Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

Emptiness Panacea

to Tsongkhapa the Great

by Wim van den Dungen

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Table of Contents

"Empty should not be asserted.
"Non-empty should not be asserted.
Neither both nor neither should be asserted.
They are only used nominally."

Nâgârjuna : Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ, XXII:11.

"Without contacting the entity that is imputed,
You will not apprehend the absence of that entity."

Śântideva : A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, IX.139.

"In order to be sure that a certain person is not present, you must know the absent person. Likewise, in order to be certain of the meaning of 'selflessness', or 'the lack of intrinsic existence', you must carefully identify the self, or intrinsic nature, that does not exist. For, if you do not have a clear concept of the object to be negated, you will also not have accurate knowledge of its negation."

Tsongkhapa : Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path, vol.3, 2.10.

Thank You for reading these details of how I have understood emptiness ("śûnyatâ"), the fruit of the religious philosophy of Siddhârtha Gautama, the "prince" of the clan of the Śakya's (ca. 563 - 483 BCE), who, after having completely realized at Bodh Gaya how all phenomena lack inherent existence, entered "nirvâna" and so became known as Buddha Śâkyamuni, the Awakened One ("bodhi"). Not long after, the extraordinary "dharma" or teaching he proposed touched all walks of Indian life, moving beyond the social system (of casts), appealing to both poor and rich, causing a social revolution. Eventually, it would move outside India and influence countless beings and finally the world at large.

Eliminating the sense of inherent existence or own-form ("svabhâva") is the central cognitive task on the path to awakening, the way to the fruit. Firstly, we need to humble body, speech & mind, allowing the conventional truth about our personal identities to settle in. The self is not a substance, but imputed or designated on the basis of five impermanent aggregates : sensation (form), feeling, thought, volition & consciousness. The goal is to eliminate the inherent sense of selfhood & personhood (cf. identitylessness of persons). Secondly, one needs to realize the process-like nature of others (cf. identitylessness of phenomena).

A consciousness paying attention to wisdom is a supreme virtuous phenomenon. Once this wisdom-mind realized, there is no longer any need for the path. Buddhahood is irreversible. The universal, ultimate aspect of the view proposed is the realization of what is thoroughly established in the face of other-poweredness, i.e. seeing the permanent emptiness of every functional, conventional, impermanent phenomenon.

The view discussed here is based on the work of Nâgârjuna, Chandrakîrti, Śântideva, Atiśa and Tsongkhapa.

Lama Je Tsongkhapa

"After I pass away,
And my pure doctrine is absent,
You will appear as an ordinary being,
Performing the deeds of a Buddha,
And establishing the Joyful Land, the Great Protector,
In the Land of the Snows."

Śâkyamuni's prediction in the Root Tantra of Mañjuśrî.

Je Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419) or "Man from the Onion Valley" was a renowned Tibetan Buddhist spiritual reformer, yogi and scholar. Taking layman's vows at the age of three, he was ordained as "Lobsang Drakpa" ("Sumati Kirti" or "Perceptive Mind"), but simply called "Je Rinpoche". He is said to be the reincarnation of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhâva). Founder of the doctrinal & influential Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, his direct inspiration came from the Kadam school, initiated by Atiśa (985 - 1054) as well as the Sakya school. He also investigated Dzogchen. Based on Tsongkhapa's teachings, the "Yellow Hats" of the Gelug school have two outstanding characteristics :

  • the moral code of discipline (the "Vinaya") is to be emphasized ;

  • the paths of Sûtra and Tantra form a unity.

When he was born in Amdo (northeast Tibet), the grand final compilation of the Canon of Tibetan Buddhism (Kangyur or "Translated Words" & Tengyur or "Translated Treatises") had just been finished by Bu-ston (1290 - 1364). Tsongkhapa worked through these teachings thoroughly. His work fills eighteen volumes, used as textbooks by succeeding generations. Mastery resulted from (a) the study of the Buddhist teachings, (b) their critical, reflective examination and (c) their realization through meditation.

The major results of this important systematic & complete organization of Buddhadharma (comparable to the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas) were presented in the Lamrim Chenmo (Great Discourse on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) and the Ngagrim Chenmo (Great Discourse on Secret Mantra). The influence of these works, both available in English, was & is enormous, decisive and lasting. The great monasteries of Tibet, such as Sera, Ganden & Drepung saw the light because of his activities. He also initiated, in 1409, the Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chemno).

As a Buddhist philosopher, Tsongkhapa attributed the proper logic to the system of the Middle Way founded by Nâgârjuna (ca. 2th/3th century), in particular the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka school, and was therefore a skillful teacher of "śûnyatâ", emptiness. His interpretation may be called "Critical Mâdhyamaka", for its central preoccupation is drawing the line between proper and improper objects of negation.

For Tsongkhapa, tradition is not the ultimate authority, but only supportive. The final arbiter is reason, in particular the coherence and elegance within the structure of the itinerary of the spiritual path. Conceptual thought is not rejected but integrated. Not taking in the value of conceptuality is the chief cause of undermining the spiritual path. His conceptual reasonings are based on the rules of classical logic (identity, non-contradiction & excluded third).

It is believed that immediately after his physical death, Lama Tsongkhapa became fully enlightened, i.e. a Buddha.

The present analysis of emptiness is based on the view on emptiness as expounded in the Middle Way Consequence School, the so-called "Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka" (or "Rangtong"), in casu :

  • Nâgârjuna (2th CE) in Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ (A Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way) & Shûnyatâsaptatikârikânâma (The Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness) ;

  • Chandrakîrti (ca. 600 – 650) in Mâdhyamakâvatâra (Entering the Middle Way) ;

  • Śântideva (8th CE) in his Bodhicharyâvatâra (A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) &

  • Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419) in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, The Ocean of Reasoning and The Essence of Eloquence.

The view proposed by these authors, in particular Tsongkhapa, forms a coherent whole called "Critical Mâdhyamaka". This tenet, a critical variation on the theme of the Consequence School, will be contrasted with :

(a) the other-emptiness school, the so-called "Shentong" view of the Mountain Doctrine of Dolpopa (1292 - 1391) and the The Essence of Other-Emptiness & Twenty-one Differences Regarding the Profound Meaning of Târanâtha (1576 - 1634) ;
(b) idealist Mâdhyamaka à la Gorampa, integrating elements from the Mind-Only School (Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka) &
(c) Mahâmudrâ & Dzogchen.

The criticism of Tsongkhapa in his Medium-Length Exposition of the Stages of the Path and sections on the object of negation and the Two Truths in his Illumination of the Thought : Extensive Explanation of "Supplement to Nâgârjuna's 'Treatise on the Middle'" provide the necessary material to show how Critical Mâdhyamaka stands out.

Two crucial differences :

  • realist & idealist views (as in Shentong other-emptiness & idealist Mâdhyamaka) focus on ultimate truth and downgrade conventional truth ; an ontological rift is posited between the illusionary, contaminated, compounded, conventional realities & our inherent Buddha-nature, primordially pure and luminously aware. These views alienate themselves from conventional truth, deemed illusionary and so invalid, downgrading the necessity of mundane virtue & the cultivation of compassion ;

  • Critical Mâdhyamaka is not ontological, but asks : What mind is wisdom-mind ? Being foremost epistemological, it makes ultimate truth part of the conventional world (pansacralism). Both truths operate the same object but yield different knowledge. Both truths reinforce each other, explaining dependent-arising & compassion. While conventional truth conceals the ultimate truth, appearing otherwise than ultimately, this functional illusion does not invalidate conventional truth insofar as conventional reality goes. Ergo, virtue is guaranteed.

In short, the proposed balancing act implies that :

  • in  a logic clearing concepts, both realists & idealists must accept emptiness as absence of inherent existence and so cease to hold the view emptiness can be positively defined by way of an affirming negation (inherent Buddha-qualities, absolute mind, primordial base, clarity, etc.) &

  • in experience, Critical Mâdhyamaka must accept the fruit of Mahâmudrâ, the Great Seal, the direct (yogic) experience of emptiness as the mind of Clear Light. It was Tsongkhapa's intention to move from Sûtra to Tantra. Only the latter offers the definitive experiential content, but this is non-conceptual ! Hence, no definitive statements about it are possible (only mystical poetry remains).

Western Criticism and epistemology are also taken into account, in casu Kant (1724 - 1804) in the "Transcendental Dialectic" of his Critique of Pure Reason. This will prove to be helpful in order to establish the definition of conventional truth, the cornerstone of Western science. To make Criticism work hand in hand with Tsongkhapa's view on the Two Truths, can only reinforce the logical & critical backbone of the Buddhadharma. To remain open to the experience of the yogis is to allow an ineffable level higher than conceptuality. This nonpartisan approach accepts both philosophical reasoning & yogic (tantric) experience, giving each its proper place (philosophy to clear reification, yoga to direct experience).

 Table of Contents

 1  The Enlightenment of Buddha Śâkyamuni.

 2  The First Turning : the Four Noble Truths.

2.1 The Four Signs & The Four Thoughts Turning the Mind.
2.2 Recognizing the Three Sufferings.
2.3 Not Putting Up With It.
2.4 Ceasing Suffering : the Two Truths.
2.5 The Three Higher Trainings : Ethics, Meditation, Wisdom.

 3  Perception, Sensate & Mental Objects.

3.1 Naked & Natural Perception : Pre-Thalamic & Thalamic.
3.2 Conditioned Perception : Post-Thalamic & Neo-Cortical.
3.3 Establishing Sensate Objects.
3.4 Ultimate Reality and Sensate Appearance.
3.5 Sensate Objects versus Mental Objects : the Body/Mind Issue.

 4  The Seven Stages of Cognition & the Buddhadharma.

4.1 Myth : Nondual, Non-Verbal & Non-Reflective.
4.2 Pre-Rationality : Semiotic, Pre-Conceptual & Psychomorph.
4.3 Proto-Rationality : Concrete Conceptuality, Contextual & Closure.
4.4 Formal Rationality : Formal Conceptuality, Discursive, Abstract, Reified & Foundational.
4.5 Transcendental Thought : Reflective, Critical & Non-Foundational.
4.6 Creative Thought : Individualizing, Holistic & Creative.
4.7 Wisdom : Nondual, Reflective & Reflexive.

 5  Designation & Conceptual Knowledge.

5.1 Definition of Mind.
5.2 The Designator : Mind, Labeling & Consensus.
5.3 The Base of Designation : Perceptions, Sensations & Mental Objects.
5.4 The Object of Designation : Logical Identity, Functional Imputation & Ontological Reification.

 6  Objective & Subjective Conditions of Conventional Truth.

6.1 The Object of Knowledge & Correspondence.
6.2 The Subject of Knowledge & Consensus.
6.3 Conventional Truth & Coherence.
6.4 Methodological Realism versus Methodological Idealism.
6.5 Scientific, Conventional Truth & Metaphysical Speculation.

 7  The Second Turning I : Optimalizing Mind through Great Compassion.

7.1 The Mind of Self-Cherishing.
7.2 The Three Motivations : Small, Middling, Large.
7.3 Calm Abiding.
7.4 Insight Meditation.
7.5 Training the Four Immeasurables & Generating Bodhicitta.

 8  The Second Turning II : Understanding Emptiness.

8.1 Conventional & Ultimate Analysis.
8.2 Other-Powered, Imputational & Thoroughly Established Natures.
8.3 Self-Grasping : the Logic of Reification.
8.4 The Four Essential Points.

8.4.1 The Proper Negation : Attending & Attributed Object.
8.4.2 Sameness ? No.
8.4.3 Difference ? No.
8.4.4 Realization : Objects Lack Inherent Existence.

Interludium : The Six Instantiations I

8.5 Emptiness of Persons.
8.6 Emptiness of Phenomena.
8.7 The Four Profundities.

8.7.1 The Profundity of the Ultimate.
8.7.2 The Profundity of the Conventional.
8.7.3 The Profundity of the Two Truths being the Same Entity.
8.7.4 The Profundity of the Two Truths being Nominally Distinct.

8.8 The Sevenfold Analysis.
8.9 Ultimate Truth : Absence of Inherent Existence.
8.10 Conventional Truth : Co-Relative Functional Interdependence.
8.11 Reality : One Entity with Two Isolates.

Interludium : The Six Instantiations II

8.12 The Five Paths.
8.13 Emptiness in the Diamond Vehicle.

 9   The Third Turning : Buddha-nature, the potential to Buddhahood.

9.1 The Enlightenment Potential of Sentient Beings.
9.2 Direct Yogic Perceivers : Non-Conceptual & Nondual.
9.3 Emptiness in Dzogchen, the Great Perfection.
9.4 The Doctrine of Other-Emptiness.
9.5 The Great Seal : Looking at the Mind.
9.6 Harmonizing Emptiness & the Clear Light.


 1 The Enlightenment of Buddha Śâkyamuni.

In the Vedas and the Brahmanical tradition unfolding it, the ultimate state is described in ontological terms. The identity between the soul ("âtman") and the absolute ("Brahman") reveals how the ultimate reality is viewed in terms of a theo-ontology, with Brahman as the source of being. Brahman creates the world and creates the soul. Salvation, enlightenment or union ("samâdhi") is therefore returning to the original, primordial state of unity, and this enterprise needs a system of being (or ontology). This theo-substantialism is not only found in Brahmanism, but also in Ancient Egyptian religion, Greco-Roman Paganism and the monotheisms rooted in Abraham (the three "religions of the book", Judaism, Christianity & Islam). In Ancient Egypt & Brahmanism, henotheism prevailed (accepting the qualitative oneness of the Divine hand in hand with a quantitative plurality of Divine theophanies or Deities), whereas monotheism posited the quantitative singularity of God, accepting no "second".

Śâkyamuni radically broke away from the orthodox ("âstika") Indian schools of thought ("darśanas" true to the Vedas), and so his philosophy, along with the materialist school of Chârvâka and Jainism, was deemed "unorthodox" ("nâstika"), not believing the authority of the Vedas. As these three denied the existence of Brahman, the Supreme Creator-God, they were deemed "atheist". In the case of the Buddhadharma, this label is misleading, for the Buddha accepted the existence of the Divine, and so his teachings is not truly atheist as skeptics & materialist would have it, but rather non-theist or trans-theist.

Indeed, the particular feature of the Buddhadharma involves the so-called selflessness of all phenomena. This makes it exceptional and different from materialism & Jainism (calling in substances). In fact, the combination of impermanence & selflessness is unique to Buddhism, while the latter is at the heart of the teachings of Śâkyamuni.

Hence, because of this absence of substantialism, the enlightenment proposed by the Buddha is unlike any other system of salvation. It is unique in being process-bound. Failing to understand this will cause one to confuse the salvic aim of the other world religions with Śâkyamuni's view. Then, the specific, unique and original feature of "nirvâna" as proposed by the Buddhadharma will be lost and the exceptional philosophy of the Buddha eclipsed.

Summarizing this, one may say the enlightenment of the Buddha is not theo-ontological or theo-substantialist, but supramundane & process-like. To give it shape, ontology is not called in, but epistemology is. Buddhist enlightenment eliminates ignorance without introducing substances, nor a super-substance called Atum-Re, Brahman, Theos, Deus, God, Allah, etc. Not unlike the Tao of Taoism, the ultimate, Divine reality of Śâkyamuni, the Body of Truth or "Dharmakâya" is nameless. Although in the Indian Yoga school (cf. Patañjali) ignorance is also at the root of all affliction, its eradication is coupled with the introduction of a super-substance of sorts (cf. "Îśvara") and so remains theist. This is the case with most, if not all, religious systems developed by humanity.

Finding the Divine, the Buddha found God nowhere.

Realizing the specifics of the enlightenment of the Buddha, a radical change of mind is necessary. This radicality involves eliminating the innate and learned reflex to grasp at sensate & mental objects of mind as existing from their own side, i.e. as entities on their own, i.e. self-powered. Such entities must be able to withstand ultimate analysis, i.e. the question : What is exactly & truly there ? But not finding anything able to withstand this, i.e. finding how all phenomena lack substance while being only process, is grasping the ultimate nature or truth of all possible objects of mind. This is not like saying there is nothing, but to course the Middle Way between utter nothingness (non-existence) and eternalized, substantial existence. There is clearly something, but this is not a self-settled reality, but a universal interconnectedness. Hence, to "see" emptiness is it witness dependent-arising and to "see" the latter is to witness emptiness.

To clearly demonstrate the truth of this position is the goal of Buddhist philosophy. To realize this truth comprehensively is the enlightenment of Buddha Śâkyamuni and of all Buddhas after him.

 2 The First Turning : the Four Noble Truths.

Delivered in the royal deer park near Vârânasî, the teachings of the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma initiated the Buddhadharma for our eon. These fundamental insights involve the Four Noble Truths, the Two Truths and the Eightfold Path. They are the most obvious "Dharma doors" or entries into the Buddhadharma.

The radical change of mind Śâkyamuni teaches is not effortless. As there is nobody to do the job for us, we have to work diligently and be a light unto ourselves. To trigger radical change, the normal, nominal state of mind has to be altered from tense, excited & confused to supple, tranquil & clear. The ultimate nature of phenomena cannot be experienced as long as the chattering mind is engaged in creating fictions and attributing reality to illusions.

Three habitual patterns need to be identified :

  • self-cherishing : the normal mind identifies with the self, the First Person Perspective, the "I" of personhood. Although this ego is only designated upon a collection of aggregates, it is given the ontological status of a truly existing self, deemed identical with itself and independent of spatiotemporal changes. While its attributes may change, it is believed its essential core remains the same. This self is cherished as being the most important object around and the satisfaction of its thoughts, emotions & volitions crucial to the well-being of the individual ;

  • learned (intellectual, acquired) self-grasping : in the course of our education, training and enculturation, this substantial self of self-cherishing is taught to be truly there and various ways are devised to grasp at it in these terms. The self is deemed autonomous and autarchic, and exists as such. It commands free will and exists on its own. This nefast conditioning needs to be eliminated and nobody else but the individual can do so ;

  • innate self-grasping : as even animals, satisfying their need to survive, display some believe in the self, we may assume this self-grasping is innate, i.e. given at birth. Hence, although education refines it, nothing needs to be done to make the presence of self-grasping factual.

Insofar as people are fully immersed in self-grasping, they cannot properly think, feel or act in terms of the fundamental interconnectedness between all phenomena. In fact, as islands, they are aware of the sea but stick to their "own" limitations, inventing leaking ships to cross the deep. Moreover, as closed monads of sorts, they consider to be unique and different from all other things and construct their importance on the basis of this single entity, themselves. How can they consider others in any authentic way ? Finally, cherishing the singular self before the multitude of selves, the minority before the majority, the collection of certain types of comparative selves before the vast complexity of the extended variety, their mind is locked into the restricting pattern of "contracted space" ("duhkha"), disabling it to function adequately in terms of reality as it is ("dharmadhâtu")

These are a few reasons why the Buddha considered a tranquil, calm mind to be the conditio sine qua non of spiritual evolution. This stillness is not implemented from without, but discovered from within. Let us summarize a few arguments :

  • no longer an inherent individual : stopping the vanity & falsity of self-cherishing, no longer considering the self as fundamentally unchanging, stops one from over-protecting it from all those potentially dangerous essential others "out there" ;

  • all is of "one taste" ("ekarasa") : realizing all phenomena share the same fundamental, ultimate nature, namely emptiness, one strengthens the sense of closeness and relatedness to others, enhancing joy, love, compassion & equanimity ;

  • radical change is possible : without the cage of alienation of substance thinking, considering the essence of the self fixed and static, one may appreciate the possibility of radical change and one can do away with thoughts like "this is impossible for a person like me". Although the latter may be temporarily true, it is never permanently true ;

  • perfection is possible : as wisdom-mind itself is the highest possible virtuous mind, everything done with it is spontaneously perfected. Without wisdom-mind, even great qualities like patience, generosity, enthused diligence, ethics & concentration are "blind".

Tradition recorded the following important incident in Gautama's childhood.

As an encouragement to agriculture, his father arranged for a "ploughing festival". Intended as a festive occasion, both nobles and commoners wore fine garments to participate in the ceremony. On the appointed day, accompanied by his courtiers, he went to the field taking the young Gautama with him. Placing the child on a screened and canopied couch under the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, he took part in the festival. At its climax, Gautama's nurses left his presence to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. The thoughtful child, mature in intellect though young in age, seeing none by himself, sat peacefully cross-legged to concentrate on inhalation and exhalation. He spontaneously gained one-pointedness of mind and entered the first concentration, characterized by discursive thought ("vichâra"), conceptualization ("vitarka"), joyful rapture ("priti") & happiness ("sukha"). Much later, while practicing his futile extreme austerities, he would remember this remarkable event, pointing out to him how only a calm, supple mind is able to enter the higher states of consciousness. Without tranquility, nothing can be gained by probing into the nature of reality ! A calm mental state serves as a key to enlightenment. Without malleability, no constricting conditionings can be overturned.

While recently some scholars argue Buddhism is all about suffering and so unable to bring us to true peace, Śâkyamuni's method is to first describe the initial situation of humankind. Because of its tense, agitated, excited, confused and egological state, the mind of Homo normalis is unable to introduce a radical change transforming all aspects of the individual. This sickness has to be clearly seen. If one is not ready to confront the fact of disease, the cure cannot take effect, and the Buddhadharma should be left alone. Indeed, real recovery is only possible if one truly accepts one's initial state of misery. Addiction cannot be ended if the one addicted does not consider to be addicted. This acceptance is at the core of renunciation, often confused with the rejection of the world and what it has to offer. But nothing less is true ! Once the radical change of mind sought takes effect, the virtues of this world can be truly & lastingly enjoyed ! Without such change of heart, the world is all about constriction, limitation & suffering ... Renunciation is the first stage, followed by compassion & emptiness (cf. Tsongkhapa's itinerary of the path to enlightenment).

2.1 The Four Signs & the Four Thoughts Turning the Mind.

Sickness, old age & death are the signs something is fundamentally wrong with mundane existence. Śâkyamuni was not ready to accept these conditions without ado. If one has, his path cannot be taken. For if and only if the deep distress caused by them is felt, can one start to comprehend the flawed nature of the "normal" human condition. Being
contented to a fault is not the way to Buddhahood.

