According to the Sautrantika (mDo-sde-pa) tenet system of Indian Buddhism, there are seven ways of knowing object. To understand the seven in more detail, we first need to know what a way of knowing is. A way of knowing is a form of mental activity, and mental activity is what the term “mind” refer to in Buddhism. Our mental activity is individual, has no beginning or end, goes on without interruption and always cognitively takes a focal object – the object it focuses on. In general, it cognitively takes an object by making a mental hologram of it arise, which is simultaneous with and equivalent to cognitively engaging with it in some way. Mental activity does this without there being an independently existing “me” that is doing it or an independently existing mind that the “me” is using to do it. The seven ways of knowing are types of mental activity, then, regarding focal objects. The seven are:
- Bare cognition (mngon-sum)
- Inferential cognition (rjes-dpag)
- Subsequent cognition (bcad-shes)
- Non-determining cognition (snang-la ma-nges-pa)
- Presumption (yid-dpyod)
- Indecisive wavering (the-tshom)
- Distorted cognition (log-shes).
Of the seven ways of knowing, only two of them can be valid ways of knowing something: bare cognition and inferential cognition.
A valid cognition (tshad-ma) is one that is fresh and non-fraudulent.
- Fresh (gsar) – a fresh cognition is one that does not depend on the immediately preceding one of the same object as the immediate condition for its clarity, accuracy and decisiveness.
- Non-fraudulent (mi-bslu-ba) – a non-fraudulent cognition is one that is both accurate and decisive.
Subsequent cognition is not valid because it’s not fresh. Non-determining cognition, presumption and indecisive wavering are not valid because they’re not decisive. And distorted cognition is not valid because it’s not accurate.
A cognition apprehends its involved object if it is both accurate and decisive, in other words if it is non-fraudulent. The involved object (‘jug-yul) of a cognition is the main object with which a particular cognition engages. For instance, whether we see someone or think about someone, the involved object is colored shapes of a form of physical phenomenon; a commonsense object that extends over other sensory information, like sound, smell, physical sensations, and over time; what kind of object it is (we’re seeing a body), and we’re also seeing a person, as an affected variable imputed on the body.
The cognition doesn’t need to be fresh in order to apprehend its involved object. Therefore, bare cognition, inferential cognition and subsequent cognition are all apprehending cognitions (rtogs-pa). There are two types of apprehension, explicit and implicit.
- Explicit apprehension (dngos-su rtogs-pa) – the involved object appears in the cognition, as when inferring that the person we see is Mary
- Implicit apprehension (shugs-la rtogs-pa) – the involved object does not appear, as when inferring that the person we see is not Susan.
All instances of the three types of cognition that apprehend their objects do so with explicit apprehension; but only some of them have both explicit and implicit apprehension. Implicit apprehension of an object cannot occur without it being simultaneous with the explicit apprehension of something. In any cognition, some mental hologram needs to appear.
Conceptual and Non-Conceptual Cognition
Conceptual cognition (rtog-bcas shes-pa) is cognition of something through a mental category as the appearing object. The appearing object (snang-yul) of a cognition is the direct object that arises in the cognition, as if it were directly in front of the consciousness. In the case of the appearing object being a mental category, the category is a static metaphysical phenomenon (spyi-mtshan), like an idea, a superficially true phenomenon (kun-rdzob bden-pa) and does not have any appearance of its own. It is semi-transparent, like a thin veil, and through it a mental hologram (rnam-pa, mental aspect) arises of something that represents the category in the cognition. The mental form that appears in the conceptual cognition is that of this mental hologram; but the appearing object is the mental category since it is the object that is cognized first in the cognition. The actual item that we are conceptualizing may or may not be present when we have conceptual cognition of it.
- It is present when we see something and then fit it into a category of other things that are like it.
- It is not present when we just think of the item, but it is still the involved object of the conceptual cognition, because we are thinking about it.
The mental category may be an audio one or an object one. An audio category (sgra-spyi) is the mental category in which we fit all sounds a specific word is spoken with. No matter with what voice, volume, or pronunciation the word “mango” is spoken in, with conceptual cognition, we fit it into the same audio category; they all are instances of the same word. That category is designated with the word “mango” and thus we know these sounds all as being the sound of the same word, “mango.”
