Details of Ways of Knowing: 6 Non-Determining Cognition

Extensive Explanation of “Compendium of Ways of Knowing”

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Introductory Discussion of Non-Determining Bare Cognition 

When divided, there are three: (1) (non-determining) sensory bare cognition, (2) (non-determining) mental bare cognition and (3) (non-determining) bare cognition by reflexive awareness.

In general, according to the Sautrantika tenets, there are four kinds of bare cognition: sensory, mental, that of reflexive awareness and yogic. With these, you may know objective entities as the involved objects, and do so without reliance on a line of reasoning or through the medium of conceptualization with a metaphysical category. When, through a non-defective sense organ, one of your five types of sensory consciousness accurately cognizes an object, this is sensory bare cognition. An example is your visual consciousness accurately cognizing the visible form of a clay jug. After having such a sensory bare cognition and before your mind begins to conceptualize about it, your mental consciousness must first also take the visible form of this clay jug as its involved object. This is the mental bare cognition of a visible form. It lasts only the shortest moment. Your awareness of any cognition, which allows you later to remember it, is the bare cognition by reflexive awareness.

As previously noted, when all such bare cognitions are both fresh and apprehend their involved objects, they are valid. These bare cognitions, however, may not necessarily be fresh. Still, if they apprehend their objects accurately and decisively, they are non-fraudulent but invalid subsequent cognitions. Further, these three types of bare cognition need not even apprehend their objects, let alone freshly by their own power. While their involved objects appear clearly and accurately to them, there may be no decisive determination (nges-pa, decisive cognition) of them, such as when your attention is preoccupied with one of your other types of consciousness. At such occasions, your bare cognition, whether sensory, mental, or by reflexive awareness, is non-determining (snang-la ma-nges-pa), lacking validity and apprehension.

No Such Thing as Non-Determining Yogic Bare Cognition

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

Yogic bare cognition is the non-conceptual apprehension of subtle nonstaticness and either the coarse or subtle selflessness of a person. According to the Sautrantika theories, it is experienced only by aryas, namely those who have had bare cognition of such nonstaticness and selflessness. Because such objects are obscure, anyone of lesser attainment can only cognize them conceptually with inferential cognition by relying on a valid line of reasoning. 

Yogic bare cognition occurs only during meditation sessions when these aryas have total absorption (mnyam-bzhag) focused on such obscure objects. It arises on the basis of a joined pair (zung-’brel) of shamatha and vipashyana. 

  • Shamatha (zhi-gnas), a stilled and settled state of mind, is one that is completely stilled of flightiness of mind (rgod-pa) and mental dullness (bying-ba), settled with perfect absorbed concentration (ting-nge-’dzin, Skt. samādhi) – in this case, on the subtle nonstaticness or the coarse or subtle selflessness of persons – and accompanied by a physically and mentally exhilarating sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs) at being able to stay focused like this for as long as you wish.  
  • Vipashyana (lhag-mthong), an exceptionally perceptive state of mind, also focused on the subtle nonstaticness or the coarse or subtle selflessness of persons, adds to shamatha an additional sense of fitness at being able to discern and comprehend fully all the subtle details of anything.  

Thus, yogic bare cognition arising from such a joined pair can never lack decisive and accurate apprehension or full absorbed concentration on its involved objects. Therefore, it can never be non-determining, although it need not necessarily be fresh. 

Cognition of Coarse and Subtle Nonstaticness

Coarse or gross nonstaticness is, for instance, that which a child undergoes when starting school or a person undergoes when they die. As an obvious, noncongruent affecting variable, this gross level of nonstaticness or change can be known with sensory or mental bare cognition even by ordinary beings, in the same manner as explained previously when seeing the cracking of a clay jug. Every moment of the child’s life, however, the child undergoes subtle nonstaticness. While retaining continuity, the child’s body and mind, for instance, never remain static or the same from one instant to the next. They continually undergo subtle changes. 