  • sickness : even a minor injury causes discomfort for a considerable time, while severe disease alters the way we are used to move through life. Some people never experience health, while others are fortunate to be in good health for a long time and then suddenly loose it. To be strong and active physically or mentally can be natural, but most of the time demands lots of attention. Gautama saw a sick person and realized he too was prone to become ill. This came as a shock to him, for he understood the vanity of thinking, if nothing is done about it, all would remain well. He wanted to find a way to remain healthy throughout his life. When physical sickness strikes, we experience the lunacy of self-cherishing, for then the clinging to the ego is temporarily suspended. All attention has to go to the body. Hence, illness is a teacher forcing us to be aware of the lurking suffering & impermanence of it all ;

  • old age : in most, with the passing of time, the energy of the physical body declines. The beauty & force of youth is lost and the body turns into something ugly and fragile. Lots of time may be lost in making the vehicle of consciousness not fall apart, while over time more and more grooming is necessary to shield the decay. Gautama saw old people and knew clinging to his formidable physical beauty was utterly ridiculous. He wanted to find a way to longevity & remain vigorous despite the aging of his body. Accepting old age will slowly arrive, and not burying our head in the sand about it, teaches us to appreciate every vigorous moment we receive. It also shows how this idea of us having a permanent self cannot be reconciled with a constantly changing body. Body and mind change in time and if nothing is done about it, we all end up silly and dement. Hence, old age points us to prepare well and to seek ways to experience a golden old age despite the inevitable loss of energy ;

  • death : the ultimate sign of our precarious situation ! When Gautama found a corpse and Chana, his charioteer, told him this was the lot of all what lives, Gautama's distress was complete. From sickness one could  recover, and old age could be made very remote & short, but death, even with the best care, was inevitable ! How painful to have to leave everything and exit this world as one entered it : naked. Death is indeed a phenomenon striking at the heart of clinging to the self, for nobody can move away from it. Siddhârtha wanted to find a way to be never born again and so to never have to die again. Even after his enlightenment, able -if he so wanted- to sustain his life for thousands of years, the Buddha decided, out of compassion for his friends, to leave his body behind and enter "parinirvâna". Although Superior & Mahâsattvic Bodhisattvas, by way of liberated longevity, may postpone & eventually choose the moment of their physical demise, as well as their next incarnation, they will not circumvent death. Hence, death, precipitously ripping us away, is the ultimate lesson of suffering & impermanence, curtailing self-cherishing at its root ;

  • world-renunciation : utterly distressed by these three signs, Gautama lost all appetite for the luxury his father had constantly offered him. He understood Śuddhodana had done so to keep his mind attached to the best of this world, shielding him off from its dark and sinister side. Why so ? Because at his birth, the wise astrologer Asita had told Śuddhodana his son had the propensity to take the route of the renouncer, those who cast off, give up and voluntary leave all worldly concerns behind. As the leader of his clan, he wanted an heir and could not envisage Gautama doing anything else but clinging to the worldly satisfactions of his own deluded, hallucinating self. When Gautama saw an ascetic, the fourth sign, his mind grasped the possibility of finding, by following this radical other way of life, a solution to his distress. At twenty-nine, surfeited by his worldliness, he left his wonderful home, lovely wife and new-born son Râhula, namely everything "normal" people consider to be good ! Gautama wanted to find a way to end suffering permanently. He sought true peace. While this intent proved correct, the methods proposed by the ascetic path would eventually turn out rather wrong. To utterly renounce the world does not lead to the end of suffering, on the contrary, it adds suffering upon suffering. While renunciation is necessary to cast off the crazy clinging to the self, by itself, all extreme forms of world-renunciation cannot turn away impermanence. Even the highest state reached by these methods are temporary, and cannot thoroughly eliminate suffering. So to identify the Buddhadharma with world-renunciation is totally misunderstanding the path of the Buddha. A fact eclipsed by the image of the emaciated, anorexic Gautama before his enlightenment, not to be confused with the beautiful, strong & alert Buddha Śâkyamuni !

It goes without saying these conditions only reflect the most severe flaws of nominal existence. The mild dissatisfactions people constantly face on a daily basis are also intended to be drastically reduced and to eventually cease. Liberation heralds the end of self-cherishing and learned self-grasping and is reached with the realization of the identitylessness of persons, while the identitylessness of phenomena accomplished in Buddhahood brings about the end of innate self-grasping.

Because self-cherishing engenders actions causing afflicted emotions like anger, hatred, greed, stupidity, exaggerated attachment, arrogance, jealousy, pride and feelings of superiority, one cannot begin realizing emptiness without at least attenuating these. Once this has happened, by cultivating compassion, their root, ignorance, can be dealt with. The first step in this process is recognizing, accepting & dealing with one's afflicted condition. The Buddha and his followers proposed Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind : the precious human birth, suffering, impermanence and the law of cause & effect.

  • the precious human birth : human existence is unique and of extraordinary value in "samsâra". A human being has exceptional physical, verbal and mental endowments and the free will or ability to choose and follow a constructive course of action. Other beings are not that lucky. Most animals for example have to kill to survive and so perpetuate their situation by being unable to accumulate merit. Buddhahood can be more easily appreciated & realized by a human being than by any other sentient being, be they hell-beings, ghosts, animals, demi-gods or gods. These beings exist in the so-called Eight Unfavorable States of Existence.

    The Eight Unfavorable States of Existence :

    1. Hell-beings constantly suffering from heat & cold ;
    2. Hungry Ghosts tormented by hunger & thirst ;
    3. Animals confused, tormented and incapable of knowledge ;
    4. Barbarians untouched by Dharma ;
    5. Gods distracted by worldly pleasures & bliss lacking interest in Dharma ;
    6. Natural dislike for the Dharma due to wrong views ;
    7. Born in an age without a Buddha ;
    8. Mutes, ignorant of language, dumb & unable to turn towards the Dharma.

    Humans themselves may be subject to dehumanizing conditions (the Sixteen Unfavorable Conditions) and receive specific boons & responsibilities allowing for spiritual growth (The Ten Blessings).

    The Sixteen Unfavorable Conditions :

    (a) Eight Unfavorable Conditions Based On Present Circumstances :

    1. mental disturbances due to the six emotional poisons (pride, jealousy, extreme attachment, stupidity, greed & hatred) ;
    2. influence of corrupting companions ;
    3. false views & practices ;
    4. extreme laziness ;
    5. flood of obstacles due to previous bad deeds ;
    6. being a slave or servant ;
    7. entering the Dharma out of non-religious concerns ;
    8. involvement in the Dharma for the sake of profit or renown.

    (b) Eight Unfavorable Conditions Cutting Mind From Dharma :

    1. great desire and attachment for body, wealth, etc. ;
    2. coarse character & mean acts ;
    3. not frightened of miseries of lower realms despite lots of teachings ;
    4. no faith in liberation despite lots of teachings ;
    5. delight in unwholesome actions ;
    6. no inclination to practice Dharma ;
    7. violation of vows ;
    8. breaking commitments to teacher & religious companions.

    The Ten Blessings :

    Personal :

    1. a human body, reversing the Eight Unfavorable States of Existence ;
    2. born in a land in which the Dharma is taught ;
    3. intact sense organs ;
    4. no wrong views and hence no counter-productive deeds ;
    5. confidence in the Three Jewels ;

    From Others :

    6. born in the Aeon of the current Buddha ;
    7. recieving the excellent, profound & extensive teachings of this Buddha ;
    8. the Dharma has not declined but endured ;
    9. the Dharma has many followers ;
    10. material circumstances assisting the practice of the Dharma.

    If all these positive conditions are met, one may conclude to be endowed with a precious human birth. This is very rare indeed !

    Prolonged analytical meditation on these conditions  & blessings triggers a deep concern not to waste our life by plunging oneself in the Eight Worldly Concerns, characterized by clinging & aversion :

    1. Attachment to getting & keeping material things.
    2. Aversion to not getting material things or being separated from them.
    3. Attachment to praise, hearing nice words, and feeling encouraged.
    4. Aversion to getting blamed, ridiculed, and criticized.
    5. Attachment to having a good reputation.
    6. Aversion to having a bad reputation.
    7. Attachment to sense pleasures.
    8. Aversion to unpleasant experiences.

  • impermanence : the utter groundlessness for our hopes to keep anything the grasping self now enjoys must be clean-clear. The ultimate sign, death, and the fear it triggers, is to be used to motivate our religious practice. The latter is the only viable antidote to the fearful experiences normally preceding, accompanying and following our physical demise. In the Kadam school, five thoughts are cherished :

    1. nothing lasts : everything arising eventually ceases. Even the universe as a whole will perish (Big Crunch or Big Evaporation). A human life is quickly used up and even the most intense worldly experience ends. Considering this, one meditates : "Is there something I should do ?"
    2. many other humans have died : in a century or so, all humans beings on this planet today will have died. In the past, countless beings perished. How often do happy, joyful people consider death ? They have no time to reminisce and are suddenly confronted with their end. What preparations have they made. Meditate : "Should I prepare for the inevitable end of it all ? How ?"
    3. many things may cause death : Our present condition is not without danger. We never know what may become the cause of our death. Maybe our clothing, food, friends or loved ones ? Meditate : "How will I meet my death ? What will happen to me ?"

    In the Bodhisattva-pitaka, an Early Mahâyâna sûtra, lists nine causes of sudden death one should be aware of :

    1. eating unwholesome food ;
    2. eating when full ;
    3. eating before having digested the previous meal ;
    4. not defecating at the right time ;
    5. when ill, disregarding good advise and not taking the prescriptions ;
    6. being possessed by demons ;
    7. taking an emetic to vomit ;
    8. impulsively engaging in violence ;
    9. indulging in unrestrained sexual activity.

    4. consider what happens at the hour of death : in most cases, death is always unwanted and uninvited. By itself, it is a blessing to be lucid when death approaches. Those who have done lots of bad things are terrified and experience the incredible pain of life being irreversibly cut off. Apparitions appear. Body & mind become out of control. Even one careless negative thought may trigger rebirth in the lower realms (hell, ghosts, animals). When looking back, overwhelming feelings of regret occur, for one realizes one has squandered a sea of precious time. Hence, meditate : "From now on, I will practice Dharma. Instead of grieving later, I will put in the proper effort to avoid a painful death !"
    5. consider what happens after death : consider how after death, your feelings, volitions, thoughts & consciousnesses (in short, your "mind") will no longer be imputed on the (more static) physical vehicle, but on another, fleeting spirit-body. In the intermediate stage (or "bardo"), lacking mental discipline, most will be like a wind-blown feather, wandering about following the results of their "black" (evil) and "white" (good) actions. These "karmic winds" cannot be controlled by an untrained mind. So meditate : "Practicing now and during this life will allow me to control what happens to me after death."

  • suffering : as all mundane things are replete with suffering and devoid of lasting satisfaction, consider the shortcomings of cyclic existence. This is the royal road to the Buddhadharma, and to its First Noble Truth (cf. infra) ;

  • cause & effect : considering how no punishing or rewarding God can be found, we must conclude no omnipotent Being is able to alter the inevitable consequences of good and evil actions. Even a Buddha is unable to alter ripening "karma". We are the cause of our own distress or happiness. Action, or anything one does, says or thinks, is the sole cause of what happens to us. In this context, "cause" is to be understood as a mental intention motivating us to act, and "effect" is the experience arising from an act and its intention. According to the Buddhadharma, effects are mostly experienced in the next lifetime and even much later. Actions are cumulative and negative accumulations explain the inertia typical for cyclic existence (cf. the doctrine of "karma"). The other side of this law implies the ability to increase good accumulation, as well as to purify the negative. By guarding the gates of body, speech & mind one refrains from increasing the negative. By special techniques, like Vajrasattva meditation, one may drastically cleanse the "pool" of negativity engendered by bad "karma". This points to the ever-existing possibility of change for the better (an eternal hell cannot be found, neither can "original sin").

These considerations should not be seen as morbid brooding or signs of a pessimistic outlook. In fact, the Buddhadharma wishes to establish an honest perspective on the basis of which the radical transformation of mind leading up to true peace can be undertaken. Considering the world as permanent & happy, one's human life as self-evident and the horrors of sickness, old age and death as something to deny is not being honest. Focusing on happy social engagements as an antidote to samsaric life's inherent distress, while soothing, is not effective.

To lessen the grip of self-cherishing, wrong views are best relinquished. This is the main point of meditating in the above fashion. Buddha Śâkyamuni's path aims at a permanent state of peace in this life & the next. This is the true meaning of the radical change he seeks. If one is happy with samsaric life and one does not wish to confront it honestly, the Buddhadharma should not be practiced.

2.2 Recognizing the Three Sufferings.

The First Noble Truth involves recognizing & accepting the afflicted nature of normal, so-called "conventional" existence, both of ourselves as human beings, but also of all other sentient beings trapped in "samsâra", cyclic existence.

In Tibetan Buddhism, one meditates on (1) the suffering of suffering, or the experiences of physical & mental pain and anguish, (2) the suffering of change, bewailing the impermanence of peace & happiness and (3) the pervasive suffering, the one underpinning "samsâra" as a whole and the cause of apathy.

2.3 Not Putting Up With It.

The Second Noble Truth is understanding why this overall suffering happens so one may change it for the good. This implies a transformative attitude, not one putting up with the situation. Although this seems a "natural" way to go about, in fact most sentient beings are disabled (not equipped) to change anything. Humans are often willing or forced to accept their misery, either out of slow habituation or on the basis of the wrong view nothing can be done about it anyway. Perpetuating these bad conditions makes their grip on the mind stronger. To do so runs against the mentality of Śâkyamuni, identifying causes to definitively and so irreversibly root them out. For him, nothing less will do and if this is not understood, his path will not yield the fruit.

Although self-cherishing prompts actions causing hatred, violence, greed, stupidity, exaggerated attachment, arrogance, jealousy, pretence, pride etc., these afflicted emotions can all be traced back to ignorant grasping & ignorant rejection, i.e. the mental continuum of identification (affirmation) or denial (negation). Accepting phenomena for what they are, not engaging them and not pushing them away is therefore the first step in the process of constant mindfulness. Doing so lessens their grip. Then, the more deeper cause of self-cherishing can be detected, namely self-grasping, i.e. thinking the self, ego or personality is static & substantial, as something definitive & unchangeable. Eliminating this learned, habitual self-grasping is the royal road to liberation, entering the bliss of "nirvâna".

"Just observe your reaction to any unkind word and your hurt will wither away."

Finally, after the identitylessness of persons is realized, the deepest cause of our suffering comes in view : innate self-grasping, the fundamental ignorance about the ultimate nature of phenomena. Only after this is done away with, can Buddhahood be a fact.

2.4 Ceasing Suffering : the Two Truths.

In the Third Noble Truth, the fundamental teaching of Buddha Śâkyamuni is at hand. It immediately brings us to the heart of the discussion about emptiness and to the core of his spiritual philosophy. As such, it is the most difficult teaching, often represented in too simple terms.

The common, easy way to state this truth is to say suffering can end because afflicted, ignorant emotions, desires & cravings can stop. When they do, one enters the peace of "nirvâna". The uncomplicated explanation, identifying cessation of suffering with "peace", invites the conventional mind to identify the fruit of the path as something quite understandable. Indeed, in most, if not all religions, the adjective "peace" is invoked and so it seems Śâkyamuni joins their ranks. But this is not the case. In the present study, "nirvâna" is defined as true peace. The italics are not put in to suggest other forms of peace exist which are "false" (although this is also the case), but to emphasize the peace of the Buddadharma implies a very specific epistemological turn absent in all other spiritual systems. And at this point, things become more complicated.

To understand the issue at hand, note how the spiritual philosophy of Śâkyamuni is not exclusively erected on reason. Not unlike Plotinus and neo-Platonism, his religious take on life brings to the fore his direct experience of the ultimate nature of phenomena. This immediate, unmediated and non-conceptual insight, born out of meditation, was as important as his philosophical teachings. Recent comparative studies clarify the radical difference between these unconditional mystical experiences and conventional, nominal, conditional conceptual thought.

In the religious traditions of humanity, the religious, sacred, numinous, mystical peak-experience is given the following characteristics :

  • unity : the nominal distinctions between object & subject dissolve. This either implies duality itself is totally lost, giving way to an unbounded wholeness with no distinctions left, or bring about a "mysterium coniunctionis" allowing for synthesis and separation equally (a dual-union) ;

  • noetic quality : there is a hyper-conscious state, capable of cognitive activity which is either intuitive, nondual and non-conceptual (the apex) or interlaced with creative, contemplative conceptualizations ;

  • spatiotemporal shift : everything happens in the eternal "now", for both anticipation (future) and recollection (past) come to a halt ;

  • paradoxal : the experience involves the conjunction of opposites, except in the case there is a total dissolution of object & subject ;

  • ineffability : the essence of the experience can not be verbalized, for it either exceeds every boundary established by conceptuality or invokes a series of paradoxical conceptual constructs leading to perplexity ;

  • temporality : this state is only exceptionally permanent, one moves backwards, to settle at the nominal level without loss of memory. As has been explained, "nirvâna" is an exception, for it has the characteristic of non-arising and so never ceases.

So entering "nirvâna" calls for a distinction between, on the one hand, the experience of the world as ordinary sentient beings, and, on the other hand, the experience of the world as enlightened ones. Without, as yet, introducing technical definitions, this entails the difference between "conventional" (the situation experienced by self-cherishing & self-grasping Homo normalis) and the "ultimate" immediate prehension by individuals who either experienced the liberation of "nirvâna" (Hearers, Foe Destroyers, Solitary Buddhas, Superior Bodhisattvas) and those who attained final enlightenment (Buddhas). What is called the "Two Truths" (conventional truth and ultimate truth) is precisely based on this difference. And when Śâkyamuni says, in his Third Noble Truth, cessation is possible, he refers to his entry as the "ultimate truth" of "nirvâna".

As can be seen in the list above, a further division is at hand : on the one hand, one may define ultimate truth as beyond all possible duality and so without any possible conceptualization (as in Shentong & Dzogchen) or, on the other hand, one may consider a higher mode of conceptual thought possible (as in Critical Mâdhyamaka). This first division gives rise to an ontological split, to be traced back to the difference between yoga & philosophy (in the West, this returns as the polarity between "faith" and "reason", while the former is not identified with personal mystical experience but with believing the revelation of the God of Abraham) :

  • the yogi always defies reason : if this is carried through, duality itself comes under attack and absolute ineffability cannot be avoided. Hence, a split between conventional & ultimate is cherished and the latter no longer contains any cognitive activity and so cannot be grasped by way of philosophy. This means the ultimate is the only absolute truth, the One Truth. Ergo, conventional knowledge is always defective. If wisdom cancels out any thoughtful engagement with others, then how to develop the virtues of an enlightened Buddha ? This salvic monism of sorts walks hand in hand with an ontological dualism (between the "true" ultimate thing and the "false" conventional thing). This position can be found in Shentong, but also in Dzogchen. Considering cognition as fundamentally incapacitated in terms of ultimate truth entails many serious consequences, as Tsongkhapa never stops to warn us about ;

  • the philosopher affirms reason, also regarding ultimate truth : either reason may be seen as a kind of preparation, "introducing" or "clearing the way" to ultimate truth (as it were a ladder to be thrown away once on top), or the ultimate experience may be defined as the nondual "apex" of the cognitive continuum. Here, a pluralism of sorts is given, and the question is how to integrate both perspectives (the ultimate and the conventional) without loosing the vitality of both.

As can be expected, the latter option (allowing cognition its highest nondual mode) calls for sophisticated philosophies. The Middle Way approach invited many conflicting positions to do just that. Hence, there is no single "Middle Way" theory on the Two Truths. As the Consequence School harbors the definitive definition of emptiness, namely universal insubstantiality, lack of inherent existence, absence of self-power or "own-form" ("svabhâva"), let us focus on the main differences accepting this articulation (other tenets keep some form of self-power intact).

Grosso modo, the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka developed two radically different philosophies regarding the Two Truths :

  • the difference between ultimate & conventional is "mere mind" ("Yogâcâra Mâdhyamaka) : in this presentation, adhered to by the more yogic oriented Tibetan scholars like Sakya Pandita (1182 - 1251) and Gorampa (1429 - 1489), the distinction between conventional (samsaric) and ultimate (nirvanic) is wholly subjectivist, situated in the mind alone. Given a totally purified mind, ignorance is absent and the conventional merely appears (just like an illusion), while only the ultimate abides (as the One Truth). The Two Truths have no objective basis. There are no two natures (a conventional one and an ultimate one), for only the ultimate is valid. Conventional truth can never yield valid knowledge. The ultimate truth is "more true" than conventional truth. Ordinary beings have no way to access ultimate truth ;

  • the difference between ultimate & conventional is objective ("Critical Mâdhyamaka") : in this philosophy-friendly approach (defended by Tsongkhapa), every phenomenon has two natures (a conventional and an ultimate) and a mind attending to the conventional is true insofar as conventions are concerned, while a mind attending to the ultimate is true insofar as the ultimate is at hand. There are two modes of cognition and the division between Two Truths is based on the object of knowledge. The difference merely consists in the crucial fact conventional truth misrepresents its object (namely as inherently existing), while ultimate truth does not (attends its fundamental emptiness). Both truths reinforce each other and do not define a hierarchy. Ordinary beings have only a conceptual access to ultimate truth. Superior & Mahâsattvic Bodhisattvas as well as Buddhas have a direct, non-conceptual access. This does not mean emptiness exists in an ultimate way. Emptiness itself is empty of inherent existence (cf. the emptiness of emptiness). All phenomena are included in the Two Truths : ultimate existence (emptiness) and conventional existence (everything else). Both truths exclude each other, there is no third position. However, both of these truths exist conventionally, i.e. the ultimate nature of phenomena is always a property or characteristic of every thing, event, person or phenomenon in every moment. Hence, ultimate truth is always immediately present as the final nature of every single thing. There is not some ontological "realm of emptiness out there", a stratum existing above and beyond the conventional world. In no way is Tsongkhapa a Platonist.

These two approaches, the one subjectivist and the other objectivist, can be contrasted with other-emptiness and Dzogchen. Understanding conventional objects of knowledge using Western Criticism, in particular Kant's "Copernican Revolution" and neo-Kantianism's coherency theory of truth, let us start elaborating the position of Tsongkhapa. Both Tsongkhapa and Kant highlight the fact phenomena are only appearances (the Sun seems to move around the fixed Earth while in truth what we experience is the turning of the Earth on its polar axis), and confirm the importance of the conventional fact to understand ultimate reality in any scientific, commonsense way.

I try to make sense of the inevitable difficulties resulting from both the Shentong (other-emptiness), and the idealist Yogâcâra-based interpretation of the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka, so-called Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka (cf. Gorampa). The aim is to integrate, as far as reason allows, the findings of the yogis, in particular the ineffable core of ultimate truth and its manifestation as Clear Light. The latter is the object of Tantra, while the nondual and the non-conceptual may be understood as the "apex" or capstone of cognition (Tsongkhapa). These different views have a profound influence on the Two Truth and Buddhahood. Tsongkhapa's method is best to clear concepts, while Mind-Only & Dzogchen are best to explain experiential content.

2.5 The Three Higher Trainings : Ethics, Meditation, Wisdom.

The Fourth Noble Truth explains the path, developing a three-tiered structure.


1. Right Speech : tell the truth and speak in a thoughtful & sensitive way ;
2. Right Action : abstain from wrongful bodily behaviour (killing, stealing, intoxication, and wrong sensual pleasures) ;
3. Right Livelihood : do not harm others by one's occupation ;

Morality is a fence to protect the young, vulnerable shoots. It develops right attitudes and allows one to accumulate merit.


4. Right Effort : control the mind and gain positive states of mind ;
5. Right Mindfulness : cultivate constant awareness ;
6. Right Meditation : contemplate certain crucial topics (analytical meditation), experience Calm Abiding, and realize emptiness (Insight Meditation).


7. Right Understanding (or Right View) : viewing phenomena as they are is the object of wisdom-mind, the goal to which the Buddhadharma tends ;
8. Right Resolve (Intent) : only trying to do so is not enough, for to realize the radical change sought, the whole personality has to be mobilized.

Functionally, these eight factors are linked thus : right view causes right intent causes right speech causes right action causes right livelihood causes right effort causes right mindfulness causes right meditation.

The first level consists of ethics, the need to avoid actions causing afflictive defilements. This is in tune with the law of karma, stating how good (bad) actions reap good (bad) results. Ten Non-Virtuous Actions need to be avoided :

1) Negative physical actions :

Sexual misconduct.

2) Negative verbal actions :

Slandering (divisive speech).
Abusing (hurtful speech).
Gossiping (idle chatter).

3) Negative mental actions :

Avarice (covetousness).
Wrong views.

The second level involves the yogic technology with which the radical transformation can be triggered : meditation. Rational, philosophical study & reflection are not enough, for the truths established in this way need to be repeatedly deepened and verified by way of concentration ("dhâranâ"), concentration ("dhyâna") and union ("samâdhi"). Without this, nothing lasting will be achieved, for a direct experience of ultimate truth is not attained.

The third level can be called upon when morality & meditation have become habitual, like a reflex of sorts. Spontaneously protecting the Three Gates (body, speech/energy, mind) and enjoying prolonged, daily meditation leads to a calm & supple mind. Then and only then can the last step be taken : accumulating wisdom.

 3 Perception & Sensate Objects.

In the following two paragraphs, perception, sensation & the development of knowledge are studied on the basis of Western epistemology. Although the Buddhadharma developed an extensive epistemology, its purpose was mainly soteriological, and so focused on the relationship between the Two Truths as well as on the various tenets regarding emptiness, the ultimate truth. Directing attention on wisdom-mind was the primary goal and so a thorough analysis of scientific truth was not at hand.

