Details of Ways of Knowing: 11 Semblances of a Bare Cognition

Extensive Explanation of “Compendium of Ways of Knowing”

The Pervasions of Deceptive Cognition

As for semblances of a bare cognition, which are the reverse (of bare cognition),

A semblance of a bare cognition (mngon-sum ltar-snang) is defined as an awareness that is deceptive with respect to its appearing object. Such a semblance is mutually inclusive with a deceptive cognition (‘khrul-shes). 

Let us examine the pervasions in terms of the definitions. It will be recalled that: 

  • A distorted cognition is defined as an awareness that takes its “own object” (rang-yul) incorrectly
  • A conceptual distorted cognition is defined as an awareness that is deceived with respect to its conceptually implied object (zhen-yul)
  • A non-conceptual distorted cognition is defined as an awareness having a clear appearance (of an object) that is deceptive in terms of its own manner of cognitively taking it (‘dzin-stangs)
  • A conceptual cognition is defined as a conceptually implying awareness (zhen-rig) that cognizes an audio category or meaning category that is suitable to be associated with the other. 

First of all, it should be noted that deceptive cognitions are deceived with respect to appearing objects (snang-yul), equivalent to their cognitively taken objects (gzung-yul). They take the appearance of something to be the actual thing itself. Distorted cognitions, on the other hand, are deceived with respect to what actually exists, not merely with its appearance.

The pervasion between distorted and conceptual cognitions has already been analyzed briefly. As a tetralemma, it involves four possibilities. A cognition may be: 

  • Both distorted and conceptual – such as the conceptual cognition of sound as being a permanent phenomenon. The cognition is deceptive because it mixes the object categories “sounds” and “permanent phenomena” – its appearing objects – with a conceptually implied object, which is a mental representation of a generic permanent sound. Because the conceptual cognition takes its involved object (‘jug-yul) – namely, this conceptually implied object – incorrectly, in other words as an “own object” in sequence from something externally real, it is distorted as well because, in fact, sound is impermanent. There is no such thing as a permanent sound. 
  •  Distorted and non-conceptual – such as seeing the appearance of a blurred tree. Such a cognition takes its appearing object, the appearance of a blurred tree, to be in sequence from a real external one and is thus distorted. But since its cognitively taken object, the appearance of a blurred tree, appears clearly to it, being unmixed with a category, the cognition is a non-conceptual distorted cognition. 
  • Non-distorted and conceptual – such as an inferential cognition of sound as being an impermanent phenomenon. Being conceptual, it mixes the categories “sound” and “impermanent phenomena” with a conceptually implied object, a mental representation of a generic impermanent sound, and so it is deceptive. It appears as though all impermanent sounds sound like this one. However, the cognition does not take that mental representation incorrectly because, in fact, sound is impermanent. Therefore, the cognition is a non-distorted conceptual cognition. 
  • Neither distorted nor conceptual – such as a sensory bare cognition of a clay jug. The cognition takes its involved object, the clay jug, correctly, since it accords with fact, and so is non-distorted. It is also non-conceptual because it does not mix a category with this involved object. 

Thus, if a cognition is distorted, it is not necessarily conceptual; and if it is conceptual, it is not necessarily distorted. But whether a distorted cognition is conceptual or not, it is deceived or confused about reality and what actually exists. Of these above four possibilities, the first three are also deceptive cognitions or semblances of a bare cognition (mngon-sum ltar-snang). 

The pervasion between deceptive and conceptual cognitions, as previously outlined, is a trilemma; it entails only three possibilities. A cognition can be: 

  • Both deceptive and conceptual – as with any conceptual cognition. This is because the appearing object, a category, is always mixed and confused with a conceptually implied object.
  • Neither deceptive nor conceptual – as with sensory bare cognition of a clay jug 
  • Deceptive and non-conceptual – as with a visual cognition in which a blurred tree appears. 

There can be no cognition that is conceptual yet non-deceptive. Thus, if a cognition is conceptual, it must be deceptive; but if it is deceptive, it need not be conceptual. Furthermore, of the above three possibilities, the first may or may not be distorted, the second is never distorted and the third is always distorted. The reasons are as explained above.

Thus, the pervasion between deceptive and distorted cognitions itself is also a trilemma. A cognition may be:

  • Both deceptive and distorted – as with any cognition that does not accord with reality and is confused about what appears to it
  • Neither deceptive nor distorted – as with visual bare cognition of a clay jug 
  • Deceptive and non-distorted – as with an inferential cognition of sound as being an impermanent phenomenon.