With sensory bare cognition, you can see the child’s visible form at any given moment. Its subtle nonstaticness also appears clearly, but if you are an ordinary being, it is too subtle for your visual consciousness to take as its involved object and apprehend. It is something obscure that you can only know by inferring it from a valid line of reasoning or other such evidence. In that case, you will know it though the medium of the categories “body” and “subtle nonstaticness” and a mental hologram representing the child’s body. The child’s body itself will appear only unclearly to the mind of inferential cognition that explicitly apprehends it as its involved object, as explained in the previous chapter, and the subtle nonstaticness, having no form, will be explicitly apprehended simultaneously, also as an involved object, while cognizing the body. With yogic bare cognition, however, the subtle nonstaticness as an involved object is not only explicitly apprehended but also appears clearly. A more detailed analysis of these three situations of visual bare cognition, inferential cognition and yogic bare cognition and how they can relate to subtle nonstaticness may elucidate the differences.

Subtle nonstaticness is a noncongruent affecting variable, an imputedly existent objective entity that can only be paid attention to by your consciousness also assuming the aspect of its basis for imputation. Consider the subtle nonstaticness of your body. As an ordinary being, when you have visual bare cognition of your body, its visible form is the involved, focal and appearing objects cognized by your visual consciousness. Its subtle nonstaticness also appears clearly as an objective characteristic of your body and is also an appearing object. But because it is too subtle and obscure, your ordinary visual consciousness cannot take it as its involved object and explicitly apprehend it. It cannot even apprehend it implicitly, because to do so the subtle nonstaticness would also need to be an involved object of your visual consciousness, and it is too subtle to be that. Therefore, subtle nonstaticness appears clearly to ordinary visual bare cognition, but is not its involved object nor apprehended by it. The visual consciousness is merely inattentive and indeterminate of it because it is insufficiently sensitive. Furthermore, it does not even have non-determining cognition of it because it is not the involved object of the bare cognition. 

With a conceptual inferential cognition that depends on a line of reasoning such as, “My body is a subtly nonstatic phenomenon because it is affected by causes and conditions,” you can cognize the subtle nonstaticness of your body as an involved object and explicitly apprehend it. But in this case, both your body and its subtle nonstaticness would appear to your mental consciousness only unclearly. This is because your conceptual consciousness has as its appearing objects the categories “body” and “subtle nonstaticness.” What appears in the cognition is a mental hologram representing your body and these partially veil your objective body and its objective subtle nonstaticness. 

With yogic bare cognition, both your body and its subtle nonstaticness appear clearly and are the appearing objects, as with ordinary visual bare cognition. But because of the heightened powers of concentration and discernment gained by a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana, you are actually able to take this subtle nonstaticness as your involved object and explicitly apprehend it while your consciousness assumes the mental aspect of your body. For as long as your mental consciousness having a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana takes as its involved object the subtle nonstaticness and its basis for imputation, your body, it will remain attentive of them. Thus, ordinary beings cannot actually see the moment-to-moment subtle nonstaticness of affected phenomena such as their body, but they can conceptualize and thus be intellectually aware of it through inferential cognition. Aryas, on the other hand, can non-conceptually cognize the moment-to-moment changes of subtle nonstaticness with yogic bare cognition.

A Person: A Conventional “Me” and Cognition of One

Subtle nonstaticness is a noncongruent affecting variable, neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. It is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of any of the physical or mental aggregates conventionally referred to as a person. Each moment of experience of every living being, even a Buddha, is comprised of a network of five aggregate factors – networks of affected phenomena constituting an individual continuum. 

  • The aggregate of forms of physical phenomena (gzugs-kyi phung-po) is the network of everything having physical qualities that you can either become aware of or utilize. In any moment of experience, it can include as many as five types of sensory objects – visible forms, sounds and so forth – and five types of physical cognitive sensors. Each type of sensory object and cognitive sensor taking it as its object, however, would be parts of separate cognitions occurring simultaneously. Some forms of physical phenomena are conjoined with your consciousness, such as the visible form of your hand, and some are not conjoined, like the visible form of a clay jug.
  • The aggregates of feeling (tshor-ba’i phung-po) and distinguishing (’du-shes-kyi phung-po) are the mental factors performing these two respective functions within the limits of what the type of being you are born as is capable of feeling and recognizing. 
  • The aggregate of other affecting variables (du-byed-kyi phung-po) includes everything not in the other four aggregates, therefore all mental factors other than the aforementioned two, plus reflexive awareness and all appropriate noncongruent affecting variables. 
  • The aggregate of consciousness (rnam-shes-kyi phung-po) encompasses the six types of primary consciousness – five sensory and one mental. 