The Buddha's take on conventional truth did not aim to explain science and the way conventional knowledge is produced. However, a critical understanding of the latter does not contradiction the Buddhadharma. It allows for a better integration of these teachings with contemporary epistemological thinking on the possibility and development of cognition. Once this epistemology of commonsense has been accomplished, the aim is to have a clearer picture of how conventional and ultimate truth relate to one another.

My paper, A Neurophilosophy of Sensation (2007), studied the
transport of information from the PNS (Peripheral Nervous System) to the CNS (Central Nervous System), i.e. the afferent, sensoric, incoming impulses from the five senses, crucial to distinguish perception from sensation. This distinction is vital to the task of the epistemology of conventionalities, answering the question How are knowledge and its production possible ? (cf. Clearings, 2006, Criticosynthesis, 2007, A Philosophy of the Mind and Its Brain, 2009 & Critique of a Metaphysics of Process, 2012). In this section, the highlights of these findings will be elaborated upon. They prepare the ground for an understanding of conventional truth.

If the Buddhadharma intends to be of benefit to the Western mind and be in tune with contemporary science, it has to integrate the findings of critical epistemology, philosophy of language, quantum-mechanics, neurology and the physiology & psychology of observation. This is the aim of the Navayâna or "New Vehicle", to which this website pays tribute.

At first, a definition of both perception and sensation are necessary. Under "perception" is understood all "automatic" bio-physical processes bringing sensuous information from the sensitive surfaces of the five senses to the CNS, in particular the thalamus (with the exception of smell, first processed in the limbic system before reaching the thalamus). All processing, even of what happens in the thalamus itself, before this projection into the neocortex, is referred to as "perception". "Sensation" is then what happens after the thalamic projection of these data into the neocortex.

  • perception : S (stimulus) - R (response) : the responsive acquisition of data from the five senses, implying a series of naked, natural, automatic processes starting at the sensitive surfaces of the senses and ending in the thalamus ;

  • sensation : S - I (internal process) - R model : the reactive processing of the projection of ready-made data by the thalamus into the higher cortex, also called "neocortex", characterized by primary, secondary & tertiary association areas, and the "fourth brain", the prefrontal lobes. Sensation, the end result of the sensory system, is therefore not automatic, but very user-specific, always implying an "internal process". The latter includes consciousness (not to be identified with neurological processes but merely interacting with these), as well as its executive cortical modules.

The neurophilosophy of sensation clarifies the difference between perception and sensation. The objects we sensate appear as they do because of our interpretation of perception and, as long as conceptual rationality is at hand, this cannot be put to rest or eliminated. This "interpretation" is not "added" to perception, like something which, by some method, could be subtracted from it. The primary, secondary & tertiary association areas, as well as the prefrontal cortex, process the construction in which the sensate objects appear as entities (cluster of events) with accidents (quantity, quality, relation, modality, etc.) to a subject of experience. Before they "enter" these areas, they have not been introduced to the overall modular activity of the neocortex, the concert of interpretations with an attention area mediating the will of the conductor, the sentient self. Once this happens, the end relay of perception becomes sensation, for there is interpretation (fabrication) by a subject of experience facing a sensate object of experience. This should be very clear.

S = P . I (> 0 ^ ≠ 1)

S(ensation) = P(erception) . I(nterpretation), with I > 0 ^ ≠ 1
(without interpretation no sensation)

3.1 Naked & Natural Perception : Pre-Thalamic & Thalamic.

The stretching & bending human body (touch) is constantly afloat in a pool of chemicals (smell & taste), air pressures (hearing) and electromagnetic radiation (sight). The chemical senses (smell & taste) produce odors & tastes, the mechanical senses (touch & audition) feels & sounds and the visual sense transforms radiation into pictures of the world around & outside us. Through them, an experience of a small part of the immediate environment becomes possible by way of material data. Molecules alter the chemistry of nose & tongue. The mechanics of stretching & bending triggers somatosensoric responses. Each second, compressed patches of air pass by our ears. Variations in electromagnetic energy stimulates the retina. This happens so fast and smoothly, we are hardly conscious of this.

Part of mindfulness training (with eyes open) is to become acutely & alertly aware of the minute changes these inputs move constantly through, slowly making the filters put in place by innate mechanisms & education more transparant, enhancing sensoric input-levels and enriching attention to accommodate the rich pallet our afferent nerves process, lest important information is lost to our conscious attention and computed unconsciously. Our conscious efferent responses are then concordantly limited. This helps to explain why during meditation, according to the teachings of the Buddha, one's eyes need to be only half closed. On the one hand, this reduces the visual input (dominant among the senses), while on the other hand visual attention of the outside world is not completely abrogated. To be aware of both internal & external states is indeed characteristic for the awakened mind.

In each receptor organ, a particular transduction is operational from, on the one hand, chemical (smell, taste, touch), mechanical (touch, audition) or electromagnetic energy (sight) to, on the other hand, encoded sequences of electric voltages running through neurons and their axons and dendrites.

  • smell : transduction of chemical stimuli (odorants) by temporal coding (the timing of spikes) ;

  • taste  : transduction of chemical stimuli by membrane potential changes, either depolarizing or hyperpolarizing (voltage shift) ;

  • touch : transduction of mechanical and chemical stimuli by membrane potential changes & mechanoreceptors (with mechano-sensitive ion channels ?) ;

  • audition : transduction of the mechanical energy (caused by air molecules) by changes in membrane polarization ;

  • sight : transduction of electromagnetic radiation by changes in membrane polarization.

Smell is the oldest and a rather exceptional sense. The axons of the olfactory bulbs run through the olfactory tracts and project directly into the limbic olfactory cortex. This happens without passing through the thalamus first, as is the case for taste (gustatory afferent axons), touch (somatosensoric axons), audition (auditory nerve) & sight (optic nerves), projecting into the neocortex by thalamic relay and this without first touching any cortex.

Smell is able to swiftly trigger massive limbic responses. Its primary sensory cortex belongs to the primitive cortex, part of the limbic brain, the nose brain. Olfactory afferent input and its projection into the primitive regions of the cortex (piriform cortex) is nonthalamic, making smell unique among the senses. This cortex has three layers, the neocortex six. From this old piriform cortex, many connections to various structures in the limbic brain are made.  Many parallel pathways mediate the olfactory functions, such as odor discrimination, emotions, motivation & behaviours from reproduction, feeding to imprinting and memorizing.

Take away the vast array of the different sensoric stimuli or disable the receptor organs completely, partly or slightly, and perception is either absent, partial or impaired. The receptor organs are the "doors of perception" (Huxley) ...
They have to operate properly for perception to be possible or adequate and are fundamental to the appraisal of conventional sensation, i.e. the designation of sensate objects.

The receptor organs of these five complex sensory system, fed by impulses based on chemical substances, collisions & frictions, air pressures and electromagnetic radiation, are the first cause of perception, nothing else. Stimuli are the direct, external physical changes caused by a narrow band of material objects on the surface of the receptor organs of the sensory system. Throughout the sensory system population-coding is used, implementing a threshold for combined action-potentials. This procedure enables broad responses to tiny changes in input.

The relay from stimulus to perception seems rather "automatic", and in many ways it is. Although the inputs of the sensory organs are transduced, then relayed to the thalamus to be finally projected into the neocortex, what enters the cerebrum at any given moment is the encoded effect of the state-altering stimuli received, not the raw stimuli themselves. Perception is indeed based on the S-R (Stimulus - Response) format, whereby the same stimulus, in ceteris paribus, causes the same response. In neo-Darwinian logic, these forms are the outcome of the countless "trials & errors" of millions of years of evolution, eliminating inadequate paths and keeping the fittest. An imperative algorithm is implemented and "somehow" stored in the cells. This is like software permanently encoded on the hardware, reacting in tune with biological and electromagnetic laws.

We first smell, taste, touch, hear and/or see (perceive) and then consciously experience odor, taste, feels, sound & light (sense). This distinction is very important, if not fundamental to our analysis of conventional knowledge.

Between the moment the receptor organ changes (is hit by a stimulus or S) and the actual conscious sensation (response or R), several levels of interpretation (or I) exist, called naked, natural & processed. Hence, a temporal interval pertains.

  • naked automatic codation from receptor organ to the thalamus : evolutionary, biological software integrated in the hardware of the PNS & CNS, involving transduction, coded relays & reception by thalamus. This is "naked" perception, the pre-thalamic (not thalamic nor post-thalamic) processing of stimuli, i.e. preliminary, pre-cortical codation ;

  • natural automatic thalamic codation : in the thalamus, reptilian & mammalian software takes over. Before entry into the neocortex, this "inner room" or "storeroom" (of a Greek or Roman house) receives the coded messages of the five senses. This sensory information is spatio-temporalized, integrated and finally projected into the primary sensory cortex, while the intensity of the flow to and fro the neocortex is monitored and if necessary inhibited by the thalamus. This is called "natural perception", the thalamic gathering and preparation of sensoric information prior to its projection into the neocortex, the highest cortical region of the CNS. This "automatic" level of perception is "natural" because our brain shares it with all higher mammals. In humans, the complex thalamus not only acts as a receptor and an integrator-projector, but also as the initiator of a series of higher cortical functions ;

  • thalamic projection into primary sensory cortex leading up to the pre-frontal cortex or processed (conditioned) perception : software resulting from evolutionary pressures plus sentient userware, able to modify & autoregulate the software & influence the hardware, moving from the primary sensory cortex to the secondary sensory cortex and from there to the association areas, the angular gyrus & finally the pre-frontal cortex, the "fourth brain" (besides the reptilian, mammalian & human cortex).

The neocortex is never directly informed about the afferent data provided by the automatic processing involved in both naked, natural & processed perception. Conscious sensation is an entirely posthalamic event.

Summarizing :

Naked perception is
the pre-thalamic processing of stimuli & preliminary, pre-cortical codation. This is preliminary and pre-cortical (with the exception of smell and its "old" limbic cortex).

Natural perception is the thalamic processing of naked perception before its projection into the neocortex. This is also pre-cortical (with the exception of smell, projected into a special limbic cortex).

Processed or conditioned perception is the post-thalamic processing of the data projected by the thalamus into the neocortex, involving sensory areas, association areas, and many more interdependent & interrelated neocortical constellations.

3.2 Conditioned Perception : Post-Thalamic & Neo-Cortical.

The cerebrum (measuring about 11 m²) is divided into four lobes, situated underneath the corresponding bone of the skull. Gray cortical matter is found in the cerebral neocortex, a thin layered sheet of ca. 20 billion neurons lying just underneath the surface of the cerebrum, with lots of uncomitted cortex at birth & thereafter.

Parameter Value
number of neurons ca.1009
number of cortical neurons ca.209 (*)
surface of neocortex ca.11 m²
connections per neuron average of ca.1000
cortical synapses ca.240 trillion (*)

(*) Koch, C : Biophysics of Computation, Oxford University Press - New York, 1999, p.87.

The research of Kaas (1995) et al. suggest the primordial neocortex (existing to some degree in all living species) consists of three types of cortex, called the "primary sensory cortex", the "secondary sensory cortex" & the "motor cortex". These receive input from the thalamic nuclei relaying data from the basal telencephalon & the cerebellum and relay outputs to motor control neurons in the brain stem & spinal cord.

  • primary sensory cortex : receives as first signals from the ascending sensory pathways, relayed by the thalamus and project these signals into the secondary sensory areas ;

  • secondary sensory cortex : very interconnected with the primary sensory areas, as it were assisting computation ;

  • motor areas : concerned with the control of voluntary movement.

The cortex proceeds by shaping a "neuronal sensation ladder" :

  • primary sensory area : processing the thalamic projection and the decodation of its information ;

  • secondary sensory area : assisting in the decodation by the primary sensory area ;

In the human brain, even after assigning primary sensory, secondary sensory, primary motor & secondary motor areas to the neocortex, a considerable amount of bark, particularly in the frontal & temporal lobes, remains : the four association areas : visual, spatial, verbal & volitional.

  • association areas : process the recent, human development of the primate cortex, namely the ability to symbolize (label) & interpret in terms of unobservable mental states. Conscious sensation computes here, for sensations can be defined as interpreted, processed, conditioned, reconstructed perceptions. The volitional association area is the "fourth brain".

In these association areas of the human brain (to be distinguished from the mammalian brain -the limbic system- and the reptilian brain -the brain stem-), sophisticated computation mediates all higher-order functions & operators. These areas contain neurons able to "associate" or "gather together" neural states from various parts of the brain, not only the neocortex. Information from the sensory areas, memory systems and the diencephalon (emotional states) is put together and integrated in order to optimalize the possibilities of the nervous system and execute, process, compute, mediate & enhance a conscious sensation of the world. Some of these areas are interconnected with the amygdala, hippocampus, limbic system and the autonomous nervous system.

In these association areas, sensate objects are actually established.

3.3 Establishing Sensate Objects.

The association areas allow us to "experience" in a conscious way, and integrate all higher-order functions, such as cognition, affection, volition and consciousness. At this level, the objects of the five senses are named & labeled. Four "association areas" have been discovered :

  • visual association area : inferior temporal cortex : highest integration of visual function & analysis - end station of a system of visual recognition of specific and particular shapes and objects of interest, both cognitively as well as emotionally - interconnected with the amygdala, hippocampus, limbic system (olfactory cortex) and the autonomous nervous system ;

  • spatial association area : posterior parietal cortex : highest integration of analysis and integration of higher-order visual, auditory and somaesthetic (touch & body position) information - three dimensional image of the body in space - distinction between what is at arm's length (bodily sense) and what is further away (the world) - some neurons motivate and guide hand movements, including the grasping of objects within grasping distance ;

  • verbal association area : angular gyrus : at the junction of the posterior-superior temporal and the occipital-parietal lobes : area of the highest integration of all sensory input, with rich interconnections with all other association areas - processes abstract thought and their relation to words (Wernicke & Broca in the left hemisphere) - conceptual comparisons, ordering of opposites, naming of objects, higher logical operations ;

  • volitional association area (also : attention association area) : prefrontal cortex, frontal lobes : receives fibers from all sensory systems (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell), but has few connections with the primary sensory areas - very interconnected with the limbic system (emotional responses), verbal and spatial association area (conceptual thought and egocentric spatiality) - coordinates highly complex movements and is the "seat of the will" for all goal-oriented behaviors, actions and intentions - able to focus on important tasks through redundancy (screening out superfluous input) - planning, imagining, deciding and attention regulation throughout the cerebrum are computed here, but a complete functional picture is far from clear. It is called the "fourth brain" (next to the traditional triune structure discovered by McLain consisting of reptilian, mammalian & human brains).

Although both subject and object of experience seem unconstructed, the neuronal processing enabling their manifestation betrays a complex modular sequencing. Insofar as the sensory system is concerned, the association areas bring in a wide range of inputs, from emotional coloration to verbal, spatial, volitional, imaginal regulations. This brings to the fore the constructed, fabricated, mediated, derived, conditioned, assembled, mapped nature of sensation ! To express sensation, cognition, affection, volition & consciousness, a wide range of neuronal areas are addressed. Indeed, at the higher levels of the nervous system, neuronal activity is secured by neurons arranged in colonies or neuronal modules, making neuronal parsimony highly unlikely. It has been estimated the number of configurations possible between connected neurons equals the number of particles in the universe (1080), while the number of connections equals the number of stars (9.1021) ! This gives the age-old Hermetic adagio "so above, so below" a totally new meaning ...

Sensation, the final integration of perception, involves interpretation and construction. Sensation is the result of an active modulation of the thalamic projections, based on the coded relays of perceived inputs. Hence, conscious sensation can not do away or eliminate these interpretations, for the conscious states processed by the neocortex never have any direct experience of perceptions, but only of sensations. Hence :
S = P . I (> 0 ^ ≠ 1)

In the human cerebrum, the angular gyrus & hemispheric specialization (lateralization) are quite unique. Hominoids and other non-human mammals lack an angular gyrus and their artistic, tool-making & symbolic capacities are limited to hammering rock & throwing or manipulating leaves, sticks & twigs (Fedigan, 1992).

The angular gyrus, at the junction of the posterior-superior temporal and the occipital-parietal lobes, is crucial in all constructional tasks, in the control of sequential hand movements, in the manipulation of external objects and internal impressions, but also in naming & labeling. Joseph (1982, 2000) evidenced how the evolution of this area allowed humans to engage in complex creative, symbolic and artistic activities. Devoid of this gyrus, humans develop apraxia, the inability to perform tasks involving interrelated steps and sequences.

Besides naming & labeling, this gyrus is also involved in word finding and grammatical speech organization, "and is in part an extension of and links Wernicke's with Broca's areas" (Joseph, 1993, p.357). Damage to Broca's Area (Broca's aphasia) prevents a person from producing speech, understand language and properly forming words, while speech is slow & slurred. Damage to Wernicke's Area (Wernicke's aphasia) results in loss of the ability to understand language or speak clearly (the words put together make no sense). Both are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers called the arcuate fasciculus. Damage to this causes "conduction aphasia". One can understand language, but speech is senseless and one cannot repeat words.

So the angular gyrus computes the highest neuronal integration of the perceptions of the five senses. Rich in interconnections with all other association areas, the angular gyrus processes abstract thought (the "form" of identities & relationships) and their relation to words in terms of speech & the coordination of the making of correct acoustic sounds or phonemes (cf. Wernicke & Broca in the left hemisphere). Conceptual comparisons, ordering of opposites, naming & labeling of objects, higher logical operations etc. are mediated by this area. As the verbal association area, this gyrus integrates perception, naming and organizing as well as the production of the spoken word. In humans, perception is used to categorize and talk.

For Joseph, the angular gyrus evolved over the course of the last two millions years and this in parallel with the evolution of handedness and tool technology. Given the relationships between right handedness, the left hemisphere and language, he conjectures speech production also gradually arose over the same period. This explains the explosion of tool-making by the Cro-Magnon, who possessed an angular gyrus and large frontal lobes.

During human evolution, hemispheric specialization was probably a response to the unique demands made by language, speech and tool construction, in short, infusing material media with conscious meaning, enabling a lasting "sediment", "glyph", label or sign (signal, icon or symbol). Symbolization is conceptual glyph-making insofar as the sediment or material carrier or calculator is lasting enough to bridge a new generation of listeners & talkers.

The Triune Brain : Three Brains In One

reptilian brain brainstem signals
mammalian brain limbic system icons
human brain neocortex symbols

The exceptional evolution of the human frontal lobes materialized language (symbolization), tool technology & art. Branched to a wide array of modules, they are the "senior executive" of the brain (Passingham, 1993, Fuster, 1989) and are primary in regard to all aspects of imagination, creativity, speech, language (via Broca's area) and symbolic thinking. This allows the label "fourth brain". In the frontal lobes, the coordination and regulation of attention, individuality, memory and cortical activity is at hand. Intellectual, creative, artistic, symbolic and cognitive processes get executed. They subserve the expression of melodic-emotional  vocabulary-rich grammatical (well-formed) speech. Consciousness and the sense of "I-ness" or personal identity (cf. the First Person Perspective or "self" of reality-for-me) also compute in these frontal lobes.

At this level, conscious sensation, as the experience of a sensate object by the subject, is processed. This sensation is based on what the secondary sensory areas, motor areas, angular gyrus & other areas relay (and not so much on input form the primary sensory areas). Hence, sensation is a highly fabricated phenomenon, sharing characteristics with reptilian & mammalian emotional responses to certain perceptions, i.e. adding interest (brain stem and thalamic valve), emotional coloring (limbic) and, in the case of the human, symbolic interpretation (verbal association area) before conscious experience (prefrontal lobes).

Already in the thalamus, state-sensitive flow-reducing processes are at work, allowing the system to  cancel the "automatic" response of the afferent pathways running from the receptor organs to the thalamus. These highly complex mechanisms, sensitive to a gentle push, opening & closing major neuronal pathways at a moment's notice, are in number present in the neocortex. Each of these association areas accommodate a particular cortical software, dealing with a modular representation of a set of problem-solving information-items. By constantly interacting (cf. the ongoing, interdependent cortical process) and relaying information to the prefrontal cortex, they allow for a higher order computation of a hierarchy of operations, in casu, of sensory inputs.

Nominal conscious sensation of Homo normalis is the neural product of two vectors : perception (P) & interpretation (I). The conceptual mind cannot experience an object of sensation without interpretation (identifying, naming, associating, etc.). This is the normal and nominal way of functioning in the waking state. Maybe consciousness is to be "expanded" or "altered" to include what is today only "unconscious" ? Can the liaison brain be more than the frontal lobe of the dominant cortical hemisphere ? Let us speculate ultimate truth and its direct experience are related to this, while meditation is the via Regia to this.

Next to the congenital codation from receptor organs to thalamus (in accord with the S-R model), highly state-dependent cortical networks or modules invite free will (and volition) to alter ongoing procedures (based on the brain's actual & past functioning). Directly influencing the probability-fields of wide populations of neurons (cf. Popper, 1982), consciousness (via the prefrontal cortex or "fourth brain" ?) may perhaps alter the fabric of the brain itself, if not at least influence it for the better.

Consciousness superimposing probability fields does not violate the physical conservation laws (for m = 0), but, ex hypothesi, co-determines the final momentum of matter & information and this hand in hand with the deterministic evolution of the physically determined vector, either as material states (particles, forces) or material glyphs (material states infused with meaning). Each nondetermined choice needs many sensitive & state-dependent states to influence, alter, modify, etc. the most likely outcome (the automatic result). In a constructive sense, this calls for many nondetermined choices to alter the determined result. Sensation, the end result of the sensory system, is therefore not automatic, but very user-specific, implying an "internal process".

3.4 Ultimate Reality and Sensate Appearances.

The above neurophilosophical remarks clarify the crucial difference between perception and sensation.

Perception Sensation
nose-consciousness of odors
tongue-consciousness of tastes
ions channels (?)
body-consciousness of feels
mechanical energy
ear-consciousness of sounds
eye-consciousness of lights

The objects we consciously sensate appear as they do because of our interpretation and, as long as conceptual rationality is at hand, this cannot be put to rest or eliminated. Let me repeat this "interpretation" is not "added" to perceptions. It is not something which can, by some method, be subtracted from sensation to produce "pure" perceptions. The famous cubes of Wittgenstein come to mind :

"To perceive a complex means to perceive that its constituents are combined in such and such a way. This perhaps explains that the figure can be seen in two ways as a cube ; and all similar phenomena. For we really see two different facts. (If I fix my eyes first on the corners a and only glance at b, a appears in front and b behind, and vice versa.)"
Wittgenstein, L. : Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.5423, my italics.

Let me repeat. The association areas process the construction in which the sensate objects appear as entities (cluster of events) with accidents (quantity, quality, relation, modality, etc.) and this by a subject of experience naming and labeling them. Before they "enter" these areas, they have not been introduced to the overall modular activity of the neocortex, the concert of interpretations with an attention area mediating the will of the conductor. They have yet no label and so no conceptual framework in which to appear. Once they appear as sensate objects to the various consciousnesses, the end relays of perception, the latter has already been transformed into sensate objects through fabrication and interpretation, i.e. they are already possessed by a subject of experience facing them as sensate objects of experience. In this fabrication and interpretation, mental objects (theoretical connotations) play a crucial role (cf. infra).

This distinction between the "noumenon" (Kant's "Ding-an-Sich") and the "phenomenon" ("das Ding-für-uns"), or between the absolute, ultimate objects of knowledge ("samvriti-satya") and the relative, commonsense, conventional objects of knowledge ("paramârtha-satya") gives rise to the argument of illusion ("mâyâ") crucial to all forms of Western & Buddhist critical thought. Although the Two Truths ("satyadvaya") are both necessary and function on an equal footing, Tsongkhapa clearly shows how conventional truth misrepresents its object, allowing it to appear as if existing on its own, independent of the subject of knowledge, while ultimate truth does not. Although the Sun does not move relative to Earth, it seems as if the Sun rises and sets, while analysis shows this to be false, for what is seen is the mere revolution of the Earth on its axis. The radical change of mind or cognitive restructuring sought indeed seeks a "Copernican Revolution", the realization of what is truly permanent in the wake of what is constantly changing but falsely seems fixed.