There can be no cognition that is distorted yet non-deceptive. All distorted cognitions are necessarily deceived with respect to their appearing object. Such an object is either a metaphysical category confused with a conceptually implied object or it is an objective entity, the appearance of something non-existent, that is confused with what actually exists. Thus, if it is distorted it is deceptive, but if it is deceptive it need not be distorted. Also, of the above three possibilities, the first may be either conceptual or non-conceptual, the second is always non-conceptual and the third is always conceptual.

In summary, then, if you are confused about what exists, you are also confused about appearances. But the reverse is not always the case. You can be confused about appearing objects, but not about what actually exists and conforms with fact. The implications of this are important, not only in terms of the Sautrantika tenets but for the other Buddhist systems as well. It means that a cognition can be aware of a deceptive appearance and yet, since it conforms with conventional reality and fact, the cognition can still be valid. Thus, for instance, inferential cognition can be valid and any conceptual cognition that accords with fact can be a correct apprehension under the conditions specified in the definitions of each.

Therefore, just because you know of the presence of fire on a smoky mountain in a deceptive manner – namely, conceptually in which knowing a generic representation of fire through the category of fires is taken for knowing that there is a fire on that mountain, despite being unable to see it – this does not invalidate the cognition. Until you become a Buddha and are capable of knowing such obscure phenomena non-conceptually through bare cognition, you can only know them in this deceptive manner with a semblance of a bare cognition. Thus, even though you are not a Buddha, your knowledge can be valid despite the use of a deceptive way of knowing it.

The pervasion between deceptive and fraudulent cognitions summarizes this clearly. There are only three possibilities. A cognition can be: 

  • Both deceptive and fraudulent – as with all non-apprehensions, including both distorted and non-distorted ones, whether conceptual or non-conceptual
  • Deceptive and non-fraudulent – as with valid and subsequent inferential cognitions, which are all conceptual and non-distorted 
  • Non-deceptive and non-fraudulent – as with valid and subsequent bare cognitions, all of which are non-conceptual and non-distorted. 

There are no cognitions that are non-deceptive and yet fraudulent. Thus, if it is a non-apprehension, it must be deceptive, but if it is deceptive, it need not be a non-apprehension because apprehensions may be either deceptive or not. Therefore, it is important to understand the differences among distorted, deceptive, fraudulent, conceptual and invalid cognitions. 

The Seven Types of Semblances of a Bare Cognition

There are seven types of deceptive cognitions or semblances of a bare cognition.

it says (in Dignaga’s Compendium of Validly Cognizing Minds), “They are termed (1) those that are (totally) deceptive, (2) those cognizing something as being superficial, (3) those in inferential cognition and those of (4) something derived from an inferential cognition, (5) something remembered and (6) something hoped. There is also (7) the semblance of a bare cognition that is blurred.” The first six are conceptual semblances of bare cognitions while the last, a knowing of something blurred, is a non-conceptual semblance of a bare cognition. For the meaning to be understood (by each), one should refer to such (texts) as A Filigree of Lines of Reasoning, (A Treatise Explanation of Dharmakirti’s “Commentary to [Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of] Validly Cognizing Minds.’”)

[1] The Semblance of a Bare Cognition That Is Totally Deceptive

The semblance of a bare cognition that is totally deceptive, more commonly referred to as a “conceptual cognition that is totally deceptive” (‘khrul-ba’i rtog-pa), is synonymous with distorted conceptual cognition. They are many examples, such as thinking of a mirage as being actual water or of a coiled piece of rope as being a snake. The conceptual cognition is deceptive because it mixes the category “water,” for instance, with a generic mental hologram representing an instance of water, as if all instances of water looked like that. But, in addition, it is totally deceptive, in other words distorted, because this conceptually implied object, the mental hologram of water, does not correspond to the reality of what it is being projected onto, a mirage of water. 

In addition to fantasies, this type of semblance of a bare cognition can also include conceptualizing about hallucinations you have experienced due to any of the four causes for a cognition to be deceptive. Thus, you may think about having seen a rapidly rotating firebrand as a circle of fire. Other distorted conceptual cognitions, such as imagining sound to be permanent, ordinary people’s dreams and any thoughts that mix fiction with reality are also included here. The analysis is the same as for thinking a mirage to be water.

