Details of Ways of Knowing: 12 Conceptual Cognition

Extensive Explanation of “Compendium of Ways of Knowing”

Furthermore, a conceptual cognition is a conceptually implying awareness that cognizes an audio (category) or meaning/object (category) that is suitable to be associated (with the other).

An object category (don-spyi) is a static, semi-transparent, mental derivative (gzugs-bsnyan) of a set of individual objective entities that share a common defining characteristic (mtshan-nyid) and a common kind synthesis (rigs-spyi) of what kind of commonsense object they objectively are. As a metaphysical entity, and thus validly knowable only in conceptual cognition, an object category is an imputation phenomenon that cannot exist or be known independently of a mental representation of an individual item that fits in it. It is through the medium of an object category, such as “clay jugs,” that you are able to recognize and understand as being a clay jug any instance of an item that is objectively established from its own side as being the kind of object it is, a commonsense clay jug. Without this conceptual cognition, you would be able to see a clay jug and distinguish it from other objects, but you would be unable to recognize or understand it to actually be a clay jug. It is by means of conceptual cognition through the intermediary of the object category “clay jugs,” then, that you are able to recognize and understand any clay jug, no matter its size, shape, color or quality, as being a clay jug. In Western terms, an object category is like the fixed concept or fixed idea we have of something.

An audio category (sgra-spyi) is the same type of phenomenon as an object category except that it is a mental derivative of a set of individual, objective, communicative sounds that share the common defining characteristic and common kind synthesis of being the sound of a specific word. It is by means of conceptual cognition through the intermediary of the audio category “clay jugs,” then, that you are able to recognize and understand any of the sounds “clay jug,” no matter their speaker, volume, pronunciation or accent, as being the sound of the word “clay jug.” Without conceptual cognition through audio categories, you would be unable to understand speech.

Through the conceptual association of object categories with audio categories, the object categories serve also as meaning categories – the two are the same word – through which you are able to understand that a certain word corresponds to a certain object as its referent meaning. The definition of a conceptual cognition, however, specifies that each of these two types of categories is suitable to be associated with the other (‘dres-rung). This is because they may be conceptually cognized separately from each other. For instance:

  • Through an audio category alone, you might conceptually understand that a sound you repeatedly hear when listening to people speak in a foreign language you don’t understand is the sound of the same word. But without associating this audio category with a meaning/object category, you would not know its meaning. A baby or a dog might understand that when you repeatedly say “no,” you are making the same sound before it understands what the word “no” means. 
  • Through an object category alone, you might conceptionally understand that a bunch of tropical fruits that you have never seen before are all the same type of fruit. But without associating this object category with an audio category, you would not know that when you hear people speak about “cherimoyas,” they are referring to this type of fruit. Infants can understand each time they see their mother that they are seeing the same person before they learn to associate her with the sound of the word “mama.”

Nominal Forms of Physical Phenomena

Suppose you are sitting in your room and your mother’s clay jug is not present. You sit back and start thinking about her clay jug. This is a conceptual cognition through the object category “clay jug.” A mental hologram depicting her clay jug appears to your “mind’s eye.” It is irrelevant whether or not your eyes are actually open. Even if they are open, you have non-determining sensory cognition of your field of vision because you are engrossed in your thoughts. Even if her clay jug were present in your field of vision, you would be inattentive of it. 

Analyze what appears to your mental consciousness. Obviously, the mental hologram of a clay jug is not the actual clay jug itself, because what appears cannot perform the functions of a substantial, externally existing clay jug. Being immaterial, it cannot contain actual water. So, what kind of object is it?

Sautrantika does not accept the five types of forms included only among the cognitive simulators that are phenomena (chos-kyi skye-mched-kyi gzugs), as asserted in the Chittamatra system. Nor does it accept the nonrevealing forms (rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs) asserted by the Vaibhashika system. Therefore, this object that appears cannot be classified as any of those types of forms. According to the Sautrantika tenets, this hologram that appears in conceptual cognition is merely a nominal form of physical phenomenon and not an actual form. Nevertheless, because it appears with a form – a color and a shape – it is not a static metaphysical entity either, since metaphysical entities lack any form. 

Objective and metaphysical entities form a mutually exclusive dichotomy: all existent phenomena must be one or the other, and no existent phenomenon can be both or neither.  Therefore, since this mental hologram is an existent phenomenon because it appears when thinking of your mother’s clay jug and since it is not a metaphysical entity because it appears with a form, it must be classified, by default, as an objective entity. But how can we account for the form that it has?

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, an objective external object casts an aspect (rnam-pa) of itself on the sensory consciousness that cognizes it, somewhat as in the manner of an object and its image in a mirror in front of it. This aspect that it casts is what we have been describing as being similar to a mental hologram. Both the external object and the mental hologram that arises in the form of this mirror image are the appearing objects (snang-yul) of the sensory cognition. Only certain aspects of the appearing objects, however, constitute the involved object (‘jug-yul) of the cognition, for instance its visual information.