The argument of illusion has two sides :

  • objective : the ordinary subject of experience never faces the totality of changes caused, so we must assume, by particles & forces acting as a constant stream of stimuli on the surface of the receptor organs ; they are unconscious. Only after a series of complex, unconscious alterations (transduction, relays, integration & projection) is the cortex informed (primary sensory area), in its own language, about the perceived states, events, occurrences & objects. But, this thalamic projection, in accord with the language of the cerebrum, into the neocortex is not yet sensation. This it only becomes after the thalamic projection enters the verbal association area, immediately connecting it with the attention association area (while the primary sensory area has few connections with the prefrontal lobes !). Our sensations, because of their irreducible and pertinent interpretative, constructive, conceptual, personal nature, could be a kind of fata morgana or mirage, composed of distorted sensory items. Ambiguity, as rationalists have always stated, is the least one can say of the direct observation of sensate objects. This is core of the Mâdhyamaka critique, for conventional truth misrepresents its object and so conceals their ultimate truth or "suchness" ("tathatâ") ;

  • subjective :  the most objectifying operator of consciousness, namely cognition or mind, works in various modes (cf. infra). In the ante-rational mode, sensate objects irreducibly appear in contexts and have no meaning outside these. In rational, conceptual thought, which is formal (decontextualized) and critical (or transcendental), the theoretical connotations grasped by the subject of experience make it impossible to witness sensate objects devoid of interpretation. Even if so-called "subjective factors" are reduced or eliminated, it cannot be conceptually known whether a collective mirage is at hand or not. Likewise, in creative thought, the own-Self cannot be designated without its ideas and although a panoramic view is established, at best, observation is but the view of one individual own-Self. Finally, although nondual thought recognizes the nature of mind directly and hence moves beyond interpretation, its wisdom is non-verbal and/or poetical and shows in what is done & not done. Hence the importance of compassion, even to a Buddha !

Although Western epistemology, in order to delimit what is science and what is metaphysics, had and has lots to say regarding conventional truth, its take on ultimate truth is exclusively negative. This may imply (a) it considers no ultimate reality is possible (which in itself is a positive statement), or (b) absolute truth is a limit-concept of the conceptual mind, one best approached through the via negativa. For Kant, the "noumenon" cannot be given any positive conceptual content. Like the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamikas, he explains the absurd consequences of positing a self-sufficient ground for knowledge outside knowledge itself, namely ontological illusion, reifying concepts. The groundless ground he proposes remains within the confines of the transcendental level of the subject of experience. While undelving the conditions of the possibility of knowledge, rooted in the subjective cognitive apparatus (this critique is called "transcendental"), he makes clear reason is not equipped to probe behind the surface of the mirror and directly face the transcendent, the "Hintenwelt" out of reach (transcendental ≠ transcendent pertains).

Unfortunately, as a devout Protestant, and knowing he had no good scientific reasons, Kant had to integrate the substantialist God ! So in his ethics, he incorporated the traditional Western substances (world, soul & God) as mere postulates of practical reason, resulting in an unacceptable split between theoretical and practical reason. This was the price he paid for dismissing the possibility of an "intellectual perception" (or a knowledge of the ultimate truth) in the edifice of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft. This caused the German Idealists to completely dismiss Kant and develop their brontosauric & silly return to pre-critical, reifying thought. Especially Hegel (
1770 - 1831) was quite detrimental in destroying Kant's attempt to develop an immanent metaphysics, one staying within the confines of possible rational thought. His futile metaphysics was reversed by Marx (1818 - 1883), prompting scientism and historical materialism. Kant's failure also invited protest-philosophers like Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860), Nietzsche (1844 -1900), Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855) or Bergson (1859 - 1941).

The criticism of Tsongkhapa, firmly rooted in the Sûtrayâna, cherishes no prejudices against ultimate truth, on the contrary. It tries to bring commonsense thinking as close as possible to it. Instead of denying conceptual reason to touch the ultimate, he argues how ultimate truth is a cognitive phenomenon, for emptiness is an object of knowledge. Unlike others, he does not consider ultimate truth to be ontologically superior to conventional reasoning, quite on the contrary. Ordinary beings only have a rational take on ultimate reality, and this duly prepares them to trigger a direct, non-conceptual experience of it. This does not mean Tsongkhapa posits any positive contents regarding the direct experience of emptiness by Buddhas. Only emptiness appears to them, but they simultaneously know all conventional truths insofar sentient beings are concerned. Moreover, their direct "seeing" of emptiness is ineffable, i.e. beyond discursive, conceptual description. The "apex" of the cognitive system is an object of unsaying, but altogether a cognitive act !

3.5 Sensate Objects versus Mental Objects : the Body/Mind Issue.

The changes recorded by the sensitive surfaces of our senses (perceptions - P) are interpreted (I), giving rise to conscious sensations (S). The stimuli causing perceptions are obviously purely material, while sensations are produced (generated) when these processed perceptions are projected into the neocortex by the thalamus and then given conscious meaning by the act of cognition. This cognitive act of recognizing, naming and labeling these projections calls for another non-material factor : the mind, the totality of volitions, feelings, thoughts & consciousness (sentience). The mind, as Dharmakîrti (ca. 7th century) says, is clarity (luminous) & cognizes.

The question rises whether the mind is independent from the brain or not ? If not, then the mind dies when the brain dies. If independent, then the mind may take another brain (rebirth). The Buddhadharma is unambiguous on the subject, for as the Third Noble Truth states, the end of suffering is cessation, not to be equated with physical death but with the end of ignorance. Ergo, the deluded mind does not end together with the body and so both, in the order of dependent arisings, cannot belong to the same ontic category (although, as all other phenomena, body & mind share the same fundamental, ultimate nature). If both would belong to the same ontic category, then they would share the same distinctions, characteristics or properties, which is not the case. The mind is singular, the body plural (the binding problem). The mind has functions not shared by the body (the symmetry problem).

Before arguing, let us first sketch a few historical positions :

  • Hylemorphism : formulated by the Peripatetics, this option understands the body as the material & efficient cause and the mind as the formal & final cause of living substance, be it a vegetal, animal or human organism. It moves against the Platonic bifurcation of reality in two distinct "worlds" : becoming versus being. The soul is the form of the body and for Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE), there is no such thing as a disembodied, transcendent "form" as there was for Plato (429 - 347 BCE). Hence, at death the soul perishes. In Thomism & neo-Thomism, this Peripatetic position has been reconstructed to allow for life beyond physical death, namely by positing subtle matter acting as a necessary substrate for the soul (Tantra argues likewise) ;

  • Interactionism : traditional dualistic Cartesianism does away with the Aristotelian causes : body and mind are separate, irreducible substances belonging to separate but interacting "natures", together making up the unity of the living human being. The postulated interaction happens in the brain and so in this option one needs to explain how this happens (Descartes, conjecturing this somehow happened in the pineal gland, failed to do so). As long as the ontological difference between mind & body is maintained, one cannot solve the issue. If however, the distinct nature of both is argued hand in hand with their identical ontological ground, interactionism is a strong position (as panexperientialism shows) ;

  • Parallelism : body and mind are two clocks of the same substance wound up and synchronized by God, or, put differently, matter has an "inside" aspect with a consciousness-like "quality", or both run parallel like the outside & inside of an eggshell (parallelism). This position is also called "panpsychism" and goes back to the earliest Pre-Socratics, to Campanella (1568 - 1639), Spinoza (1632 - 1677) and Leibniz (1646 - 1716 ). The issue here is monism : if both are of the same, one nature then how can the obvious differences be explained ? At death, parallelism, or similarity by virtue of correspondence, does away, just like Peripatetic hylemorphism, with the individual mind-stream ;

  • Identity theory : also called "central state theory" is a materialist modification of parallelism : there exists an "identity" between mental processes and certain brain processes. This is not a logical identity ! A single class of material properties are describable by means of two different vocabularies, just as the planet Venus is both "evening star" and "morning star", i.e. two different appearances of the same material object. However, if mental events are in fact brain processes they must have the physical properties brain events have (which is not the case - cf. the binding problem : Where is the unity of the mind ?). Moreover, brain events must have the mental properties by virtue of which the mental events with which they are identical are the kinds of events they are (which is neither the case - cf. the volitional problem : How can determined processes cause undetermined events like free will ?). This is the symmetry difficulty facing the identity theory ;

  • Analytical behaviorism or epiphenomenalism : mind is only (actual or potential) behaviour of body. Mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain, for the brain produces thoughts just like the kidneys produce urine. Hence, mind = physical behaviour, and so there is nothing mysterious about the conscious mind. In this position, behavioural analysis should not contain unanalyzed mental items, although a residue of such items will always be left, causing more behavioural analysis, leading to an untenable infinite regression ! Moreover, insistence on reducing mental states to behavioural patterns or dispositions to engage in such, makes behaviorism deny the existence of an "inner" subjective state as well as first person knowledge regarding mental states. Both run against commonsense facts ;

  • Functionalism : as in the former position, the notion of the mind being an entity, a logical substance, is rejected. The mind is a function of the physical brain : mind = f(brain). The function y = f(x) allows one to introduce different values for x which are transformed into y. A function is not physical in nature (for it can be specified abstractly), neither is it non-physical, for it resists classification. In order to explain mental states, they are reduced to input/output structures. However, genuine thoughts have meaning and intentionality, whereas the words displayed on a screen as typed out have meaning to conscious sign-interpreters but not at all to the merely "functional" computer ;

  • Non-reductive materialism : there are only material substances, but they possess physical properties and mental properties. The latter depend on the physical but are not reducible to them. Mental properties supervene on, emerge from, come on top of a more basic physical, subvenient, basal, ultimately physical phenomenon. There can be changes in the supervenient mental phenomena if and only if there are corresponding changes in the basal phenomena, but not vice versa. Supervenient phenomena emerge from, and are asymmetrically dependent for their existence upon the basal structure. However, how mental phenomena, differing from physical ones, can emerge from the basal material reality remains unclear. Again, the distinction between the first and third person perspectives yields an unsatisfactory view on consciousness and intentionality. Finally, biofeedback, autosuggestion, meditation, parapsychology and the placebo-effect show how mental phenomena trigger changes in the basal, material phenomena. This contradicts the materialistic hypothesis.

As most, if not all, recent scientific research had, in the background, a materialist, physical metaphysical research program at work (influencing the "ceteris paribus" clause), consciousness must be regarded as an epiphenomenon of the brain (i.e. caused, generated, produced, made, constructed, secreted, invented by or emerging from the CNS). As nowhere in the brain a "central control ganglion" has been found, and current neurological research rather points to the model of plastic neuronal networks, the "binding problem" remains and clearly is the fundamental practical problem facing materialist neurology, as leading neuroscientists like Eccles concur. For how can the unity of the "manifold of apperception" (Kant), the unitary, phenomenological "sense of self" be explained ?

The Buddhadharma is clean-clear : mind and body are truly different ontic (conventional) entities. They are not different (both are empty), but distinct (have specific properties). The former is non-material, the latter material. These two phenomena should not be identified or reduced to one another. Consciousness does not "emerge" from neuronal activity, but is computed (executed) by it. Was the Buddha an interactionist ? Insofar as we can tell he was, for the body could interact with the mind and vice versa. We know how, under the pressure of severe austerities, his mind had become, like an extremely stretched string, too rigid to the point of breaking apart (body acting on mind). But there are also stories of how the Buddha healed his sick body by virtue of the psychic "miracle" powers of his concentrated wisdom-mind (mind acting on body). This implies interaction between both.

The challenge is to understand the neocortex as the executive organ of human consciousness. How does the interaction happen ? On this new cortex, there is -at birth- lots of "empty space" to be filled in by our parents, peers and teachers, and eventually by ourselves by realizing the "freedom" to "think for ourselves" ... Usually, many changes have to be made to allow our brain to be the proper conduit for who we are (in the C-world). Crisis, catastrophe and turbulence force us to face new aspects of who we are. Each time, we force our brain to act according to our conscious will (just as our brain forces our muscles with efferent enervation). We may also undermine our own brain and/or be subjected to the negative conditioning enforced on it by others. This causes it to be limited in expressing our full potential. We may train it, and allow it to compute more conscious awareness. Training changes the brain. With enough effort, these changes trigger new connections & constellations and so become permanent. The brain reacts as any physical system in our body. Neurofeedback is a more specialized form of biofeedback.

  • M-world of hardware : the mature, healthy, triune, material human brain is able to process, compute and execute complex algorhythms, integrate all kinds of incoming data and be subjected to neuronal changes (repattering) - its vast capacities are largely underused ;

  • I-world of software : the inherent and acquired software or information (wiring) of the brain, its memory & processing speed - in its "programming phase", the first five years are crucial ;

  • C-world of userware : the conscious individual mind-stream interacting meaningfully with his or her own brain and surrounding physical world.

Again : how does the mind interact with the brain ? Interactionists conjecture the mind to be actively engaged in reading out from the multitude of active centers at the higher-order levels of the CNS. They postulate special "liaison" areas of the neocortex, i.e. neurons characterized by an interacting property defined in terms of electro-magnetism or the superimposition of probability-fields (which have no mass). From moment to moment, according to conscious intention, the mind chooses and integrates this selection. This means the mind has a superior interpretative and steering role upon the neural events. Because of the "binding problem" (multiple regions of the brain are simultaneously combined into a single experience), the unity of conscious experience is not provided by the neural machinery, neither by the liaison areas of the neocortex. This "unity of apperception" belongs to the C-world, not to the I-world or the M-world. This is a crucial insight.

For Descartes in Le Monde, a rational view on how body & soul, the extended and the non-extended, indeed form a unity can be arrived at by studying both independently. He wrote : "and finally, that I show You how these two Natures have to be joined and united in order to compose humans who resemble us." (Adam & Tannery, 1964-1974, XI, p.120).

Popper (1981) tried to clarify why rationalism & materialism are incompatible, for the distinction between the extended thing ("res extensa") and the non-extended, thinking thing ("res cogitans") is fundamental to science. Without it, only the extended thing abides and it becomes totally impossible to explain how the distinction itself can be thought in the first place. Moreover, the possibility to rationally understand creativity, inventivity and the First Person Perspective, the foundation of ethics, is placed outside science, inviting virulent irrationalism ! To reject non-material consciousness entails a contradictio in actu exercito, like somebody closing a door while saying "I open this door."

Eccles rejects the idea the interface between mind and brain is the field potential generated by all neural events. In his modular view, specific ensembles of neurons (modules with as many as 10.000 neurons), each act as a radio transmitter/receiver unit. The mind's attention works on these cortical modules with very slight deviations.

"It is proposed that the self-conscious mind is actively engaged in searching for brain events that are if its present interest, the operation of attention, but it also is the integrating agent, building the unity of conscious experience from all the diversity of the brain events. Even more importantly it is given the role of actively modifying the brain events according to its interest or desire, and the scanning operation by which it searches can be envisages as having an active role in selection."
Popper & Eccles, 1983, p.373.

A counter-argument. The principle of the conservation of energy, a consequence of the homogeneity of space-time, implies any change requires an expenditure of energy. This physical law is to be accepted. Causal effect implies the event must make a difference every time it occurs. This difference is the "material" factor relaying the effect. Accepting this law implies that if matter acts on mind, energy must disappear. If mind would act on matter, energy must be added. An immaterial mind can only move matter by creating energy, i.e. adding energy to the whole. However, as the action of the immaterial mind measures as zero, there cannot be an immaterial mind.

"It is shown that the magnitude of the disturbance required is significantly greater than allowed for under quantum-mechanical uncertainty. It is concluded that violations of fundamental physical laws, such as energy conservation, would occur were a non-physical mind able to influence brain and behaviour."
Wilson, 1999, p.185.

So this argument, backed by physics, refutes interactionists conjecturing a kind of "one-to-one" interaction between a single thought (or configuration of thoughts) and a single neuron (or module of neurons). Also those, like Popper & Eccles (1981), who try to use Heisenberg's indeterminism to allow non-material events to act on matter, run into serious problems. Only by answering the conservation-argument decisively can interactionism prevail.

For Beck and Eccles (1992), mental intentions act through a quantum probability field, altering the probabilities and thus the material outcome. And of course, the energy of a probability field is zero ! In fact, it was Eddington (1935) who first speculated the mind may influence the body by affecting quantum events within the brain, in particular a causal influence, not on any energetic process requiring energy-conservation, but on the probability of their outcome. For Mohrhoff (1999), electro-magnetic fields are a more likely candidate. Such a field is a summary representation of effects on the motion of particles, and as we know, the brain always functions with many neurons simultaneously (cf. population-coding). A combination of both is not excluded. Penrose (1994) conjectured quantum-effects in the cytoskeleton & microtubules of neurons.

"There is no reason whatever for having probabilities determined twice over, once during their deterministic evolution by the physically determined vector potential, and once at the end through a superimposed probability field generated by the self."

Mohrhoff, 1999, p.182, my italics.

Earlier, Popper (1982) speculated about the existence of probability fields (cf. his propensity interpretation of the equation of Schrödinger, called in to solve the particle/wave paradox of quantummechanics) and considered these fields to be as real as particles, gravity or electromagnetic fields, i.e. to be "kickable" (by changing experimental arrangements) and "kick back" (by changing the outcome of what eventuates : particle or wave). These fields, like the photon, have no mass and so there is no possible violation of conservation whatsoever !

If consciousness itself is a set of propensities (virtuality, potentialities or possible meanings) existing as a "field" in a non-spatial complex "realm" or Hilbert C-space, then interactionism proposes mental states calculate (intend) certain probabilities. In this way, they co-determine, through the ongoing "superimposition" of the likelihood of an intended design & architecture, the overall parameters of the activity of the "liaison brain" (causally open to non-material shifts in valuations, propensities or probabilities). In this way, the non-material mind becomes physically effective by modifying the electro-magnetic interactions between constituents of the "liaison brain", and this at the end of every vector without needing energy, or, given E = Ek + Ep = m.c², matter.

Combining the view of Eddington, Popper, Eccles, Beck & Mohrhoff, we conjecture the mind to scan the cortex for "open" modules and to modify its behavior by tiny deviations of its electro-magnetic fields. If probability fields are taken in, then these small deviations are caused by recalculating the chances and superimposing this probability field at the end of each electro-magnetic vector eventuating a physical potential in deterministic evolution. The latter is in accord with Heisenberg's equation as well as with energy-conservation, while probability fields, with zero mass, fall outside the limitations imposed by indeterminacy.

These remarks are rather superficial, but show it is possible to think the mind as separate from & interacting with the brain without stepping outside the domain of science. A more comprehensive study of this position can be found in :
A Philosophy of the Mind and Its Brain, 2009.

The distinction between sensate & mental objects is pertinent. Mental objects are not emergent properties of sensate objects (like the brain), but exist in their own "world" or propensities. The mind interacts with the brain and does so without violating the Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy by changing probable outcomes, requiring no material energy, but only superimposition altering possibilities. Because of the vast amount of neurons, connected neurons and configurations of connected neurons, this may happen very quickly and smoothly.

Sensate objects are derived from perceptions, but are possessed by sentience because of mental objects : volitions, feelings, thoughts & consciousness, constituting mental clarity and the act of cognition. The latter exist in their own "world", but are intimately related to a specific spatiotemporal tensor-curvature of space : the physical body/brain they relate to during a lifespan. When the body dies, consciousness retreats in steps, moving back to its own world, carrying its own mental characteristics (or karmic imprints). Rebirth is nothing more than the reconnection of a specific stream of consciousness with a new spatiotemporal executant. This is determined not by physical constituents, but by the condition of the mind at death and the imprints it has stored as a result of life-long actions.

Neurophilosophically, perception precedes sensation, and mental objects are superimposed on processed perceptions after the latter have been projected upon the neocortex by the thalamus. The projected contents gets superimposed with labels, names etc., i.e. with mental objects. Then, by way of the angular gyrus and prefrontal cortex, the object of knowledge is designated by the subject of experience. This is the commonsense sequence : first unconscious perception, then unconscious & conscious interpretation and finally conscious sensation.

Of course, the theory of neurology itself, although backed by numerous facts, is also a complex mental (theoretical) object ! We cannot perceive perception without theoretical connotations. Interpretation cannot be removed from conscious sensation. So the only facts available to us are sensations, i.e. the product of (a) afferent pathways relaying the physics of sensitive receptor surfaces and (b) interpretation. These are linked together in the highly probably theory of observational (sensoric) neurology. But we cannot say the neurological sequence is merely observational. Hence, a small margin of error remains possible. Indeed, even the physics underlying the sequence of naked, natural & processed perception has indeterminacy, as Heisenberg showed.

In critical epistemology, the question rises whether perception comes before theory. Given the theory-ladenness of observation, accepted by all contemporary epistemologists on solid logical & experimental grounds, perception co-depends on theoretical connotations. These mental objects (I), together with -so must we assume- perception (P), co-determine facts (sensate objects - S). So facts are Janus-faced hybrids. They possess a theory-dependent as well as a theory-independent side. Mental objects define the theoretical framework in which facts occur, and sensate objects have the credentials of perceptions.

This theoretical framework is not "before" sensation, but simultaneous with it. Facts "happen" at the cross-road of theory & perception. To say theory is before observation is the fallacy of ontological idealism (reifying mental objects). To say observation is before theory leads to the fallacy of ontological realism (reifying perceptions). Both have to be avoided.

Some mental objects may occur without sensate referents and are thus wholly "internal" as logic, mathematics and the First Person Perspective show.

The Objects
of Consciousness
Sensate Objects Mental Objects
nose-consciousness of
affects, emotions
tongue-consciousness of
volitions, actions
other factors
body-consciousness of
cognitive acts like using theories
ear-consciousness of
eye-consciousness of

 4 The Seven Stages of Cognition & the Buddhadharma.

In Jean Piaget's (1896 - 1980) theory on cognitive development, two general functional principles, rooted in biology, are postulated, namely organization & adaptation.

Organization is the tendency common to all forms of life to integrate structures (physical & psychological) into systems of a higher order. Adaptation, divided in assimilation & accommodation, shows how the individual not only modifies cognitive structures in reaction to demands (external), but also uses his own structures to incorporate elements of the environment (internal auto-regulation and auto-structuration). 

Organisms tend toward equilibrium with their environments. Centration, decentration (crisis) & re-equilibration are the fundamental processes forcing the cognitive texture of humans to become more complex.

Mental operators are the result of the interiorization of this cognitive evolution. At first, due to the coordination of actions, an original, archaic sense of identity is shaped. After prolonged exposure to new types of action -challenging the established original centration and its equilibrium- a crisis ensues and decentration is the outcome. Eventually, a re-equilibration occurs because a higher-order equilibrium was found through auto-regulation (re-equilibration, autopoiesis).

Over time, various different strands, levels, layers or planes of cognitive texture unfold. The process may be analyzed as follows :

  • repeated confrontation with a novel action involving motor functions. This is the original, initial coordinations of actions ;

  • action-reflection or the interiorization of this novel action by means of semiotic factors : this is the first level of permanency or pre-concepts which have no decontextualized use ;

  • anticipation & retro-action using these pre-concepts, valid insofar as they symbolize the original action, but always with reference to this initial context ;

  • final level of permanency : formal concepts, valid independent of the context of the original action & the formation of permanent cognitive (abstract) operators.

In this way, and based on his experimental work with children worldwide, Piaget defined four layers of cognitive growth :

  • sensori-motoric cognition, between birth and 2 years of age ;

  • pre-operational cognition, between 2 and 6 ;

  • concrete operatoric cognition, between 7 and 10 ;

  • formal-operatoric cognition, between 10 & 13.

The first three levels are "ante-rational", whereas formal-operatoric cognition is identical with formal rationality. In Le Structuralisme (1970), he defines "structure" as a system of transformations abiding by certain laws and sustaining or enriching itself by a play of these transformations, occurring without the use of external factors. This auto-structuration of the complete system is defined as "auto-regulation". In the individual, the latter is established by biological rhythms, biological & mental regulations and mental operations. These are theoretically formalized.