Gods of the plane of formless beings (formless realm gods) lack a form aggregate, otherwise the moment-to-moment experience of all beings is comprised of at least one member of each of the five aggregates. It should be noted that aggregate factors do not include any static phenomena or non-existent ones. 

Furthermore, everyone, including animals and other non-humans, is an individual person or conventional “me.” A person or conventional “me” is an ever-changing noncongruent affecting variable and is part of each individual’s aggregate of other affecting variables. It therefore is an objective entity that is affected by causes and conditions and is functional. It is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of any cluster of member components of a particular continuum of a network of aggregate factors and is specific to that continuum. Being imputedly knowable, it can only be cognized by a consciousness that first and then simultaneously gives rise to a mental hologram of its relevant basis for imputation at the moment. 

As explained previously, a person is a so-called permanently changing phenomenon in that each person is beginningless and continues, without ever declining, from lifetime to lifetime. This is so even when an individual is experiencing a meditative attainment of non-distinguishing or cessation, at which time either unstable types of consciousness and mental factors or, specifically, the mental factors of distinguishing and feelings are temporarily blocked. According to the Sautrantika position, the continuum of a person only comes to an end when the continuity of their tainted aggregates, as their basis of imputation, and which have arisen from ignorance, completely ceases at the time of their nirvana without remainder. In other words, it ceases when an individual dies after having attained either arhatship or Buddhahood, the goal of the various Buddhist paths. Further, as also explained previously, a person continually has and takes objects, but without assuming their aspects.

Most people find this imputedly existent person or conventional “me” very difficult to relate to and become very frightened if they have nothing objective and findable to point at as their self or person. Afterall, you experience a sense of self as the point of view from which you experience each moment of the rest of the aggregate factors comprising each moment of your experience. So, most people feel that point of view must be findable. Therefore, in the Sautrantika theories, Buddha explained that the defining characteristic of a person is findable on the side of your subtle mental consciousness and you can always take your subtle mental consciousness to exemplify your person. This is because, like a person, your subtle mental consciousness is a so-called permanently changing phenomenon with no beginning and only an end with nirvana without residue, and it too continually has and takes objects. Thus, as the basis having the characteristic mark (mtshan-gzhi) of a person, subtle consciousness is always present whenever there is a person and can exemplify their person for those who require objective reassurance. Further, there is an intimate relation between the subtle mental consciousness and the person in accounting for the continuity of karma and the experiencing of effects from actions done in previous lifetimes.

The subtle mental consciousness and the person should not be taken as identical, however, because the former is a self-sufficiently knowable way of being aware of something, whereas the latter is an imputedly knowable noncongruent affecting variable. Subtle mental consciousness is neither a person nor an example of a person: it merely exemplifies a person. A person is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of their exemplifying mental consciousness that underlies each moment of their experience, but on the more obvious level a person is imputedly knowable on the basis of whatever grosser member of one of their aggregate factors is cognized as the involved object in any given moment, for instance their body and its visible form that they see.

Although a person is an imputedly existent objective entity that can only be cognized by your consciousness first and then simultaneously assuming the aspect of its basis for imputation, such as their body, still the person themselves serves as a basis for imputation of yet further imputation phenomena about them, for instance their subtle moment to moment changing. The subtle nonstaticness of a person is also an imputedly existent objective entity, although obscure, and can be explicitly apprehended as an involved object with a clear appearance only by yogic bare cognition. In this case, first the body of someone is focused upon, then more subtly their person and then even more subtly the subtle nonstaticness of them as a person. All three appear clearly and are the involved objects explicitly apprehended by yogic bare cognition.

Coarse and Subtle Selflessness of a Person and Cognition of Them

Further obscure imputable facts about that person can also be known by such yogic cognition, for instance their coarse selflessness (bdag-med rags-pa) and subtle selflessnesses (bdag-med phra-mo). Both of these are metaphysical, static phenomena; but unlike the fleeting, yet static absence of an existent clay jug from a tabletop, they are static, permanent absences of something totally non-existent. Moreover, unlike the absence of a rabbit-horn on a person, they are the absence of two fictitious modes of existence of that person. 

