Details of Ways of Knowing: 9 Indecisive Wavering

Extensive Explanation of “Compendium of Ways of Knowing”

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The Difference between Indecisive Wavering and Other Ways of Knowing

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

A primary consciousness (rnam-shes) is aware merely of the essential nature of its object. A mental factor (sems-byung, subsidiary awareness) is an assisting awareness that functions to affect the way in which the object is taken, differentiate qualities about it, make subjective judgments and so forth. The mental factors and the primary consciousness they accompany all share five things in common. They: 

  • Cognitively aim at the same object as their focal object
  • Rely on the same cognitive sensor as their dominant condition
  • Assume the same aspect and thus give rise to the same mental hologram
  • Occur simultaneously
  • Have the same natal source in the sense that they come from tendencies that do not clash with each other.

Indecisive wavering (the-tshoms) is a mental factor that can accompany primary mental consciousness only in conceptual cognition. Since conceptual cognition lacks a focal object (dmigs-yul) that it cognitively takes (’dzin-pa), we can probably say that the mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors in a conceptual cognition share the same “basis clung to” (zhen-gzhi) by its conceptually implied object (zhen-yul) – although they do not cognize this basis clung to – and give rise to the same mental hologram representing the categories that are its appearing object.  

In the example given in the text, the “basis clung to” is sound as an impermanent phenomenon and the appearing objects are the object categories “sound” and “impermanent phenomena.” By the power of its mental sensor, your consciousness conceptualizes about sound that it is perhaps an impermanent phenomenon, for instance. By the power of the indecisive wavering, your mental consciousness takes its involved object – namely, its conceptually implied object, a mental hologram representing the object categories “sound” and “impermanent phenomena” – only tentatively, not decisively or conclusively. In addition, your attention (yid-la byed-pa) – another mental factor accompanying the cognition – is about to consider another possibility concerning the same “basis clung to”: that it is a permanent phenomenon. This is because the power of the mental factor of firm conviction (mos-pa) that also accompanies the conceptual cognition is weak. Thus, as a way of knowing, indecisive wavering involves a sequence of several conceptual cognitions. Let’s spell them out.

First, your mental consciousness conceptually takes one involved object – a mental hologram representing the object categories “sound” and “impermanent phenomena” – concerning its “basis clung to,” sound actually as an impermanent phenomenon. The accompanying mental factor of indecisive wavering causes it to take that involved object indecisively and causes your attention to be about to consider another possibility, that sound is a permanent phenomenon. Your mental consciousness then, not by the power merely of its metal sensor, but by the influence of this mental factor, proceeds to take conceptually another involved object concerning this same “basis clung to” – this time, a mental hologram representing the object categories “sound” and “permanent phenomena.” This too, because of the presence of indecisive wavering, is taken only tentatively and your attention is about to reconsider the first possibility. Thus, you waver back and forth indecisively, without reaching any definite conclusion.

At each alternative pole of the indecision, both your mental consciousness and the mental factor:

  • Share the same “basis clung to” as what the conceptually implied object clings to
  • Rely on the same previous moment of consciousness that, as a mental cognitive-sensor, acts as their dominant condition
  • Assume the same aspect, in other words give rise to the same mental hologram representing the categories that are the appearing objects of the conceptual cognition
  • Occur simultaneously 
  • Arise from tendencies that do not clash with each other as their natal sources. Although the mental factor of indecisive wavering would clash and not go with sensory consciousness, it does not clash with mental consciousness but can accompany it. 

Four Ways to Cognize an Obscure Property of Something

Suppose you hear a sound with bare auditory cognition. As an ordinary being, this involves a valid first phase, a second phase of subsequent cognition and then one moment each of non-determining bare auditory cognition and non-determining bare mental cognition also taking this sound as its involved object. You may then proceed to cognize conceptually something obscure about this sound, which now is no longer your focal object, but merely the basis conceptualized about, the “basis clung to.” There are four general ways you could do so: with valid inferential cognition, presumptive cognition, distorted conceptual cognition or indecisive wavering. 

