We have been speaking about the various ways in which we know or cognize things. In our meditation, and ways of understanding aspects of our lives and especially in terms of our interactions with others, it’s very important to know whether or not what we cognize is valid. Valid means fresh, so that we stay current and in the moment with the changing mood of the other person and our own changing emotions in any interaction. What we cognize also needs to be accurate and decisive in terms of what we understand and what it is that we are saying to be of help. These ways of knowing are very helpful in all these areas.
For cognition to be valid, it needs to be fresh, accurate and decisive; but even if it isn’t fresh, at the least we want correct apprehension of an object, meaning decisive and accurate cognition. When we apprehend something, it can be explicitly, as when something appears that we cognize, and there can be something implicit that we understand about it as well. For example, we accurately and decisively apprehend that this person is Mary and not Susan. Not-Susan doesn’t appear, but we apprehend it accurately and decisively. Another example is that something is helpful and it isn’t harmful. We can know that it’s helpful, but implicitly we want to be sure that it isn’t harmful either.
We also saw that we can have valid ways of knowing and apprehensions either conceptually or non-conceptually. Conceptually means through the medium of some category, like a mental box in which we fit whatever we cognize. In a sense, we super-impose that onto the object. These can be audio categories having to do with the sounds of words and how we understand language; or they can be object categories of what something is. These are all apples or all people, or this is the same person that we saw yesterday or someone else. There are also meaning categories, referring to the meaning of the word “apple.” The term for meaning category and object category is the same word and has both connotations. Non-conceptual cognition is without the intermedium of a category.
We also saw that mental activity has to do with the activity of the arising of a mental hologram and, describing that activity from another point of view, a cognitive engagement. Only that is happening in the sense that there is no separate “me” observing or controlling this mental activity. And there is no separate, findable mind, a concrete thing that is actually producing the activity.
As an imputation onto the whole moment-to-moment continuum of mental activity, there is “me.” That person, “me,” is an objective part of the continuum. I am cognizing different things each moment, not somebody else and not nobody. But, that “me” is merely an imputation on the continuum of the entire collection or network of aggregates, all interacting with each other and making up each moment of our experience. In each moment, each item in the cluster or network of the factors and objects that make up each moment of experience is changing at a different rate. In a sense, the “me” or person is a synthesis of all these everchanging aggregate factors.
We also looked at bare cognition, the first of the seven ways of knowing. Bare cognition is a fresh, non-fraudulent cognition, free from deception and causes for deceptiveness. There is sensory bare cognition, mental bare cognition, bare cognition of reflexive awareness like the recording device asserted by Sautrantika, and yogic bare cognition, meaning with a joined pair of shamatha and vipasyana. All four types of bare cognition are non-conceptual. That is a review of what we have covered so far.
Three Phases of Bare Cognition
Before we discuss the next three ways of knowing, we need to fill in some more detail about bare cognition. When we look at something or hear something, our sensory bare cognition of it goes through three phases.
- There is the valid bare cognition phase when there is the initial tiny moment of bare cognition that is fresh.
- After that, seeing it becomes subsequent bare cognition: it is no longer fresh, but we still apprehend the object.
- The sequence ends with a tiny moment of non-determining bare cognition. That is when we are no longer decisive about the object, because our sensory cognition is just about to switch to mental cognition.
This sequence is followed by a tiny moment of mental bare cognition, which is necessary in order for our cognition of an object to make the transition from the sensory sphere to the mental one. That mental bare cognition also is non-determining, because it lasts just a tiny microsecond, which is not enough time to establish decisiveness. Following that, our cognition of the object becomes conceptual mental cognition.
Let’s examine this sequence in more detail. When we see something, it is not just a nothing or just colored shapes. It’s a validly knowable object that extends over other senses like smell, physical sensation, and so on. Also, it doesn’t last for just one moment; it also extends over time. The object is a “collection synthesis” of all these different sensory types of information that extend over time. The object is also objectively a certain kind of object. Objectively, it is what can be correctly called a “flower.” It’s not a dog or a door. It is what we call a “commonsense object.”