In the conceptual cognition of your mother’s clay jug, you need to have previously had sensory non-conceptual cognition of her jug – for instance, you saw it. At that time, this external clay jug cast an aspect of itself on your visual consciousness as the appearing object of your visual cognition and that consciousness took its visual information as its involved object. When seeing it, you first had a phase of valid visual bare cognition of the clay jug, followed by a phase of subsequent visual bare cognition, one of non-determining visual cognition, then one of mental bare cognition and finally a phase of first valid and then subsequent conceptual cognition of her clay jug through the object category “clay jugs.” This object category would be a mental derivative of all clay jugs, not just your mother’s. The defining characteristic (mtshan-nyid) of her clay jug that your mental factor of distinguishing (‘du-shes) focused on while having visual bare cognition of it fit within the parameters of the defining composite feature (bkra) of the general object category “clay jugs.” 

The reflexive awareness (rang-rig) that accompanied the valid and subsequent cognitions of the clay jug in this sequence of cognitions cognized and left a memory of the consciousness and mental factors of each of those phases. In the non-conceptual phases, the reflexive awareness did not cognize and therefore did not leave a memory of the form of the clay jug. In the case of the conceptual phases, however, reflexive awareness also cognized and left as part of its memory a memory of the object category “clay jugs.” This is because the categories and other metaphysical entities cognized in a conceptual cognition share the same essential nature (ngo-bo) as the consciousness of that conceptual cognition and are included among the involved objects of the reflexive awareness that accompany the cognition and which are “recorded” by it. 

Memories are non-congruent affecting variables, usually referred to as tendencies (sa-bon, seeds) or habits (bag-chags). They are tendencies from which something similar to what they are tendencies of arise later on. It is the memory of the conceptual cognition of your mother’s clay jug that enables you to think of it afterwards, again and again, and not the memories of the phases of non-conceptual cognition of it. 

But how does this function if the memory of the conceptual cognition includes only a memory of the category and not specifically a memory of what her clay jug looked like? To understand this, we need to differentiate the source of the nominal form of your mother’s clay jug that appears as a mental hologram when thinking of it from the source of the colored shapes – or, more precisely, the shaped conglomerations of colored pixels – that seemingly appear in that mental hologram.

The Colored Shapes of Nominal Forms

In the conceptual cognition of your mother’s clay jug, the appearing object is the object category “your mother’s clay jug,” a static metaphysical entity that is a mental derivative of the sensory information garnered from every time that you had sensory cognition of it. It is a subcategory of the object category derivative from all clay jugs. 

The mental hologram that arises as the involved object of the conceptual cognition of your mother’s clay jug is a generic representation of that subcategory, since you undoubtedly saw her clay jug from many angles and distances. Also, every time that you think of it, a slightly different nominal form representing it arises as a mental hologram. 

  • The mental hologram that appears is known as the conceptually implied object (zhen-yul) of this conceptionally implying awareness (zhen-rig). 
  • The external entity that is your mother’s objective clay jug is the “basis clung to” (zhen-gzhi) by the conceptionally implied object. We might also call it the “object conceptualized about.” 
  • The locus of the conceptually implied object (zhen-sa), however, is the category, “your mother’s clay jug,” and not the objective external clay jug. 

Just as the aspects appearing as the mental hologram that is the involved object of seeing the jug are aspects of the objective external jug itself, the same is the case with the mental hologram that is the involved object of thinking about the jug. The aspects that appear as this mental hologram also are aspects of the objective external jug. They are not the colored shapes of some other objects, nor are they the colored shapes of nothing. But unlike the mental hologram that arises in seeing the jug, these aspects are not cast on the mental consciousness by the external object. You can think about your mother’s clay jug even when you are not simultaneously looking at it, even when the clay jug isn’t present and even when it has perished long ago. Nevertheless, what appears in the mental hologram are aspects of the external jug.

The nominal form of the mental hologram of the jug is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the form of the external jug. But it is not the same type of imputation phenomenon as are non-congruent affecting variables and static phenomena. In the case of those two, the basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi) must be explicitly apprehended not only immediately beforehand but also explicitly cognized while simultaneously cognizing these imputation phenomena. Furthermore, neither of the two imputation phenomena have any sort of form or appearance of their own. Here, however, in the relation between a conceptually implied object and its external basis clung to, the external basis needs to have been cognized beforehand, but it does not appear simultaneously in the conceptual cognition of the conceptually implied object. Nevertheless, the nominal form appears with its form.

Because the aspects that appear in the mental hologram are aspects of the external clay jug, then sometimes it is explained that the external clay jug is also the conceptually implied object that appears and is cognized by the conceptual cognition, even though it might not be present and even though it might have already perished. When hearing or reading such explanations, it is important to remember that conceptual cognitions do not have focal objects that are present and that cast a mental aspect of themselves on the mental consciousness, even if they are present and simultaneously seen inattentively.

Being just a semblance of a clay jug, then, this mental hologram of a clay jug cannot function like an objective clay jug. It cannot hold water or milk inside it and cannot drop on the floor or break. You could visualize and imagine such things happening, but they will involve imaginary water, imaginary milk and an imaginary accident, not real ones with concrete effects. Although the mental image of the clay jug might not remain steady in your thinking about it, it does not undergo moment-to-moment change from its side. Your conceptual consciousness may change because of being accompanied by mental dullness or mental wandering and you might imagine and think about something else, but the mental image itself will not have changed by a process of cause and effect into the new one. It will simply have been replaced by another.