The coarse selflessness of a person is a person’s lack or voidness of existing with three characteristics that cannot possibly pertain to them. These three are existing as a “self” – in other words, as a “soul” or “atman” – that is:

  1. Something permanent in the sense of being static, not affected by causes and conditions and thus not changing from moment to moment
  2. A monolithic unit that lacks any parts and is the identical unit in each moment, being “one” in the sense as described previously, like “table” and “table.”
  3. An independently existing entity in the sense of not being an imputation phenomenon but being a substantial entity that can exist without a basis for imputation. For instance, it can exist independently of aggregate factors such as a body and mind after attaining liberation. 

These three characteristics do not apply at all to any person:

  1. Although a person has no beginning and ends only with parinirvana and thus lasts almost forever, nevertheless they are not static. A person is a so-called permanently changing nonstatic phenomenon. Although a person is not created anew in each moment; nevertheless, because they continually have and take objects, they are affected by the objects they take and therefore must continually change. 
  2. A person is not the same identical, partless entity from moment to moment, because in each moment the person is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of a different cluster of members from among those included on the continuum of their aggregates – a body, a mind, feelings and so forth, in any lifetime past, present and future. Because the basis of imputation for a person has parts, the person as well must have parts. Thus, as a person, you are an imputation phenomenon on the basis of your body as a baby and your body as an adult. If you were a partless monolithic unit, always identical, then as an adult you would still be a baby. 
  3. A person cannot exist independently of some type of basis – a body, a mind or whatever. If it could, then if you took away your body and mind, you should still be left existing as a person. Even if you believed that you existed as some sort of soul or spirit, you would have to say that you existed on the basis of being a soul or a spirit. But if you were indeed an independently existing entity, then if you took away your soul or spirit, there should still be “you.” 

According to the Sautrantika explanation, to cognize a person established as existing with these three characteristics is a distorted conceptual cognition that can be only caused by having been taught and having accepted as true the false view asserted by non-Buddhist Indian tenet systems of a static, partless, independent “atman” or self. To believe that what this distorted conceptual cognition imagines to be real actually corresponds to reality is therefore doctrinally based unawareness (doctrinally based ignorance) (kun-btags ma-rig-pa). No one would innately conceive of themselves to exist as that type of person and an animal couldn’t possibly believe that. To cognize the total absence of a person’s being established as existing in this way is, then, according to the Sautrantika scheme, to cognize the coarse selflessness of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-med rags-pa).

This coarse selflessness of a person, being an obscure phenomenon, can only be known conceptually by ordinary beings through inferential cognition relying on a valid line of reasoning. But, being a metaphysical entity, selflessness cannot be apprehended either explicitly or implicitly by the mental consciousness of the inferential cognition, since only objective entities can be the involved objects of mental cognition. Metaphysical entities, such as selflessness, can only be apprehended by the accompanying reflexive awareness that explicitly apprehends the conceptual mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors of the conceptual cognition, and then apprehended only implicitly. It can be apprehended by the reflexive awareness of the conceptual mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors because metaphysical entities, being concepts and thus only occurring in conceptual cognitions, have the essential nature (ngo-bo) of the conceptual cognition in which they occur. Since reflexive awareness cognizes, with non-conceptual bare cognition, the primary consciousness and mental factors of the cognition it accompanies, in conceptual cognition it also cognizes non-conceptually the metaphysical entities that are of the same essential nature as the consciousness and mental factors. But since selflessness, as a metaphysical entity, has no appearance, it can only be apprehended implicitly by that reflexive awareness. 

Even when the coarse selflessness of a person is cognized non-conceptually by the yogic bare cognition of an arya during total absorption (mnyam-bzhag) on selflessness, it still cannot be apprehended either explicitly or implicitly by the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana. This is because it is a metaphysical entity and metaphysical entities can only be cognized conceptually. It is apprehended in an accompanying conceptual cognition and then only by the non-conceptual bare cognition by reflexive awareness of that conceptual cognition and then only implicitly by that reflexive awareness. This conceptual cognition accompanies the non-conceptual explicit apprehension by yogic bare cognition of both some cluster of items from the five aggregates and the person as an imputation phenomenon on them as its basis. Even though the yogic bare cognition itself does not apprehend coarse selflessness of a person, nevertheless it is considered as non-conceptually cognizing it in this way. 