But, when we see it, we don’t know that it’s a flower or what it’s called. Nevertheless, we are objectively perceiving a flower and that cognition is correct, decisive and accurate. We aren’t seeing a blur. The next moment, however, our cognition of it is not fresh. It has become a short sequence of moments of subsequent cognition. Then, when we want to be able to identify it and fit it into a mental box of what it is and apply a name to it, “flower,” we experience after this subsequent cognition a tiny moment of non-determining bare cognition, still sensory, followed by a tiny moment of mental bare cognition in which the type of consciousness engaged with the object switches. Then conceptual mental cognition of the flower follows in which the next moment of the mental hologram that arose when we saw the flower now serves as the mental hologram that represents the category. The category is the object category “flower.”
We can also add to our conceptual cognition an audio category of the sound of the word “flower” that we designate to that category and represent that sound with a so-called mental sound of the word. But this is optional. We don’t need to say “flower” in our minds when we see one and conceptually know it as a flower. It would be really quite horrible if every moment we had to say in our minds the names of everything that we perceive. That would be awful. Sometimes, however, we do that when we read. We vocalize the sounds of the words in our minds when we fit the colored shapes we see on the paper or screen into the categories of words and their meanings. When we speed read, however, we don’t do that, which indicates that we can know what the words we read mean without having to mentally vocalize them.
This is the sequence. According to the Sautrantika explanation, reflexive awareness accompanies each moment of that. The reflexive awareness cognition is always going to be non-conceptual. It can be subsequent reflexive awareness cognition or non-determining reflexive awareness cognition, depending on what type of cognition it accompanies. Reflexive awareness also accompanies our mental cognition; but, even when it accompanies conceptual mental cognition, it is still non-conceptual. It just records what is going on. This is the sequence that happens and obviously would be very difficult to identify in our own experience unless we really slow it down.
According to the Prasangika explanation, categories appear to be truly existent and so the objects we conceptually fit into categories appear to be truly established as fitting into these categories. “This truly is a flower.” This is, of course, a false appearance, because the universe and everything in it doesn’t exist truly established in boxes as described by entries in a dictionary. Nevertheless, once we have identified some object we cognize by conceptually fitting it into a category, our grasping for it to be truly established as existing in this box and the disturbing emotions that arise based on that grasping carry over into any bare cognition of the object that we have afterwards. We can see this chair, for instance, with attachment to it being truly established as ours and unawareness that this is false. But, that ignorance and attachment have arisen because of the conceptual cognition.
That is why conceptual cognition is considered a real trouble-maker. Nevertheless, it is a useful trouble-maker because without it, we wouldn’t understand language. It is only someone like a Buddha who would be able to understand language without having to fit sounds into categories.
Yogic bare cognition, according to Sautrantika, likewise has this sequence of fresh and subsequent moments, but it is never non-determining. Even the last moment of it will be an apprehension of its object. Yogic bare cognition is only experienced by aryas, those who have non-conceptual cognition of basically the four noble truths. When they focus on the lack of an impossible “me,” it is a lack of an impossible “me” experiencing the four noble truths. Who is experiencing suffering? Who is experiencing the disturbing emotions? Who is going to experience the true stopping of them and who is going to experience the understanding that gets rid of these true causes and so on? It’s only when we get into Mahayana that we are going to also focus on the voidness of the mental continuum on which all of this is occurring, and which is the locus of the “me” experiencing the four noble truths. Our mental continuum, or mind, then, is the focus of the refutations we want to make of truly established existence in order to attain enlightenment.
But enough of a diversion from our topic. The second of the two valid ways of knowing is inferential cognition and that is always conceptual. The definition of inferential cognition is a valid conceptual cognition of an obscure or extremely obscure object or fact through reliance on a correct line of reasoning as its basis.
We need to fill in, here, that validly knowable objects can be divided into objects that are:
- Obvious (mngon-‘gyur)
- Obscure (lkog-‘gyur)
- Extremely obscure (shin-tu lkog-‘gyur).