Valid Inferential Cognition of Something Obscure

If you previously had thoroughly understood the lines of reasoning proving that sound is impermanent, you could have a valid inferential cognition in which: 

  • The “basis clung to” was a sound with the noncongruent affecting variable of its property of impermanence imputedly existent on it
  • The appearing objects were the object categories “sound” and “impermanent phenomena”
  • What appeared was a mental hologram representing a composite of these two object categories. 
  • This involved, conceptually implied object, the mental hologram, corresponded to the “basis clung to,” sound, which actually is an impermanent phenomenon.

The conceptual mental consciousness would take this involved object accurately, conclusively and decisively based on its thorough understanding of the valid line of reasoning, “sound is an impermanent phenomenon because it is affected by causes and circumstances.”

Presumptive Conceptual Cognition of Something Obscure

If you were merely aware of this line of reasoning but did not actually understand it, you could have a presumptive conceptual cognition of the impermanence of sound that would have the same set of objects as the valid inferential cognition of the same. Although this cognition would have reached a definite conclusion that sound was impermanent, it would not take its involved object, a mental hologram representing that object categories “sound” and “impermanent phenomena,” as decisively as in the former case. Later you could have second doubts because your conviction in this accurate conclusion was not well-founded.

Distorted Conceptual Cognition of Something Obscure

Based on a doctrinally based distorted view, you could also have the distorted conceptual cognition taking: 

  • Sound, which is an impermanent phenomenon, as its “basis clung to.”
  • The object categories, “sound” and “permanent phenomena,” as its appearing objects
  • A mental hologram resembling a permanent sound as a representation of a composite of these two object categories
  • This involved, conceptually implied object, the mental hologram, would not correspond to the “basis clung to.” There is no such thing as a permanent sound; it is nonexistent.

This distorted cognition will have reached a decisive conclusion, but this time an inaccurate one. 

Indecisive Wavering about Something Obscure

With indecisive wavering, your mental consciousness would alternately take the same set of objects as the above presumptive and distorted conceptual cognitions. In the former two cases, however, even though the cognitions lacked decisiveness because they were not well-founded, still they had reached their conclusions. Although they could generate later doubts, yet at the time of their occurrence there was no hesitation or reservations. But with indecisive wavering, because of the presence of this mental factor, the same sets of objects are taken only tentatively, both indecisively and inconclusively. The hold of the consciousness on its objects is weaker and your attention is about to shift from one to other. Thus, the quality of how the objects are cognized is quite different from before.

The Three Types of Indecisive Wavering

The three types of indecisive wavering are differentiated in terms of whether a greater amount of the time is spent considering one alternative or the other as the one you will most probably choose to conclude, or whether your attention and consideration are equally divided between the two. Thus, your indecision may be inclined toward what is fact, or what is not fact, or it may be evenly balanced. For instance, indecisively wavering between the two conceptual cognitions of sound’s being a permanent or an impermanent phenomenon, if you are more inclined toward the conclusion that it is impermanent, this is inclined toward fact. If you think that is more probable that sound is permanent, this is not inclined toward fact. In both cases, however, you are still wavering between two conceptions and neither is held decisively or conclusively. But one choice is held more conclusively than the other. With evenly balanced indecisive wavering there is equal weight given to both possibilities.

Other examples of three types of indecisive wavering would be wondering whether your friend went uphill or downhill. If you think they probably went uphill and they in fact did, your indecision is inclined toward fact. If, however, they actually went downhill, it is not inclined toward fact. If you cannot even venture a guess, but waver between one choice and the other, your indecision is evenly balanced. If, on the other hand, you do not know which way they went and admit this honestly without even presuming to try to guess, this is not indecisive at all. This can be a valid knowing that something is not self-evident, but that determination must be induced by another cognition (gzhan-las nges-kyi tshad-ma). 

Deliberation about what you should do is also indecisive wavering and can be of these three types. If you cannot decide at all whether you should go uphill or down, and you have no preferences, this is evenly balanced indecision. If you think you will probably go uphill and it turns out that in fact you went downhill or did not go anywhere, your indecisive wavering was not inclined toward what become the fact. If you actually did go uphill, it was inclined to what become the fact.

