Cognitive Objects and Conditions for Cognition to Arise

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Objects of Cognition

There are four (types) of cognitive objects: (1) appearing, (2) cognitively taken, (3) conceptually implied and (4) involved. Appearing objects and cognitively taken objects are mutually inclusive. Except for (those having) appearances of falling hairs and so on, which do not rely on an external object, all cognitions have an appearing object.

In general, cognitions may be divided into sensory and mental. Each of these include valid and invalid cognitions, correct apprehensions, and distortions. Sensory cognitions are never conceptual. They may be either valid bare cognitions or subsequent, non-determining or distorted ones. When they are distorted, they may or may not rely on a concrete item before them. For instance, seeing a white conch as yellow relies on the external object of a conch, which is cognitively taken with the incorrect color, and a mental hologram as such arises in the cognition. But for a person with cataract who has the false feeling of hair falling over their eyes, the appearing object (snang-yul) and cognitively taken object (gzung-yul) is falling hair, although there is no objective falling hair present before the person’s eyes as the basis for their distorted cognition.

Thus, every type of sensory, as well as every mental cognition, has an appearing object as what it cognitively takes in the form of a mental hologram. The appearing object of a non-distorted sensory cognition and of a non-conceptual mental one is the mental hologram of an objective entity, such as a clay jug.

The appearing object of a conceptual mental cognition, however, is a metaphysical entity, such as the object category of “clay jugs.” Although categories, being static, permanent phenomena, have no form and thus cannot appear with one, nevertheless because a category is the direct object that arises in a cognition as if it were directly in front of the consciousness, it is the appearing object of the conceptual cognition and, thus, the cognitively taken object as well.

Conceptually implied objects are phenomena (that arise exclusively) through the gateway of conceptual cognition. They exist in all conceptual cognitions that accord with fact.

The appearing object of a conceptual cognition, then, is the object category “clay jugs.” It is represented in the cognition by the appearance of a mental hologram of a generic clay jug. This mental hologram is the conceptually implied object (zhen-yul). Conceptual cognitions that do not conform to reality, such as one of rabbit horns, are distorted. Although the object category “rabbit horns” would be the appearing object of such a cognition and a mental hologram representing rabbit horns would appear, perhaps mentally constructed from goat horns, a mental hologram depicting actual rabbit horns cannot arise because actual rabbit horns corresponding to such a conceptually implied depiction of them do not exist.

Involved objects are the clear-cut cognized items of valid cognition. Valid cognitions and all individuals possessing them have this (type of object).

Every cognition has not only an appearing object, its cognitively taken object, but also an involved object (jug-yul). In the valid bare cognition of a clay jug, the appearing object is an actual objective clay jug, a mental hologram of which appears clearly. This is explicitly apprehended and is the involved object. If this cognition also implicitly apprehends another objective entity for instance the clay jug's not being a porcelain jug, this negation phenomenon will also be the involved object of that cognition. But it will not be the appearing or cognitively taken object because implicitly apprehended objects do not arise in a cognition as if directly in front of the consciousness. Both the clay jug and its not being a porcelain jug, however, are the involved objects of the bare cognition because they are cognized items (bcad-don, bcad-pa’i don) known by the sensory consciousness of the cognition.

The subsequent bare cognition of the clay jug and its not being a porcelain jug has both of these cognized items as its involved objects since it is a cognition with apprehension. The former will appear, and the latter will not. But during the non-determining visual cognition of the clay jug, the only involved object is the clay jug itself. It still appears clearly but without decisiveness. Since this mind is not an apprehension, it cannot be involved with the negation phenomenon. Although the clay jug is in fact not a porcelain jug, that aspect of the clay jug is not a known item of that non-determining visual cognition. There are no conceptually implied objects in the valid, subsequent or non-determining bare cognitions of the clay jug, because these ways of knowing are all non-conceptual.

In the non-conceptual distorted visual cognition of a blue snow mountain, the snow mountain itself, which is white, is the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen), the external object at which the visual cognition is aimed. The appearing object and cognitively taken object is a blue snow mountain that arises in the cognition as a mental hologram. This mental representation of a blue snow mountain is the involved object of the distorted cognition, the cognized item known by the visual cognition, even though what it is an appearance of does not exist in reality. However, there is no conceptually implied object because this cognition, being visual, is non-conceptual.