In sensory bare cognition, the objective entity that is the appearing object is an obvious object. We can actually see it. Let’s use an example: the physical sensation of feeling sick. We can know it non-conceptually through sensory bare cognition by relying just on our sensory cognitive sensors. We know that we feel terrible with body consciousness. We can look in the mirror and see that we look pale and so on. We need to be able to differentiate between actually being sick and just being a hypochondriac and imagining that we are sick. In this example, it is something obvious. We feel terrible. That is an obvious object.
An obscure object would be the sickness that we have. What is making us feel terrible? That is obscure because we can’t actually see that. We can only know such things by relying on a valid line of reasoning, like when a doctor diagnoses a sickness that we have, based on the information gained from a thorough examination and sufficient data from other patients. If there are such and such symptoms, it is such and such disease. Of course, not every diagnosis is correct, but diagnoses are made on the basis of inference. The sickness we have is an obscure object.
An extremely obscure entity or object would be like the name of the person who found the cure for the sickness that we have. We can only know that by relying on a valid source of information. That is not something that we can reason out by a line of reasoning. It is extremely obscure. Of course, that source of information has to be authoritative and we need some valid line of reasoning for inferring that. Is Wikipedia, for instance, a valid source of information for the name of this person? We can’t be too certain that we can trust it as a source, because information on Wikipedia can be submitted by anyone. Actually, there is a lot of the information on the internet that we can’t really trust.
This is a very helpful example, actually, because often we think that if something is written in a book, it must be correct. Anyone who has ever written a book and had it published knows that this is absolutely false. Anything can be published and we can put anything up on the internet. Even in Wikipedia when there is peer editing by so-called experts, how do they have experts in absolutely everything to check everything? This also is problematic.
In the case of Buddha, we infer that he is a valid source of information based on the following reasoning. If what Buddha explained about obscure phenomena such as voidness can be corroborated by logic and experience, and if the only motive of his attainment of enlightenment was compassion to benefit others, then what he has said about extremely obscure phenomena such as karma is also reliable. It is reliable because there is no reason why he would lie or make it up to deceive us.
Three Types of Valid Inferential Cognition
Inference Based on the Force of the Actuality of Phenomena, or Deductive Logic
There are three types of valid inferential cognition. The first type is inference based on the force of the actuality of phenomena, or deductive logic. This is like the inference involving in diagnosing a sickness. We have the evidence of data, which we know through bare cognition when examining a patient, and then, if we use faultless logic, we can deduce what sickness it is.
In the Tibetan monastic education system, after studying ways of knowing, lorig (blo-rig), students study tagrig (rtags-rigs), ways of logical reasoning. They learn to differentiate between correct lines of reasoning that prove something and incorrect or non-determining lines of reasoning that don’t give any certainty to any conclusion drawn based on them. We need to rely on faultless logic to come to a correct conclusion about something obscure.
For instance, suppose our neighbor is making a great deal of noise and we become annoyed and impatient, because it is not obvious that the sound is impermanent. Having had very noisy neighbors, I can appreciate this example. We get annoyed because the noise is very loud, and it prevents us from falling asleep. How can we justify being patient with it, because it’s not obvious that it will end? It seems as if it is going to go on all night and maybe it will. We need to rely on the force of evidence from other examples. We can prove to ourselves that this noise will pass, simply because it is man-made and arises from causes and conditions. To do so, we rely on the following line of reasoning:
- This noise was made by a human being.
- Everything man-made has passed, such as historical events. In this form of logic, we always have to give an example.
- Nothing that lasts forever, like our mental continuum, has been man-made.
- Therefore, we can be certain that this noise will also pass, because it was man-made.
In other words:
- Everything man-made will pass.
- This noise is man-made.
- Nothing that lasts forever was man-made. There isn’t a possible exception to the rule.
- Therefore, this will also pass because it was made by humans. Eventually they will get tired and stop. Eventually, they have to go to sleep, because they are humans.
Reasoning logically like that helps us to be able to control our anger. This is inference based on the force of evidence, relying on the three-point line of reasoning that we use in Buddhist logic:
- This noise is man-made
- Everything man-made has passed
- Nothing that lasts forever is man-made.
With these three points we conclude that this noise will also pass.