Similarly, when we see a basket full of mangoes, no matter what size, coloration or shape each one has, we conceptually fit them all into the same object category (don-spyi); they are all pieces of the same kind of fruit. Although these pieces of fruit are objectively all mangoes, we may not know what this kind of fruit is or what it’s called; but if we do know that they are mangoes and called by the word “mango,” then the object category in which we fit them is also a meaning category (don-spyi). All these pieces of fruit are what the sounds mean that fit in the audio category designated with the word “mango.”
These categories are static phenomena and, according to the Sautrantika assertions, they are metaphysical entities. They cannot perform any functions and so we can’t account for there being such things based on the fact that they do something. We can only account for them by the fact that we have the concept of categories and these are what that concept refers to. If there were no such thing as categories, how would we be able to identify different objects as all being instances of the same type of object or different sounds as all being sounds of the same word?
Non-conceptual cognition (rtog-med shes-pa) is cognition that takes place without the intermediary of a category. When we see a mango in the store, our seeing of it is non-conceptual. What we see is in fact a mango, it’s not a nothing; but we don’t fit it into the mental category of mangoes when we initially see it. In other words, we only are able to know it as a mango conceptually by fitting it into the category “mango.”
According to the Sautrantika system, the objects that can be validly known non-conceptually are all objective entities (rang-mtshan), the deepest true phenomena (don-dam bden-pa). They are non-static, which means they are affected by causes and conditions and so they change from moment to moment and they produce effects. We can account for there being objective objects by this fact that they do produce effects. Non-static phenomena include all forms of physical objects, like sights and sounds, all ways of knowing things, like visual or mental consciousness, love, happiness, and anger, and all non-static phenomena that are neither, like persons, motion and age.
Bare cognition is defined as non-deceptive, non-conceptual cognition in which the appearing object is an objective entity, namely a non-static phenomenon. More precisely, the appearing object in the cognition and which actually appears is a mental hologram of the non-static object.
Bare cognition, then, is free of the four causes for deceptiveness:
1. Reliance – if the non-conceptual cognition relies on a defective sense organ, such as being cross-eyed, we will have double vision and see two moons. That’s deceptive.
2. Object – if the object of the non-conceptual cognition is moving very quickly, like when you quickly twirl a flashlight in the dark, we will be deceived into seeing a ring of light.
3. Situation – in a moving train, we non-conceptually see the trees outside approaching quickly and then rapidly receding as if moving backwards.
4. Immediate condition – if immediately before looking at someone, our mind is strongly disturbed, for instance by fear, we may see things that are not there.
Although all four cases are non-conceptual cognitions, they are not instances of bare cognition.
There are four types of bare cognition:
1. Sensory bare cognition by one of the five types of sensory consciousness (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and body) arises by relying on one of the five physical cognitive sensors as its dominating condition. A dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) for a cognition is that which determines what kind of cognition it is – visual, auditory and so forth. The five physical cognitive sensors are the photosensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive of the ears, smell-sensitive of the nose, taste-sensitive of the tongue and physical-sensation-sensitive of the body. Note that sensory consciousness can only cognize objects non-conceptually, whereas mental consciousness can cognize objects either non-conceptually or conceptually.
2. Mental bare cognition by mental consciousness can be of any non-static object. It arises by relying on a mental cognitive sensor as its dominating condition. The mental sensor of a cognition refers to the immediately preceding moment of consciousness. If no physical cognitive sensor is involved in a cognition, then the consciousness of that preceding moment determines that the cognition in the next moment is purely mental. Since the brain is involved with all types of cognition, it is not included as a cognitive sensor in the Buddhist system. Mental bare cognition occurs with extrasensory cognition, such as reading other’s minds, as well as for just an instant at the end of a stream of sensory bare cognition.