Such yogic bare cognition with its accompanying conceptual cognition can never be a non-determining cognition. This is because so long as the yogic bare cognition on selflessness with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana is maintained, a distracting sensory cognition can never arise that would render that yogic bare cognition non-determining.

Once an arya has achieved non-conceptual apprehension of the coarse selflessness of a person like this, they can then proceed to apprehend similarly its subtle selflessness. Here, the totally non-existent mode of existence of which a person is devoid is being self-sufficiently knowable. What is left after refuting that a person, the conventional “me,” is static, partless and independently existent separate from a basis for imputation is a person as a nonstatic, imputation phenomenon having parts. What is refuted by subtle selflessness is that such a person can be cognized independently on its own without its basis being cognized first and then simultaneously with it. 

The deceptive appearance of a person existing in this impossible way, however, automatically arises (lhan-skyes) and even animals believe it corresponds to reality. No one has to teach us that. When you look at your image in a photo, for instance, you automatically think, “That’s me,” and not that it’s a representation of a body and, on the basis of that body, “me” as an imputation phenomenon. Conceptual cognition and yogic bare cognition of the total absence of such a mode of existing – the subtle selflessness of a person – operates in the same manner as with cognition of its coarse selflessness. It too can never be non-determining.

Therefore, of the four types of bare cognition, only sensory, mental and that of reflexive awareness can become non-determining.

Five Types of Non-Determining Sensory Bare Cognition

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

Non-determining sensory bare cognition of a particular sense faculty can occur whenever your mind or attention is absorbed in the cognitions of one of your other senses or of your mind. Thus, you can have non-determining visual bare cognition of the wall in front of you, when absorbed in listening to music, smelling a foul odor, tasting the food on the stove, feeling an itch or mentally wandering while daydreaming. Likewise, you can have non-determining auditory cognition of the sound of your watch ticking or even a nearby conversation when engrossed in watching a sporting event, smelling the smoke of a fire and so forth. There are also many times when you have non-determining bare olfactory cognition such as of cigarette smoke when involved in one of your other senses or thoughts. Likewise, examples can be cited for non-determining bare gustatory cognition of the taste of your food, such as the taste of popcorn while watching a movie, or the physical sensation of your clothing touching your skin when you are pre-occupied as above in conversation, fantasizing and so forth.

This does not mean, however, that it is impossible to have decisive determination with more than one sense at a time or simultaneously to have decisive determination with both visual and mental consciousness. Consider the example of seeing a friend and listening to them speak. There are four possibilities:

  • Both your visual cognition of their visual form and your auditory cognition of the sound of their words are decisively determining their respective involved objects 
  • Only your visual cognition decisively determines its involved object, but your auditory cognition does not, because you are not paying attention to what they are saying 
  • Only your auditory cognition decisively determines its involved object, but your visual cognition does not, because you are not paying attention to what you are seeing while looking at the person. 
  • Neither your visual nor your auditory cognition is decisively determining its involved object, because you are daydreaming or smelling smoke. 

The example of hearing a description of an event and conceptually visualizing it in your mind, on the other hand, has only two possibilities. Either you have decisive determination of the involved objects of both, or you have non-determining cognition of the sound of the words while attentively and decisively visualizing. Since you cannot have non-determining conceptual cognition, you cannot be indecisive about or inattentive of your visualization when either fully engrossed in hearing the description or non-determining of that sound when absorbed in seeing someone enter the room. At such times, you simply stop visualizing the event being audibly described. 

The text gives as an example these five types of non-determining sensory bare cognitions when they occur in the mental continuum of an ordinary being, someone who is not an arya. This does not preclude, however, the fact that this type of non-determining cognition can also occur with aryas and arhats. Unlike Buddhas, who never leave their state of total absorption on selflessness even when acting, the lower aryas, including the shravaka and pratyekabuddha arhats, enter into a subsequent attainment (rjes-thob, “post-meditation”) phase of meditation immediately after the total absorption phase. During this phase of their meditation, they still have a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana that still cognizes subtle nonstaticness or coarse or subtle selflessness, but it is with mental cognition, not with yogic bare cognition. This is because, unlike the total absorption phase, now an appearance of a coarse impossible self arises in the cognition. The subsequent attainment phase may be non-conceptual or conceptual, but in both cases, the coarse selflessness is apprehended only by the reflexive awareness in an accompanying conceptual cognition, and that apprehension is implicit, as in the case of the total absorption. Since the subsequent attainment cognition is still with a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana, it too can never be non-determining of its involved object. 