Inference Based on What Is Well-known
Next is inference through the force of what is well-known. Through this, we understand language, for instance. We hear some sounds being emitted from the mouth of a body we see in front of us or some sounds being emitted by a digital device like a cell phone. The person making the sounds is an imputation on these sounds and so we hear someone making sounds.
As an aside, it’s quite interesting: how do we know that it is a person speaking when we hear sounds coming from a black rectangle we are holding by our ear? We are just hearing vibrations and who knows what’s inside the rectangle making a sound? It is only based on previous evidence that we infer it’s a person speaking, and we correctly infer who it is.
In any case, how do we correctly fit these sounds into the accurate audio categories of the words they are and into the accurate meaning categories of what they mean? Such things are obscure, so we need to rely on inference based on renown. Here is the line of reasoning:
- What I heard is such and such sound.
- It is well known that sounds like that fit into such and such audio category of such and such word and into the meaning category of such and such meaning.
- There are no sounds like that which do not fit into those categories. This is tricky, because there can be sounds that are the sounds of different words in different languages but are all the same sound. And even in one language there are homonyms – two or more words that are pronounced the same. So, we would need to specify, there are no sounds like that in this language and this context that do not fit into these categories. And of course, we would first need to correctly infer what language these are words in and what the context is. Understanding language is really complex! Nevertheless, based on that line of reasoning based on renown, we can conclude:
- The sound I heard is the sound of such and such word and has such and such meaning.
We do the same with written language. After all, what we see on a piece of paper or a monitor or screen are just straight and curved lines. They have no self-established meaning, inherently from their own side, as Prasangika would we say. Nevertheless, no matter what font or size it is written in, what color ink, or whose handwriting it might be, we infer through renown that these lines are this and this word and they have this and this meaning.
Another wonderful example is paper money. What in the world is it? Objectively, a bank note is simply a piece of multicolored paper with multicolored shapes and straight and curved lines on it. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Yet, based on renown, which means based on convention, we infer that it is money and it has a meaning and a value. The fact that it’s money is obscure, not obvious, isn’t it? A baby doesn’t know that. A dog doesn’t know that.
Another example is when we hear “one plus one,” we infer by renown that this means two. That’s inference, isn’t it? It isn’t obvious that one plus one means two; we wouldn’t know it just from the sound of the words. Also, when we hear in English, “man’s best friend,” we infer by renown that it means dog. That is an inference; it certainly isn’t obvious from the words “man’s best friend.” These are all examples of inference based on renown.
Inference Based on Conviction
Then we have inference based on conviction. This is how we know something extremely obscure such as our birthday, the classic example that is given. To know the date on which we were born we need to rely on a valid source of information such as our mother. We can then infer by the line of reasoning:
- My mother is a valid source of information concerning my birthday because she was present when I was born.
- Unless she was unconscious or has no good memory of it, the date she tells me of my birthday is correct.
The mother sitting in the back of the room here with a baby is nodding her head in agreement. She definitely remembers the day that her baby was born. If when your baby grows older she asks you, she will get a correct answer; but, if she asks me I have absolutely no idea. I am not a valid source of information about when your baby daughter was born. But how is it that this mother knows this extremely obscure fact? It is because she was there when her baby was born.
Those are the three kinds of inferential cognition. To repeat:
- The first is based on the force of the actuality of phenomena, like diagnosing a sickness.
- Next is inference that relies on a line of reasoning based on what is well-known, like knowing that certain sounds are the sounds of certain words and have certain meanings.
- Lastly, inference based on conviction for something extremely obscure, like when we rely on conviction that our mother is a valid source of information about when our birthday is.
Please review that in your minds. These are the three types of valid inferential cognition – conceptual cognition that relies on a valid line of reasoning and is accurate, decisive and fresh. It helps to find examples in your own lives to realize that we use inference all the time. Is what we infer always accurate? Is it always decisive? Think about it.