Contrary to most other types of psychology and pedagogy attuned to realism & materialism, Piaget refuses to accept "real" dialectical tensions between physical objects are the "true" foundations of thought and cognition (its possibility, genesis & progressive development). He never fills in what ultimate reality is like. He maintains no ontological view on reality-as-such, considered to be the borderline of both the developing subject and its objective world, stage after stage. In this way, his approach can be easily integrated in critical thought and its strict nominalism.

The cognitive act is approached as a process, for rationality grows in developmental steps, each calling for a particular cognitive structure on the side of the subject. What reality-as-such is, is left open. Why ? Every objective observation implies an observer bound by the limitations of a given stage of cognitive development, i.e. a subjective epistemic form, containing idiosyncratic, opportunistic and particularized information. These work like Kantian categories, but without their universal intention.

Neither did Piaget accept a strictly transcendental approach. Conditions which exist before cognition itself (like in Foucault) are not introduced. What Popper called the "problem-solving" ability of man, may be associated with Piaget's notion on "re-equilibration". Popper introduced the triad : problem, theory (hypothesis, conjecture) & falsification (refutation). In his dynamical and actional anthropology and psychology Piaget introduced : activity, regulation, crisis & re-equilibration (auto-regulation). The latter leads to cognitive acts of a higher-order. This gradual process of cognitive evolution introduces ever more complex strands or levels of cognitive functioning, each defined by a particular cognitive texture characterized by co-relative mental operators.

His psychogenesis (based on the worldwide observation of children) shows how knowledge develops a relationship between a thinking subject and the objects around it. This relationship grows and becomes more & more complex. Stages of cognitive development are thus defined by means of their typical cognitive events and acquired mental forms. This development is not a priori (idealist pre-conditions), a posteriori (empirism of the real) but constructivist. Each construction eventuates in its own process, in other words, the system has been, is and will always be (re)adapting and (re)creating new cognitive structures, causing novel behavior & different environmental responses, which may be interiorized, forming new internal cognitive forms, etc. 
The foundation of this process is action itself, the fact its movements are not random but coordinated. It is the form of this coordination, the order, logic or symbolization of the pattern of the movements which eventually may stabilize as a permanent mental operator. Mental objects are not caused by actions, but by the interplay (interaction) of actions & internal process.

Two main actions are distinguished :

  • sensori-motoric actions exist before language or any form of semiotics or representational conceptualization in signals, icons & symbols ;

  • operational actions ensue as soon as the actor is conscious of the results & goals of actions and the mechanisms of actions, i.e. the translation of action into forms of conceptualized thought. Signals identify borders & immediate needs, icons represent by way of images and symbols designate meaning in a clearly isolated & consolidated way. These operations are either concrete (contextual) or formal (decontextualized). The latter are identified with rational thought only, while the previous ante-rational cognitive strata are always bound to the context in which they operate.

The last three decades has seen the rise of many applications of these crucial insights. This functional, efficient (educative) approach of the process of cognition can be used in various fields. An example is schema theory, at work across the fields of linguistics, anthropology, psychology and artificial intelligence. Human cognition utilizes structures even more complex than prototypes called "frame", "scene", "scenario", "script" or "schema". In cognitive sciences and in ethnoscience these are used as a model for classification and generative grammar (syntax as evolutionary process). 

The schema is primarily a set of relationships, some of which amounts to a structure, generating pictorial, verbal and behavioral outputs. The schemata are also called mental structures and abstract representations of environmental regularities. Events activate schemata which allow us to comprehend ourselves & the world around us.

The term is thus used to define a structured set of generalizable characteristics of an action. Repetition, crisis & reformation yield strands of co-relative actions or stages of cognitive development. Knowledge begins in the coordination of movement. Ergo, in genetical sequence, these consensual types of schemata emerge :

  • sensori-motoric, mythical thought : aduality implies only one relationship, namely with immediate physicality ; object & subject reflect perfectly ; earliest schemata are restricted to the internal structure of the actions (the coordination) as they exist in the actual moment and differentiate between the actions connecting the subjects and the actions connecting the objects. The action-scheme can not be manipulated by thought and is triggered when it practically materializes ;

  • pre-operatoric, pre-rational thought : object and subject are differentiated and interiorized ; the subject is liberated from its entanglement in the actual situation of the actions ; early psychomorph causality. The subjective is projected upon the objective and the objective is viewed as the mirror of the subjective. The emergence of pre-concepts and pre-conceptual schemata does not allow for permanency and logical control. The beginning of decentration occurs and objectification ensues ;

  • concrete-operatoric, proto-rational thought : conceptual structures emerge providing insight in the essential moments of the operational mental construction : 
    (a) constructive generalization ; 
    (b) the ability to understand each step and hence the total system (1 to 2 to 3 ...) and 
    (c) autoregulation enabling one to run through the system in two ways, causing conservation. The conceptual schemata are "concrete" because they only function in contexts and not yet in formal, abstract mental spaces ;

  • formal-operatoric, rational thought : abstract conceptual structures positioned in mental spaces independent of the concrete, local environment. Liberated from the context, the conditions of knowledge are grounded outside the cognitive apparatus itself and reification occurs. Formal conceptualization leads to substantialist thinking ;

  • transcendental thought : abstract concepts explaining how knowledge & its growth are possible, rooted in the "I think", the transcendental unity of apperception (or transcendental Self) ;

  • creative thought : the hypothesis of a possible (arguable), conceptual immanent metaphysics and an ultimate analysis to undermine reification and substantialism ;

  • nondual thought : the suggestion of a possible, non-conceptual but meta-rational transcendent metaphysics (or pataphysics), a direct insight in the ultimate nature of all phenomena.

These modes of thought contain two important demarcations : the lower threshold defines the border between ante-rational thought (mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational) and reason. The higher threshold declares the difference between reason (conceptual and transcendental) & immanent metaphysics (or creative thought).

Each time a threshold is crossed, the potential of the mind has been expanded, deepening the subtle complexity of the cognitive texture and enlarging its ability to communicate with its environment and to continue to grow.

Three important stages of cognition emerge :

  • prenominal or ante-rational : mythical, pre- & proto-rational (instinct) ;

  • nominal or rational : formal and transcendental (ratio) ;

  • meta-nominal or meta-rational : creative and nondual (intuition).

Proto-rational, formal, transcendental & creative cognition are conceptual. Mythical & pre-rational cognition are pre-conceptual. Nondual cognition is post-conceptual or non-conceptual. Compared with Buddhist epistemology, all modes of cognition except nondual thought are conventional. Only nondual cognition deals with the ultimate truth.

Let us analyze these modes of cognition in more detail and explain the way the cause of suffering, ignorance, slowly builds up.

from action to ante-rational thought


4.1 Myth : Nondual, Non-Verbal & Non-Reflective.

First substage (primitive myth) :

  • adualism and only a virtual consciousness of identity ;

  • primitive action testifies the existence of a quasi complete indifferentiation between the subjective and the objective ;

  • actions are quasi not coordinated, i.e. random movements are frequent.

Second substage (myth as ritual) :

  • first decentration of action with regard to their material origin (the physical body) ;

  • first objectification by a subject experiencing itself for the first time as the source of action ;

  • objectification of action and the experience of spatiality ;

  • objects are linked because of the growing coordination of actual actions ;

  • links between actions in means/goals schemes, allowing the subject to experience itself as the source of action (initiative), moving beyond the dependence between the external object and the acting body ;

  • spatial & temporal permanency and causal relationships are observed ;

  • differentiation (between object and subject) leads to logico-mathematical structures, whereas the distinction between actions related to the subject and those related to the external objects becomes the startingpoint of causal relationships ;

  • the putting together of schematics derived from external objects or from the forms of actions which have been applied to external objects.

Comments :

The earliest stage of mythical thought (first substage) is adual and non-verbal. The only "symbols" and "forms" are the material events or signals themselves in all their immediacy and wholeness. It is this non-verbal core, making the mythopoetic mind analogical. In mythical thought, everything is immediate and the immediate is all. Ergo, myth goes against the differentiation which feeds the complexification of thought & cognition. The "myth of myths" is the "eternal return" to the primordial state.

Before the rise of language, mythical cognition is embedded in action and allows for the distinction between an object & a subject of experience by being conscious of the material, exteriorized schematics connecting both.

The first differentiation occurs when, on the level of material, actual, immediate actions, the object is placed before the subject of experience. This emergence of subjectivity implies the decentration of the movements of the physical executive agent (the body), which unveils the subject as source of action and prepares for the interiorizations of pre-rational thought. By this foundational difference between the body & the empirical subject, consciousness can be attributed to a focus of identity (ego). This is a crucial step. 

Mythical thought is non-verbal but actional. Nevertheless, actions are triggered by a subject conscious of a whole network of practical and material actualizations, although without any conceptual knowledge but only through immediate, exteriorized material schemes. Hence, ritual comes before narrative myth. The latter calls for pre-rationality, not mythical thought.

In terms of cognitive texture, mythical thought is the "irrational" foundation of ante-rationality. Indeed, the earliest layer of human cognitive activity is devoid of logical necessity, although patterns & schemes are present, but their flexibility and plasticity are a function of the direct environment and what happens there. There is no cognitive permanency. Action and its source are distinguished, but coordinations which suggest any reflection on the action itself (or on the actor) are absent. Hence, idiotic schemes are obsessively repeated. Pleasure can be derived from constantly doing the same pointless again and again. Meaning is identified with repeated action.

The "irrationality" being the total absence of means to communicate meaning in other ways than in immediate physical terms (offering something, going away, kicking the other, smiling, crying, shouting, moving hands, moving fingers, snapping fingers etc.). Language is thus exclusively signal-based, not iconical (images), nor symbolic (stable concepts). Nevertheless, the subject is conscious of being a source of action.

Myth & the Buddhadharma

As there is a non-verbal sense of identity (the I-am-ness of the empirical, commonsense, merely functional ego), the most fundamental level of the conventional sense of selfhood is at hand. It is innate and based on the fact the physical body, as a biological organism linked with millions of years of evolutionary "trails & errors", acts & interacts with its immediate surrounding environment.

As, on this level,  there are no concepts, it is impossible to reify by attributing substance to icons & symbols. Actions however cause decentration and the rise of a subjective source (of these actions). Hence, signals are experienced as somehow "out there", while spatial & temporal permanency as well as causal relationships come into play as soon as the difference between "my actions" and "external actions" is made (in the second subphase). The enormous plasticity of the brain allows for a deep-programming of certain sounds, building the ground floor of the edifice of language. Innate self-grasping is precisely this solidification of a sense of "I" by merging the subject of experience with certain "external" signals. Such a fusion causes the self to apprehend its environment as different and existing from its own side. Although not conceptual, this quasi-designation is nevertheless epistemic, laying the foundation for all further cognitive structuring leading up to the full-blown, reifying conventional mind (cf. infra - the formal mode of cognition).

To eliminate innate self-grasping is the most difficult endeavor on the path to enlightenment. Accumulating merit & wisdom, generating a generic, conceptual idea of emptiness and even actually "seeing" emptiness (entering the First Level of the actual Bodhisattva training) do not take the innate side of self-grasping away.

Superior Bodhisattvas ("âryas"), those who attained the "Very Joyous", the First Level of the Ten Bodhisattva Stages ("bodhisattva-bhûmi"), need nine extremely hard training levels to do so (Bhûmis 1 - 10). These vast difficulties can be linked to the epistemological fact the ground mode of all possible cognition (myth) is non-verbal & non-conceptual, rooting the sense of "self" in immediate action, devoid of any form of pre-conceptual or conceptual discursivity. This is shared with all living organisms, and so even a mosquito has a very primitive sense of selfhood, rooted in the first mode of cognition : myth.

To overcome these subtlest causes of afflictions, the Bodhisattva has to train in generosity (Bhûmi 1), ethics (Bhûmi 2), patience (Bhûmi 3), effort (Bhûmi 4), concentration (Bhûmi 5) & wisdom (Bhûmi 6). This is the level of the Arhat. Arrived in Bhûmi 7, the transition to another level of existence takes place, and entering Bhûmi 8 (becoming a Mahâsattvic Bodhisattva) heralds a swift, unstoppable progress towards enlightenment (Bhûmis 9 & 10), realized as the "Buddha Level" transcending the Ten Stages. Note the actional nature of the Six Perfections, attacking innate self-grasping in a non-conceptual way, focus on the re-coordination of action.

The accomplishments on the Ten Stages, besides their epistemic nature, are also explain in mythical terms : the Bodhisattva is able to give away everything without regret, thoughts of praise or reward, even his own flesh (Bhûmi 1) ; in dreams there are no immoral thoughts (Bhûmi 2) ; there is a light burning all the fuel of objects of knowledge (Bhûmi 3) ; the Bodhisattva constantly emits a special radiance (Bhûmi 4) ; all evil ones find it extremely hard to conquer him (Bhûmi 5) ; all is perceived as dreams, illusions, reflections or magically created objects (Bhûmi 6) ; he is able to know the thoughts of others (Bhûmi 7), his activities are inconceivable (Bhûmi 8) ; he is able to answer all questions with a single sound and comprehends all names, words, meanings and languages (Bhûmi 9) ; he spreads the Dharma in all possible directions and is consecrated with light by the Buddha (Bhûmi 10).

These characteristics all point to the call to reconstruct cognition on the most fundamental level possible. This cannot be done without ending innate self-grasping and the latter is only done through action.

Three final remarks :

  • in the famous Debate of Lhasa between the Indian gradualist Kamalaśîla and the Chinese suddenist Hva Shang, the latter proposed to realize Buddhahood by no-thought, according to him the only way to be completely delivered from phenomena. Only by remaining in a sleeplike, actionless trance can the ultimate be realized. In Western mysticism, quietism proposed the same. They too maintained virtues were irrelevant to the contemplation of God. These refuted positions bring the non-conceptual to the fore, but in a regressive way, confusing the first mode -myth- with the last mode, nonduality. Although both are non-conceptual, they are so in a totally different way. Myth is non-reflective and non-reflexive, while nonduality is highly reflective & reflexive (cf. infra). The discussion itself shows how non-conceptuality and action need to be compounded in order for a gradual dissipation of innate self-grasping. Sudden jumps are possible, as Dzogchen shows, but only after a thorough conceptual realization of emptiness and its direct experience ;

  • the no-thought view returns in Gorampa's idealist interpretation of the Middle Way Consequence School (cf. supra) and in Shentong. Each time the importance of ethics (action) is lessened and Buddhahood is deemed beyond cognition. As a result, the path to enlightenment becomes filled with contradictions and the tensions between ratio and intuition undermine our spiritual efforts. In the West, the similar conflict between reason and faith engendered materialism and the decline of Christianity ;

  • for Tsongkhapa, cognition is not abrogated at the Buddha Level, and while ineffable, it radiates compassion and understands all objects, ultimate & conventional simultaneously. Not duality is the object of negation, but reification, cognizing subject and/or object as inherently existing substances. Buddhahood is only attained if the action triggered by the Six Perfections is integrated at the most highest level !

4.2 Pre-Rationality : Semiotic, Pre-Conceptual & Psychomorph.

  • because of the introduction of semiotic factors (icons or the formation of mental images and the symbolical play of language), the coordination of movements is no longer exclusively triggered by their imminent practical and material actualizations without any knowledge of their existence as forms, i.e. the first layer of quasi-independent thought occurs : the difference between subject & object was a signal which, via the icon, now gives rise to the pre-symbol ;

  • upon the simple action, a new type of interiorized action is erected which is not conceptual because the interiorization itself is nothing more than a copy of the development of the actions using imagination (icons) & pre-symbols ;

  • no object of thought is realized but only an internal structure of the actions in a pre-concept formed by imagination & language. These pre-concepts imply pre-symbols ;

  • pre-verbal intelligence and interiorization of imitation in imaginal representations ;

  • psychomorph view on causality : no distinction between objects and the actions of the subjects ;

  • objects are living beings with qualities attributed to them as a result of interactions ;

  • at first, no logical distinction is made between "all" & "few" and comparisons are comprehended in an absolute way, i.e. A < B is possible, but A < B < C is not ; 

  • finally, the difference between class and individual is grasped, but transitivity and reversibility are not mastered ;

  • the pre-concepts & pre-relations are dependent on the variations existing between the relational characteristics of objects & cannot be reversed, making them rather impermanent and difficult to maintain. They stand between action-schema and concept, just like pre-symbols stand between absence of symbol (myth) and symbol (proto-rationality).

Comments :

Exceeding mere signal-language brings in a tremendous leap forwards. The formation of a subjective focus (at the end of the mythical phase of thought) is necessary to allow for the next step : interiorization, imagination and the actual articulation of iconic, imaginal pre-concepts, leading up to pre-relations between objects and pre-symbols grasping them, while the latter remain psychomorph, i.e. without a clear demarcation between subject & object of experience.

The reality of objects is always subjective. Natural phenomena, stones, trees and animals "speak" just as do human subjects. Important objects are those with the strongest positive (attractive) subjective potential : family, teachers, ancestors, Divine kings, prophets, angels, Deities, God, etc. These "mediate" when pre-rationality fails to bridge the gap between what is stable (the architecture) & what constantly moves (the process). In Ancient Egyptian thought this process is very obvious.

Pre-Rationality & the Buddhadharma :

In terms of cognitive structuring, the beginning of conceptuality heralds the onset of discursive reification by way of icons charged with strong emotions. Because of semiotic functions, exceeding the signal, a new dimension of attributing reality is possible. The subject and object of knowledge are clearly differentiated, and this not only on the basis of action, but by introducing quasi-fixed labels, mediating between the self and the "outer" world. The focus on the (reptilian) libidinal drive, apparent in the action-based mythical phase, is replaced by a tribal (limbic) belongingness, charging family, ancestors, teachers, etc. with emotional meaning & power. These icons organize inner subjectivity & outer objectivity, fixating the ever-changing rule of action by emotional coloration : lust, indifference & unlust.

Psychomorphism brings about a "participation mystique" (Lévy-Bruhl) or an "archaic identity" (Carl Gustav Jung), i.e. the presence of primitive, pre-c
onceptual differentiation between object and subject, entailing no distinction between lived experience and what the subject believes he or she perceives about the world, indulging in an imaginary world without concrete support. In such a world, objects are projected contents of subjects and objects behave as subjects. In terms of reification, not action (myth) but imagination causes object & subject to be temporarily related and treated as if "existing" on their own insofar a symbiotic identification is maintained.

Reification is not actional, but affective & imaginal. That what pleases, gives satisfaction and so "exists", while painful internal and/or external conditions are rapidly identified and rejected. The spectrum of ignorant craving versus hatred comes into play, and for the first time mental objects are used to "stop" the constant interdependence between all phenomena by mooring-posts like pleasure versus pain and their associated images & imaginal constructs. Absence of either gives rise to indifference, the emotional form of ignorance. Signals no longer reify, but attractive or repellent icons do.

Falling outside the "tribe" is not belonging to the world. The pleasurable (attracted) and the painful (expelled) are dimensions of psychomorph experience, and this without a clear perception of the difference between subjective & objective. Here, reification clearly engenders self-cherishing. The tribe is an extension of the self and vice versa. If something or someone is cause of grief, he or she is annihilated by exorcism, or forceful hatred. Pre-relations and pre-concepts dominate cognition, and these are determined by imagination & affective states bringing in lust, indifference or unlust.

Before training to eliminate innate self-grasping, the Bodhisattva has to end self-cherishing by practicing the Four Immeasurables and Great Compassion. Realizing all sentient beings, even one's enemies, suffer is the key. Realizing unhappy states result from trying to make the self happy, while happiness is caused by making others happy is the difficult task at hand. Enlarging the "tribe" to encompass every possible other will liberate the reflex to consider oneself first. All self-cherishing is rooted in afflictive emotions, and the latter are based on pre-rational iconography.

The more youngsters are given love & care, the less they will crave, in adult life, for the afflictive satisfactions of ego, for exaggerated pleasure (craving) and the anger & cruelty of hatred. Then and only then can this emotional basis of reification be rooted out with ease and the self-destruction of self-cherishing identified and irreversibly stopped. Tribal consciousness feeds belongingness, but if unadapted, limits affective expression to the self and everything (everyone) cherishing it.

4.3 Proto-Rationality :
Concrete Conceptuality, Contextual & Closure.

  • for the first time concepts and relations emerge and the interiorized actions receive the status of "operations", allowing for transformations. The latter make it possible to change the variable factors while keeping others invariant ;

  • the increase of coordinations forms coordinating systems & structures capable of becoming closed systems by virtue of a play of anticipative and retrospective constructions of thought (imaginal thought-forms) ;

  • these mental operations, instead of introducing corrections when the actions are finished, exist by the pre-correction of errors and this thanks to the double play of anticipation and retroaction or "perfect regulation" ;

  • transitivity is mastered causing the enclosedness of the formal system ;

  • necessity is grasped ;

  • constructive abstraction happens as well as new, unifying coordinations allowing for the emergence of a total system and its auto-regulation (or the equilibration caused by perfect regulation) ;

  • transitivity, conservation and reversibility are given ;

  • the mental operations are "concrete", not "formal", implying they (a) exclusively appear in immediate contexts and (b) deal with objects only (i.e. are not reflective) ;

  • the concrete operatoric structures are not established through a system of combinations, but one step at a time ; 

  • this stage is paradoxal : a balanced development of logico-mathematical operations versus the limitations imposed upon the concrete operations. This conflict triggers the next, final stage, which covers the formal operations ;

  • stable, concrete concepts arise and so language becomes symbolical.

Comments :

Thanks to transitivity, a formal system of concrete concepts arises. It is not combinatoric (but sequential) and not formal (abstract concepts are not present). Concrete thoughts manipulate objects without reflecting upon the manipulation and without escaping context. These are stored as a function of its direct use, not in any overall, categorial, librarian or antiquarian fashion, although within a given manipulation a series may be present, but never in any abstract way. The contextualism, pragmatism and use of the concrete concept provides its stability.

Proto-rationality is always limited by a given context. Moreover, there is no reflection upon the conditions of subjectivity (just as in the pre-rational stage objects remained psychomorph). This contextualization leaves in place uncoordinated actions and concepts which express serious (fundamental) contradictions.

The great accomplishment here is the rise of conceptuality, albeit non-formal. Concrete concepts are stable if the context is stable, but given the latter, mental closure can be arrived at. This is an important leap forward. However, within a concrete context, object & subject are deemed to exist on their own, while psychomorphism is escaped. Conceptuality introduces a primitive form of reification, and both poles of the epistemic spectrum exist from their own side. The ground is set for fixating ignorance in a conceptual framework.

Proto-Rationality & the Buddhadharma :

Here concepts arise and closure is present. The former solidifies what started off as imaginal pre-concepts (icons), introducing symbols with their relations. The latter, ending psychomorphism, facilitates mental self-reference. For the first time, names & labels receive independent meaning, albeit within a given context. Abstraction is not present, but object & subject exist "on their own" and are deemed to function as separate units. The limbic system no longer controls the computation of cognitive acts, and given formal reasoning is not yet available. The complex interactions between the two hemispheres (via the corpus callosum) are not fully developed, and so lateralization cannot yet be fully operational, explaining the situational nature of the available concrete thoughts. Higher-order processes are not yet "shielded" from limbic input (via the right hemisphere), and conceptual thought is highly imitative.

Reification is fully functional. Objects of knowledge are identified, distinguished from other objects and given a definitive ontological status. In a certain sense, the power of substantialization is optimalized, for no formal or abstract "corrections" are made. When no longer functional, old solutions to previous problems are not discarded, but traditions of problem-solving activity are placed next to each other, giving rise to extreme forms of conservatism. This makes ontological thinking unavoidable and the constant "discovery" of independent unity ongoing. Contradictions are placed into "constellations" of substances and although an overarching unity is considered, this is considered to exist "on its own", totally self-powered.