In short, although what appears when thinking of your mother’s clay jug is not her actual clay jug, yet it isn’t not her clay jug. This is because it appears with the shape, colors and so forth of your mother’s clay jug. Thus, the mental hologram that is a semblance of your mother’s clay jug is only a nominal form of physical phenomenon. 

When thinking about this nominal object, the colored shapes of the clay jug itself do not appear as vividly or clearly to your conceptual mental consciousness as when seeing it with visual bare cognition. This conceptually implied object having the shape and colors of your mother’s clay jug appears only unclearly. “Clearly,” here, means “vividly”; it does not mean “in focus.” The visualization when imagining a Buddha in meditation may be perfectly clear in all its details. But by the definition, it is unclear, meaning non-vivid, since it is conceptual. 

One further point needs to be mentioned. The words “mental hologram” and “visualization” can be misleading since they might connote only something with visual characteristics. The conceptually implied object that appears in a conceptual cognition, however, is not limited to being merely the semblance of visual information. It may be a semblance of the information of any of the senses. 

  • When the conceptionally implied object resembles a sight, a non-communicative sound, an odor, a taste or a physical sensation, the appearing object in the conceptual cognition of it is an object category (don-spyi). Recall that cognition of any type of sensory information includes cognition of the collection synthesis (tshogs-spyi) and kind synthesis (rigs-spyi) that are nonstatic imputation phenomena on that information as their basis. The mental hologram resembling the visual information of your mother’s clay jug resembles not merely what it looks like but resembles, as well, the commonsense object that her jug is and the kind of commonsense object that it is.
  • When the conceptionally implied object resembles either a verbal or non-verbal communicative sound, such as the sound of a word being spoken or the sound of a police siren blaring, the appearing object in the conceptual cognition of it is an audio category (sgra-spyi). The traditional texts do not mention the cases in which communication occurs through non-audio linguistic media, such as the written word, Braille, sign language, or lip-read movements of the mouth, or how other means of representing and communicating information work, such as music notation, symbols, emojis and so on. The conceptual cognitions involved through such communication media must undoubtedly work in a similar manner as those through audio categories.

Categories as Conceptual Isolates

To understand the relation between a conceptually implied object and the category that is its locus, we need to examine once more the type of negation phenomenon we have been translating as an “isolate” (ldog-pa), the double negative “nothing other than.” 

Negation phenomena (dgag-pa) are exclusions of something else (gzhan-sel). There are two types of negation phenomena, implicative negations (ma-yin dgag) and non-implicative negations (med-dgag). Of these two, an isolate is an implicative negation phenomenon. As for their full, formal, complex definitions:

  • An implicative negation phenomenon is one that, in the wake of its object to be negated having been negated by the sounds of the words with which it is formulated, leaves as a focus something that has been tossed as the comprehensible object of a conceptual cognition that cognizes it – namely, (it leaves) something that is a common locus of a negation phenomenon and is also the presence of a common locus of an affirmation phenomenon.
  • A non-implicative negation phenomenon is one that, in the wake of its object to be negated having been negated by the sounds of the words with which it is formulated, leaves as a focus something that has been tossed as the comprehensible object of a conceptual cognition that cognizes it – namely, (it leaves) something that is a common locus of a negation phenomenon and is also the absence of a common locus of an affirmation phenomenon.

To understand these technical definitions and their implications, let us analyze each of their components:

  • Because the negations are made by the sounds of the words of the negation phenomena and since verbal cognitions are exclusively conceptual, the definitions specify the objects that are the focus of conceptual cognitions of the negation phenomena. This does not mean however that negation phenomena may only be known by conceptual cognition. Nonstatic implicative negations may be known by either conceptual or non-conceptual cognition; however, according to the Sautrantika tenets, non-implicative negations may only be known conceptually.
  • A “comprehensible object” (gzhal-bya) is a validly knowable phenomenon.
  • The “focus” (dmigs-pa) of a conceptual cognition refers to the objects at which the mental consciousness of the conceptual cognition aims. It does not refer to an external focal object (dmigs-yul) or focal condition (dmigs-rkyen), since conceptual cognition lacks any such objects or conditions.
  • The “wake” (shul) of something having been negated or removed refers to the empty space left as the aftermath of the negation or removal, like the wake left by a fast-moving boat or the hoofprint of a horse galloping through mud. The wake of a negation, however, is a metaphor and not to be taken literally. It is not that first the negation negates the object to be negated and then, subsequent to the negation, an empty space is left. The negation is the opening up of an empty space.
  • “Tossed” (‘phangs-pa) means implied by the negation.  
  • A “common locus” (gzhi-mthun) of two objects is an object that is the basis for the defining characteristics (mtshan-gzhi) of both of them. This does not mean however that the basis exists simultaneously as both of these objects.
  • The defining characteristic of a comprehensible object is the focus of the mental factor of distinguishing (‘du-shes) that enables that object to be the involved object of the cognition cognizing it, as differentiated from everything that is not the object.