Indecisive Wavering as a Root Disturbing Emotion

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

A disturbing emotion or attitude (nyon-mongs, Skt. kleśa) is a mental factor that, when it arises, causes you to lose peace of mind and self-control. There are six root ones (rtsa-ba’i nyon-mongs), which serve as the roots for the 20 auxiliary ones (nye-ba’i nyon-mongs) specified later in this text. The six are:

  • Longing desire 
  • Anger
  • Arrogance
  • Unawareness (ignorance)
  • Indecisive wavering
  • The five disturbing attitudes with an outlook on life, such as a distorted outlook. 

According to one tradition, every type and instance of indecisive wavering is a root disturbing emotion and, therefore, an object to be gotten rid of (abandoned) completely. No matter what the topic of your indecisive wavering may be, or whether it favors one possibility over another, the experiential effect is the same. A state of guessing and indecision is an uncomfortable and uneasy one, and therefore destroys your peace of mind. 

The other tradition does not identify the indecisive wavering itself as being the disturbing emotion but differentiates instances when the indecisive cognition has another disturbing emotion accompanying it and certain instances when it does not. The root disturbing emotion of deluded indecisive wavering (the-tshom nyon-rmongs-can), then, is taken as those instances when another disturbing emotion is also present. For instance, when wavering between the tentative conclusions that sound is either permanent or impermanent, the distorted outlook (log-lta) that considers sound to be permanent accompanies and predominates in the indecisive wavering inclined toward the non-factual conclusion. Although the distorted outlook is not predominant in the evenly balanced case, still it is not outweighed by an accurate view. Thus, all indecisive waverings not inclined toward fact and those that are evenly balanced, regardless of the subject matter, are deluded. 

As for the instances in which your indecision is inclined toward fact, this would be undeluded such as when thinking “probably sound is an impermanent phenomenon.” Although the possibility of the distorted outlook considering it to be permanent has not been eliminated entirely, still it is outweighed by an accurate view and the conception in general is not deluded. This is because it can most likely lead to an accurate conclusion and even a valid understanding.

There are other examples, however, in which other root disturbing emotions and attitudes accompany a state of indecisive wavering, and in those cases all three types of indecision are deluded. For instance, if you deliberate about whether you should kill your enemy with poison or a knife, even if you think probably with a knife and you actually do so, this is deluded. The same is true concerning the indecisive wavering accompanied by desire with which you ponder over whether to wear this outfit or that one in order to attract a partner at a dance. With pride, you could wonder whether you are superior to others because you are wealthier or because you are better looking, or whether you should parade your wealth by ostentatiously wearing this piece of jewelry or that one. Out of ignorance, you might ponder whether sound is an impermanent phenomenon because it is knowable or because it is visible. In all such cases, it makes no difference which decision you favor or if you are evenly balanced between the two. They are all accompanied by disturbing emotion.

If the first tradition is accepted, then it follows that aryas and arhats never have any indecisive wavering. Thus, except during rare cases of non-determining cognition, they always have decisive and conclusive ways of knowing. If they are aware of something, it is conclusive and if they do not know something, they decisively and conclusively know that is not self-evident to them what the answer is. They realize they will have to resort to either another valid cognition of their own to know, for instance, if something in the distance is a man or a tree, or another more valid source of information, such as a Buddha, to know, for instance, the full details about karmic cause and effect.

It is the latter tradition, however, that is commonly accepted. Thus, aryas and arhats have rid themselves of only deluded indecisive wavering and it is possible for them, when not absorbed in meditation, to entertain waverings that are inclined toward fact and unaccompanied by any disturbing emotions and attitudes. For example, they might wonder about the previous cause for a certain karmic ripening and be inclined toward the accurate answer. A Buddha, however, would never have any indecisive wavering. This is not only because they are omniscient, but also because they have rid themselves of all conceptual thought, and indecisive wavering is always conceptual. A Buddha knows all phenomena with valid bare cognition.