In Tantra, the use of a "mandala" or "circle" is an attempt to iconographically represent all elements of an awakened state, addressing the spatial image-making of the right hemisphere and charging it with the desire-function of the limbic system. By way of this image of images, the deliberate use of powerful symbols is coupled with an insight in their emptiness or lack of inherent existence, acting as an antidote against the afflictive nature of desire, but not against desire itself. Tantra is considered to be very powerful precisely because it tries to eliminate the emotional, affective, contextual pull of substantial thought, in particular ante-rational cognition and its strong libidinal, tribal & imitative affects. With the first "contextual" closure of proto-rationality (to be distinguished from the "abstract" closure of formal thought), turning subject and/or object into independent entities cannot be countered by any rational procedure, and once fixed, ante-rationality never backs off.

Afflicted grasping & desiring are based on mistaken (concrete) concepts, and the solution is not the suppression of craving, but the extinction of the ignorance projecting (attributing) solid, substantial own-power upon it. In order to experience desire fully with the wisdom-mind realizing emptiness, Tantra makes craving stronger & potent. This is a powerful strategy not because it accommodates the elimination of cognitive obscurations at the level of the neocortex, but because it targets the basic reptilian, demonic libido (brainstem) and substantializing emotionality (limbic system). Without calmness & serenity, combined with a mind at least understanding emptiness conceptually, this advanced technology causes deeper entanglements, making one become ensnared by the intricate trap of ante-rational libido, tribal self-cherishing and powerful grasping at afflictive emotional states like anger, hatred, cruelty, arrogance & pride, leading to deeper & deeper ignorance.

from ante-rational to rational thought


4.4 Formal Rationality : Formal Conceptuality, Discursive, Abstract, Reified & Foundational.

The formal operations leave contextual entanglements behind, and give a universal, a-temporal embedding to the cognitive process through abstraction, categorization & linearization. Cognition is liberated from the immediate events and able to conceptualize logical & mathematical truths (deduction) as well as physical causalities in abstract terms, without any consideration for their actual occurrence, if any (cf. the inner thought-experiment). Thought is able to combine propositions. Language has become fully symbolical, without signals & icons, but totally abstract.

However, although object and subject of thought are differentiated, and grasped as abstract parts in an epistemological inquiry about the origin of human knowledge, continuity and stability in the becoming and fluctuating world is found by projecting these conditions outward (instead of inward, i.e. as particular conditions on the side of the subject of experience). The concordia discors of reason is approached with a reduction. Idealism (Plato and the tradition of a subject without an object) and realism (Aristotle and the tradition of an object without a subject) ensue. The antinomies caused by these major reductive set of explanations of the possibility of knowledge, have dominated pre-Kantian thought. Therefore, pre-critical, formal thought is the first, somewhat primitive subphase of the mode of decontextualized conceptualization, as it were the infancy of reason.

With formal thought, computed by the dominant cortex of the CNS, cognition has finally come to its own. The danger here is overexertion, the tendency of theory to move to the unconditional, trying the "ground" its own possibility in something outside cognition itself. Acknowledging the concordia discors of formal rationality, unchecked by criticism, leads to hubris, considering thought to be able to step outside itself to establish an Archimedic stronghold grounding knowledge, in particular true, valid knowledge. Such a Divine perspective (thought witnessing itself outside itself) can however nowhere be found, not subjectively (as in idealism), nor objectively (as in realism). Stepping outside the limitations it is bound to in order to function properly, formal thought develops antinomies, i.e.
contradictions between two statements seeming equally reasonable to ground the possibility of knowledge & its expansion. Here more than functionality it at hand, for seeking the sufficient ground, the external rock-bottom of knowledge itself, formal reason wants to establish, in vain, the ontological nature of cognition itself.

Formal Thought & the Buddhadharma :

With the completion of the formal mode, as soon as the conditions of the process of thought become the object of thought itself, a new conflict arises as soon as these conditions are projected outside cognition and rooted in a self-sufficient ground, either in terms of an independent reality preceding thought or a ideal causing it.

Also in Buddhist philosophy, and this despite the importance of the wisdom realizing emptiness, idealist and realist substantialism can also be found. In the Great Exposition School, all phenomena, compounded (conventional) & uncompounded (ultimate), are truly established, i.e. possess own-form or characteristics existing from their own side. In the Sûtra School, present minute particles (object) and present moments of consciousness are so established. This is the case of coarse & subtle forms of realism.

On the one hand, in the Mind Only School, emptiness is defined as the absence (or emptiness) of a difference (or duality) of entity between subject and object, confirming "mind only"
("cittamâtra"), or technically, the non-duality of apprehended and apprehender. All experience is a manifestation of mind and both mind and matter are of the same stuff. This is clearly idealist, for objects are empty of being separate entities from their minds and minds are empty of beings separate entities from their objects. Mind is the fundamental category and Bodhi-mind the (only) inherently existing object/subject. On the other hand, Shentong affirms emptiness is the non-conceptual, primordially existent wisdom-mind, empty of contingent stains, endowed with the full spectrum of Buddhahood, i.e. non-empty of the vast Buddha qualities of enlightened body, speech, mind & actions. This is clearly realist, for wisdom-mind is thought of as the only reality, independent of anything except itself, and so inherently existing.

According to Tsongkhapa, the critical & famous pure mind from the Onion Valley, both are wrong. The
Yogâcârins negated the wrong object, for not duality is at stake, but inherent existence. The Shentong affirmed the wrong object, for the inherent existence of the wisdom-mind cannot be found.

Both Buddhist & Western philosophy had to wait until a superior mind was able to identify the problem at hand. This could not be done while staying in the formal mode of thought. A new approach had to be found. Kant developed his transcendental method to eliminate transcendent transgressions or unwarranted moves grounding knowledge outside itself (like in realism or idealism, rooting the possibility of thought either in an outer "real thing" or an inner "ideal thing"). While in Kant remnants of "transcendental idealism" can be identified, subsequent generations of Kantians removed these. Tsongkhapa perfected ultimate analysis by firmly arguing in favour for the correct object of negation, namely inherent existence, positing a non-affirming negation, one eliminating all forms of truly established natures, identifying all phenomena as empty of inherent existence. Both approaches heralded a new era of thought, establishing a co-relative mode of cognition : transcendental or critical thought.

4.5 Transcendental Thought : Reflective, Critical & Non-Foundational.

When reflection upon the conditions of object and subject of thought happens and the internal, transcendental pre-conditions of the cognitive apparatus are discovered, a new mental world is opened up. The "natural" approach leading to transcendent concepts is over, and a new "transcendental" (not "transcendent" !) layer ensues. This was the birth of critical thought, the fine fleur of rationality.

The transcendental, critical approach aims to understand the reflection of the process of thought on itself, as it were unveiling the ongoing operations of thought without disturbing the flow of empirical consciousness and its continuous cognitive, affective and motoric activity circumambulating an empirical ego. Placed at the heart of the whole edifice of transcendental inquiry is the transcendental "I think", the formal pre-condition of thought itself ("Factum Rationis"). This is a formal condition, making the unity of the manifold of cognitive acts possible, devoid of intellectual perception of itself. It is not a substance, but a mere idea accompanying every single cogitation of the empirical ego.

The intellect integrates and unifies the two ideas of critical reason : the real (correspondence) and the ideal (consensus). Fed by the senses, so we must assume, the categories of the mind produce, posit empirical-formal propositions, or statements of fact. This manifold is brought into focus by reason by means of these two regulative (not constitutive) ideas, which define the "essential tension" (Kuhn) or armed truce ("concordia discors") of reason, and their various categorial schemes. These mechanisms were discovered by transcendental thought.

Criticism makes clear conventional truth is not foundational, but provisional. Its validity is not absolute, but relative to spatiotemporal, ever-changing conditions (cf. Criticosynthesis, 2008).

Critical Thought & the Buddhadharma :

Tsongkhapa critically divides conventional and ultimate analysis. The former asks : What is a phenomenon ?, the latter : What is the ultimate nature of a phenomenon ? Answering the first question brings in the validity of nominal statements of fact, solved by studying the subjective & objective conditions of conventional truth, namely argumentation & experimentation (cf. infra). This nominal validity is the only bedrock of science. The second question leads to the study of what phenomena truly conceal, namely their being empty of characteristics by way of their own nature, i.e. devoid of independent, self-powered features, in other words, always other-powered. While phenomena appear as substances, they really are processes or "dependent arisings", i.e. in no possible way possessing an underlying thing, "hypokeimenon" or substance.

Paradoxically, the crucial requisite of substantialism actually undermines the consistency of substantialist ontology ! The reified A (cf. supra) must be an independent "monad" without "parts" and "windows" (cf. Leibniz in his Monadology). Hence, A cannot interact with B, for nothing can "come in or go out". So if A is functional, A cannot be a substance. If A is a substance, A cannot function ! Functionality & substantiality exclude one another. Being ignorant, we think something functional must permanently exist.

This is the fundamental cognitive error of conceptual thinking. This error needs to be reconstructed to trigger the radical change of mind sought !

As soon as A is reified or grasped as possessing an essence "of its own", absurdities arise and our ideation of A is necessarily scattered. For example, if we accept an inherently existent A can cease to exist, then we must accept it to inherently exist (remain stable) and not exist (unstable). But if existing, A cannot cease. If not existing, there is nothing to cease ! Likewise, if we say A exists from its "own side", then "in the core" A always remains A, i.e. unchanging, and A ≠ A' pertains. Hence, as activity is always a kind of change (A ≈ A' ≈ A", etc.), A cannot act. Accepting an inherently existent, substantial A acts makes the action agentless, which is absurd, etc.

Tsongkhapa, like Kant, points to the importance of a correct demarcation. For Kant, this was necessary to distinguish science and metaphysics. For Tsongkhapa, this was necessary to identify the proper object of negation, i.e. to know what has to be targeted by ultimate analysis, and what not. Both agree scientific (or conventional) truth deals with appearances (cf. the Copernican Revolution), and these a forteriori differ from the ultimate truth. For Kant, given the categorial organization of perception, this must be so. Conventional truth is valid in its own sphere, but cannot be extended to include ultimate truth, treated as a limit-concept. Even if criticism uncovers things are not as they appear, it cannot take away the illusion objects appear to us as independent from mind. For Tsongkhapa, because of the designating activity of the conceptual mind, conventional truth, while valid in conventional ways, conceals ultimate truth. This concealment can be taken away and on this point, being a Buddhist and not a Christian, he differs from Kant.

As Tsongkhapa does not identify ultimate (absolute) truth with any kind of substance of substances, he does not need to "save" the theo-ontological (Protestant) God of Christianity, as Kant tried by his "postulates" of practical reason (cf. supra). Hence, in terms of the relationship between the Two Truths both disagree. Tsongkhapa takes nondual cognition to the highest possible level, while Kant turns away from intellectual perception -supposed not to be given to everyone (!)-, locking criticism up within the confines of formal conceptuality. With nothing higher available than conceptual reason, the latter plays persecutor, advocate and judge, driving rationality insane, blocking out creativity & inventivity. For Tsongkhapa, as a Buddhist, ultimate truth is the direct experience of the ultimate nature of all phenomena, namely their emptiness. Intuition does not lead to an apprehension of an ultimate substance (as in the pre-critical West), but to an ineffable, nondual symbiosis with independent arising, the "king of logics" ... Kant tries to save substance by way of practice, Tsongkhapa, both theoretically & practically, introduces process !

from scientific to metaphysical thought


4.6 Creative Thought : Individualizing, Holistic & Creative.

According to Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274), metaphysics has its own mode of knowledge, ascribed to what he called the "intellectus". This higher mode captures one single truth, and implies a direct, immediate intake of knowledge differing from the mediate ways to gather it (namely by way of perception and by way of reason). So "ratio" (related to science) and "intellect" (related to faith) are divided. Metaphysics offers a unique synthetical, intellectual insight regarding being-as-such. But Thomas (like Kant), denied cognition a "terminus" beyond rationality. A direct knowledge of what lies outside reason was deemed impossible. For Thomism, the single truth captured by the intellect is linked with the revelation of and faith in the Christian Trinity, not with the development of cognition from "ratio" to "intellectus". Thomas Aquinas held there were two sources of knowledge : the mysteries of Christian faith and the truths of human reason. In his Contra Gentiles, he makes it plain each is a distinct fountain of knowledge, while revelation is the more important of the two. Revelation is a source of knowledge and its chief characteristic is presenting mysteries to be believed even when they cannot be understood.

To define the direct knowledge of an evident truth, Nicolas of Cusa (1401 - 1464) introduced the famous expression "intuitio intellectualis". Such an insight is a cognitive act not necessarily to be identified with revelation or faith, as Thomas had claimed. Hence, intuition is another (higher-order) mode of cognition, a step beyond mere rationality.

To experiencing the unity of consciousness as an active, dynamical and creative Self, is apprehending the unique, individual & creative ideas of the immanent higher-order Self of each person. To witness these ideas is the origin of creativity and involves the completion of conceptualization, the intuitional stepping-stone to the non-verbal, non-conceptual, nondual, ineffable "special knowledge" (or gnosis) of poets and mystics alike.

The Self-ideas witnessed in the creative mode of thought thirst for manifestation and succeed through intellectual flashes of insight to inspire, initiate & engage new, creative activities of reason. Immanent metaphysics works with arguable statements and in tune with the unification reason seeks (namely that of understanding). The own-form of creativity of every actual entity in general and of human beings in particular, i.e. their specific form of definiteness, escapes reason and belongs to this higher-order mode of cognition. Hence, insofar as immanent metaphysics tries to objectify man (in a possible speculative anthropology), it cannot eliminate the individual core of every individual. This may be called the "soul" of consciousness insofar as no substantial, inherent existence is designated. This higher Self is kinetic, not static !

The realization of this (higher, more aware) Self is the conditio sine qua non of every truly creative act, whether occasional or sustained over long periods of time. The true observer or "higher" Self different from the empirical, phenomenal ego and its wanderings, is more than "of all times". Here a hidden, invisible, intimate and inner stratum is delved deeper into. Intuitional philosophers do accommodate the creative ideas of the Self and are thus able to witness, from the panoramic, holistic vantage point of the true observer, the latent possibilities of consciousness and its potency to expand its creative and inventive horizon.

Although this ontic own-Self has given contents to the formal, empty transcendental Self of rationality, it does so for the sole purpose of fostering creativity, not to formulate propositions about the world, nor is it to be seen as a substance. Creative concepts have the purpose of expanding the horizon of the empirical ego and are necessary to introduce a panoramic view. This view is not an insight into the real status of things, but a more comprehensive outlook on nature, life and man. Ultimate analysis shows how a substantial own-Self cannot be found. As a higher-order construct of consciousness, individualizing it, it assists creativity and helps inventivity. It guarantees the totalizing view offered by immanent metaphysics, designated by a more elaborate subjectivity. Albeit more extended than what the empirical ego offers, the own-Self is not a way to gain access to "reality-as-such". This access cannot be given by conceptuality, even not in terms of its creative concepts.

A more comprehensive study of this position can be found in : Critique of a Metaphysics of Process, 2012.

Creative Thought & the Buddhadharma

In the Yogâcârin practice, the process of cognitive restructuring is called a "turning about in the basis" ("aśraya-parâvritti"). This fundamental "basis" is deemed the deepest level of consciousness, so-called "storehouse" or "receptacle" consciousness ("âlaya-vijñâna"). The Cittamâtra introduction of this depth-consciousness resembles the higher own-Self of creative thought (the "Self" of Analytical Depth-Psychology). In its pure, undefiled state, the Cittamâtras considered to be the same as the substantial nature of the mind, existing from its own side, but at this point the Mind Only School clearly errs, for the own-Self too is empty of inherent existence and so depends for its arising on conditions and determinations, namely the elimination of defilements. Discovering a higher-order Self is one thing, but considering it eternal quite another. As discussed, the own-Self is necessary to understand the own-form of creativity of each sentient being, but is not necessarily a static, substantial Self.

Defiled by seeds ("bîja") sown by previous moments of consciousness, perfuming future moments, the impure storehouse is the means by which "karma" operates. But when this storehouse consciousness is purified by ideation ("vijñapti"), it is not the undefiled wisdom ("âlaya-prajñâ" or "âlaya-jñâna") of the perfected nature (as the Yogâcârins claim), but only an approximation or example of it. To deny a higher-order Self is to be stuck with the formal "I think" of transcendental thought. This cannot explain the power of creative, intuitional thought. Like the Enjoyment Body (or "Sambhogakâya") the own-Self is only relatively true or real, participating in the world of duality. Nevertheless, an excellent & perfect subtle (illusionary) body, it has the 112 marks of a superman ("mahâpurusa") and can be identified with the meditational Deity ("ista-devatâ") of Deity Yoga.

4.7 Wisdom : Nondual, Reflective & Reflexive.

This non-conceptual and non-propositional mode of thought allows us, so our living examples teach, to integrate knowledge beyond the point of scientific & speculative thought and relate the immanent whole achieved by immanent creative thought with a transcendent totality, or absolute reality (ideality), the absolute Real-Ideal (or absolute coincidence of the order of reality and the order of ideality, of being and thought) : ultimate, absolute truth.

These non-conceptual cognitive acts reveal the most subtle mode of acquiring knowledge, one most Western philosophers, having no altered states of yogic consciousness touch their inquiries, would not consider to be able to gather knowledge at all. This mode is put into evidence by the life & work of the great mystics of humanity, but such sublime examples are paradoxal & incomprehensible to conceptual thought.

According to materialism, the pinnacle of cognition (nondual thought) and its irrational startingpoint (non-verbal & non-conceptual myth) touch. Also Kant refused to take cognition further than conceptual thought, accepting some form of immanent metaphysics, but rejecting the transcendent variety, deemed to reintroduce the substance of substances, God. Such a move was considered beyond the possibilities of theoretical knowledge and so beyond science ...

Mystical elocutions, so the most friendly view has it, seem at best nothing more than bizarre works of art, unworthy to be called scientific or even philosophical at all. As such, they are only objects of blind, revealed faith, which at best -in theist theology- may involve the exceptional direct experience of the radical other (the totaliter aliter) by a few rare individuals, events altogether shrouded by un-knowing & un-saying (for the "Face of God" or Divine Essence is for the One God alone !). In the Western mind-set, these positions (the materialist, the theist & the critical) are habitual ; either there is no God (atheism) or God cannot be known (theism) or God is a postulate (necessary in practical reason only). Indeed, except for the Pagan system of Plotinus & the subsequent neo-Platonists, religious philosophy ran counter Christian irrationalism, shunning and marginalizing its own mystics (cf. the burning of the works of Jan of Ruusbroec & others). So when the dominant influence of Christian philosophy on Western thought finally came to an end, mysticism was understandably equated with irrationalism per se, and rejected without further ado.

The difference between myth & nonduality, both nondual, non-verbal & non-conceptual, is clear though. The former is non-reflective and non-reflexive, while the latter is just the opposite :

reflective : devoted to matters of the mind, transcendent, ultimate, absolute truth is not without cognitive activity, albeit non-conceptual and therefore in all ways negative (not positing characteristics or names). There is still a paradoxal reflection between object and subject, albeit simultaneous and forming an unbounded wholeness, one disabling any attempt to find or point to the subject of experience itself ;
reflexive :
referring back to itself, nondual thought affects itself and so can only be positively verbalized as sublime, auto-referential poetry, i.e. the art to verbalize what cannot be verbalized, except in terms of the universal connectivity, interrelation & interdependence between all things.

Nondual Thought & the Buddhadharma :

In the Buddhadharma, the status of Buddhahood is intimately linked with the crux of cognitive activity, i.e. the direct, nondual experience by wisdom-mind of its object, the ultimate nature of all phenomena, the final end of the cognitive restructuring of ordinary mind into wisdom-mind. Grosso modo, within the Mahâyâna
Middle Way Consequence School, the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka, understanding enlightenment as the summum bonum of the teachings of the Buddha, two positions, intimately linked with the Two Truths, confront each other : either ultimate truth is understood as a transcendent ontological stratum or ultimate truths is only viewed in terms of epistemic restructuring (the thorough elimination of reification). Although these positions will be explained in depth later, at this point following distinctions can already bear fruit :

the metaphysical : for Gorampa, considering ultimate truth as higher than conventional, empirical truth, the latter has no soteriological significance and ultimate truth is freedom from all conventional, conceptual elaborations ("prapañca"), and so the subject/object dichotomy is at the heart of the problem. Hence, the only solution is to stay clear of it. Empirical truths are objects to be entirely negated. By severing the link with conventionality, ultimate truth (the wisdom-mind realizing emptiness) is a nondual knowledge which is (a) the cessation of cognitive activity and (b) an absolute, nondual and transcendent subject, apprehended by a contentless cognition (sic). The problem is though how ascertainment of this can be developed ? Such a position must indeed leads to quietism, and so meditative equipoise is like seeing nothingness. This cannot be distinguished from sleep or coma (which also possess mere non-discernment) ...
the epistemic : for Tsongkhapa, considering both truths as a unity of two mutually supportive & interlocking cognitive acts knowing their objects (ultimate truth emptinesses & conventional truth dependent arisings), conventional truth has great soteriological significance, and ultimate truth is never free from conventional truth ! The object of contention is not duality (object versus subject), but the epistemic act of reification. Nondual wisdom sees the empty, ultimate mode of one's personal identity (the five aggregates), while conventional truth (dual wisdom) sees the dependently arisen mode of the same. The former sees its object negatively, the latter positively. Enlightenment is then the culmination of the simultaneous realization of the Two Truths by every single moment of enlightened wisdom. From the perspective of wisdom-mind, subject & object completely dissolve, and the yogi does not experience the mutual interaction between distinct & separate elements, while nonetheless engaging in a cognitive act of mere seeing, i.e. there is only the seen, the heard, the smelled, etc. or the cognized without a cognizer, without a "You". From the perspective of conventional truth, the yogi understand all phenomena as dependent arisings.

Prâsangika-Mâdhyamikas, both Gorampa & Tsongkhapa share common ground, for (a) both recognize ultimate truth as an object of knowledge & non-conceptual wisdom as the corresponding subject, (b) both accept the negative approach of the non-affirming negation to arrive at knowledge of ultimate reality (and so reject Shentong and its explicit, positive, affirming view on emptiness) and (c) both see the transcendence of conceptuality by its cognizing consciousness as the only way to achieve ultimate truth.

The core difference however is their appreciation of the conventional world. For Gorampa this is detrimental to the pursuit of enlightenment, for Tsongkhapa is it a necessary factor ! For Gorampa, "nirvâna" can be reached by backing off from a direct confrontation with "samsâra", for Tsongkhapa (and Nâgârjuna), both truths are not distinct, for the understanding of "samsâra" (i.e. of reification) is itself posited as "nirvâna" (the wisdom-mind directly realizing absence of reification). For Gorampa, a Buddha apprehends an absolute subject by a contentless cognition. For Tsongkhapa, a Buddha knows both truths simultaneously in every cognitive act, and this by knowing ultimate truth as space-like emptiness (transcending all duality in meditative equipoise) & illusion-like emptiness (perceiving phenomena as relational, interdependent and concealing their ultimate truth). This difference could not be more pronounced.

In Tibet, this split gave birth to unfortunate sectarian reactions. So did Gorampa accuse Tsongkhapa of being "seized by demons" (Eliminating the Erroneous View), a "nihilistic Mâdhyamika" spreading "demonical words" (Distinguishing Views) ! But when Tsongkhapa refuted Shentong (in
The Essence of Eloquence), he just refrains from mentioning its protagonist (Dolpopa) by name ... Aware of the importance of conventional truth, Tsongkhapa never relinquishes ethics, virtual & valour. Any form of "crazy wisdom" or suddenist/simultaneist view, claiming to transcend commonsense morality, is foreign to this profound scholarly philosopher-yogi.




1. Mythical
libidinal ego (0 - 2)

 the irrational

2. Pre-rational
tribal ego (2 - 6)


3. Proto-rational
imitative ego (7 -10)
barrier between ante-rationality and reason



4. Formal
formal ego (10 - 13)


5. Critical
critical "I Think" (25 - 29)*
barrier between rationality and intuition



6. Creative
higher Self


7. Transcendent

(*) This age is based on the philosophy of moral development by Kohlberg (1981), whereas 29 is the threshold to full adulthood, a transition often marked by crisis calling for a new creative outlook on life.