When you see an object and conclude it is a clay jug because it has a fat belly, a flat indented base and can be used to pour water, the first instance of such knowledge is a valid inferential cognition based on popular convention and also a conceptual cognition based on semantics. The appearing object of this cognition is the object category “clay jugs,” a metaphysical entity, and this is the cognitively taken object. It arises as a conceptual isolate and is represented by a mental hologram of a generic clay jug. The conceptual cognition does not cognize the external clay jug. Conceptual cognitions do not have focal conditions, external objects that they are aimed at and which cast an aspect of themselves on the mental consciousness. The external clay jug, however, might be seen non-conceptually by a visual bare cognition that is simultaneous with this conceptual cognition. 

The conceptual cognition cognizes the mental hologram of a fat-bellied object through the semi-transparent “veil” of the object category “clay jugs,” equivalent to the conceptual isolate “nothing other than a clay jug.” The cognition deceptively mixes them together with a conceptually implied object so that the mental hologram of the fat-bellied object does not appear as clearly as it would with visual bare cognition. Only the mental hologram representing a generic clay jug is the involved object of the conceptual cognition; it is the conceptual cognition’s cognized item. The external fat-bellied object is merely the basis clung to (zhen-gzhi) by the conceptually implied object. The analysis of the objects remains the same for the subsequent cognition of this conceptual inferential cognition.

In the distorted conceptual cognition of a blue snow mountain when looking at a white one, the appearing object is the object category “blue snow mountains” and this is the appearing object and cognitively taken object. A mental hologram representing a blue snow mountain appears in the cognition as the involved object and cognized item. The actual white snow mountain, with which this mental hologram of a blue one is mixed, is also the involved object and cognized object, but there is no conceptually implied object because there is no such thing as a blue snow mountain.

Although the conceptually implied object of a (non-distorted) conceptual cognition appears (unclearly) to that conceptual cognition, it is not its appearing object. Likewise, although its appearing object is the locus of the conceptual implication, it is not its conceptually implied object.

In the non-distorted conceptual cognition of a clay jug, then, the conceptually implied object is the mental hologram of a genetic clay jug, which appears, but only unclearly, since it is veiled by the object category and conceptual isolate. The appearing object is the object category as the locus of the conceptual implication (zhen-sa), but the object category itself is not the conceptually implied object. These distinctions should be noted.

The Conditions for Cognition to Arise

Sensory bare cognitions have three (conditions for their arising): a focal condition, a dominating condition and an immediately preceding condition.

What causes you in general to have the cognitions you do is your previous karma. As the result of your past actions you experience things in the present. These three types of conditions are what help bring about the cognitions caused by your karma.

In the sensory bare cognition taking a visible form (as its object), the condition of there being something that causes an aspect of itself to be presented (to the sensory consciousness) is its focal condition. Something having that defining characteristic would be, for instance, a visible form.

Thus, the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen) for the sensory bare cognition of a clay jug is the clay jug itself. In the distorted sensory cognition of a person with cataract seeing hair falling over their eyes, there is no focal condition because there is no hair falling as an external object. Such distorted cognition arises from other conditions independently of a focal one.

The condition that by its own power causes such a sensory bare cognition to arise is its dominating condition. It has two dominating conditions, a shared and an unshared one. The first would be the mental (sensor that serves) as its dominating condition and the second the eye sensors, for instance.

In a general sense, the cognitive sensor of the mind (yid-kyi dbang-po), as consciousness, can be the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen), literally the “overlord condition,” for any mental bare cognition or sensory bare cognition cognitively taking any kind of object – a form, a sound and so forth. Thus, it is shared or unspecialized. On the other hand, the physical cognitive sensors of the eyes (mig-gi dbang-po), referring to the photosensitive cells of the eyes, are its unshared or specialized dominating condition since they serve as such. Any sensory bare cognition, then, has two dominating conditions for its arising. A specific visual one, for instance, relies on the unshared dominating condition of the eye sensors and the shared one of the non-physical cognitive sensor of the mind.

