Non-Determining, Subsequent, Distorted and Indecisive Cognitions

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Non-Determining Cognition

A knowing (of something) that is a non-determining cognition is one whose involved object is an objective entity that appears clearly but without decisiveness. When divided, there are three: (1) (non-determining) sensory bare cognition, (2) (non-determining) mental bare cognition and (3) (non-determining) bare cognition by reflexive awareness.

In general, there are four kinds of bare cognition (mngon-sum): sensory, mental, that of reflexive awareness and yogic. With these, you may know objective entities as the involved objects (’jug-yul). In the Sautrantika system, objective entities (rang-mtshan) are those phenomena the existence of which is established not by their merely being something imputed by conceptual cognition. They include all impermanent phenomena.

When, through a non-defective sense organ, one of your five sensory types of consciousness apprehends an object freshly and correctly, without mixing it with any conceptualizations, this is sensory bare cognition (dbang-mngon). An example is the first moment of your visual consciousness correctly perceiving the form of a clay jug. After having such a sensory bare cognition and before your mind begins to conceptualize about it, your mental consciousness must first also take the form of this clay jug correctly. This is the mental bare cognition (yid-mngon) of a form. It lasts only a very short time. Your initial awareness of such valid cognitions, which allows you later to remember them, is the bare cognition of reflexive awareness (rang-rig mngon-sum). When you have had such bare cognitions yet are unsure of them or your attention is preoccupied, these are then termed non-determining cognitions (snang-la ma-nges-pa).

As for yogic bare cognition in this regard, since everything that appears (to it) is decisively (cognized), there is no such thing as non-determining yogic bare cognition.

Every moment in the continuum of each individual limited being consists of five aggregate factors of experience. Each of these factors is continually changing from moment to moment. This moment-to-moment change is known as subtle impermanence (mi-rtag-pa phra-mo, subtle nonstaticness).

As for these five aggregates, all objects of cognition that are forms of physical phenomena, including the person’s body and its physical cognitive sensors, constitute their aggregate of form (gzugs-kyi phung-po). Their aggregate of consciousness (rnam-shes-kyi phung-po) is their six types of primary consciousness, while their aggregate of distinguishing (’du-shes-kyi phung-po) and aggregate of feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba’i phung-po) are their mental factors performing these two functions. All their other mental factors, as well as their tendencies, constant habits, their conventional “me” or self and all other such impermanent phenomena that are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something are grouped together as their aggregate of other affecting variables (’du-byed-kyi phung-po). Thus, this fifth aggregate includes everything else composing their cognitions that is impermanent and not found in his other four aggregates.

The person (gang-zag) – the self, the conventional “me” – is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of an individual continuum of such aggregate factors. An imputation phenomenon (btags-pa) is one that cannot exist independently of a basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi) and cannot be cognized independently of that basis. As such, the person is the basis on which the word “me” or any name can be designated to refer to him or her.

Persons are devoid of existing (1) as a static, partless soul (bdag, Skt. ātman) that, when liberated, can exist independently of five such aggregates and (2) as a self-sufficiently knowable (btags-yod) soul, one that can be cognized independently by itself, without some part of its basis for imputation also simultaneously appearing and being cognized. The voidness (emptiness) or total absence of the conventional “me” being established as existing as either of these two types of souls is known, respectively, as the coarse selflessness of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-med rags-pa, coarse identitylessness of a person) and the subtle selflessness of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-med phra-mo, subtle identitylessness of a person).

Anyone having a non-conceptual apprehension of either of these two levels of the selflessness of persons is called an “arya” (phags-pa, a noble one, a highly realized being). That non-conceptual apprehension is with a joined pair (zung-brel) or “yoga” (rnal-’byor, a yoke) of a stilled and settled state of mind of shamatha (zhi-gnas) and an exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana (lhag-mthong). The former is an exhilarating state of body and mind with absorbed concentration (ting-nge-’dzin, Skt. samādhi) on an object, free from all flightiness of mind and mental dullness. The latter adds to this a second level of exhilaration, being able to detect and discern all the details of its object.

Non-conceptual apprehension of subtle impermanence or either the coarse or subtle selflessness of persons, when such apprehension occurs during total absorption (mnyam-bzhag) on such objects and is with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, is known as yogic bare cognition (rnal-’byor mngon-sum). Only aryas have such cognition. It is never non-determining. According to the Sautrantika assertions, during such cognition of the coarse or subtle selflessness of persons, for instance, the yogic bare cognition explicitly apprehends the five aggregates and person, while an accompanying conceptual cognition also explicitly apprehending the five aggregates and person has bare cognition by reflexive awareness implicitly apprehending the selflessness of the person.