 5 Designation & Conceptual Knowledge.

5.1 Definition of Mind.

In Western philosophy, the mind or mental events and their properties are associated with consciousness and intentionality. The former are subjective, private states possessing a qualitative character, telling "what it is like". As consciousness seems always to be consciousness of something, it seems linked with intentionality, the directedness of mind as manifest through various cognitive, affective & volitional states, positing a realm of personal meaning circumambulating an empirical ego or "self" possessing its objects. Mind is then a compounded phenomenon, involving consciousness (intent), volitions (actions, behaviours, deeds), affects (emotions & feeling) and cognitive acts (thoughts in various modes of expression, ranging from myth to nondual cognition - cf. supra).

In Buddhism, all these states are incorporated under the rubric of one word : "citta" (Sanskrit) or "sem" (Tibetan). The former is often translated as "consciousness", but the meaning intended is larger. Mind is that which has an object, and so mind can be said to be an object-possessor. The standard definition of "citta", taking the word as a verbal noun with an object and not as a qualitative noun referring to a measurable thing, is mere clarity & awareness :

clarity : refers to the occurrence of the act of (a) being clear about something or (b) making something clear. Clarity itself implies something arises, with no implication of passivity. Clarity gives rise to something, however without mind being an agent. So "mind" is only a label given to the occurrence of the subjective event of giving rise to something. The latter is not necessarily something with visual focus or conceptual understanding, it may be a blur or a confused event, both "arisings" ;
awareness : this is not necessarily a conscious act of will, but (a) being aware of something or (b) making something an object of relation or cognitive engagement. The latter can be conscious or unconscious ;
merely : on the one hand, this adjective underlines in order for "mind" to operate, there is no need for strong attentiveness to the contents of an experience, nor a solid object "out there" & subject of experience "in here". On the other hand, it does not take away the actual experience occurring nor it being individual.

Mind is therefore the mere arising and cognitive engaging with the contents of experience. Viewed as a continuum, defined by subsequent moments, the ideas of "mind-stream" or "mental continuum" emerge. Insofar we are conscious of our mind-stream, it becomes a "stream of consciousness". This never-ceasing moment-to-moment arising & engaging is "experience". This is merely seeing, merely hearing, merely touching, merely smelling, merely tasting sensate objects and merely apprehending mental objects (of thought, affect & volition).

5.2 The Designator : Mind, Labeling & Consensus.

In the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka, distinction is made between :

the base of designation : (a) the receptor organs stimulated by what they perceive (chemicals, ions, air pressures, radiation) and (b) that what merely appears to the mind ;
the designator : (a) the conceptualizing mind : designating what is perceived (turning it into sensate objects) and what mentally appears and (b) the conventional labeling & consensus on that labeling ;
the designated : the final appearance of sensate and/or mental objects to the apprehending mind. This third element is the combination of the first two. There is a perception and/or a mere mental appearance, then there is a conceptual designation (a naming), and finally a full-blown sensate and/or mental object can be identified.

These distinctions are intended to bring the interpretative, designating nature of conceptual thought to the fore, i.e. acts of cognition done in the proto-rational, formal, critical & creative modes of thought (cf. supra). Because of this, all sensate & mental objects are imputed, i.e. attributed by or credited to conceptual activity, not to the objects themselves. The labels or names given are conventional and objects of agreement. These are not the things in themselves, for these have no labels per se, i.e. inherently.

5.3 The Base of Designation : Perception, Sensate & Mental Objects.

There are three sources of knowledge : perceptions, sensate appearances or sensate objects & mental appearances or mental objects.

1. perceptions :

For Kant, the engine of reason or the transcendental categories take their "fuel" from the sensitive surfaces of the five senses. As a Newtonian foundationalist, he seeks  a certain  ground for his science of reason. But to guarantee his transcendental categories are not leading him to ontological idealism, he incorporates physical, empirical reality as a valid source of knowledge and discards intellectual perception (if the latter is allowed, the "I Think" always leads to "I Am"). All comes from the senses, is processed & known by the categories and finally regulated by the ideas of reason. There is no instance higher.

Kant needed a strong link between the fuel and the engine. Without one, so he thought, the very supply of his "real" fuel could be in danger. How to justify these sophisticated transcendental categories, the very architecture or theory of the act of cognition, can produce synthetic propositions a priori, i.e. statements about objects which are always true for everybody ?

The senses should not be ontologizing, for this cripples criticism, locking it in the "box" of ontological realism, while only a loose methodological realism (devoid of substantialist claims) is justified in a reasonable characterization of the validity of human knowledge, in this case of conventional, commonsense reality appearing as sensate & mental objects to our minds. Neither should we overestimate conceptual reason. In conventional, nominal, formal cognition, we must consider facts as manifestations of external objects (or methodological realism). This while we seek but do not find them as "on their own", "cut off" or separate from others in any substantial, static, permanent "essential" way. On the contrary, when seeking and negating their substantial independence and their subsequent illusionary, deceiving, concealing appearance, their mutual interdependence comes center-stage.

In a conventional sense, accepting both methodological realism & methodological idealism, all empirico-formal (conventional) knowledge is computed by (subjective) categories on the basis of a temporal sequence beginning with the moment these surfaces are objectively, physically stirred and ending when the relayed data-stream or "code" (information), after much conceptualizing, discursive cognitive processing & interpretation, is given to the mind as sensate objects. There must be a relationship between the "real" datum "out there" a moment before it elicits an electric potential (before it stirs) and the actual, neutral reception of the stimulus before its categorial processing. This actual reception (open & neutral to anything for unprocessed) cannot be named or labeled, it is not yet conscious or attributed to a subject. As a potential pre-epistemic mental object of reification (the bed-rock of "sense-data"), it must be criticized, for the pre-conceptual or post-conceptual can not be conceptualized. To produce such  conventional truth, common sapience or "wisdom of the dual", the reality of conventional facts must be accepted, but only "as if", not as an independent, static substance.

Neurophilosophy concurs, for there are tiny physical intervals between the moment stimuli physically excite a sense and the moment of actual thalamic projection into the neocortex, as well as between the moment of entry into the primary/secondary sensory areas and computation in the tertiary association areas, as between the moment of conceptual binding processed in the angular gyrus (naming) and prefrontal identification & objectification ...

In a non-foundationalist, normative epistemology, knowledge needs (a) not to be rooted in deep, made solid, anchored in a concrete rock-bottom, moored to a stable pole  or self-sufficient ground "out there", nor (b) carved in some eternal identity or symbol "in here", but in the mere "groundless ground" of the ever- present fact of the interrelated ongoingness of this cognitive activity itself (cf. Kant's "Factum Rationis"). So the act of cognition harbors the natural light of the mind no rationalist denies.

In the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka, attention goes to sufficiently eliminate or thoroughly negate, without affirming anything else, the correct object of negation. For Tsongkhapa, there is no other way to the correct view. The latter steers between conflicting and contradictory positions & options, each with a decent, invalid set of arguments constituting a closed mental system. Both systems trespass the rules of formal thought and must, by prolonged criticism, be brought within reasonable bounds.

To take away too much leads to nihilism, negating compassion, affirming nothingness and so all appearances as void of themselves & others. Affirm too much leads to eternalism, to a hierarchy of true substances, absolute ideas existing in an ultimate sense (cf. Plato's substantial "Ideas", the "universalia" in Scholasticism). Facing impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & transitoriness, eternalism claims nothing changes and things truly exist as their "own", self-powered, self-sufficient and eternal being (cf. Spinoza). The correct view, as given by Tsongkhapa, takes a Middle Way. It non-affirmatively, completely negates phenomena to be in any possible way self-powered, i.e. inherently existing, while at the same time affirming all phenomena, Buddhahood included, to be interdependent arisings. There are no independent phenomena whatsoever. From the correct conventional view, there are only phenomena and functional relationships. Strict nominalism rules.

The extremes of nihilism & eternalism have the basic error of "samsâra" in common, namely affirming something exists from its own side, namely as a static entity, independent & separated from other entities. Transcendental analysis proves nothing of this can be found. So the understanding dawns that while objects cannot be found to exist as substances or monads, no phenomenon can be found as unrelated or unconnected. Emptiness and dependent arising are complementary and constitute the unity of the Two Truths. This realization empowers introducing the correct object of negation : inherent existence, or anything existing by way of its own character, essence, substance, fundamental, self-sufficient nature.

By finding this object, Tsongkhapa did for Buddhist philosophy what Kant did for Western philosophy : (a) drawing the line between how objects deceivingly appear to us and how their truly are and (b) distinguishing between, on the one hand, an epistemology undelving the conditions of knowledge by thoroughly negating reification and, on the other hand, all forms of substantialist theory of knowledge, ontologizing the possibility of knowledge as a "Real" and/or an "Ideal" outside or not part of cognition and its modes.

2. sensate objects :

As soon as the thalamus projects its data into the cerebrum, the coded relay of perception becomes liable to cortical processing. This is not yet conscious and so objects are not yet established before the mind's eye. The received contents is processed & integrated by
sensory areas, association areas, and many more interdependent & interrelated neocortical constellations. At some point, naming and conscious recognition happen and only then are sensate objects established. Then and only then can we way : "I observe the light, sound, smell, touch and/or taste of this and not that object."

These sensate objects are a crucial source of knowledge, for without them it is impossible to constitute conventional knowledge, i.e. articulate empirico-formal propositions of fact, as science requires. These objects, so we must think, are backed by the direct perception of stimuli independent from the observing system, and so crucial to the theory-independent side of the fact. Without them, we cannot be sure unicorns or horns on a horse have no conventional existence, even despite lengthy discussions and splendid argumentations. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting !

Clearly, in order to produce unimpaired information about the sensoric environment, the sensory apparatus must be working properly. Of the whole electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from wavelengths in meters between 10-12 or Gamma rays, to 104, or Radio waves, the human eye only sees 4.10-7 to 7.10-7 ! Co-relative limitations are at hand in the case of the other four senses.
Dogs have more than 100 times more receptors in each square centimeter of the olfactory epithelium, which may be over 170 cm². Of course, our senses can be exercised. A trained pianist can distinguish between two tones of 1000 Hz and 1001 Hz, or the detection of a difference of only 1 μsec in the wavelengths ! Some experiments suggest the human retina can perceive the emission of a single photon ...

So given the fact the sensitive surfaces of the senses have been evolutionary programmed to perceive only a small fraction of Nature, functional senses are the conditio sine qua non validating empirical reports. Anyway, due to these limitations, our direct conventional knowledge only covers a very small band. Using mental objects (theories) and sophisticated artificial sensory apparatus, broader indirect conventional sensate objects may be established.

Again, let me repeat the basic formula for sensate objects :

S = P . I (with I > 0 ^ I ≠ 1)

3. mental objects :

Logical and mathematical objects are established without sensate objects. The fact a triangle has three angles is a logical necessity (a tautology), and needs no empirical verification. The same goes for the empty set of married bachelors ! Likewise, a whole world of mental objects can be created and/or discovered with its own kind of objectivity in which the subject of experience participates. As every advanced mathematician will explain, these mental objects have a life of their own and behave quite distinct from the conscious intentions of the subject of knowledge. They posit themselves or appear before the mind's eye in quite similar ways as sensate objects do.

The origin of these objects is under discussion. They are either inventions & discoveries reflecting the inner, implicit logical, linguistic & mathematical architecture, both static & dynamic, of the knowing subject (like Kant's transcendental structure) and its sensate objects or they "exist" in a Platonic world of sorts of their own. The latter option leads to a doubtful idealist reification ...

Objects of our imagination are also established without sensate objects. They appear before the mind's eye as a result of volitional activity. We posit them by engaging in a very special mental act, one creating images, forms, pictures, icons, etc. The extent of this imagination is vast. Buddhist mandalas prove this faculty can be trained to produce very complex imaginal objects indeed. As image-building links with the limbic system, emotionally charged images are more easily created & manipulated.

Using this imaginal activity allows us to reassemble, combine & recombine all known sensate & mental objects. With this faculty of mind, new mental objects may be created. Although, as merely internal objects, they cannot be shared, they, like lucid dreams, do "exist" from the side of the subject of experience, who is able to manipulate them in various ways. Imagination can be used in science to foresee options & possibilities, as in the so-called "thought-experiment". They can be made manifest through art.

In a scientific context, theoretical connotations & theories are crucial mental objects. They contain information about various conditions and lawful connections between events (determinations) and help the elaboration of our knowledge. If we would forget them, we would never learn anything.

Valid theories establish the scientific paradigm, the set of empirico-formal propositions considered for the time being as true, i.e. valid conventional representations of the cosmos, life & sentience. A such, the scientific paradigm is nothing else than conventional truth.

5.4 The Object of Designation : Logical Identity, Functional Imputation & Ontological Reification.

To conceptually designate an object in the formal mode of cognition, two steps are necessary :

logical : the principles of identity, contradiction & excluded third make it possible to designate an object logically, involving naming & labeling ;
functional : the functional relationships between the logically designated object and its environment give way to a description of the conditions and persistent, regulated, tenacious connections or determinations made. These are impermanent, strictly nominalist and part of the universal process-like nature of conventional things ;

In formal conceptual thought, a third faulty step is added :

substantialist : the logically & functionally designated object is considered to be more than merely other-powered, i.e. more than just arising, spatio-temporarily persisting and eventually ceasing, giving way to new dependent arisings. It is deemed essentially, substantially identical with itself, not only logically. Ontologizing the principle of identity causes things to appear as self-powered, like seeing a snake when there is only a rope. Upon the logical identity, inherent existence (not just logical and functional existence) is superimposed, resulting in a conventional falsehood : the deceiving, illusionary appearance of an empirico-formal substance. It is this third step transcendental analysis (or ultimate analysis) aims to identify & thoroughly eradicate. This eradication is nothing less than the radical cognitive restructuring lying at the heart of the Buddhadharma !

Let us look at these three steps in more detail.

Suppose an entity, event or phenomenon named "A". A is posited by way of identity (A = A) & contradiction (A ≠ B). Here, B is not necessarily another entity, but everything A is not. By identifying "A", everything A is not has been affirmed. At this point, we may add that besides A and B, there is no third, for any position between A and B necessarily belongs to B. Identity, contradiction & excluded third are the formal-logical characterization of A

In the proto-rational mode of cognition (cf. supra), these three formal-logical features were not fully realized, for the cognitive act always happened in a given, implicit context and so no generalizations or theories were available. Distinguishing A from B happened by using a "silent" C, acting as a remnant of pre-rational psychomorphism and mythical irrationalism. For example, in an Ancient Egyptian theological text, the word "nTr" (pronounced "netjer"), to be translated as "the god", did not refer to "god" in any general way, but to the deity of the temple issuing the text (in Memphis this would be Ptah, in Abydos it is Osiris, in Hermopolis Thoth is intended, in Heliopolis Re and in Thebes Amun). Decontextualized, abstract logical characterization is therefore the first step in the abstract process of theory-formation, making it possible to identify the primitive logical terms accommodating the symbolization of axiomatics & general definitions.

Next, A is related to another entity, say C, or C = f(A), meaning C is a function of A. Given A, then C can be derived. If A is a cup, then C, pouring liquid into A, is possible. Without the "cup-like" property of the cup, liquid could not be kept in it. But breaking the cup destroys the cup-like property. Hence,  this property is also a function of something else, or : A = f(A'), A' = f(A''), etc. This second step is a series of functional designations or dependent arisings ("pratîtya-samutpâda"), pointing to the extended networks of interrelationships and interdependencies conventionally characterizing A. These networks prove A is other-powered, defined by external causes & conditions. Here, A, A', A", B, C and so forth are functional, nominal entities, not yet substances or things with a fixed, enduring core. Functionalism brings in process and does not attribute, impute or designate underlying thingness to any entity. C = f(A) purports purposefulness and utility, and this is the pervading note, nothing else. Functionalism adheres to strict nominalism.

The third step brings in a substantialist ontology, the "logic" of the essential nature, "being" or "is-ness" of entities A, A', A", B, C etc. As C depends on A, A is deemed "foundational", for without A no C, while A exists without C. Or in a general way : An-1 grounds An. The infinite regression is stopped ad hoc by positing a sufficient ground As for every A.

So what is a mere functional relationship between two logically identified phenomena, sticking temporarily together in a working relation by a tenacious repetition, is transformed into a substantial relationship implying necessity, constancy and independence ! The complete functional series  A = f(A'), A' = f(A''), etc. defining A thus is deemed to find its sufficient ground in As, the true, inherent nature of A.

necessity : A & C are necessarily linked because of As ;
constancy : A & C were, are and will be linked because As is permanent ;
independence : A & C are linked independently from other factors, like B.

Turning A into a hypostasis or substance, i.e. into something with an essential nature or an underlying reality, is attributing own-power to A, designating to A "substantial", "essential", "eidetic" nature, being or sufficient ground, As.

This core remains self-identical and is deemed to represent the "true nature" or "ultimate existence" of A. In this very wrong view, the "essence" of A must always remain the "essence" of A, for otherwise A could not substantially remain A, but may become A', while, by virtue of the principle of identity, A' ≠ A ! While in this system substantial change is deemed possible (As changing into As'), it is not clear how this can be the case without A = B, ending correct logic (every entity cannot be every other entity) and sound function (all entities cannot function with all other entities). To maintain the validity of conventional truth, logic & function need to remain intact. By moving beyond both, namely by adding As, the inherent nature of A, both are however lost.

For Tsongkhapa & Kant, "existence" is a word only instantiating, designating or positing a concept, nothing more. So when the "existence" of something or someone A is posited, the totality of known predicates of A is affirmed, adding nothing to this logical set. When this existence is denied, the whole set of predicates vanishes and the referent with it. An object is what can be ascribed to it, nothing more. To affirm A "exists" is to instantiate (posit) its concept, but does not instantiate the richer concept "inherently existing A". Every statement of existence  ("there is", or "there are"), says about a concept it is instantiated, rather than it inherently exists. Any legitimate existential statement must be built out of propositions of the form : "There is an A.", where "A" stands for a determining predicate, not a substance like As.

So the core axiom of substantialist thought to be avoided is the logical identity between a predicative and an ontological use of the copula "being" or "is". When using the copula only a predicative use is indicated. Science and its conventional truth, using synthetical propositions, affirm there is such a thing as A or : Эy (y = A), i.e. empirico-formal knowledge articulates a mere connection between an object and a predicate (or "esse"). Now determining object A has the property of existence, i.e. the affirmation of inherent existence ("existit"), or "E!x", is unwarranted and adds nothing to our knowledge of A. Conventional truth is limited to the set of determining predicates, of which "inherent existence" is not part. Saying "A exist." is asserting something instantiates the concept of A, nothing more. It does not suggest the richer concept "inherently existing A", for existence does not add a property, nor a quality.

In this Fregean approach avant la lettre, the Platonic-Augustinian intuition of "being" as "some thing" is completely replaced by an affirmation of instantiation by some observer. Here the Copernican Revolution is complete : there is no conceptualization of being as such possible, for only appearances are left.

Summary of these three steps :

  • formal-logical designation by way of identity & contradiction : every object is self-identical (A = A), object of an affirming negation (everything B which is not A) or (A ≠ B) and either A or B ;

  • functional, relational designation : every object A relates to other objects, say C, by performing functions or C = f(A) ;

  • substantialist designation : because object A functions, it is deemed self-powered, i.e. the substance-nature of A (As) exists by way of its own characteristics, or As = E!x. This designation lies at the heart of all forms of substantialist ontology.

Ultimate analysis intends to show how this third step creates logical & functional problems and so is at fault. Realizing this conceptually, after having eliminated coarse self-cherishing (cf. supra), brings about a direct "seeing" of the ultimate nature of all phenomena. At this point, Tsongkhapa leaves Kant behind ...

 6 Objective & Subjective Conditions of Conventional Truth.

Let us, before bringing down the sword of wisdom on self-grasping, firmly establish the conditions of conventional truth : testability & arguability. For a comprehensive presentation, consult Clearings, 2006.

In pre-Kantian philosophy, true, valid knowledge was always certain knowledge, anchored in a sufficient ground stabilizing the truth-claim. Hence, valid or true knowledge was perennial. Truth was eternalized, and so only ultimate truth was worthy of being called truth at all. Conventional truth was mere "opinion" ("doxa"). Pre-critical epistemology, seeking to make this postulate of foundation explicit, sought this sufficient ground outside knowledge, either as a "real" world "out there", objectively (Plato's "world of being") or an "ideal" idea "in here", subjectively (Aristotle's "intellectus agens"). The "real", independent world was the rock-bottom of ontological realism and considered to be separated from the subject. The independent "ideal" idea rooted ontological idealism and deemed to exist as a separate, ideal subject constituting its object.

In Greek metaphysics, this so-called concept-realism dominated and rooted the possibility of knowledge in a world of being (Plato) or in the abstraction of the essence of things observed by an active intellect (Aristotle). In Scholastic thought, the distinction between this (Platonic & Peripatetic) concept-realism and (moderate & strict) nominalism emerged, to be replaced in modern thought by a new version of concept-realism : realist empirism (only the senses provide reliable knowledge) and idealist rationalism (only the mind yields certain knowledge). All these efforts were pointless. Both rationalism and its ontological idealism as well as empirism and its ontological realism, could each be argued relatively successfully from their own side, but, taken together, constituted a contradiction.

We had to wait for Kant and neo-Kantianism to eliminate the need for a sufficient ground. As a result, conventional knowledge is no longer eternal & perennial, but fallible, historical, relative & conventional. Conventional truth (validation by way of the senses & reason) and ultimate truth (the state of things as they are) are distinguished. Valid conventional truth is not certain in an absolute, permanent way.

fallible : a theory can always be replaced by a better one ;
historical : theories are not independent from the culture producing them ;
relative : theories do not stand alone, but part of a network of theories ;
conventional : theories are formulated in terms agreed upon by convention by all involved sign-interpreters.

In a critical theory of conventional truth, seeking to find reasons to accept a theory as if it were true or valid (but not absolutely certain), the following categories emerge :

  • the subject of knowledge / the one thinking with others / intersubjective discourse (consensus, dissensus, argumentation, consensus etc. about mental objects) / consensus omnium regulated by the idea of the Ideal ;

  • the object of knowledge / what is thought / monologous testing (experimental setup, observation of sensate objects, tests) / adequatio intellectus ad rem regulated by the idea of the Real.

On the one hand, absolute certainty is lost to conventional truth, but, on the other hand, the ideas of the Real & the Ideal, so is discovered, must be at work in every proposition corroborated by facts, because, in a normative setting, this must be the case if knowledge is to be considered as possible ! The Real is not a quasi-cause of perceptions (as in realism), for, as explained by contemporary psychology, sensation and patterns of expectation coincide in every fact. The Ideal does not constitute objects (as in idealism), but in every cognitive act mental objects are at work and cannot be divorced from it. Both are mere regulative Ideas of reason guaranteeing the unity & expansion of knowledge. They define the "essential tension" or "concordia discors" of conventional thought ; the continuous confrontation of object & subject of knowledge.

6.1 The Object of Knowledge & Correspondence.

On the side of the object of knowledge, given normative epistemology, we must think "reality-as-such" as knowable without being conceptually equipped to know whether this is the case or not. Facts are both intra-linguistic, and so co-determined by the mental objects of the subject of knowledge (like notions, theoretical connotations, conjectures, hypothesis, theories, etc.), and -so must we think- extra-linguistic, i.e. the authentic messengers of "reality-as-such". Hence, they somehow correspond, so we must assume, with this reality-as-such. Again, in a normative setting we have no knowledge of whether this is truly the case or not, for conventionally, we cannot find an Archimedic point outside knowledge to ascertain or describe this. Thinking they found such a static point entangled the pre-critical substantialist in the ontological illusions of realism (the real inherently exists-as-such) or idealism (the ideal inherently exists-as-such). We must think facts to possess a theory-independent side, for otherwise conventional knowledge would be impossible. Indeed, in that case conventional knowledge would not be valid knowledge about some object, but merely an intersubjective, linguistic phenomenon.

