Factors
Asanga listed four types of mental factors that have changeable ethical status. They can be constructive, destructive, or unspecified, depending on the ethical status of the cognition with which they share five congruent features.
(1) Sleepiness or sleep (gnyid) is a part of naivety. Sleep is a withdrawal from sensory cognition, characterized by a physical feeling of heaviness, weakness, tiredness, and mental darkness. It causes us to drop our activities.
(2) Regret (‘gyod-pa) is a part of naivety. It is the state of mind that does not wish to repeat doing something, either proper or improper, that we did or that someone else made us do.
(3) Gross detection (rtog-pa) is the mental factor that investigates something roughly, such as detecting if there are mistakes on a page.
(4) Subtle discernment (dpyod-pa) is the mental factor that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.
Mental Factors That Do Not Fall in the Above Categories
Because grasping for true existence (bden-‘dzin) interpolates an impossible mode of existence to its object, it is neither a primary nor a mental factor, although it may accompany both of them. Moreover, because it is not a mental factor, it is also not a disturbing emotion or attitude.
According to the Gelug-Prasangika explanation, grasping for true existence accompanies all moments of conceptual and non-conceptual cognition, except for an arya’s non-conceptual cognition of voidness. It also does not accompany the moment of conceptual cognition of voidness of someone with an applying pathway mind (sbyor-lam, path of preparation) the moment before he or she attains a seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam, path of seeing) with non-conceptual cognition of voidness. During non-conceptual sensory and mental cognition, the grasping for true existence is not manifest (mngon-gyur-ba). According to the Jetsunpa (rJe-btsun Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) textbooks, it is present as a subliminal awareness (bag-la nyal), which is still a way of being aware of something. According to the Panchen textbooks, it is present only as a constant habit (bag-chags), which is not a way of being aware of something, but rather is a noncongruent affecting variable. According to the non-Gelug Madhyamaka presentations, although the habits of grasping for true existence are present during non-conceptual sensory and mental cognition, the grasping is not present. According to the Karma Kagyu assertions, grasping for true existence is also not present during the first moment of conceptual cognition.
Similarly, the deep awareness of total absorption on voidness (mnyam-bzhag ye-shes) and the deep awareness of the subsequent attainment (rjes-thob ye-shes, post-meditation wisdom) are neither primary nor mental factors, although they may accompany both of them. This is because they are not simply ways of being aware of their objects; they also refute the true existence of them.