Further, there are five kinds of sensory bare cognition of this (non-determining) type, such as the five of an ordinary being, from the sensory bare cognition that takes (as its involved object) a visible form to the sensory bare cognition that takes a physical sensation, when (the person’s) mind is diverted in another direction,

An ordinary being (so-so’i skye-bo) is anyone who has not yet attained the state of an arya. When, as an ordinary being, you are attentively listening to music, you have bare auditory cognition of its sound. At such a time, your sensory cognitions of the picture on the wall in front of you, of the smell or taste of your cigarette and the physical sensation of your watch on your wrist are all non-determining. Although each of these sensory objects appears clearly to your visual consciousness, your olfactory and so forth, you cannot be certain that they are there. You take no notice of them because your attention is preoccupied, it is diverted elsewhere.

or the final moment of the five kinds of sensory bare cognition in an ordinary being’s mental continuum.

When, for instance, as an ordinary being with non-defective senses, you correctly see a clay jug, your visual cognition of it free of any conceptualization may last for several moments. The first instant, when your knowledge is fresh, is your bare visual cognition of the clay jug, and this is a valid knowing of it. Immediately afterwards, although you may still apprehend the clay jug correctly, your knowing of it is no longer fresh and thus your subsequent cognition is invalid. During the last instant of the continuum of this particular sense cognition, however, you no longer even apprehend the clay jug correctly. Your attention is about to shift to another object and, like a candle about to go out, your clarity becomes very dim. Although the clay jug still appears to your visual consciousness, you are not paying full attention to it. This final moment is an example of non-determining visual cognition.

As an ordinary being, the tiny moment of mental bare cognition and all (tiny moments of) reflexive ones are non-determining cognitions. As for the (type of) mental bare cognition indicated here, when it is of an arya, it is said in A Filigree of Lines of Reasoning (by the First Dalai Lama) that it is valid cognition.

Unlike Buddhas, the lower aryas have yogic bare cognition only during the total absorption phase of their meditation on the selflessness of persons, and this is never non-determining. During the non-conceptual phase of the subsequent attainment (rjes-thob, “post-meditation”) period of such meditation, when such aryas focus on the aggregates and person as being like an illusion, they explicitly apprehend the aggregates and person with mental bare cognition and, again, implicitly apprehend the selflessness of the person with the bare cognition of reflexive awareness in an accompanying conceptual cognition explicitly apprehending the aggregates and person. During this period, according to A Filigree of Lines of Reasoning, A Treatise (Explanation of Dharmakirti’s “Commentary to [Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of] Validly Cognizing Minds’” (Tshad-ma’i bstan-bcos rigs-pa’i rgyan) by the First Dalai Lama (rGyal-ba dGe-’dun grub), even the tiniest moment of their mental bare cognition and that of their reflexive awareness is never non-determining.

This is not the case with ordinary beings. The tiniest moment of mental bare cognition that follows a stream of continuity of their sensory bare cognition is too quick to be attentive. Likewise, although their bare cognition of reflexive awareness can be attentive, this attention requires several moments to be established. Therefore, its tiniest moments by themselves are non-determining.

As for this type of (non-determining) bare cognition by reflexive awareness, there are many examples, such as the reflexive awareness experiencing valid inferential cognitions in the mental continuum of a Charvaka or a Jain, (those experiencing) distorted cognitions and so forth. There are also, for instance, (all the bare cognitions by) reflexive awareness in the mental continuums of the Vaibhashikas from our own tradition, as well as the final moment of any continuum of an ordinary being’s reflexive awareness.

According to the Charvaka (rgyang-’phen-pa) and Jain (gcer-bu-pa) tenet systems, you cannot know anything validly by inferential cognition. Nevertheless, when adherents of these two non-Buddhist schools see smoke on a mountain, they know there is fire. Although such valid inferential cognition appears clearly in their mental continuums, and although their reflexive awareness actually experiences this inferential cognition, they are not fully aware of it. This is because their mind is preoccupied with their belief that their inferential cognition is not a valid way of knowing anything. Thus, the cognition by their reflexive awareness of their inferential cognition is non-determining.

Likewise, when you have a distorted cognition, such as of a blue snow mountain, and a mental hologram of one appears clearly to your visual consciousness – although in fact there is no such thing – your reflexive awareness of this cognition is also non-determining. Except for that of an arya, an ordinary being’s reflexive awareness merely experiences or is aware of a mental state or cognition. It does not understand what this cognition is of or whether or not it is correct. Thus, with your reflexive awareness, you merely experience a distorted cognition without knowing it is incorrect. However, because your mind is preoccupied with thinking that what you see is truly so, you are not fully aware of your distorted cognition. Therefore, the cognition of this distorted cognition by your reflexive awareness is non-determining.