When aryas and arhats arise from these meditative states, however, they may be subject to certain types of non-determining cognition such as those mentioned here. This might occur, for instance, when they were so absorbed in listening to the teachings of the Buddha that their visual cognition become oblivious to their surroundings. Further, since aryas and arhats are not omniscient or all-knowing, they may also be subject to mental wandering during such non-meditative periods, although arhats to much less an extent then aryas. Not to have any such mental wandering ever is one of the eighteen qualities of a Buddha not shared in common with the lower arhats, namely that a Buddha’s single-minded concentration never declines. 

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

When you have visual bare cognition of the form of a clay jug, for instance, the first phase during which your apprehension of it is initially established is your valid bare cognition of the clay jug. The subsequent phase that immediately follows, during which you continue to apprehend this same object, is your subsequent bare cognition of it. The final moment of the continuum of such sensory cognition, however, if you are an ordinary being, no longer apprehends its involved object, the clay jug. As your attention is about to shift to another object, either of the same sense or a different one, and even when shifting to think conceptually about the same object, you first lose interest in what and how you have been cognizing. This happens for the tiniest fraction of a second even if you are startled, for instance, by a loud sudden noise. Thus, the final moment of the continuum of a sensory bare cognition of an object, when you have lost interest, is non-determining cognition. Your involved object still appears clearly, but your attention on it is minimal and you have no apprehension of it.

Even when they are not meditating and no longer have a state of joined shamatha and vipashyana, aryas and arhats never experience this type of non-determining cognition. They continue to apprehend their involved object throughout a continuum of sensory bare cognition of it, from the initial valid phase through the subsequent invalid one. Then, when they turn to a new object, they do so without any intervening moments of loss of decisive determination of their involved objects.

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

The mental bare cognition taking a visible form as its involved object, which follows immediately upon the visual bare cognition of that form, lasts only one-sixty-fifth of the time of a fingersnap. Because it is so brief, it does not have the ability, in the case of ordinary beings, to ascertain its object. Therefore, for such beings it is always non-determining. This is not the case with aryas, as explained by the First Dalai Lama (rGyal-ba dGe-’dun grub) in A Filigree of Lines of Reasoning, A Treatise (Explanation of Dharmakirti’s “Commentary to [Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of] Validly Cognizing Minds’” (Tshad-ma’i bstan-bcos rigs-pa’i rgyan). The tiniest moment of mental bare cognition that immediately follows a sequence of their sensory bare cognition is quick and sharp enough to decisively determine and comprehend its object. And because it is also a fresh cognition, apprehending its object by its own power, it is also valid.

Therefore, for ordinary beings, the sequence of cognitions involved in seeing a clay jug, for instance, is an initial phase of valid visual bare cognition, then a second phase of subsequent visual cognition still apprehending it, followed by one moment of non-determining visual cognition no longer apprehending it, and then one moment of non-determining mental bare cognition of it. For aryas, however, the subsequent visual cognition is followed directly by a tiny moment of valid mental bare cognition. Thus, unlike ordinary beings, they continue to apprehend the clay jug throughout this sequence. 

Not every instance of mental bare cognition of ordinary beings, however, is non-determining. As the result of training themselves and attaining a state of shamatha and, beyond that, an actual state of the first level of mental constancy, the first dhyana (bsam-gtan dang-po), some may attain the advanced awareness (mngon-shes, heightened awareness, extra-sensory awareness) that can cognize, for instance, other beings’ thoughts. Such cognitions are always mental bare ones and, for ordinary beings, although the initial and subsequent phases decisively determine their involved object, the last moment of a particular continuum of one would be non-determining. This would not be the case with aryas. They would continue to apprehend the object of their advanced awareness to the very end.

The mental bare cognition of aryas can, however, sometimes be non-determining. This would occur, for instance, during the tiniest moment of such cognition that followed a sequence of non-determining sensory bare cognition such as their subliminal vision of their surroundings when intent on listening to teachings. Their mental bare cognition would take as its object the same visual forms that their visual bare cognition took without decisive determination, and would likewise be non-determining of them. 