For instance, 

  • The sound of the words of the implicative negation phenomenon “this is not x” toss in their wake focus on what has the defining characteristics of both the negation phenomenon “not x” and the affirmation phenomenon “y.” 
  • In the case of the implicative negation phenomenon of an isolate, the sound of the words “this is not non-x” toss in their wake what has the defining characteristics of both the negation phenomenon “not non-x” (“what is other than non-x”) and the affirmation phenomenon “x.” 
  • In the case of the non-implicative negation phenomenon of an absence, the sound of the words “there is no x” toss in their wake what has the defining characteristics of both the negation phenomenon “there is no x” and the absence of any affirmation phenomenon, such as “y.”

Any validly knowable object can be specified by the implicative negation phenomenon of an isolate. Just as there are two types of existent phenomena: nonstatic objective entities (rang-mtshan, individually characterized phenomena) and static metaphysical entities (spyi-mtshan, generally categorized phenomena), likewise there are two specific types of isolates, one for each type of entity:

  • Nonstatic, individually characterized, object exclusions of something else (don rang-mtshan-gi gzhan-sel) – “object exclusions” or “object isolates” for short. These isolate nonstatic objective entities.
  • Static, conceptual exclusions of something else (blo’i gzhan-sel) – “static conceptual isolates” for short. These isolate metaphysical entities, specifically categories.

Categories, such as the object category “your mother’s clay jug,” are static conceptual isolates. Their defining characteristic, called a composite feature (bkra-ba), is derived from the individual defining characteristics of all the items that fit in that category. 

The static conceptual isolate tosses in its wake focus on the static category, which is the common locus for both the explicitly known static negation phenomenon “nothing other than your mother’s clay jug” and the implicitly known nonstatic affirmation phenomenon “your mother’s objective, externally existing clay jug.”

  • The implicitly known affirmation phenomenon, “your mother’s actual, material clay jug,” does not appear.
  • The explicitly known negation phenomenon “nothing other than your mother’s clay jug” is also referred to as the mental appearance (snang-ba) in the conceptual cognition because it is explicitly known. Something explicitly known appears in a cognition. 

However, because this mental appearance is a static phenomenon, it lacks any sensory information that could appear to the mental consciousness, for instance a colored shape.  Therefore, the nonstatic affirmation phenomenon “a mental hologram of your mother’s clay jug” appears to the mental consciousness as a generic representation of this jug and is the explicitly known affirmation phenomenon that shares a common locus with the static category “your mother’s clay jug.” This mental hologram is the conceptionally implied object of the cognition but is only a nominal form of physical phenomenon. The colored shape with which it appears is the colored shape of your mother’s clay jug, not the colored shape of anything else or of nothing, but it is not cast on the mental consciousness by the material clay jug.

Thus, in the conceptual cognition of thinking of your mother’s clay jug:

  • The source of the object category “your mother’s clay jug” is the tendency or habit of thinking about it that was imprinted on your mental consciousness by the reflexive awareness that accompanied your previous conceptual cognitions of her jug.
  •  The generic nominal form of your mother’s clay jug arises to your mental consciousness as the affirmation phenomenon sharing a common locus with this category. This is equivalent to the statement that the category is the locus of the conceptually implied object.
  • As the conceptually implied object of your conceptual cognition, this nominal form – a mental hologram – is a generic mental representation of her jug. The colored shapes that appear, however, are those of your mother’s objective, externally existing clay jug, but they appear without her material jug serving as the focal object of the conceptual cognition. 

Conceptual Cognition of Your Mother’s Clay Jug That Is No Longer Happening or Not Yet Happening

Consider the conceptual cognition of your mother’s clay jug that perished long ago and is now no longer happening. As in the above analysis, the category that is the appearing object of the conceptual cognition is the object category “your mother’s clay jug” and the conceptionally implied object is a mental hologram representing the visual information of your mother’s clay jug. This visual information was cast on your eye consciousness by your mother’s objective, externally existing clay jug all the times, long ago, when you previously saw it. 

One of the non-congruent affecting variables that was a nonstatic imputation phenomenon on the basis of that external jug each time you saw it was its abiding (gnas-pa), equivalent to its presently-happening (da-lta-ba). The “presently-happening of your mother’s clay jug” was another aspect simultaneously cast on your sensory consciousness together with the jug’s visual information. Thus, you remember seeing your mother’s presently-happening clay jug as it was presently happening whenever you saw it.

Now, in the conceptual cognition in which you remember your mother’s clay jug, another imputation phenomenon is cognized on the basis of the conceptionally implied mental hologram representing that presently-happening clay jug of hers. It is the no-longer-happening (‘das-pa) of your mother’s presently-happening clay jug. Unlike the presently-happening, which is nonstatic, according to Sautrantika the no-longer-happening of her presently-happening clay jug is a static non-implicative negation phenomenon. Its object of negation is the “presently-happening of your mother’s clay jug,” not simply the “presently-happening.” As an implication phenomenon, the “presently-happening” cannot be cognized independently of its basis for imputation, your mother’s clay jug, being cognized simultaneously with it. 