When Buddha taught the Vaibhashika (bye-brag smra-ba) tenet system, he did not explain that limited beings have a mental faculty of reflexive awareness. Although adherents of this system experience their mental states and cognitions through such a faculty, they are not fully aware of it. This is because their mind is preoccupied with their misconception that they have no such faculty. All such cognitions by reflexive awareness in their mental continuums, therefore, are also non-determining.

Subsequent Cognition

Subsequent cognition is defined as an invalid awareness that apprehends what has already been apprehended. When divided, there are three (types): the subsequent cognitions that come about in a continuum of (1) a bare cognition or (2) an inferential cognition, and (3) the subsequent cognitions that are neither of those two.

Both impermanent and permanent phenomena may be validly known. According to the Sautrantika tenets, impermanent phenomena may be validly known and explicitly or implicitly apprehended either non-conceptually with bare cognition or conceptually with inferential cognition. Permanent phenomena may be implicitly apprehended by reflexive awareness that has bare cognition of a conceptual cognition. 

Although impermanent phenomena change from moment to moment with subtle impermanence, nevertheless according to the True Aspectarian branch of Sautrantika, as accepted by the Gelug tradition, commonsense whole objects still exist objectively from their own individual stance. A commonsense object is one that extends over all its parts and all its sensory information – its sight, sound, smell, taste and physical sensation – and over a certain period of time. Thus, once you have apprehended a clay jug correctly, you can subsequently do so again, for although the impermanent clay jug has changed from moment to moment, there is still objectively a clay jug existing as an external object that can repeatedly be seen correctly.

Your cognition of this clay jug may last several moments and thus it can be said to have an unbroken continuum. Initially, you see it with sensory bare cognition. As a fresh, non-fraudulent awareness of it, explicitly apprehending the clay jug correctly and decisively, this is a valid way of knowing it. As this clay jug changes from moment to moment, so does your cognition of it. You may continue to apprehend it correctly, but normally only the first instance of your doing so is valid. This is because only this initial cognition is a fresh awareness.

During the unbroken continuity of your awareness of this clay jug, each subsequent moment of cognition depends on the immediately preceding one of the same object as the immediate condition for its giving rise to an appearance of this object and an apprehension of it. The initial moment in such a sequence, however, has no such dependency. It gives rise to an appearance of this object and apprehends it by its own power and thus only it is truly valid according to the Sautrantika explanation.

Each moment in a Buddha’s cognition, however, is fresh and valid, without ever relying on the immediately preceding one for the power to apprehend its object. But for all other beings, including aryas, each continuum of an apprehension having an initial moment that is fresh continues to apprehend its involved object, but through an objectively non-fresh and therefore invalid way of knowing it. Such moments are known as subsequent cognitions (bcad-shes).

Further, as for the first, there are many (kinds), such as the subsequent cognitions of sensory, mental, reflexive and yogic bare cognitions. Examples of each progressively are the second phases of (1) the five types of sensory bare cognition, (2) advanced awareness cognizing someone else’s mind, (3) reflexive awareness having a continuum and (4) yogic bare cognition still needing further training. The second phase of a bare cognition can be included as a subsequent cognition that is not (specifically) any of those four.

As for the second (type), it would be like the second phase of a valid inferential cognition. As for the third, it would be like a decisive cognition induced by a specific (previous) bare cognition or inferential cognition and, for example, the second phase of a valid cognition.

In this third category are all cognitions of remembering something you have validly known before through either bare cognition or inferential cognition, including their first moment.

In short, they may be condensed into two: (1) conceptual subsequent cognition and (2) non-conceptual subsequent cognition.

Bare cognition and inferential cognition are non-conceptual and conceptual respectively. Therefore, subsequent cognition of the former is likewise non-conceptual, while that of the latter is conceptual.

Distorted Cognition

Distorted cognition is defined as a way of knowing that takes its own object in an inverted manner.

Of the five invalid ways of knowing things, non-determining cognition and subsequent cognition are not necessarily detrimental to your spiritual progress. The former may lead to a correct and valid cognition and the latter may follow one. For instance, the last moment of your conceptual understanding of the selflessness of a person before you have yogic bare cognition of it is non-determining yet leads directly to this beneficial state of mind. Your subsequent yogic cognition of selflessness, though invalid since not fresh, nevertheless leads to your full acquaintance with this true way in which persons exist. By developing such familiarity with this correct apprehension in meditation, you will be able, when becoming a Buddha, to have valid bare cognition of it at all times.