3. Bare cognition by reflexive awareness. According to the Sautrantika, Chittamatra and Yogachara Svatantrika tenet systems, the ways of knowing something include not only some type of primary consciousness and some mental factors, they also include reflexive awareness (rang-rig). Reflexive awareness accompanies every moment of non-conceptual and conceptual cognition of an object, although it itself remains always non-conceptual. It focuses on and cognizes only the other kinds of awareness involved in the cognition – namely, the primary consciousness and mental factors. It does not cognize the objects of the primary consciousness and mental factors on which it focuses. It plants the non-congruent affecting variable of a mental imprint or habit of the cognition it cognizes, which then allows for subsequently recalling the cognition with mindfulness. Recalling it occurs through conceptual cognition of a mental hologram resembling the object previously cognized and an object category that mentally derives from the object and into which fit all mental holograms resembling the object. Bare cognition by reflexive awareness also ascertains whether or not the cognition it accompanies is a valid cognition.
4. Yogic bare cognition is with mental consciousness and relies on the joined pair of a state of shamatha (a stilled and settled state of mind) and a state of vipashyana (an exceptionally perceptive state of mind) for its arising. It takes as its object subtle non-staticness (impermanence) or the lack of a coarse or subtle impossible soul of a person. It occurs only with aryas and, except for the case of a Buddha, only during their total absorption meditation.
Bare cognition has three divisions: valid, subsequent and non-determining. Sensory, mental and reflexive awareness bare cognition have all three divisions. Yogic bare cognition has only valid and subsequent divisions. It is never non-determining.
Only the first microsecond of sensory bare cognition of an object is valid. It is followed by a sequence of subsequent sensory bare cognition, during which cognition of the object is no longer freshly cognized. This phase is followed by non-determining sensory bare cognition of the object, during which the object is no longer decisively cognized, though it still appears accurately. This is followed by a short phase of mental bare cognition, but it is so short, that it and its accompanying bare cognition of reflexive awareness cannot establish decisiveness about their objects. Thus, they are in fact non-determining bare cognitions. This momentary phase of non-determining mental bare cognition is necessary in order to establish mental cognition of the involved object prior to conceptual mental cognition of it.
Non-determining mental bare cognition, whether occurring after a sequence of sensory bare cognition or after a sequence of bare and then subsequent extrasensory mental cognition, is followed by conceptual cognition of the object, during which the object is cognized through the filter of a mental category.
Yogic bare cognition is free of subtle mental dullness, so it is always vivid. But only the first moment of it is fresh in the sense that it does not depend on the immediately preceding one of the same object as the immediate condition for its clarity and apprehension. So, except for the case of Buddhas, the valid yogic bare cognition of aryas is followed by a phase of subsequent yogic bare cognition. But even for aryas, there is no non-determining yogic bare cognition.
Inferential cognition is a valid conceptual cognition of an obscure or extremely obscure fact through reliance on a correct line of reasoning as its basis.
There are three types of objects that can be validly known:
1. Obvious objects (mngon-gyur) – like the physical sensations of feeling sick. They can be known non-conceptually through bare cognition by relying just on our cognitive sensors. We can know we feel terrible through our body consciousness. Of course, we need to be able to differentiate actually feeling sick or just being a hypochondriac.
2. Obscure objects (lkog-gyur) – like the sickness we have that is making us feel what we feel. We can only know such things by relying on a line of reasoning, like when a doctor diagnoses what sickness we have based on the information gained from a thorough examination: “If there are these and these symptoms, there is this or that disease.” Of course, not every diagnosis is correct.
3. Extremely obscure objects (shin-tu lkog-gyur) – like the name of the person who found the cure for the sickness we have. We can only know that by relying on a valid source of information, like something we find on the internet, and inferring that the information is correct because the source of that information is authoritative. But of course we need some valid reason to infer that what we read is from a valid source. That’s not always easy to evaluate, as in the case of an entry in Wikipedia or a blog.
There are three types of inferential cognition:
1. Inference based on the force of evidence, or on deductive logic (dngos-stobs rje-dpag) – through this, we use faultless logic to come to a correct conclusion about something obscure. For instance, suppose our neighbor is making a great deal of noise. We may become annoyed and impatient because it’s not obvious that sound is impermanent. However, if we rely on the force of evidence, we can prove to ourselves that this noise will pass simply because it is man-made. To do so, we rely on the following line of reasoning: This noise was made by a man; everything man-made has passed, like historical events; nothing that lasts forever, like our mental continuums, has been man-made. Therefore, we can be certain that this noise will also pass because it was man-made. With such valid knowledge, we can then control our anger.