The example that comes to my mind is when we call someone on their cell phone and they don’t answer. We get the answering machine. What can we infer from that? We can infer that they don’t have their phones with them or their phone is turned off, or that they didn’t want to answer it. The person could have left their phone at home, or not wanted to answer it because they were busy or just didn’t want to, or the battery ran out. In this situation, any conclusion we draw through inference based on the evidence of their not answering is indecisive. We could conclude that they don’t answer because they are being mean and nasty and don’t love us, but we don’t really know. It could easily be that they forgot to take it with them, or the battery ran out, or for some other reasons. When we understand that the line of reasoning that we are using – anyone who doesn’t answer their phone does so because they don’t love the person calling – doesn’t prove the conclusion that our friend doesn’t love us. Our inference wasn’t valid.
Other examples are meeting a Tibetan monk and assuming that if it is a Tibetan monk, he must be a valid source of information about Buddhism and a valid example of the Buddhist teachings. Thinking like that, we are often disappointed. It can also work in the reverse. We meet one monk who is a bad example of Buddhism and conclude that Buddhism is no good and that all monks are bad examples. Another example is when we go to a yoga class and there’s an Indian teaching it. We could falsely infer that what he teaches must be authentic and he must be an accomplished master because he’s Indian.
The next way of knowing, subsequent cognition, is an invalid awareness that apprehends what has already been apprehended. In other words, it is accurate and decisive, but it is not a valid way of knowing because it isn’t fresh. That means it depends on the immediately preceding cognition of the same object as its immediate condition. Subsequent cognition isn’t fresh because it doesn’t establish its freshness or apprehension by its own power. It has to rely on the power of the previous moment of cognition in order to do that. It’s not like the fresh moment of “Wow, that’s Mary!” which, by its own power, establishes itself and its apprehension of Mary.
Prasangika will of course refute that anything can establish itself by its own power. But, here Sautrantika says that valid bare cognition establishes itself and its ability to apprehend its object by its own power. Then, the next moment, subsequent cognition, doesn’t do this by its own power. It has to rely on the power of the valid bare cognition the moment before to get its accuracy and decisiveness.
Three Types of Subsequent Cognition
There are three types of subsequent cognition that arise in the stream of continuity of apprehension of an involved object. We have the four types of valid bare cognition: sensory, mental, reflexive, and yogic. Each of them have a first valid moment and then each of them is followed by a sequence of subsequent cognition. So, the first type of subsequent cognition is subsequent bare cognition and it is always non-conceptual.
The second type is subsequent inferential cognition. With valid inferential cognition, we come to a conclusion based on a line of reasoning freshly. The next moments of cognition of this conclusion rely on the previous moment of valid inferential cognition for their understanding. They do not rely directly on the line of reasoning. They are subsequent cognitions and no longer fresh. Like valid inferential cognition, subsequent inferential cognition is also conceptual.
The third type, subsequent cognition that is neither of these two, is, for example, the conceptual cognition of remembering something correctly that was validly cognized before. When we remember something we learned, our cognition is relying on the first time that we learned it. Even the first moment of remembering something isn’t fresh and so isn’t valid, even if it is accurate and decisive. Examples are remembering someone’s name, or remembering having met someone before, as well as remembering that one plus one equals two.
Analysis of Not Remembering Someone’s Name
Memory is a fascinating topic, especially as we get older. We can’t remember people’s names very easily or, even if we remember them, we can’t remember them instantly. Let’s analyze. How do we actually remember them when the power of our memory is not very strong or quick? How would we analyze that? How it is that after meeting someone and learning their name, at certain times we can remember it and at others we can’t? Based on what we have learned so far, how would we analyze that? Why can’t we remember their name? What’s the fault in our cognition?
First of all, how would we recognize that it is the same person we met before?
We put them in a mental box.
Right; we conceptually cognize them as fitting into a specific mental box. But how do we know what box to fit them in?
It’s by how they look.
So, it’s by inference based on evidence. If the person looks like this, she fits into this mental box. That is a line of reasoning; but to be valid for us, we have to have seen the person before. Does the box have a name associated with it? If it’s the mental box of a person, then it would have to have a name associated with it; but that’s another inference. If the person fits in this box and if this box has this name associated with it, then this person has this name. Let’s leave aside the example of identical twins who look exactly the same. In any case, to know that name, we would need to have learned it before.