For ordinary beings, all the tiniest moments of their reflexive awareness, whether experiencing the tiniest moment of mental bare cognition following a stream of sensory bare cognition or experiencing any cognition in general, are also non-determining cognitions. This means that, for ordinary beings, it requires more then one-sixty-fifth of the time of a fingersnap to establish decisive determination of having the cognition of something. It does not mean that they cannot have decisive reflexive awareness in general. In other words, their reflexive awareness is not sharp enough to register decisive determination in the shortest instant of time. This process requires a varying number of instants depending on the sensitivity of the individual. 

Suppose that for a certain person it requires three such instants for their reflexive awareness to establish decisive determination of their visual cognition of a clay jug. It is not that the first two instants are non-determining and the last has decisive determination. Rather, the process of establishing decisive determination spans all three instants, with each of them on their own being non-determining, but their sum whole constituting a decisively determining cognition. This is similar to the process of lifting your hand from the table to your chin. Each instant of the process, even the final one, is not in itself the entire act. Yet when taken together the act is accomplished.

The same is true of the sensory bare cognition of ordinary beings. Each tiniest moment of it is non-determining, yet several of these moments taken together constitute an attentive act of cognition. Thus, it requires a varying length of time to see with decisive determination someone’s fist heading for your face and to be aware that you are having such a visual cognition. Depending on your reflexes, you will be able to establish decisive determination of seeing the fist coming at you quickly enough to dodge the blow or, being too slow, you will be hit. 

For aryas, each tiniest moment of their reflexive awareness, as well as of their sensory bare and mental cognition, can have decisive determination of its involved object and can apprehend it. However, each tiniest moment need not apprehend its object by its own power and thus each moment having decisive determination of its involved object need not to be valid. They can be subsequent cognitions. The exceptional cases in which aryas can have non-determining sensory bare and mental cognition have already been noted. Their reflexive awareness experiencing such would also be non-determining. 

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

As outlined briefly before, reflexive awareness is a nonstatic phenomenon of a way of being aware of something, but which is neither a primary consciousness nor a mental factor. It cannot take as its object anything but a specific cluster of the other two types of conscious phenomena that it accompanies. It has the same immediate source (rdzas) as the consciousness and mental factors it is aware of, in the sense that it arises simultaneously with them in the manner almost of an automatic recording device so that the later such moments of cognition can be recalled. Therefore, it is not that in the first moment there is a cognition and then sequentially the reflexive awareness of it arises. The two occur together at once. The cluster of consciousness and mental factors that reflexive awareness accompanies appears to it as its involved object and it experiences this constellation, not in the sense of deriving a feeling of happiness or unhappiness from it, but in the sense of simply being aware of its occurrence.

Further, reflexive awareness may or may not comprehend what it is aware of, in the sense of differentiating and identifying that it is “this” way of being aware of something and not “that,” or understanding whether or not this way of being aware of something is taking its involved object accurately. In the cognition of ordinary beings, it is incapable of such functions. It merely acts as a witness. The sensory bare and mental cognitions of such non-arya beings likewise do not comprehend their objects, although they may apprehend them accurately and will always have a coarse distinguishing (du-shes) of them. For ordinary beings, the comprehension of the specific identity of something, what its characteristics are, whether they are cognizing it accurately or not, and various subjective and objective judgments come subsequently with discriminating awareness (shes-rab) in conceptual cognition, which is always mental. Discriminating awareness adds certainty to coarse distinguishing. For aryas, however, such comprehension of whether their cognition of an object is accurate or not, and what type of way of knowing specifically it is, can be performed by their reflexive awareness witnessing each moment not only of their yogic bare cognition, but of their sensory bare and mental cognitions as well, except for the rare instances when the latter two may be non-determining. Thus, aryas can have simultaneous comprehension with their non-conceptual bare cognitions. 

There is yet another function that reflexive awareness is capable of performing, even in the mental continuum of an ordinary being. This is to be aware of the fraudulence (bslu-ba-nyid) or non-fraudulence (mi-bslu-ba-nyid) of the cognition it is taking as its involved object. This does not mean to comprehend or understand that the cognition is accurate or inaccurate, but merely to be aware of a sense of its being okay or of there being something wrong, without being aware of what specifically the fault is. Only in the case of aryas does it also comprehend what the fault is, in addition to witnessing and being aware of it. Thus, when you experience an accurate and decisive apprehension of something, as an ordinary being you can have an accompanying conscious sense of its being non-fraudulent. 