2. Inference based on renown (grags-pa'i rje-dpag) – through this, we understand language. When we hear some person or some electronic device make certain sounds, we also infer something obscure: if it is this sound, it is the sound of such and such word, and we further infer that if it is the sound of such and such word, it has such and such meaning. We use similar logic to read: when we see a certain pattern of lines, we infer that they are such and such written words and have such and such meaning. Another example is when we hear “one plus one,” we infer that this means “two,” or when we hear in English “man’s best friend,” we infer that this refers to a dog.
3. Inference based on conviction (yid-ches rjes-dpag) – through this, we know something extremely obscure, such as our birthday. To know the day on which we were born, we need to rely on a valid source of information, such as our mother. We then infer, my mother is a valid source of information concerning my birthday, because she was present when I was born. Therefore, I can trust with conviction that the date she tells me is correct.
Subsequent cognition is an invalid awareness that apprehends what has already been apprehended. It is accurate and decisive, but it is not a valid way of knowing because it is not fresh. That means it depends on the immediately preceding cognition of the same object as the immediate condition for its clarity and apprehension. It lacks the power to establish its own freshness.
There are three types of subsequent cognition that arise in a stream of continuity of apprehension of an involved object:
1. Subsequent bare cognition – the second phase of bare cognition of an involved object that follows from an initial moment of bare cognition of it. The subsequent bare cognition may be sensory, mental, that of reflexive awareness, or yogic. Yogic subsequent bare cognition, however, occurs only in the case of aryas who are not yet Buddhas.
2. Subsequent inferential cognition – the second phase of inferential cognition of an involved object that follows from an initial moment of valid inferential cognition of it.
3. Subsequent cognition that is neither of these two – for instance, the conceptual cognition of remembering something correctly that was validly cognized before. Both its first moment as well as the second phase of its sequence are subsequent cognitions since they both rely on previously having cognized something, even if that occurred not immediately before remembering it. Examples are remembering someone’s name or having met them before, as well as remembering that one plus one is two.
Non-determining cognition is 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. Thus it occurs only with non-conceptual cognition. In a conceptual cognition, our mental factor of attentiveness may be weak, so that we experience subtle flightiness of mind in which there is an undercurrent of extraneous thought, but this is not non-determining cognition. It is merely a fault of attention.
There are three types of non-determining cognition:
1. Non-determining sensory bare cognition – at the end of a sequence of subsequent bare sensory cognition, when the cognition is about to switch first to mental bare cognition and then to conceptual cognition of the same involved object. Non-determining sensory bare cognition also includes subliminal sensory cognition, such as cognition of the involved object of one sensory consciousness while having bare cognition of some other involved object with a different sense; for instance, bare cognition of the physical sensation of the clothing on our body while we are looking at something. It does not include, however, inattentiveness of some aspects of the involved object of a sensory bare cognition while focusing on some other aspects, such as not noticing the pictures on the wall when looking at someone.
2. Non-determining mental bare cognition – at the end of a sequence of subsequent bare mental cognition, such as subsequent extrasensory cognition of others’ minds, when the cognition is about to switch to conceptual cognition of the same involved object. Also, non-determining is the tiny moment of mental bare cognition that occurs between a moment of non-determining sensory bare cognition and conceptual cognition of an involved object.
3. Non-determining bare cognition of reflexive awareness – in ordinary beings, the tiniest moment of bare cognition of reflexive awareness accompanying sensory or mental bare cognition is always non-determining. This because it takes more than one moment for their reflexive awareness to ascertain their involved objects. Non-determining bare cognition of reflexive awareness does not occur, however, at the end of a sequence of yogic bare cognition. This is because yogic bare cognition is never non-determining.