[2] The Semblance of a Bare Cognition Cognizing Something as Being Superficial

The semblance of a bare cognition cognizing something as being superficial – a conceptual cognition cognizing something as being superficial (kun-rdzob rtog-pa) – does not mean cognizing something as being a superficial truth (kun-rdzob bden-pa) in the Sautrantika sense, but rather in the Vaibhashika sense. 

  • According to the Sautrantika system, superficially true phenomena are those phenomena that have their existence established exclusively by being something mentally labeled or designated by conceptual cognition. Thus, they refer only to static phenomena, metaphysical entities such as categories. 
  • In the Vaibhashika system, a superficially true phenomenon is one whose conventional identity can no longer be cognized when it is deconstructed either physically or mentally. When dissected into its component particles, a clay jug, for instance, loses its conventional identity. Likewise, when an episode of sadness is analyzed into the moments of its stream of continuity, with its changing component consciousness and mental factors, it too loses its conventional identity. 

Such conceptual cognitions of thinking about a clay jug and an episode of sadness as losing their conventional identities when deconstructed are deceptive because they mix a category with a conceptually implied object. But they are not distorted because their conceptually implied objects correspond to objective reality if what they are conceptualizing about is indeed a clay jug or an episode of sadness.

[3] The Semblances of Bare Cognitions in an Inferential Cognition

The semblances of bare cognitions in an inferential cognition – the conceptual cognitions in an inferential cognition (rjes-dpag rtog-pa) – are the ones cognizing the three components (tshul-gsum) proving a syllogism. For instance, to apprehend that sound is an impermanent phenomenon because it is affected by causes and circumstances, like clay jugs and not like spaces, you must know correctly and decisively the factors of applicability to the topic (phyogs-chos), pervasion (rjes-khyab) and negative pervasion (ldog-khyab). In other words, you must be convinced that the set of affected phenomena includes sound, is totally contained within the set of impermanent phenomena and has no members that are also contained within the set of permanent phenomena. 

Since all inferential cognitions are necessarily conceptual, the appearing objects for cognizing each of the three components of the proof are categories:

  • For the factor of applicability to the topic, the categories are “sounds” and “affected phenomena.” Through them, the conceptual cognition cognizes the conceptually implied object, a mental hologram representing a generic sound as a member of the set of affected phenomena. 
  • For the factor of pervasion, the appearing objects are the categories “affected phenomena,” “impermanent phenomena” and “clay jugs”; the conceptually implied object is a mental hologram of a generic clay jug representing the members of the set of both affected phenomena and impermanent phenomena, for example clay jugs.
  •  For the factor of negative pervasion, the appearing objects are the categories “unaffected phenomena,” “permanent phenomena” and “spaces”; the conceptually implied object is a mental hologram of a generic space representing the members of the set of both unaffected phenomena and permanent phenomena, for example spaces.

The three cognitions are deceptive since these appearing objects are mixed and confused with the conceptually implied objects. Such deceptive conceptual cognitions, however, far from being distorted, are, in fact, non-fraudulent correct apprehensions.

[4] The Semblance of a Bare Cognition of Something Derived from an Inferential Cognition

What follows from the above conceptual cognitions is the semblance of a bare cognition of something derived from an inferential cognition – a conceptual cognition of something derived from an inferential cognition (rjes-dpag-las byung-ba’i rtog-pa). In other words, based on your inferential understanding of the above three factors proving the syllogism, you can then have a derivative inferential understanding of sound as an impermanent phenomenon. You conceptually cognize something obscure about the sound by relying on a valid line of reasoning thoroughly understood. Thus, you know the subtle impermanence of sound imputedly existent on the basis of sound. More precisely, you know that sound is a member of the categories “affected phenomena” and “impermanent phenomena” and not a member of the category “permanent phenomena.”   

The appearing objects to such a cognition of sound as impermanent are the categories “sounds” and “impermanent phenomena.” The deception occurs because the cognition mixes and confuses these categories with a mental representation of a generic member of these two categories, the conceptionally implied object of a mental hologram representing a generic impermanent sound. This type of deceptive cognition is also both non-distorted and non-fraudulent.