So, having seen the person before and then seeing them again, to fit both in the same mental box with a name associated with it, they both must have the same distinguishing feature that we can recognize. That’s very difficult. For example, I went to my fortieth high school reunion and saw many of my classmates that I knew forty years ago. But now, forty years later, I couldn’t recognize most of them at all. They didn’t look anything like the persons they were when they were teenagers.
It’s fascinating: when we meet someone and there is a forty-year gap between when we saw them before, we now see them as an old person. It is very freaky, believe me. We can’t relate to them as an old person. Even if they tell us who they are, we still think of them with all the characteristics of a teenager. “How can my teenage friend be this old woman, a grandmother who shows me pictures of her grandchildren?” It doesn’t compute at all.
In any case, something has to distinguish this old woman, so we can infer who it is and put her in the same mental box as our teenage friend forty years ago. Then we need to have an additional inference that if she fits in that mental box, she has such and such a name. If there is no way of remembering that, like the name card she is wearing pinned to her blouse, we have to use another device. The device that I use personally is I go through the alphabet. Just going through the alphabet in my head, very often I find if I get to “M” for instance and her name actually begins with “M,” that sounds familiar. It triggers the inference that her name begins with an “M.” So first I fit her name into the mental box of names that begin with “M.” Then I go through the most common women’s names that begin with “M” and when I get to Mary, it seems right. I remember her name is Mary. But of course, I could be wrong. To be sure, I would need to try calling her Mary and if she doesn’t correct me, I can infer that my inference was correct.
Also, mind you, it could also be that we can’t remember someone’s name because we had inattentive cognition when we learned it and that was accompanied by inattentive reflexive awareness. We just didn’t pay attention when the person told us their name before. Paying attention is affected by whether we were really interested. For example, we go to a conference and everyone who introduces themselves gives us their card. Did we really care what all their names were? We weren’t interested in remembering their names, so we throw away the cards and don’t remember them later. Our reflexive awareness was inattentive and so our memory is weak. All these factors are there in the analysis.
When people have to memorize a long list, sometimes they make some sort of pictorial representation of the items in it or use some other mnemonic device such as a story that has all the items in it, or they make up a word out of the first letters of the items in the list. If we can cleverly come up with that, then it acts as a device to help us remember. All of that is inference.
But I should mention, since I experience it myself, that when we get old and our short-term memory becomes poor, the main problem is our lack of attention to small things that we don’t consider important and don’t care about. Then, no matter how much we try to remember what someone we were with yesterday said, we can’t remember. Also, when you get older, it often takes you longer to remember a word or a name, though you know that you know it. Not getting frustrated at that requires great patience. The power of your cognitive sensors gets weaker when you reach old age. In many cases, a little while later you remember it.
What if we remember wrong? We are sure, for example, that Mary’s name is Anna.
In that example, we fit her into the wrong mental box. We can remember that she is the same person as the woman we met before, but we infer incorrectly that if she fits in this mental box, she has this name and it’s the wrong name. We can be very decisive about something totally incorrect and be very stubborn insisting that we’re correct. How do we know that it is correct or incorrect? We have to ask her or ask someone who knows her and is a valid source of information of what her name is. We need to base our inference of what her name is based on more evidence.
Basing our inferences on as much evidence as possible is really quite important in our daily lives, especially in our interactions with others. When we are speaking with someone, we have to take into consideration as many factors as possible and not jump to conclusions based on just one piece of evidence or insufficient evidence. For example, a person may speak to us with a very aggressive tone of voice. Based on that evidence, we infer that they are angry. But maybe this is just their natural way of speaking or maybe they had too much coffee just before our encounter. Our inference that they are angry could be completely incorrect.
We need to get more information, more evidence, so that we make the correct inference based on it. If we do that, we can avoid immediately responding in a way that is not appropriate to the situation. The more information that we can get, the more able we’ll be to interpret what they’re saying and how they’re behaving, and not just base our response on the words that they’re saying or their tone of voice. This is why sensitivity to body language and to what a person looks like when they’re sick or tired is so important. The more information that we are sensitive to, the more appropriate our response will be. When we are speaking with someone, we can actually see what they look like if we pay attention to that. We can infer from the evidence of what we see that they are tired. But, we might not pay attention to how they look and that could be because we are not even interested. All these factors, like attention and interest, need to be adjusted in our interactions.