Presumption is an invalid way of knowing that takes its object correctly and conceptually cognizes it freshly. Like inferential cognition, it freshly reaches a correct conclusion, but without really understanding it or knowing correctly why it is true. Therefore, because it is not decisive, it is not a valid way of knowing something.
There are five types of presumption:
1. Presuming what is true to be so for no reason – concluding correctly that in the northern hemisphere the days get shorter in the winter, but not knowing why that is so. Also included here are good guesses, like when we don’t remember someone’s name, but make the right guess.
2. Presuming what is true to be so for a contradictory reason – concluding that the days get shorter in the winter because the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun during that period.
3. Presuming what is true to be so for a non-determining reason – concluding that the days get shorter in the winter because the Earth rotates around the Sun.
4. Presuming what is true to be so for an irrelevant reason – concluding that the days get shorter in the winter because the days are colder.
5. Presuming what is true to be so for a correct reason, but without any decisiveness – concluding that the days get shorter in the winter because the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun during that period, but without understanding how that affects the length of day.
Knowledge gained through presumption is unstable. When we read or hear some fact and just accept it uncritically on faith without examining it to understand how it’s true, we usually cannot remember it.
Indecisive wavering is a mental factor that can accompany the conceptual cognition of some object and wonders about two conclusions concerning this object. In other words, it vacillates between two categories through which to cognize the object. There are three varieties:
- Indecisive wavering that is inclined toward fact
- Indecisive wavering that is not inclined toward fact
- Indecisive wavering that is evenly balanced between the two.
Distorted cognition is a way of knowing that takes its object incorrectly. There are two kinds:
1. Conceptual distorted cognition – a cognition that is deceived with respect to its conceptually implied object. Such an object is one that exists in the way in which it is cognitively taken. An example is the conceptual cognition that grasps for an impossible soul of a person. There is no such thing as an impossible soul of a person that corresponds to this cognition and exists in the manner in which it is conceived. The distorted conceptual cognition is deceived because it believes that the conceptually implied object, an actual impossible soul of a person, actually exists; whereas it doesn’t exist at all.
2. Non-conceptual distorted cognition – a cognition that is deceived with respect to the object it takes, which nevertheless appears clearly to it. Examples are non-conceptual visual cognition of two moons by someone who’s cross-eyed. When looking at the moon, two moons clearly appear, but in reality there aren’t two moons.
Seemingly Bare Cognition or Deceptive Cognition
Seemingly bare cognition or deceptive cognition is a way of knowing that is deceived with respect to its appearing object. It mixes and confuses its appearing object with the actual objective entity that is its involved object. Distorted cognition, on the other hand, is deceived with respect to what actually exists. It confuses its appearing object with something that doesn’t exist at all.
Both deceptive and distorted cognitions may be conceptual or non-conceptual.
- In a conceptual cognition, the appearing object is a metaphysical entity, namely a category, such as that of a dog. Its involved object is an actual dog, an objective entity. Conceptual cognitions are deceptive inasmuch as they mix and confuse a category with the actual object it is involved with. For instance, when we think of a specific dog as fitting into the general category of dogs, we think all dogs are like this dog. If what a cognition conceptualizes about is non-existent, then it is not only deceptive, but distorted as well. An example is one in which the category of unicorns is confused with actual unicorns. Although we can think of unicorns, that category does not correspond to anything, because there are no actual unicorns.
- In a non-conceptual cognition, the appearing object is a mental hologram, while the involved object is an actual objective entity. In a deceptive non-conceptual cognition, such as that of a cross-eyed person seeing two moons, the appearing object is a mental hologram of two moons, while the involved object is the actual one moon. The cognition is not only deceptive, but also distorted, because it confuses the double moon with something that doesn’t exist, namely there being actually two moons.
There are seven types of seemingly bare cognition, the first 6 of which are conceptual and the last is non-conceptual:
1. Seemingly bare cognition of what is deceptive – distorted conceptual cognitions that do not accord with fact, such as the misconception of sound as permanent and the seemingly bare cognition of objects that occur in ordinary people’s dreams and fantasies, which confuse fiction with reality. Also included are misconceptions with which a frightened child thinks there is a monster under the bed.