[5] The Semblance of a Bare Cognition of Something Remembered

The semblance of a bare cognition of something remembered – the conceptual cognition of something remembered (dran-pa’i rtog-pa) – takes as its involved object a mental hologram representing any phenomenon that you have attentively cognized before, as witnessed by your reflexive awareness, and cognizes it through the appearing object of the category derived from all aspects of that phenomenon. The term translated here as “something remembered” is the word for “something you are mindful of” (dran-pa, Skt. smṛti) – in this case, mindful of once more. Most often, the remembered phenomenon will be an actual functional object that was previously present or an actual event that previously occurred, such as a clay jug that you saw yesterday or a conversation that you heard last week. But you can also be mindful once more of something that has not yet occurred, such as your attainment of arhatship you thought about yesterday and are mindful of once more today. The important point is that you have previously had a cognition of this item and now you are cognizing it again.

Furthermore, whether your original cognition of the object was conceptual or non-conceptual, when you are mindful of it once more, it is always conceptual. Also, it doesn’t matter what type of attentive awareness you had at the time of the original cognition. Take, for instance, remembering Lhasa. First of all, each person who has ever been to this city has had different experiences and cognitions while being there. Each will therefore have different memories of Lhasa. Although each of them will label these as “memories of Lhasa,” in fact the objects they can remember, or once more be mindful of, to represent Lhasa are quite different. Thus, you may recall specific sights you saw there, specific sounds you heard, specific thoughts and conceptual impressions you had, the various feelings you experienced which accompanied these cognitions and so forth. In fact, if you have ever read an account of Lhasa or even heard stories about it or seen pictures, you can also recollect them later. In this way, you can even be mindful of Lhasa once more without ever having been there yourself.

For instance, even though Sakyamuni Buddha sat under the bodhi tree over two and a half millennia ago, it is possible to bring that event to mind again today if you have ever read or heard an historical account of it. What you bring to mind representing it, what a blind person who was there would have recalled later, or someone with good eyesight standing in front of Buddha and someone standing behind the tree or on the other side of the field, will all be different. Like everyone having different recollections of Lhasa, everyone whether present or not at an historical event can and will remember some different aspect of it. What they can recall will be in accordance with the information about it that they previously culled by whatever means of knowing was available to them.

Thus, whether you actually heard a particular conversation or later someone repeated it to you, you can in both cases recall what was said. In the latter case, you cannot remember actually hearing the conversation yourself, because that is not the way in which you gained your information. Nevertheless, by recalling being told what was said, you can in fact be mindful once more of the conversation. Since a deaf person who attended the conversation and became aware of its contents by lip-reading will also be able later to remember the conversation, is their recollection any less correct than that of someone who was not present but heard someone else repeat its contents? Neither can claim to recall hearing the conversation when it was spoken, but both could equally be able to repeat it the same as could someone who was there and heard it clearly. In fact, they will be able to remember it more accurately than someone who was present but could not hear the voices distinctly. Therefore, the determining factor of being able to be mindful of something once more is having had an attentive cognition of some aspect of it. The particular way with which that cognition knew its object and what aspect of that event the object was is immaterial. This is because no two persons will ever remember the same thing about anything.

Mindfulness itself is a mental factor which, in this case, is accompanying a conceptual cognition of the mental representation of something previously cognized. Thus, depending on the strength and aptitude of this mental factor, you will be able to recall and be mindful once more of varying amounts of detail concerning items or events you were aware of before. Since these recollections are all conceptual, their appearing objects are static categories in which can be included all aspects of the item or event. The conceptual cognitions are deceptive because these categories are mixed with and confused with the conceptionally implied mental holograms representing them as if these involved objects were the only aspects of the item or event that could represent them in a memory. 

This type of semblance of a bare cognition may or may not be distorted. If what you presently, conceptually cognize accords with what you had previously cognized, it is non-distorted and accords with fact. If, for instance, the object happens to be the words of a book you have read, what you recall should also accord with what others who have correctly read it saw. If, on the other hand, the object involved is an event, such as a protest march, then even though what you recall may not accord exactly with what was witnessed by someone else experiencing it from a different perspective, still it should be faithful to what you witnessed and accord with the general account in order to be considered non-distorted. But if what you recall does not accord with what you originally cognized, or completely contradicts other valid accounts, or if the way you first cognized the involved object was itself inattentive or distorted, then your recollection is likewise inaccurate and distorted. It is a mere fantasy, as in the case of the semblance of a bare perception of something totally deceptive.