The fourth of the seven ways of knowing is non-determining cognition, a way of knowing in which, when an objective entity appears clearly to one of the types of primary consciousness, the involved object is not ascertained. This means there is no decisiveness about our cognition of the object. Because the involved object must be an objective entity, non-determining cognition occurs only with non-conceptual cognition.
The most common examples occur when two cognitive faculties are involved. One can be an accurate, decisive apprehension of its involved object, while the other is non-determining about its involved object. For example, we are looking at our cell phones and are so intent on what we see that we don’t hear what someone speaking to us. Actually, in this case, we have non-determining audio bare cognition of the sounds of their voice. The sounds are objective entities; they appear clearly to our audio consciousness and therefore are their involved objects. But our hearing lacks any decisiveness about these involved objects.
Non-determining cognition, however, does not include cognizing two different items in the same cognitive field, one with decisiveness and the other indecisively. An individual cognition can only be decisive or indecisive. Within one cognitive field, sight for instance, when we are paying attention to one item in it, like the notices we see on our cell phone while crossing the street, the sight of a car coming is also part of our visual sense field. It is an objective entity, but not the involved object of our visual cognition and so it does not appear clearly to our visual consciousness. Not everything that appears in a sense field is an involved object of the sensory cognition of that field. Not noticing the car coming, then, is not an example of non-determining cognition. It is merely an issue of what we take as our involved object in a specific sense field and pay attention to.
Also, remember, non-determining cognition is exclusively non-conceptual. Consider the example of reading the words of a tantric recitation and not sounding the words in our heads. We see the sight of the words on the page with valid visual bare cognition, but actually we’re conceptually thinking about something completely different from their meanings. We aren’t fitting the words into any meaning categories, and so having our eyes go back and forth over the words on the page doesn’t have much effect. This is not an example of non-determining mental cognition, because in this case, our mental cognition of mental wandering is conceptual. What appears in the conceptual cognition, a mental representation of the sound of the words of our mental wandering, do not appear clearly because we cognize them through the intermedia of categories. What we experience is merely an example of mental wandering.
Three Types of Non-Determining Cognition
Non-Determining Sensory Bare Cognition
There are three types of non-determining cognition. The first is non-determining sensory bare cognition. One variety of it always occurs at the end of a sequence of bare sensory cognition of something. We are seeing something and the first moment is valid; it’s fresh. This is followed by a phase of subsequent sensory bare cognition, which is still decisive, but then indeterminate sensory bare cognition in which we are not decisive about the involved object at all. The involved object still appears clearly, but there is no decisiveness about it because the sensory cognition is about to switch to mental cognition.
The other variety of non-determining sensory bare cognition is what we were just discussing. While having visual bare cognition of something clearly appearing as our involved object, our audio bare cognition may be non-determining about the sounds that appear clearly as its involved objects.
Non-Determining Mental Bare Cognition
Then there is non-determining mental bare cognition, which occurs, for instance, at the end of a sequence of extrasensory bare cognition of someone’s mind and subsequent extrasensory cognition of it.
The tiny moment of mental bare cognition that occurs after a tiny moment of non-determining bare sensory cognition of an object right before conceptual mental cognition of it is also non-determining.
Non-Determining Bare Cognition of Reflexive Awareness
Non-determining bare cognition of reflexive awareness is the tiniest moment of reflexive awareness accompanying a sensory or mental bare cognition. Reflexive awareness is not able to record instantly what is going on with the cognitive components of the cognition it accompanies.
In most cases, each moment of bare cognition by reflexive awareness is non-determining but a sequence of it will be decisive enough to remember. It is interesting when there is subliminal advertising – for example, “Drink Coca Cola” comes on for just one instant on the movie screen. Is it on long enough for us to remember seeing it? If it’s too short, we can’t remember; our reflexive awareness doesn’t record the cognition because it is indeterminate. It did not have enough time to be decisive about its object. I don’t know scientifically whether that is accurate or not. But, anyway, this is the Buddhist discussion of subliminal advertizing.