When reflexive awareness, for some distorted intellectual reason, is unaware of its object’s being either fraudulent or not, it is a non-determining cognition. This is so even though it may have decisive determination of the cognition itself. In this case, however, another of its involved objects, the characteristic of the cognition being fraudulent or not is also appearing clearly to it as an objective entity. This is what it does not cognize with decisive determination. 

This, then, is quite different from the situations with sensory bare and mental bare cognitions when they are non-determining of everything in their fields of cognition. When they are merely non-determining of part of their fields, such as when inattentive of the picture on the wall behind someone when seeing them, they are not non-determining cognitions because the visual form of the picture on the wall does not appear clearly and is not an involved object of the cognition, whereas a reflexive awareness in a similar situation is a non-determining cognition. This is because the cognition and its characteristic of being fraudulent or not both appear clearly to reflexive awareness and both are its involved objects. Reflexive awareness cannot be selective in taking only part of what appears to it as its involved object.  

There are many examples of non-determining reflexive awareness. Among the non-Buddhists, for instance, the Carvakas and Jains deny the validity of inferential cognitions. Nevertheless, they may indeed accurately infer from seeing smoke on a mountain that there is fire present. Such a correct inferential cognition appears clearly to their reflexive awareness, but due to their distorted view of denying its validity, they are non-determining of its being non-fraudulent. Thus, they have non-determining cognition of this valid cognition.

Among the Buddhists, a similar example of being non-determining of the non-fraudulence of a cognition is all moments of the reflexive awareness in the mental continuums of Vaibhashikas. Adherents of this system of tenets deny the existence of reflexive awareness. Therefore, being non-determining of the non-fraudulence of the valid and subsequent phases of its cognitions and the fraudulence of its non-determining occasions, every moment of their reflexive awareness is a non-determining cognition. 

Another example of a reflexive awareness that is non-determining of the fraudulence of the cognition it cognizes is one that takes a distorted cognition as its involved object. This is only the case, however, when you are fooled by the distortion and believe it to be true. If you have a distorted cognition, yet are aware of its being fraudulent, then your reflexive awareness is cognizing it with full decisive determination. Likewise, when experiencing presumptive cognition, it is possible to be aware or not of the fraudulence of your presumptive cognition. If you are, your reflexive awareness taking this cognition as its involved object also has full decisive determination of it. If you are fooled into believing it to be valid, then it is non-determining. 

Furthermore, for ordinary beings, just as the last moment in a specific continuum of a sensory bare cognition or a mental cognition with advanced awareness is non-determining, likewise non-determining is their reflexive awareness witnessing it. Since aryas do not have a non-determining last moment of the continuums of such types of cognition, they do not have this type of non-determining reflexive awareness. The kind they do experience, however, is that which witnesses moments of their preoccupied non-determining sensory bare cognitions and mental bare cognitions, as indicated previously. 

It should be noted that reflexive awareness can induce recollection of a mental event even when it is non-determining. Otherwise, the absurd conclusion would follow that Vaibhashikas would not be able to remember anything because all moments of their reflexive awareness are non-determining. It would also absurdly follow that no one would be able to remember hallucinations and other distorted cognitions. But this does not mean that every instance of non-determining reflexive awareness can induce recollection. The factor that determines whether or not an event will be memorable is whether the cognition witnessed by reflexive awareness is a non-determining cognition or not, and if it is a decisively determining cognition, whether or not there were certain objects within its field of cognition that it was inattentive of. If it was a non-determining cognition, then it will follow both that the reflexive awareness witnessing it is likewise non-determining and you will not be able to remember it. And if the cognition was a decisively determining one but was inattentive of certain objects in its field of cognition, then your reflexive awareness of this cognition may be a decisively determining one, but you will not remember these peripheral objects. Thus, no one can normally recollect a conversation they witnessed while absorbed in mental wandering, or the face of everyone they saw in a large crowd.

Another point to note is that except for their yogic bare cognition, the other three types of bare cognition in the mental continuums of aryas and arhats can become non-determining at certain rare moments. Under no circumstances, however, does a Buddha ever have non-determining cognition.