Cognition of No-Longer-Happening, Presently-Happening and Not-Yet-Happening Objects and Events

Buddhism does not speak of the three times in terms of the past, the present and the future, as if these were temporal locations and that there are objects that exist and events that take place in each of these three time periods. Instead, Buddhism speaks of no-longer-happening, presently-happening and not-yet-happening objects and events. For example, suppose your house has burned down and suppose you now remember it before it burnt down. The mental hologram that appears as the conceptionally implied object of your conceptual cognition that remembers it is a mental representation of the presently-happening-house that you saw before it burned down. It is not a mental representation of your no-longer-happening house. There is no such thing as a common denominator (gzhi-mthun, common locus) house that was presently happening before and now is no longer happening. This distinction between presently-happening objects and no-longer-happening objects is important to make, and rather subtle.

To understand this distinction it is important to distinguish between existent (yod-pa) and non-existent phenomena (med-pa) on the one hand, and valid (srid-pa) and invalid (mi-srid-pa) phenomenon on the other: 

  • Existent phenomena are those that can be validly cognized, whereas non-existent phenomena cannot be validly cognized. 
  • Valid phenomenon are those that can be validly known as happening now, whereas invalid phenomenon cannot be validly known as happening now.

For example, yesterday, today and tomorrow are all existing phenomena and all three can be validly cognized. Only today, however, is happening now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Therefore, only today can be validly known as happening now. Yesterday and tomorrow cannot be validly known as happening now. Yesterday can be validly known as no longer happening and tomorrow can be validly known as not yet happening, but neither can be validly known as presently happening.

According to the Sautrantika system, presently-happening objects (da lta-ba) are synonymous with functional phenomena – nonstatic, objective entities – while no-longer-happening (‘das-pa) and not-yet-happening ones (ma-‘ong-ba) are all static, metaphysical entities, namely nonimplicative negation phenomena (med-dgag), absences. Thus, the no-longer happening house is actually just the absence of the presently-happening house, and this absence is equivalent to the no longer happening of the presently-happening house and the presently-happening house’s “state of previously having perished” (zhig-pa). This state of previously having perished came into existence simultaneously with the perishing (‘jig-pa) of the presently-happening house. 

The absence of the presently-happening house, the no longer happening of the presently-happening house and the presently-happening house’s state of previously having perished are also all nonimplicative negation phenomena. The object negated (dgag-bya) by the absence of the presently-happening house, for example, is the presence of a presently-happening house and, when the words of the negation have excluded the presence of a presently-happening house, they do not toss anything behind. They do not imply anything further. They do not imply that the presently-happening house is happening somewhere else. 

Since the no-longer-happening house – which is not actually a house but is actually just an absence – does not exist as an objective, functioning phenomenon, it has no form and can perform no function. You cannot live in a no-longer-happening house, for instance. In other words, the presently-happening house has burned down and, now, its absence, it no-longer-happening and its state of having perished are all static facts that will never change and never end. 

What is presently happening now is the charred remains of the presently-happening house, which are an objective, functional phenomenon and can be validly seen. The absence of the presently-happening house, its no-longer-happening and its state of having perished are static imputation phenomena on the basis of the continuity of the presently-happening house’s charred remains. They will now continue to exist and be validly knowable forever, because they will always be valid imputation phenomena on the basis of the continuity of these remains, no matter what happens them. 

Thus, when you saw the presently-happening house yesterday before it burned down and now remember it today, the involved object that appears in your conceptual cognition as the conceptually implied object is a mental representation of that presently-happening house as an objective validly knowable object, despite the fact that this presently-happening house itself is now an invalid phenomenon that cannot be validly known as happening now. There is just a presently-happening absence of that house. The mental representation is not one of the no-longer-happening house, nor is the basis clung to (zhen-gzhi) by this conceptually implied object the no-longer-happening house. The basis clung to is the presently-happening house as was validly seen yesterday, but which is not happening now and cannot be validly seen today, because such a house is absent, having previously perished.

[6] The Semblance of a Bare Cognition of Something Hoped

The semblance of a bare cognition of something hoped – conceptual cognition of something hoped (mngon-‘dod-kyi rtog-pa) – takes as its involved object a mental hologram representing a not-yet-happening object or event as you hope it will appear when it will be presently happening and not as it exists now. Its involved object could also be a mental hologram representing a not-yet-happening event that you hope will never be presently happening, such as an accident.

Suppose, for instance, there is a presently-happening building site for a house that has not yet been built, but which you plan to build there. According to the Sautrantika tenets, the not-yet-happening of the house exists now merely as the metaphysical entity of the absence of the not-yet-happening house. This absence is an imputation phenomenon validly knowable now on the basis of the presently empty building site. 