2. Seemingly bare cognition of knowing something superficial – conceptual cognition in which we cognize an objective entity through a superficial static category and confuse the qualities of the category with those of the objective entity. For instance, we think of some physical object, like a table, or a mental state, such as sadness, through the superficially true category of a “table” or “sadness.” Because of the intermediary of the static category, the table appears to be solid and the sadness seems to endure without change over time. But the table is actually made of atoms and an episode of sadness changes every moment. Such cognitions are deceptive, since they confuse the category of some solid, static object with the involved object, something that is made of atoms or that consists of a sequence of changing moments. Such seemingly bare cognitions, however, are not distorted, because objectively there are commonsense tables that are solid and extended periods of feeling sad.
3. Seemingly bare cognition in an inferential cognition – conceptual cognition of the 3 logical pervasions used to prove a thesis in an inferential cognition through the categories of the 3 factors of agreement, congruence and incongruence that constitute a line of reasoning. For instance, in the inferential cognition that the noise our neighbor is making will pass because it was made by a man, the categories of the 3 factors of a line of reasoning are the appearing objects. The involved objects are the logical pervasions that the noise my neighbor is making is man-made, all man-made things have passed, like historical events, and nothing that endures forever, like our mental continuum, was man-made. Such seemingly bare cognition of these 3 facts in this inferential cognition of them is deceptive in that it mixes and confuses the categories of the 3 factors of agreement, congruence and incongruence with the actual three-part line of reasoning.
4. Seemingly bare cognition of something derived from an inferential cognition – conceptual cognition of the conclusion derived from the line of reasoning cognized in an inferential cognition. For instance, at the conclusion of the above inferential cognition of the 3 factors of the line of reasoning, the conceptual seemingly bare cognition of the conclusion derived from this inference, namely the inevitable passing of the noise our neighbor is making, is deceptive because it mixes and confuses the category “the impermanence of man-made noises” with this fact.
5. Seemingly bare cognition of something we remember – conceptual cognition in which we recall something we have previously cognized, for instance remembering what our mother looks like. Here we conceptually cognize our mother through the category of our mother and a mental hologram representing what she looks like. The seemingly bare cognition of our mother when we remember her is deceptive because it mixes and confuses the category of our mother and a mental hologram representing her with the involved object, our actual mother.
6. Seemingly bare cognition of something we hope for – conceptual cognition in which we imagine something that has not yet happened, such as the completed house we are building. Here, we conceptually cognize the not-yet-happening completed house through the category of the already completed house. Seemingly bare cognition of the completed house that has not yet happened is deceptive because it mixes and confuses the category of the completed house with the involved object, the not-yet-happening completed house.
7. Seemingly bare cognition of a blurred object – non-conceptual cognition of something that does not exist in reality. When we see a blur, the seemingly bare cognition of it is deceptive because it mixes and confuses the appearing object, a blur with the involved object, an objective object such as a table, which is not blurred. The cognition is also distorted, because the blur does not exist in objective reality.
Cognition in Which Determination of Its Object Is Self-Induced or Needs to Be Induced by Another Cognition
Another division of valid ways of knowing into two types is into cognition in which determination of its object is self-induced and cognition in which determination of its object needs to be induced by another cognition.
Valid cognition in which determination of its object is self-induced (self-induced valid cognition, rang-las nges-kyi tshad-ma) is a valid cognition in which it is self-evident what its object is. It does not need to rely on another cognition to determine what it is. There are five types:
1. Valid bare cognition by reflexive awareness – it determines by itself what are the primary consciousness and mental factors it is cognizing
2. Valid yogic bare cognition – it determines by itself what is coarse or subtle impermanence or what is the lack of a coarse or subtle impossible “me”
3. Valid inferential cognition – it determines by itself a conclusion based on a line of reasoning
4. Valid sensory bare cognition of something performing its function – it determines by itself what is happening
5. Valid sensory bare cognition of something familiar – if we see someone walk down the street whom we see every day, it is self-evident to know who it is.