The negation of the “presently-happening of your mother’s clay jug” tosses in its wake focus on this non-implicative negation phenomenon as the common locus of the negation phenomenon of the “no-longer-happening of the presently-happening of your mother’s clay jug.” It is also the common locus of the absence of an affirmation phenomenon, namely the absence of the “presently-happening of your mother’s clay-jug,” but not the absence of her clay jug. 

Only the mental hologram of your mother’s clay jug is the involved object of the mental consciousness of the conceptual cognition with which you remember her clay jug that perished long ago. The no-longer-happening of that clay jug is not the involved object of that conceptual mental consciousness, since mental and sensory consciousness can only take objective entities as their involved objects and the no-longer-happening of the clay jug is a static metaphysical entity. The reflexive awareness that accompanies this conceptual cognition, however, does take this static no-longer-happening of your mother’s clay jug as its involved object. Thus, the conceptual cognition as a whole – mental consciousness and reflexive awareness taken together – cognizes your mother’s clay jug that is no longer happening. This is how you can remember and think of your mother’s clay jug that perished long ago.

The analysis of the conceptual cognition with which you imagine a clay jug that is not-yet-happening, but which you plan to make for your mother is similar to that of this conceptual cognition of remembering her clay jug that is no-longer-happening. Like the no-longer-happening of the clay jug, the not-yet-happening of the clay jug is also a static non-implicative negation phenomenon. In this cognition, however, which also has as its conceptually implied object a mental hologram representing a presently-happening clay jug of your mother, the visual information that appears was not previously cast on the sensory consciousness by a presently-happening, objective, externally existing clay jug of your mothers because there was no such thing. The visual information is generic and needs to have been cast by other clay jugs that you previously saw, and which serves as a model for the clay jug you intend to make. This visual information is known as a “similar-family cause” (rigs-‘dra’i rgyu, similar kind cause)

Conceptual Cognitions That Accord with Facts and Those That Do Not Accord with Fact

When divided, there are two (types): (1) conceptual cognition that accords with fact and (2) conceptual cognition that does not accord with fact.

A conceptual cognition that accords with fact (rtog-pa don-mthun) is one whose object conceptualized about – the basis for its conceptually implied object – exists. A conceptual cognition that does not accord with fact (rtog-pa don mi-mthun) is one whose object conceptualized about does not exist.

Consider the case of thinking about your mother’s clay jug and suppose her clay jug was round. If, when thinking about it, the mental hologram that appears as the conceptually implied object is the nominal form of a round clay jug, such a conceptual cognition accords with fact. If, however, the nominal form of a square clay jug appears, the conceptual cognition does not accord with fact. It is a conceptual distorted cognition. You remembered what it looked like incorrectly. Others who saw her clay jug or photographs of it would corroborate that your memory was incorrect. 

What appears, of course, does not have to be an exact replica of her jug, since the conceptually implied object is merely a generic representation of the jug. How closely it needs to resemble what the jug looked like, however, is not specified in the texts. The degree of resemblance that your mental picture has to the original object might not be so crucial in the case of your remembering your mother’s clay jug, but it does become crucial when remembering what happened at the scene of a crime or an accident, or when remembering an important conversation, or when citing the definition of a technical term in a debate about what the term means. 

There are many different types of conceptual cognition that do not accord with fact. Let’s consider a few of them. After seeing a mirage in the desert, you may conceptually think of it either as a mirage or as actual water. If you think of it through the object category “mirages,” your mental representation of what you saw as fitting in this category accords with fact. But even if your mental representation accurately resembles what a pool of water looks like and what you saw, yet if you conceptionally cognize it through the object category “water,” your conceptual cognition does not accord with fact. What you hallucinated was not actual water. There is such an existent thing as water, but what you hallucinated is not an existent item that fits in that category.

Next, consider the example of remembering your deceased father. Your deceased father – technically, your no-longer-happening father – is a static, metaphysical entity, the absence of a presently-living father as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of his present remains. As a metaphysical entity, your deceased father has no form. You can only represent him in your conceptual thought with a nominal form that resembles what he looked like when he was alive. If you conceptualize him through the object category “no-longer-alive persons,” your conceptual cognition accords with fact. If, however, you conceptualize him through the object category “presently-alive persons,” as if your dead father where alive now, and proceed to talk to him as if he were present, then your conceptual cognition is distorted. It does not accord with fact. 

Thinking that sound is a permanent phenomenon is another example of a conceptual cognition that does not accord with fact. In this example, the appearing objects are the object categories “sounds” and “permanent phenomena.” The conceptually implied object is a mental representation of a generic sound as an item fitting in both categories. Although the generic sound as representing the object category “sounds” accords with the object conceptualized about, some external objective sound, the generic sound as representing the category “permanent phenomena” does not accord with the object conceptualized about. All objective, externally existing sounds are impermanent. Permanent phenomena, however, do exist. Metaphysical entities, such as categories and spaces, are items that fit in this category.