The not-yet-happening house is an existent phenomenon that you can conceptually plan now, but it is not validly knowable as something happening now. What can be validly known now is the antecedent absence (snga-ma’i med-pa) of the not-yet-happening house as an imputation on the basis of the presently-happening building site. Although the building site might have a beginning when this planet first formed, the not-yet-happening house has no beginning. From the Buddhist point of view, space and time have no beginning and so the absence that is the not-yet-happening house can even have as its basis for imputation an empty space. This not-yet-happening house, as the absence of something before it is produced, will continue to exist, incapable of performing any function, until the construction is completed. Once the presently-happening house comes into existence, the not-yet-happening house will cease to exist.

Careful distinctions should be noted here. Suppose there were three houses, “x”, “y” and “z” and that each were constructed successively on the same building site. At any one time, only one of them can exist as a presently-happening, functional house. For instance, at the time of the presently-happening, functional house “y,” the presently-happening, functional house “x” does not exist at all. It has perished and now there is only the nonfunctional, no-longer-happening house “x.” It is the metaphysical entity of the perished absence (‘jig-pa’i med-pa) of the presently-happening house “x” and is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the continuity its remains, not on the basis of the presently-happening house “y.” 

Furthermore, also at the time of the presently-happening, functional house “y”, the presently-, happening functional house “z” does not exist at all. It has not yet been built and can only be referred to as the nonfunctional, not-yet-happening house “z.” It is the metaphysical entity of the prior absence of the presently-happening house “z” and is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the continuity of this building site and, as with the case of the no-longer-happening house “x,” not on the basis of the presently-happening house “y.”  

At the time of the presently-happening house “y,” you can recall the presently-happening house “x,” which now is absent and no longer happening, by a conceptual thought in which the appearing object is the category “presently-happening house ‘x’” and the conceptually implied object is a mental hologram representing that presently-happening house “x.” Similarly, you can plan and hope for the presently-happening house “z,” which now is absent and not yet happening, by a conceptual thought in which the appearing object is the category “presently-happening house ‘z’” and the conceptually implied object is a mental hologram representing that presently-happening house “z.” 

At the time of the presently-happening house “y,” you can only think about the no-longer-happening house “x” and not-yet-happening house “z” through the categories of the absences of presently-happening houses “x” and “z” and mental representations of those absences. This is because, at the time of the presently-happening house “y,” presently-happening houses “x” and “z” that can be cognized as happening now are non-existent. Therefore, if, at the time of the presently-happening house “y,” you remember the presently-happening house “x” or plan about the presently-happening house “z” and consider neither of these houses as presently happening now, then your conceptual cognitions are non-distorted. However, if you consider the mental representations of these two as corresponding to houses that are presently happening now, your conceptual cognitions are distorted.

Let us summarize the pervasions:

  • The presently-happening house “x” is an objective entity, whereas a not-yet-happening house “x” and a no-longer-happening house “x” are equivalent to absences of a presently-happening house “x,” and are metaphysical entities. There is no common denominator between an objective entity and a metaphysical entity; there is nothing that can be both. 
  • The presently-happening house “x” is an existent phenomenon that can be validly cognized as presently happening when it is actually presently happening. On the other hand, a presently-happening house “x” cannot be validly cognized as presently happening either before or after it is actually happening, because at those times it is non-existent. As in the case of objective and metaphysical entities, there is no common denominator between an existent phenomenon and a non-existent one; there is nothing that can be both.

Thus, it can be seen that, at any one time, there cannot exist simultaneously the not-yet-happening house “x,” the presently-happening house “x” and the no-longer-happening house “x” as all presently happening. Each exists in its own time as presently happening and is totally non-existent as presently happening at the time of the others. Furthermore, there is no common denominator among the three. It is not as if the not-yet-happening, presently-happening and no-longer-happening time periods were progressive markers on a road of time, and the house “x” moves from one to the next. There is no common substantial house “x” abiding during the states of a prior absence, a functional presence and a later disintegrated absence. Nevertheless, an objective mental representation of a functional house “x” can be thought of through the metaphysical category of a functional house “x” at any of the three time periods: when the objective, functional house “x” is actually presently happening, or before or after. 