Valid cognition in which determination of its object needs to be induced by another cognition (other-induced valid cognition, gzhan-la nges-kyi tshad-ma) is a cognition that validly knows that it will require another cognition in order to determine what its object is. When divided in terms of the etymological meaning of the name of this way of knowing, there are 3 types:
1. Valid sensory bare cognition of something for the first time – for instance, when looking at a new device we bought that is not self-evident how to use, we can validly know that to determine how to use it will require further information.
2. Sensory bare cognition when our mind is inattentive – for instance, when we are deeply engrossed in thinking about something and we hear someone say something to us, we can validly know that the person will need to repeat what they said in order for us to be sure of what they said.
3. Sensory cognition having a cause for deceptiveness – for instance, when we look at a sign with our glasses off and we see a blur, we can validly know that we need to put on our glasses and look again in order to know what the sign says.
These last two ways of knowing are valid only in the etymological sense, because the second is an inattentive cognition and the third is a distorted cognition.
There are also three further varieties:
1. Valid cognition in which what something is an appearance of is self-induced, but determination of what it in truth is needs be induced by another cognition – for example, with valid sensory bare cognition, we see something red in the distance. We validly know it is a red object, but we also validly know that in order to determine what in truth it is, for instance a fire, we need to get closer and look again.
2. Valid cognition in which determination of what something is in general is self-induced, but determination of what specifically it is needs to induced by another cognition – for example, with valid sensory bare cognition, we see a person in the distance. We validly know that it is a person, but we also validly know that in order to determine who it specifically is, we need to go closer and look again.
3. Valid cognition in which determination of whether something has even appeared needs to be induced by another cognition – for example, we are unsure whether we see our bus stopped at a traffic light down the street, we think maybe we do. We validly know that in order to determine if we actually do see our bus, we need to look again more carefully.
This last variety is only nominally valid, because it may in fact be either a non-determining cognition if it was our bus, or a distorted cognition if it wasn’t our bus.
Prasangika defines valid cognition as cognition that is non-deceptive, in other words accurate and decisive. It does not include “fresh” in its definition, because no cognition arises under its own power, in accord with the Prasangika refutation of self-established existence. If a cognition could arise under its own power, it would be self-established. Thus, Prasangika does not assert subsequent cognition.
Prasangika redefines what Sautrantika calls “bare cognition.” Sautrantika defines this valid way of knowing as always non-conceptual: it takes its object without having a mental category as an intermediate. It needs to be fresh, since they gloss the “pra” prefix of “pramana,” the Sanskrit word for “valid cognition” as meaning “first” or “new.” For Prasangika, “pra” connotes valid or correct. They therefore redefine this valid way of knowing as one that does not rely for its arising on a line of reasoning. Thus, for Prasangika, bare cognition is straightforward cognition. Thus, what Sautrantika asserts as subsequent sensory bare cognition, Prasangika classifies as non-conceptual sensory straightforward cognition and what Sautrantika calls subsequent yogic bare cognition, Prasangika classifies as non-conceptual yogic straightforward cognition. And what Sautrantika classifies as subsequent inferential cognition, Prasangika calls conceptual straightforward cognition because it no longer relies on a line of reasoning.
Mental straightforward cognition may also be conceptual. An example of conceptual mental straightforward cognition is unlabored bodhichitta, which arises without reliance on a line of reasoning.
Prasangika does not assert reflexive awareness. While valid cognitions explicitly apprehend their involved objects, they implicitly apprehend themselves and their validity.
Prasangika, as represented by Chandrakirti’s Clear Words (Skt. Prasannapada) commentary on Nagarjuna’s Root Verses on Madhyamaka, asserts four valid ways of knowing:
- Valid straightforward cognition
- Valid inferential cognition
- Valid cognition based on authority – equivalent to the Sautrantika assertion of inferential cognition based on conviction
- Valid cognition through an analogous example (nyer-‘jal tshad-ma) – for instance, validly knowing how to travel to a destination by looking at the route as represented on a map. The classic example is knowing what a zebu is by the analogous example of it being like a white bull with a hump on its back and an elongated dewlap under its neck. This can also be classified as a type of inferential cognition.