A final example concerns the conceptual cognition of things that are totally non-existent, such as rabbit-horns, monsters and you, as a person, existing as a static, partless, independently existing self, an atman. In the conceptual cognition of your “self” existing as such an atman, the appearing objects are the object categories “your ‘self’” and “permanent, partless, independently existing atmans.” The conceptually implied object would be a generic representation your “self.” The self, however, is a noncongruent affecting variable, which is an imputation phenomenon “tied to” and existing on a basis. It has no form of its own and can only be known with that basis also appearing. Thus, the conceptually implied object would be a generic representation of your body, for instance, and your “self” as an imputation on that nominal body as its basis. 

Such a self as fitting in the category “your ‘self’” accords with the object conceptualized about, your objective, externally existing self as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of your objective, externally existing body. This conceptually implied self, however, which you imagine represents a permanent, partless, independently existing atman, does not accord with fact. There are no selves that fit into the object category “atmans,” because there is no such thing as a self that exists as a permanent, partless, independently existing atman

Conceptual Cognitions That Apply a Name and Conceptual Cognitions That Apply a Fact

(There are also) the two: (1) conceptual cognition that applies a name and (2) (conceptual cognition that) applies a fact. 
When conceptual cognition is divided according to its necessity (dgos-pa) – what it needs to do – there are conceptual cognitions that apply a name (ming-sbyor rtog-pa) and conceptual cognitions that apply a fact (don-sbyor rtog-pa).

A name or word (ming) is equivalent to a name or word synthesis (ming-gi tshogs), a noncongruent affecting variable that is an imputation on an assemblage of syllables that is intentionally put together and assigned a meaning. A syllable (yi-ge), in turn, is equivalent to a syllable synthesis (yi-ge’i tshogs), a noncongruent affecting variable that is an imputation on the intentionally made sound of a consonant put together with the sound of a vowel. 

[1] A conceptual cognition that applies a name is formally defined as a conceptual mind that cognizes something after applying as a fact (at the time when it is a convention) a name (from the time when it is a tag). 

A name or a word when it is first applied to something to designate it is called a “tag” (brda). When it is subsequently applied to something as its designation, it is called a convention (tha-snyad). In other words, once a name has been designated as a tag for something, then a conceptual cognition that applies a name is one that subsequently applies that name to objects as a convention.

If you see a new-born infant before it has been named, or a stranger on the street, you cannot think about either of them conceptually in terms of a personal name. You could only think of them in terms of an object category of what they look like. But once you give the infant a name as its “tag” or learn what the stranger is called, for instance “Fred,” you can then think of them in terms of this name as a convention and a fact about them. 

The object category through which you thought of the stranger before you knew his name and the one through which you think of him as “Fred” after you learn his name are the same: the object category of “persons.” Before you knew his name, however, it was merely an object category; but after you knew it, it was a meaning/object category associated with the audio category of the sound of the name “Fred.” The conceptually implied object with which you represent him in your conceptual thought may also be the same, for instance a generic nominal form of what he looks like or a generic nominal form of what his voice sounds like. It will not, however, be a generic nominal form of the sound of the word “Fred.” This is because the conceptual cognition that applies a name is through the medium of a meaning/object category, not an audio category. A conceptual cognition in which the nominal sound of the word “Fred,” however, might also occur in connection with the one applying a name. In such a conceptual cognition, the appearing object would be the audio category “the sound of the name ‘Fred’” and the object conceptualized about would be the sound of someone’s voice saying, “Fred.”

Another example is to think that this object with a fat belly and flat base from which water can be poured is called a “jug.” This conceptual cognition thinks of this fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured in terms of the object category “jugs,” on which is ascribed the name “jug.” Having a fat belly, a flat base and from which water can be poured is the defining characteristic of a jug, and objective, externally existing jugs are objects defined by it. The conceptually implied object is a generic mental semblance of a jug. The object conceptualized about is this fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured, which is in fact a jug and is, in fact, called a “jug.” A generic mental semblance of the sound of the word “jug” does not appear in this cognition that is applying the name to something called by the name. In short, you are not conceiving the fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured to be the sound of the word “jug.” Rather, you are conceiving it to be the meaning of this name or what it refers to.

[2] A conceptual cognition that applies a fact is formally defined as one that cognizes something after applying as a fact an attribute (khyad-chos) to a basis for that attribute (khyad-gzhi), also as a fact. 

For example, the conceptual cognition that thinks of a clay jug as a functional phenomenon (dngos-po) applies “being a functional phenomenon (dngos-po-nyid)” as an attribute to a clay jug as a basis for that attribute. The appearing objects in that cognition are the object categories “clay jugs” and “being a functional phenomenon.” The conceptionally implied object is a mental hologram representing both a generic clay jug and something that is functional. The conceptual cognition applies as a fact to clay jugs their being functional phenomena.

Other examples are conceptual cognitions that apply as a fact to some object attributes such as being something beautiful, being something good, being something fat and so on. For example, when thinking of a painting as being beautiful, the appearing objects are the object categories “paintings” and “being a beautiful object”; the conceptually implied object is a mental semblance of a generic painting as representing both paintings and something that is beautiful.