If this type of analysis is applied to past, present and future lives, much insight can be gained into the mechanism of rebirth and how it functions without the need for a static “soul” or “self” transmigrating from one life to the next. Currently, during your presently-happening life, your “self” that was presently happening during each of your no-longer-happening lives is now no longer happening. Now, there is merely the absence of the presently-happening “self” of each of your no-longer-happening lives as imputation phenomena on the basis of your presently-happening mental continuum, not on the basis of your presently-happening “self.” Similarly, during your presently-happening life, your “self” that will be presently happening during each of your not-yet-happening lives is presently not yet happening. There is likewise merely the absence of the presently-happening self of each of your not-yet-happening lives as imputation phenomena on the basis of your presently-happening mental continuum and also not on the basis of your presently-happening self. Thus, as in the case of the house, there is no common denominator substantial “self” that abides through the three times as if riding through them on the mental continuum. 

You should work out for yourself the relationship between your “self” that was presently happening during your former lifetime, your “self” that is presently happening during your present lifetime and your “self” that will be presently happening in your next lifetime. Compare their relationship with the relationship between house “x,” house “y” and how “z” discussed above. Note the difference between house “x,” house “y” and house “z” on the one hand, and your “self” in a former life, in the present life and in a next life. What is the difference between the two types of continuums? Do the three houses form a continuum of the same house? Are they all houses? Do the three “selves” form a continuum of the same person? Or are they three different persons? It is very productive to analyze these issues.

The Omniscience of a Buddha

Sautrantika asserts that a Buddha omnisciently cognizes all phenomena of the three times. As just explained, cognition of the past means cognition of the presently-happening phenomena that now are no longer happening and cognition of the future means cognition of the presently-happening phenomena that now are not yet happening. Thus, although all the phenomena of the three times can be known, that does not mean that all these phenomena are happening simultaneously. Moreover, unlike the cognitions of limited beings with which they remember things of the past and plan for things of the future, which are all conceptual cognitions, a Buddha’s omniscient awareness of all phenomena of the three times is non-conceptual.

Furthermore, cognition of the phenomena of the past and the future does not mean cognition of the no-longer-happening of the phenomena of the past and cognition of the not-yet-happening of the phenomena of the future. Sautrantika asserts that their no-longer-happening and not-yet-happening are permanent, static phenomena. Cognition of the phenomena of the three times is cognition of the impermanent, non-static affirmation phenomena that have, are and will happen during those time period. All of these non-static phenomena are affected phenomena (dngos-po) – they are all affected by causes and conditions. Thus, what a Buddha knows that has not yet happened is not something that is predetermined and fixed, unable to be affected by causes and conditions. 

Thus, in knowing the phenomena that are not yet happening now, a Buddha knows all phenomena that could possibly arise based on what is happening now and based on the further causes and conditions that could affect their outcome. If such-and-such circumstances are gathered and happen, a Buddha knows that such-and-such results will follow. If different circumstances are gathered and happen, then a Buddha knows the different results that will follow. For example, when Buddha met a woman whom he foresaw had the karmic potential to die in five days, he told her that if she did such-and-such a practice, her lifespan could be extended by such-and-such an amount. Buddhism does not assert predetermination. A Buddha knows all possibilities that could happen and those that could not possibly happen.

Synonyms of Non-Conceptual Semblances of a Bare Cognition

A non-conceptual semblance of a bare cognition, a knowing in which there is a clear appearance of something non-existent appearing clearly, and non-conceptual distorted cognition are mutually inclusive.

Consider the example of blurred visual cognition. It is a non-conceptual semblance of a bare cognition because it is deceived with respect to its appearing object – a mental hologram that is the appearance of a blurred tree – but does not mix it with a category. Thus, it is a way of knowing in which something non-existent, a blurred tree, appears clearly. 

If it were a conceptual cognition of a blurred tree, the appearing object would be the category of a blurred tree. But since categories have no form, what would appear in that conceptual cognition would also be a mental hologram that would be the appearance of a blurred tree. But because the conceptual cognition cognizes this appearance through a veiling category, the appearance would not appear clearly. But with the non-conceptual semblance of a bare cognition, there is the clear appearance of such a tree. 

This non-conceptual semblance of a bare cognition is likewise a non-conceptual distorted cognition because it takes its object incorrectly and does not mix it with a category. It is deceived with respect to the object it takes, namely the appearance of a blurred tree, which nevertheless appears to it clearly. 

Thus, blurred visual cognition fulfills the criteria specified in the definitions of each of these three ways of knowing. Therefore, the three terms are synonymous and constitute mutually inclusive sets.

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