The Seven Ways of Knowing Voidness
The seven ways of knowing describe the process of gaining non-conceptual cognition of voidness. It is very useful to know these stages so as to be able to gauge how we progress.
First, as ordinary beings, we have distorted cognition of voidness (emptiness) accompanied by unawareness. We are totally unaware of it. Our cognition of everything is distorted with respect to the mode of existence of things – we cognize everything as if it were self-established. Then we have distorted cognition of it with the unawareness of knowing it incorrectly and possibly also with a distorted antagonistic attitude about it. We imagine that it refers to nothingness and is a nihilist assertion. In order to go further, we need an open mind, not a hostile antagonistic one.
Then we listen to a talk on voidness. If we’re looking at our cell phone while the teacher is explaining, our hearing about voidness will be non-determining. We won’t be able to remember a word that was said. If our minds were lost in thought, we had only auditory seemingly bare cognition of the words, but again we won’t remember them because we were not paying attention.
But if we actually heard the words with valid auditory bare cognition and are certain about what we heard, then after phases of auditory subsequent and non-determining bare cognition and then a tiny moment of mental bare cognition of the sound of the word “voidness,” we then conceptually cognize voidness (we think “voidness”) through the audio category of the sound of the word “voidness.” But either we do not also cognize it through a meaning category (we still have no idea what it means), or we conceptually cognize it through an incorrect meaning category (we have an incorrect idea of what it means and so our conceptual cognition is invalid).
We may then have indecisive wavering about whether or not voidness is true. First, this wavering will be inclined toward not accepting it as true, then perhaps evenly balanced, but eventually it will be tilted toward accepting it as correct. During this stage, we would validly know that in order to gain certainty about what voidness means, we will need to rely on further cognition. We will need to learn more and think more about it. When we understand, at least superficially, what voidness means, we can conceptually think about voidness with indecisive wavering through both an audio category and a correct meaning category.
Next, we would think about voidness with presumption – we presume it is true, but we need to become truly convinced of that. Note, we could also presume that an incorrect meaning of voidness is correct. That would be a distorted conceptual cognition. To become fully convinced of the correct meaning of voidness, we need to conclude that everything lacks self-established existence based on a valid line of reasoning. But even if we know the valid line of reasoning for that, if we are not convinced or don’t really understand the reasoning, we still are only presuming that voidness is true. With valid inferential cognition of voidness, we understand the line of reasoning and are convinced that it proves that voidness is correct.
Now, when we meditate conceptually on voidness, we initially have valid inferential cognition of it when our cognition is fresh, and then subsequent inferential cognition and, at the end, non-determining inferential cognition. But our meditation will only be these first two phases of inferential cognition so long as we are focusing on voidness through its correct meaning category and do so with certainty. If our attention wanders or we only are focusing on the words through audio categories, but without any meaning category, we do not apprehend voidness with our meditation. When we gain a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana focused on voidness, our conceptual meditation on voidness will have only valid inferential cognition and subsequent inferential cognition.
According to the Prasangika classification scheme, whether with or without a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana, our subsequent inferential cognition of voidness would be conceptual straightforward cognition of voidness. When we no longer need to go through the line of reasoning at all in order to generate correct conceptual cognition of voidness, even our first moment of conceptual cognition of voidness would be conceptual straightforward cognition of it.
When we finally attain non-conceptual cognition of voidness, Sautrantika would classify this as yogic bare cognition of voidness (although, of course, Sautrantika does not assert voidness). Prasangika would classify it as non-conceptual yogic straightforward cognition.
Throughout all of this, if we are able to remember that we were meditating on voidness, Sautrantika would explain it as the work of the valid and subsequent bare cognition of reflexive awareness that accompanied our cognition. Prasangika would explain that when we apprehended voidness with inferential cognition or conceptual or non-conceptual straightforward cognition, we implicitly apprehended that the cognition was occurring and that it was valid. In either case, when we recall meditating on voidness, this is with deceptive, conceptual seemingly bare cognition through the meaning category “meditation on voidness.”
Thus, if we know what stage our present understanding of voidness is at and know what stages need to follow in order to reach non-conceptual cognition of it, we become confident of the graded path.