There are four types of conceptual cognitions that apply a fact:

  • A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of a class (rigs-kyi sgo-nas don-sbyor rtog-pa)
  • A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of a sensory quality or feature (yon-tan-gyi sgo-nas don-sbyor rtog-pa)
  • A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of an action (bya-ba’i sgo-nas don-sbyor rtog-pa)
  • A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of a substance (rdzas-kyi sgo-nas don-sbyor rtog-pa).

[1] A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of a class is one that applies a class to a member of that class. For instance, when thinking of a dog as a pet, the appearing objects are the object categories “dogs” and “being a pet,” while the conceptionally implied object is the nominal form of a generic dog – perhaps resembling your pet spaniel – representing both “dogs” and “something that is a pet.”

[2] A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of a sensory quality or feature is one that applies a sensory quality, such as being red or being heavy, or a feature that is a non-congruent affecting variable, such as age, to an object that is qualified by it. For example, when thinking of a house as being red and being 30 years old, the appearing objects are the object categories “houses,” “being something red” and “being something 30 years old.” The conceptually implied object is a mental hologram of a generic old red house as representing houses, something red and something 30 years old.

[3] A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of an action is one that applies an action that someone or something is committing or doing to a person or object that is committing or doing it. For example, when thinking of the water in the kettle as boiling, the appearing objects are the object categories “water” and “being boiling.” The conceptually implied object is a mental hologram representing generic water in a kettle and being objects that are boiling.

[4] A conceptual cognition that applies a fact through the gateway of a substance is one that applies a separable or inseparable material object to something that possesses that object. As an example of the first type, when thinking about the field as having rocks, the appearing objects are the object categories “fields” and “being something possessing rocks.” The conceptually implied object is a mental hologram of a generic rocky field representing both “fields” and “something possessing rocks.” As for an example of the second type, when thinking about a goat as having horns, the appearing objects are the object categories “goats” and “being something that possesses horns.” The conceptually implied object is a mental hologram of a generic horned goat representing both “goats” and “something possessing horns.”

All conceptual cognitions that apply names also apply facts. This is because the name of something is also a valid fact about it. A name is an attribute. But the pervasion is only one-way. If a conceptual cognition applies a fact, it need not necessarily apply a name. For instance, to apply the fact of being a functional phenomenon to a fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured applies a characteristic fact to such an object, its being functional; but being a functional phenomenon is a fact that could also be applied to a pillar, a consciousness, a person and so forth. It is not a name specific either to that object or the class of objects to which it belongs.

Thus there are three possibilities. A conceptual cognition could apply:

  • Both a name and a fact, such as thinking of this fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured as a jug
  •  Simply a fact but not a name, such as thinking of this same object as a functional phenomenon
  • Neither a name nor a fact, such as thinking about the sound of the words “this fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured is a jug.”

There is no fourth possibility of a conceptual cognition that applies merely a name without also applying a fact.

Both these types of conceptual cognition may or may not accord with fact. If you think of Fred as Joe, or a fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured as a window, this clearly does not accord with fact. Likewise distorted is to think of sound as something static, tainted aggregates as being clean or attractive, or your self as a person existing as a static, partless, independently existing atman

Three Further Divisions of Conceptual Cognition

There are also the three: (1) conceptual cognitions having reliance on a tag, (2) those that interpolate something extraneous onto something else, and (3) conceptual cognitions of something having an obscured fact. There are many ways to divide them.

[1] A conceptual cognitions having reliance on a tag (brda-rten-can-gyi rtog-pa) is equivalent to a conceptual cognition that has arisen from reliance on applying a tag as a name or word. 

Suppose you had previously learned that the word “jug” signifies and means an object with a fat belly, a flat base and from which water can be poured. By relying on this thoroughly understood definition of a tag, you could then, upon seeing a jug, apply this tag as a word for the object by means of the conceptual thought designating it as such. This is similar in structure to relying on a valid line of reasoning in order to generate an inferential cognition based on renown (grags-pa’i rjes-dpag): if something has “this” defining characteristic, it is called “that.” 

This type of conceptual cognition can also arise from reliance on the sound of someone saying, “This fat-bellied, flat-based object from which water can be poured is called a jug.” From hearing these sounds, you conceptually know that the word “jug” applies to this object.

However, in this example, you are applying an object category of the meaning of what the tag “jug” or the sound of the word “jug” signifies. You are not applying an audio category of which word someone is saying when you hear the sound “jug.”

There can be many other examples, such as a shopkeeper’s previously knowing that a piece of paper with certain colored designs and writing on it is money, so that when they are handed such a piece of paper, they correctly conceive of it as money and know to exchange it for goods. If no one had ever explained to them what this piece of paper was, or if they applied the tag “money” onto the basis of a paper bag, their conceptual processes would be rather confused. This piece of colored paper, then, only becomes money for them once they are aware of the popular convention that labels it as such. Before that, for instance when they were a baby, they could only conceive of it as what they saw – a piece of colored paper with curious designs and lines on it. As a child, they had to be taught what such pieces of paper represented in order to be able to conceive of them by applying the tag “money” to them. 