The condition that gives rise to the clarity and awareness (factors) of such a sensory bare cognition is the third one, for example the mental cognition that occurred immediately before it.

When you have sensory cognition of a clay jug, the first instance is your bare cognition of it, an initial valid way of knowing. The next moments are subsequent cognitions and the last is non-determining. This sequence is followed immediately by a tiny moment of non-determining, non-conceptual mental cognition also taking this form. The immediately preceding condition (de-ma-thag-rkyen) for the initial sensory bare cognition is the conceptual mental cognition that occurred immediately before it and with which you had the intention to look at the clay jug. The immediately preceding condition for each of the subsequent moments is the cognition that came directly before it.

As for such things as sensory bare cognitions taking sounds and so forth (as their objects, their conditions are to be understood) in a similar fashion.

In the Chittamatra system, the dominating and immediately preceding conditions (of sensory bare cognition) are explained in almost the same way (as in the Sautrantika system). However, concerning focal conditions, they have their dissimilar specific ways of asserting whether they are actual or nominal.

Using skillful means, Buddha taught many different tenet systems of philosophical theories, each giving a progressively more refined level of explanation concerning the mind and other topics. With the Sautrantika system, Buddha explained that there were substantially established external objects and thus all sensory bare cognitions have an actual objective focal condition that serves as the natal source (rdzas) for the arising of the cognition and which already exists before the cognition of it occurs. However, from the Chittamatra point of view, Buddha explained that in the sense that nothing can be established as existing independently of being cognized or cognizable, there actually are no externally established objects.

From the Sautrantika point of view, the cognitive portions of your cognitions arise from the karmic potentials for experiencing them, which abide as imputation phenomena on your mental consciousness as karmic tendencies (sa-bon), literally “seeds.” According to the Chittamatra explanation, such karmic tendencies are imputation phenomena on your foundation consciousness (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, Skt. ālayavijñāna), which is another type of primary consciousness that each limited being possesses. These karmic tendencies, however, are not only the natal sources for the conscious portions of your cognitions – that is, their primary consciousness, mental factors and reflexive awareness – but also for their cognitive objects. This is because, in a certain sense, objects of cognition cannot exist separately from your cognition of them. Therefore, according to this explanation, the focal condition of a cognition is only nominal (btags) because it does not exist as an external object. The object of a cognition, then, does not precede or cause your sensory bare cognition of it, as the Sautrantikas would explain, but rather the cognitive portion and object portion both arise, simultaneously, from the same karmic seed as their natal source.

These explanations concerning external objects, foundation consciousness and the nominal existence of focal conditions are further refined in the Madhyamika theories of the Svatantrikas and Prasangikas.

As for how the mental bare cognition indicated here arises, there are (two traditions concerning) the mental bare cognition (that comes) from the second phase of sensory bare cognition onwards. (One is that) mental and sensory (cognitions) arise in alternation and (the other is) the triple gait that Alamkara (Upadhyaya) asserts concerning mental bare cognition. Neither are accepted by our own tradition, which asserts (instead) that it arises only at the end of a continuum of sensory bare cognition.

According to the explanation tradition of alternating arising, you first have a valid initial phase of bare visual cognition of a clay jug, for instance. This is followed by alternating moments of subsequent visual cognition and mental bare cognition of the clay jug, one after the other.

The Indian master Alamkara Upadhyaya, alias Prajnakaragupta, author of A Filigree for (Dharmakirti’s) “Commentary to [Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of] Validly Cognizing Minds’” (Pramāṇavārttika-ālaṃkāra), however, explained that after an initial phase of valid bare visual cognition you have three cognitions happening together, simultaneously, namely subsequent visual cognition, mental bare cognition and the bare cognition of reflexive awareness.

The tradition followed here does not accept either position. Rather, it asserts that, following this initial valid phase of bare visual cognition, there is a second phase of subsequent visual cognition ending with a moment of non-determining bare cognition. Only at the conclusion of such a sequence does the tiniest moment of mental bare cognition arise, and for ordinary beings this is always non-determining.

The differences between conceptual and non-conceptual cognition can more or less be known from what has been said above. (In short), both sensory cognition and bare cognition may only be non-conceptual, whereas mental cognition is of two kinds, either conceptual or non-conceptual.