Distorted cognition, however, is extremely detrimental to your development. Nevertheless, it can have a last instance. If the proper opponents are applied, all such cognitions can be destroyed. True practitioners feel that disturbing emotions and distortions are much easier to overcome than external enemies. This is because they realize that neither bombs nor sophisticated weapons are needed to root them out. By developing the proper opponents in their mental continuums, they can be free of all such obstacles to their liberation and enlightenment.

When divided, there are two (types): (1) conceptual distorted cognition and (2) non-conceptual distorted cognition. The definition of the first is a conceptually implying awareness that is deceptive in terms of its own conceptually implied object. The definition of a non-conceptual distorted cognition is an awareness having a clear appearance (of an object) that is deceptive in terms of its own manner of cognitively taking it. The first is like the two types of grasping for an impossible “soul,” namely of phenomena and persons, while the second is, for instance, like the sensory cognition to which a snow mountain appears to be blue.

All types of conceptual cognition – also known as conceptually implying awareness (zhen-rig) ­– are deceptive (khrul-ba) in that a static category, for instance the object category (don-spyi) of “Tibet” is confused with a mental hologram (rnam-pa) of some aspect of Tibet to represent Tibet in some thought about it. The appearing object to such a cognition is a static category. An appearing object (snang-yul) is the direct object that arises in a cognition as if it were directly in front of the consciousness and is a mental derivative (gzugs-brnyan) of a cognitive object. The mental hologram representing the category, is known as the conceptually implied object (zhen-yul) – literally, an object that “clings” to a “basis clung to” (zhen-gzhi, a basis conceptualized about). In the case of a non-distorted conceptual cognition, such as one of Tibet, for instance, the category “Tibet” is the appearing object to your consciousness, while the mental hologram representing some aspect of Tibet is its conceptually implied object. Although the mental hologram you use to represent Tibet when thinking about it is not the same as the country itself, nevertheless Tibet, as the “basis clung to” is something validly knowable.

In a distorted conceptual cognition, however, such as that of a permanent, static identity of yourself as a person, the object category “permanent self” is the appearing object to your consciousness, represented by a mental hologram of what you imagine a permanent self to be like. The mental hologram is the conceptually implied object. But, since there is no such thing as an actual permanent self with a permanent identity, this conceptual cognition is deceived with respect to what it conceptualizes about. As such a basis clung to does not exist, any conceptual cognition in which one thinks in terms of this category, “permanent self,” is distorted.

When you see a white snow mountain as blue, such as through a haze at a great distance or when wearing tinted glasses, or when you see two moons by looking at the objective one cross-eyed, mental holograms of such objects appear clearly to your visual consciousness. They are not mixed with any categories. But your non-conceptual cognition of them is distorted. What appear to your visual consciousnesses as if they were actual external objects do not, in reality, exist at all. Your manner of cognitively taking (dzin-stangs) the object is deceptive and therefore your cognition is distorted.

From Eliminating Mental Darkness: (A Filigree for [Dharmakirti’s] Seven Volumes on) Valid Cognition, “Distorted conceptual cognition, conceptual distorted cognition and interpolation are all three mutually inclusive. An indecisive wavering not inclined toward fact also can be said to be a conceptual distorted cognition.”

Interpolation (sgro-’dogs) is the projection onto an object of something that is not there or a mode of existence that is not the case.

Indecisive Wavering

Indecisive wavering is a mental factor that vacillates between two conclusions concerning its object. There are three (types): indecisive wavering that is (1) inclined toward fact, (2) not inclined toward fact and (3) evenly balanced (between the two). These, in turn, would be (for example) ways of knowing that (1) wonder, “Could sound be impermanent?” (2) wonder likewise, “Could it be permanent?” and (3) wonder, “Could sound be permanent or impermanent?”

Concerning indecisive wavering, (some) assert it as pervasive with being a root disturbing emotion. There are also those who differentiate them into two: with or without being a disturbing factor.

It is this latter tradition that is commonly followed. Thus, an indecisive wavering inclined toward a correct conclusion is not considered a disturbing emotion, while those that are inclined toward an incorrect one or are evenly balanced are taken as disturbing. A disturbing emotion or attitude (nyon-mongs, Skt. kleśa) is defined as a mental factor that, when it arises, causes one to lose peace of mind and self-control. The six root ones are longing desire, anger, arrogance (pride), unawareness (ignorance), disturbing indecisive wavering and the deluded outlooks.