Another interesting example is the conceptual cognition that thinks of a clay jug as “my clay jug.” Before you bought this item, it was simply a clay jug. When you first saw it on the shelf at a store, you conceived of it by applying the tag “clay jug.” Upon seeing this item, you conceptually applied the object category “clay jugs,” with the tag “clay jug” applied to it, to a mental semblance representing a generic clay jug based on what this object looks like. Through this conceptual mechanism, you applied the tag “clay jug” to the item and thus recognized and understood what this object was, a clay jug. If it had dropped on the floor and broken, you would not really have cared. 

After you have purchased it, however, by relying on the convention that what you give someone a colored piece of paper, called “money,” for is then “mine,” you now conceive of it as “my clay jug” through the additional object category “objects belonging to ‘me’” and this accords with fact. The basis clung to by the conceptually implied generic mental hologram representing either “a clay jug” or “my clay jug,” however, has remained exactly the same – this objective, externally existing clay jug. But based on this new tag, “mine,” your reaction to its being dropped on the floor and broken, for instance, will be quite different.

[2] A conceptual cognition that interpolates something extraneous onto something else (don gzhan-la sgro-‘dogs-kyi rtog-pa) is one that applies as a fact an attribute or quality to something to which it does not apply and, in so doing, exceeds the bounds of reality and what is actually the case. The Tibetan term for interpolation (sgro-‘dogs) literally means “tying a feather to a bamboo arrow”; what is added is superfluous, irrelevant and extraneous to the arrow. 

Examples are to think of sound as something permanent, or yourself as a person to exist as a static, partless, independent atman. Such conceptual cognitions, as discussed previously, are ones that do not accord with fact. In other words, being based on incorrect consideration (tshul-min yid-byed) and the ignorance or unawareness of not knowing that such conceptual cognitions are incorrect, they are distorted. 

The mental semblance of a generic sound as representing items that fit in the object category “permanent phenomena” exceeds the bounds of reality. It does not correspond to fact; the object conceptualized about, an actual static sound, does not exist at all. This example, however, conceives of sound to have an attribute that is an existent one, namely being static. The attribute merely does not happen to apply to this particular basis, sound. In the case of conceiving yourself as a person to exist as an atman, on the other hand, the extraneous attribute ascribed is totally non-existent. There are no items that fit in the object category of static, partless, independent atmans. Regardless of what basis you try to ascribe it to, no person represents such atmans.

The reverse type of distorted conceptual cognition that does not accord with fact is repudiation (skur-‘debs). Unlike interpolation, with which you add to something either an existent or a non-existent attribute that is inappropriate to it and not the case, with repudiation you deny an existent one that is the case. Examples are to conceive of sound as not being an impermanent phenomenon, a karmic action as not causing any effect, a person as not being an existent phenomenon, and so forth. 

The repudiation of sound as being an impermanent phenomenon is not one that conceptionally cognizes a mental semblance of a generic sound through the object categories “sounds” and “not an impermanent phenomenon,” where the category “not an impermanent phenomenon” is the category of an implicative negation phenomenon. The negation tosses in its week the implication that sound is a permanent phenomenon. Similarly, the repudiation of a person as being an existent phenomenon is not one that conceptionally cognizes a mental semblance of a generic person through the object categories “persons” and “not an existent phenomenon,” where the category “not an existent phenomenon” is also a category of an implicative negation phenomenon tossing in its wake that a person is a non-existent phenomenon. 

Rather, these repudiations cognize their conceptionally implied objects together with the non-implicative negation phenomenon of an absence. No alternative attribute is suggested by the repudiation. The repudiation of sound as being an impermanent phenomenon conceptionally cognizes a mental semblance of a generic sound through the object category “sounds” and does this together with cognizing the metaphysical entity “an absence of the attribute ‘being an impermanent phenomenon.’” Similarly, the repudiation of a person as being an existent phenomenon conceptionally cognizes a mental semblance of a generic person through the object category “persons” and does this together with cognizing the metaphysical entity “an absence of the attribute ‘being an existent phenomenon.’” Such repudiations are distorted conceptual cognitions that do not accord with fact. Thus interpolation and repudiation prevent you from cognizing a middle path of the actuality of things.

[3] A conceptual cognitions of something having an obscured fact (lkog-du gyur-ba’i don-can-gyi rtog-pa), or simply a conceptual cognition of something obscured (lkog-du gyur-ba’i rtog-pa) is one that focuses on an obscured fact about its conceptually implied object. Something obscured is an attribute or fact about something that is not obvious to sensory bare cognition. To cognize such obscured attributes or facts, you must rely on previously knowing some valid line of reasoning establishing this fact. Your knowing it can be based on either logic or information culled from a valid source. 

Examples are conceiving of sound or yourself as a person as a subtle nonstatic phenomenon, one that undergoes subtle change from moment to moment. Or it could be conceiving of yourself as person as being devoid of existing as an atman or conceiving of a man to be behind a house when you yourself cannot see him but your friend standing at the side of the house tells you someone is there. All such attributes and facts are obscured, not obvious. Yet it is possible to apply object categories of such attributes or facts to their appropriate conceptually implied objects and validly cognize them through them. 

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