To notice the illusion of substantialism on the side of "reality" and the object of knowledge, the use of the idea of the Real has to be restricted to three different contexts :

  • reality-for-me : the irreducible perspective of the First Person Perspective, the whole area covered by intentionality, intimacy, secrecy, privacy and the inner world of each and every single conscious observer or subject of knowledge ;

  • reality-for-us : factual, scientific object-knowledge produced, within a conventional framework, by, on the one hand, testing, experimentation, systematic observation, etc. & on the other hand, discussion & consensus ;

  • reality-as-such : limit-concept of formal & critical cognition, representing, so must we think, the extra-mental, extra-linguistic, theory-independent, absolute reality or the ultimate nature of all.

Realistic answers to the problem of the foundation of knowledge step beyond the boundaries of all possible conceptual knowledge. Then, the idea of a "reality devoid of the subject of knowledge" (i.e. reality-as-such or Kant's "Ding-an-sich"), becomes the foundation of epistemology, making facts entirely coincide with this reality, eclipsing the role of the subject of knowledge, becoming passive & secondary.

By shaping the unconditionality of the object of knowledge, the idea of the Real (reality-as-such) guarantees the unity & the expansion of the monologous, object-oriented conceptual knowledge.

Conventionally, the object of knowledge is known through facts established by observing sensate objects by way of experiment & testing. The latter presuppose theory-independent facts entertaining a  monologous relation with Nature, responding, so we must assume, by way of its own tale (devoid of ours). As sensate objects cannot be established without theories or mental objects, all facts constituting empirico-formal propositions are hybrids, characterized by a theory-independent and a theory-dependent side.

In the onto-realistic theory of truth, propositions are true, justified or valid when they correspond with facts lacking interpretation ("adequatio intellectus ad rem" or "veritas est adequatio rei et intellectus"). Given the theory-dependence of facts, this proves to be impossible. Of course, correspondence still remains a valid tool in methodological idealism.

6.2 The Subject of Knowledge & Consensus.

On the side of the subject of knowledge, we must think "ideality-as-such" as knowable (without being conceptually equipped to know whether this is the case or not). We have to think the "consensus omnium" as possible (without us, in any given discourse, ever reaching it). In this way ensues the distinction between "my" consensus (with myself), "our" consensus here & now (i.e. the agreement between all the users of the same language-game) and the "consensus omnium", the mere regulative idea on the side of the subject of knowledge.

To note the illusion of substantialism on the side of "ideality" and the subject of knowledge, restrict the use of the idea of the Ideal :

  • ideality-for-me : the irreducible inner language-game of the first person, the whole area covered by conscious meaning, thoughts, imaginations and volitions, i.e. inner mental objects giving form to signs as signals, icons and symbols ;

  • ideality-for-us : the intersubjective object-knowledge produced by discourse and the art of argumentation about the interpretation of ourselves and reality-for-us ;

  • ideality-as-such : limit-concept of formal cognition representing the Ideal idea of an absolute system of concepts encompassing all possible (inter)subjectivity, the "ideal of ideals", the sheer absolute ideality or the ultimate mind knowing all.

Idealistic answers ground the possibility of knowledge in the idea of an "ideal, object-constituting subject" (reality becomes secondary). Both are in conflict with the necessary conditions of the possibility of knowledge, for in such an idealist epistemology, knowledge is never about something outside language.

By shaping the unconditionality of the intersubjectivity of knowledge, the idea "ideality" (the ideal-as-such) guarantees the unity & the expansion of the dialogal, subject-oriented conceptual knowledge.

Conventionally, the subject of knowledge is known through mental objects established by way of conjectures, argumentations and conclusions or discourses. The latter presuppose theory-dependent mental objects entertaining an intersubjective dialogue between sign-interpreters, positing hypothesis, arguing and rejecting statements. These theoretical connotations then co-define how concrete facts or sensate objects are identified & treated.

In the onto-idealist theory of truth, factual propositions are true, justified or valid when they elicit or call fort a general agreement constituting the object of knowledge ("leges cogitandi sunt leges essendi"). Given the theory-independent side of facts, this cannot be correct. Of course, consensus is still a valid tool in methodological idealism.

6.3 Conventional Truth & Coherence.

Distinguish between :

on the side of the object of knowledge :

theory / facts / REALITY = regulative REAL OBJECT
methodological criterion of truth : correspondence with the extra-linguistic

on the side of the subject of knowledge :

"my" opinion / "our" discourse / IDEALITY = regulative IDEAL SUBJECT
methodological criterion of truth :
consensus omnium between subjects

Successful experiments & testing bring an extra-linguistic something to the fore. Theoretical thinking names that something. At the point where the stuff of tests is symbolized, an empirico-formal proposition is formulated. The extra-linguistic factor must not be exorcised (as in idealism) and so "coherency" does not imply "truth" to be mainly an intersubjective decision or agreement. Likewise, the truth-value of an scientific proposition must not solely depend on correspondence with reality (as in realism), for facts are facts-for-us and although, so must we conventionally think, they do are the heralds of the real thing "out there", they are also theory-dependent !

Coherency strikes the balance between these two vectors of conventional truth, the two leading ideas of the critical theory of truth : discourse & consensus versus experiment & correspondence. A "true" theory is one corroborated by repeated testing and approved after elaborate discussions. It is "true" because the force-fields of both vectors have been allowed to play out and contribute to object-knowledge and its empirico-formal propositions and theories.

The imaginal, heuristic point of intersection between the idea of the Real and the idea of the Ideal is a knowledge-leading & knowledge-regulating fiction which guarantees the progress of conventional knowledge without ever constituting conventional knowledge itself. If it does, then it misleads, thus curtailing the unity & progress of conventional truth by introducing ontological illusions (the illusion facts are only theory-independent or real, the illusion facts are only theory-dependent or constituted by the ideal).

Insofar as arguable theories are not put to the test, they do not yet belong to science proper. A scientific theory X belongs to strict science if, and only if, X is corroborated and consensual. For a logically well-formed theory to be strict science, it needs to be factual and trigger the approval of all involved. Hence, strict science is the outcome of an application of both vectors and adjacent regulations.

The progress of knowledge is guaranteed if we never allow its expanding movement to stop. Science is halted when, after having considered "truth" as eternal, we fixate our conceptual knowledge and replace its temporary status with a dogmatic closure, identifying sensate objects with reality-as-such and/or mental objects with ideality-as-such. In the conventional realm, the absolute, ultimate knowledge-horizon cannot be attained. Conventional knowledge is allowed to progress for ever, for its horizon ever escapes us.

To deeternalize truth in epistemology does not exclude ultimate truth, things as they truly are. Speculating about the limit-concepts of transcendental thought, like truth, beauty and goodness,
we use these heuristically (as in the immanent metaphysics of creative cognition). In transcendent metaphysics, a direct, ineffable radical experience of them is at hand, as elucidated by nondual cognition. This highest mode of cognition is the one Buddha seeks to re-initiate or reboot the entire mental system, eradicating ignorance thoroughly.

6.4 Methodological Realism versus Methodological Idealism.

Methodology transposes the necessities of experiment and communication to the local research-cell in general and to the practical opportunistic logic of its specific scientific studies in particular. This causes a variety of local, a posteriori coordinations of scientific activity. This is more casus-oriented than statute-oriented, seeking to answer the question Quid factis ? rather than the question Quid Iuris ?

In physics, experiments will be at the core of research. But, unassisted by a constant dialogue enabling refinements, novel interpretations and alternative theoretical views, testing is rather futile, often off-mark and reduced to a standardized confirmation of established points of view.

In human sciences, methodology turns into hermeneutics (the interpretation of signs) and participant observation. But, if this interpretation of signals, icons and symbols is not balanced by a practical, open and honest real experience of a variety of intersubjective communities, then a fossilization takes place, and the institutions of knowledge are an easy prey for the media money, propaganda & power. As such, they cannot guarantee free study and, as authorities ex cathedra, will eventually see their ideal monolith crumble under the weight of novel facts.

So to avoid conventional falsehoods, the production of knowledge is protected against the extremes of mere subjectification & mere objectification.

In the practice of knowledge, scientists, supposed to be aware of the issues raised by theoretical epistemology, suspend the distinctions between test-results and reality-as-such, as well as between the actual consensus and the ideal discourse & its consensus omnium. The game of conventional truth is played as if it were possible to gaze how things truly are in the face and directly derive true knowledge from this.

Act as if objects of knowledge "exist", but leave room for a discussion about the experimental results, leading to better testing (methodological realism). Act as if subjects of knowledge "think the truth", but leave room for new experiments, leading to richer, less redundant discussions (methodological idealism). In this conventional truth-game of coherency, the final term (the unity of existence & thinking) is permanently suspended.

The two regulators (experiment and discourse) assist each other. If we consider, for the sake of methodology, our test-results as real, we need to discuss whether there are no alternative interpretations. If we consider our theory as ideal, we need to test to observe whether novel facts emerge. Lack of this, will eventually slow down the manufacture of knowledge. The conventional game has to be played without final terms. Then, the ongoing production of knowledge can be in no way halted.

6.5 Scientific, Conventional Truth & Metaphysical Speculation.

"Testability" & "arguability" are predicates which both must be ascribable to every scientific theory, or set of empirico-formal propositions designating conventional facts. Relative to the status of a theory, three subdomains of scientific endeavor ensue :

proto-science or conventional conjectures : not tested but arguable ; example : there is extraterrestrial life watching over humanity ;
strict science or conventional truths : corroborated and in agreement ; example : macroscopic physical objects m1 & m2 obey Newton's law F = G.m1.m2/r² ;
semi-science or conventional falsehoods : falsified and/or in disagreement ; for example ; phlogiston is the cause of fire, the eye is the cause of light or the heart is the cause of thoughts, etc.

If a rational (arguable) theory does not refuse testing, it already belongs to the domain of science. As a proto-science, it reflects the order-book of science, its tasks ahead. In particular, the specific activities planned by each research-cell. These are conventional conjectures which may or may not be true. If corroborated and approved by others, it becomes strict science, the body of conventional truths furnishing the current paradigm. If falsified by new experiments or disagreement about it prevails or both, it becomes part of the large storehouse of outdated (semi-) scientific theories. The latter are conventional falsehoods. These are statements which can be argued, can be tested, were tested and found not factual and/or in contradiction with better theories.

If a semi-scientific theory or conventional falsehood can no longer be tested, it becomes metaphysical. Likewise, all theories refusing or somehow escaping testing are metaphysical. In this case, only arguability is left. Hence, metaphysics is untestable, speculative & theoretical knowledge on being (ontology), the cosmos (philosophical cosmology), life (philosophical biology), the human (philosophical anthropology) & the Divine (philosophical Divinity).

Metaphysics can be divided in :

valid metaphysics : arguable ; for example : angels protect all life ;
invalid metaphysics : unarguable ; for example : unicorns can fly ;
irrational metaphysics : logically too unsound of form to argue about and so a priori unarguable ; for example : life is at the same time meaningful and pointless.

Two lines of demarcation stand out : on the one hand, between science & metaphysics, in other words as a function of the testability of done statements and, on the other hand, between valid & invalid metaphysics, in other words, as a function of the arguability of done statements.

Science and metaphysics have arguability in common and differ in terms of testability. Both can be checked using logic. But testability is the crucial demarcation between both. Science is all about intelligent experimentation. But a priori metaphysical statements are untestable. Given the vast domain of metaphysics, covering all logically correct speculations and all former scientific theories, a second demarcation is introduced between valid an invalid metaphysics.

Valid metaphysics is arguable (cf. Critique of a Metaphysics of Process, 2012). As an immanent metaphysics, it must be able to argue a comprehensive rational, arguable picture of the metaphysical horizon. Insofar as transcendent metaphysics, being nondual, cannot be verbalized, all efforts to stretch beyond immanence must be deemed futile and, at best, of exemplaric poetic value only, inviting direct experience. Can validation have meaning in nondual terms ? As authenticity perhaps ? This issue is of great importance in Dzogchen.

 7 The Second Turning I :
Optimalizing Mind through Great Compassion.

In his Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma at Vulture Peak Mountain in Râjagriha, Bihar, Śâkyamuni focused on compassion ("karunâ") & emptiness ("śûnyatâ"). The former is the Via Regia to ending self-cherishing and the coarse forms of self-grasping based on the assimilation of wrong views. These are indispensable to accumulate merit and prepare the mind for the experience of ultimate truth, the wisdom-mind realizing emptiness.

This realization is two-stepped :

liberation : the identitylessness of persons entering a personal "nirvâna". The mind focuses on one's own salvation, placing equanimity before compassion. Bodhicitta is not generated ;
Buddhahood : the identitylessness of all phenomena and the elimination of all the causes of acquired & innate self-grasping. The mind prepares by generating the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings, helping all escape cyclic existence. Compassion is placed before all other Immeasurables (joy, love & equanimity) and because of aspiring, engaging & ultimate Bodhicitta, great & perfect compassion is generated. This force propels one with relentless force, entering final "nirvâna" swiftly.

7.1 The Mind of Self-Cherishing.

Let us recall the problems commonly facing our fellow human beings.

Once the ego is conceived as inherently existing, it solidifies and becomes a static center, creating a "real" separation or schism between the subject and its objects, in particular other humans. This gulf between "me" and "the other" conveys to me a sense of specialness, and its distinguishing mark is the erroneous conception of me being split off from my own experience, somehow suspended above all events, much like a distant witness, not a participator. This allows the conventional, empirical ego to claim : "I am a thinker, possessing a mind and a body". This I-ness, although in reality only functionally imputed on the five aggregates, is turned into a static substance, causing the ego to consider itself as permanent and endowed by enduring properties making up its "essence" or "core being". The latter is of course unique, special and not shared by others ! Likewise, other egos are usually considered to be permanent too, possessing different combinations of properties than myself. These people cannot inherently be like "me", for "I am" this unique, self-powered individual, one of a kind. Although it is conventionally true for the aggregates to form a unique combination of functional characteristics, it eludes the self-cherishing ego these aggregates of body & mind are constantly changing. Hence, the ego cannot ever remain the same. The sense of enduring selfhood is not what it seems, but this conventional truth is not witnessed by our deluded, self-cherishing egos.

Identifying with the fiction or hallucination of this false solid sense of "me", conceptual elaboration then brings conceptually reified categories to life in which the solid "I" plays the puppeteer. Substantialist thinking makes the illusionary self stand stronger, causing self-affirmation and self-aggrandizement. Attachment to worldly concerns (material things, praise, fame, sensual pleasure) increases. However, these projections and the cravings they engender, being false, cause the ego not to be adequate to them, eventually (after much play & folly) generating a sense of insufficiency. Emotionally and intellectually, the static ego aches due to being confronted with its own fundamental incompleteness. To soothe the pain of this inner lack and given the need to regularly boost the power of the hallucination, requires constant fulfillment. But when, to compensate for the ever-returning insufficiency no new toys or playmates can be found, the lurking suspicion of an ultimate lack of authenticity and genuineness dawns. Accommodating this realization, not willing to give up, turns the static ego to cynicism & loneliness, or worse, to self-willed degeneration and virulent self-destruction. Too much & too long attached to this false reified vision of oneself, makes one turn away from possible cures, fearing to go cold turkey, refusing to quit the addiction.

The substance-ego, being a fake, must deceive all it associates with. The end result of this is chronic disquietude and anxiety. These close the circle, for both are expressed in a compulsion to build and fortify the illusionary ego even more, getting rid of everything and everybody endangering the illusion with the sobriety of the ultimate truth : the ego does not exist as it appears.

Fortification of the fictional ego gives birth to a relentless craving for worldly things. In vain these are considered valid means to satisfy the need for self-security. Nothing less is true. Their pursuit causes hatred, selfishness and violence, and these, creating "the war of all against all" undermine the ego even more. In this way, the agent becomes the victim of its own fundamental ignorance and misconception about itself ! Once a victim, the majority of one's waking hours are spend in brooding, in mental chatter, in being negative, depressed, unhappy and unhealthy, causing others to feel likewise, polluting young minds with one's garbage-mentality.

Is it not extraordinary and extremely profound the Buddha found the single root-cause of all of this ? What he uncovered is true peace because it is how things ultimately exist, namely lacking substance while being process-bound. The moment we accept a single phenomenon, be it the ego or anything else, to inherently exist as a self-powered entity on its own, we rekindle the fire of ignorant craving & hatred. Eliminate the slightest tendency towards reification, and the fuel is gone in the face of awakening.

7.2 The Three Motivations : Small, Middling, Large.

In view of the above, truly grasping emptiness is the most virtuous cognitive act possible. But is this within the reach of every sentient being ? Clearly not.

Firstly, the Buddhadharma reckons human beings are not the only beings in the universe endowed with Buddha-nature, or the potential for enlightenment. The Sûtras state animals also possess it, explaining Śâkyamuni's injunction not to eat meat, implying killing a potential Buddha. As every living being exists because of physical (space, time, elementary particles, forces), mineral & vegetal processes, the latter may also be included. Nature itself, and even this planet may be considered possessing this potential to awake (cf. the Gaia-hypothesis and the theosophical notion of the "consciousness of the atom"). However, in animals, the Buddha-potential is covered by the massive obscuration of stupidity, making it practically impossible for them to wash away these defilements by their own accord. When the Buddha appears in this world, he carries a book, symbol of wisdom but more precisely of interdependence. Considering animals as part of ourselves, helping them and blessing them is a way to assist them clear away the path to their inner Buddha core.

According to traditional sources, other more "metaphysical" beings exist in this world : hell-beings, hungry ghosts, demi-gods & gods. Together with humans and animals, these elusive beings constitute the world of "samsâra", constantly cycling between these states and participating in the various forms of suffering constituting this vast and beginningless realm. For various reasons explained elsewhere, all sentient beings -except the human- experience very great difficulty when trying to escape their lot. By the force of "karmic winds" they are driven or pushed around and mostly experience rebirth in the same if not worse conditions. A glimpse of hell is enough to make a good person very compassionate indeed ! Likewise, witnessing the constant distractions of the gods is a very powerful anti-dote against worldly concerns ...

Endowed with a precious human life, lots of human beings lack the opportunity to be touched by the Dharma. They may lack functional senses, be retarded, live in wild & ignorant places, cherish wrong views etc. (cf. supra
). Given the extraordinary opportunity of beings endowed with a precious, free & endowed human life, it is baffling to realize only very few of these very lucky humans take the time to consider spiritual evolution at all. They have no regular practice and, at best, limit themselves to basic humanistic goodness, which, of course, is a spiritual exercise on its own. However, this "category" is not included in the traditional three-tiered analysis of human practitioners in small, middling and large.

Scholars studying the Sûtras or the principles behind the Four Turnings often remark the Buddhadharma contains many contradictions. To this person the Buddha teaches that and to another something entirely different. They may forget his teachings are not intended to put in place a universal philosophy as a Western teacher of philosophy would. His "system" involves addressing the person to whom he is speaking, knowing his or her condition and seeking the proper antidote. Someone convinced he or she ultimately exists, equating his or her soul ("âtman") with the conjectured Creator ("Brahman") cannot be immediately helped by hearing the teachings on emptiness of the Second Turning, but needs to thoroughly consider the First Turning. Likewise, those only working at their personal liberation have no faith in Bodhicitta and may consider it a non-authentic, vain and pretentious pursuit. Great Perfection Bodhisattvas may consider the teachings of the Fourth Turning as degenerated forms amassed by renegade Indian tantrics, etc. To those refusing to accept anything the Buddha has said, Śâkyamuni is a blessing like the Sun shining on good and evil persons alike, but his teachings cannot reach them. They are like music to the deaf. In the non-sectarian, Ri-mé-approach, one always asks for the intent behind this or that teaching.

The disparity between the faculties of spiritual aspirants gives rise to a distinction between three types of students, called "small", "middling" and "great". Those of small capacity have dull faculties, those of middling capacity medium faculties and those of great capacity have acute faculties. It was Atiśa, who, in chapter one of his Bodhipathapadîpa, sets out the hierarchy of the three types as a fundamental structure. Later Tibetan scholars, including Tsongkhapa, also used this tripartite division to structure the graduated path.

Those of the most limited capacity overcome attachment to this life out of concern for their future well-being in this life and the next. They live their lives in accordance with the connection between actions and their effects. They seek the pleasures of "samsâra" for themselves and are concerned with happiness in future lives and practice exclusively to accomplish this. Their practices result in future enjoyment of human and celestial places, bodies & pleasures within cyclic existence.

Those of intermediate capacity are averse to "samsâra" as a whole and seek to personally escape from it by the Three Higher Trainings of morality, meditation & wisdom. They become Lesser Vehicle practitioners and seek liberation. So they hope for a good rebirth not merely because of the pleasures offered by "samsâra".

"Those who, through their personal suffering, truly want to end completely all the suffering of others are persons of supreme capacity."
Atiśa : Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, chapter 1,5.

Those of the highest capacity reject both "samsâra" and personal "nirvâna", seeking peerless true peace to help all sentient beings. They become Greater Vehicle practitioners and the best of them are rare (perhaps only one in a million). Only these successfully practice Highest Yoga Tantra and the suddenist techniques of Dzogchen.

7.3 Calm Abiding.

The Buddha discovered it is not possible to realize wisdom-mind by diligently striving in extreme ways. Instead, through Calm Abiding ("śamatha"), joy arises and from joy, insight arises ! When a sense of well-being is established, the mind is able to ride on this wave, while physical misery leads to nothing good. So the first things to do is to achieve serenity, a tranquil state of mind. Without this, insight in the true nature of phenomena is impossible. A calm mind is the fruit of successful tranquility meditation.

The preliminary practices of calmness meditation are mindfulness and analytical meditation. The former duly prepares the mind to be aware of itself and its environment, the latter establishes various virtuous objects.

Mindfulness, as taught in the Theravâda tradition, is simply being thoroughly in the present moment and letting awareness to be unbound as possible, devoid of any conceptual overlay, dispensing with judgments, classifications, emotional responses etc. Whatever happens is observed neutrally, without attending to it and without rejecting it, without grasping & without conceptual elaboration. The practice of this preliminary mindfulness meditation involves no elaborate trappings, but is as simple as carefully watching without putting in any effort, except that of bringing the wandering mind back to the present moment. If laxity, complacency or "sinking" happens, one just notices it. No antidote is applied. This is the main difference between mindfulness and Calm Abiding. To distinguish mindfulness meditation, mindfulness, when part of the practice of Calm Abiding, will be called "attention".

Analytical meditation involves remembering and (re)considering the meaning of Dharma teachings heard or read, and this in an ordered fashion ("lamrim"). This is not without effort, presupposing preliminary study (listening and/or reading) and reflection. Impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, pain, absence of static entities, death, the Three Jewels, the Two Truths etc. are common themes. By intently analyzing these and other Dharma objects, we reach provisional conclusions. These are virtuous states of mind.

If, through studying, reflecting, analytical meditation and mindfulness meditation, certain crucial virtuous object like the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha have become habitual objects of the mind, then they can be taken as objects of placement meditation or Calm Abiding.

mindfulness meditation : passive awareness training ;
analytical meditation : reflecting on the Dharma, establishing its objects ;
placement meditation or Calm Abiding : active tranquility training.

In tranquility meditation, three factors are essential : (a) attentional stability or the capacity to keep one's attention ("smriti") on the object of placement constant & non-compulsive, (b) vividness, or the capacity of the mind to clearly see and maintain interest in the object, and (c) introspection or vigilance ("samprajanya"), or watching carefully to see when attention begins to slip. Focusing the mind and maintaining one's attention continuously and clearly without distractions is the way to serenity. In Tibetan Buddhism, Calm Abiding is defined by nine stages. From the beginning of the practice to its culmination certain problems arise addressed by specific antidotes.

There are Six Prerequisites to achieve Calm Abiding. If these are not present, the whole training is rather futile and a waste of good time.

The Six Prerequisites :

1. a suitable environment : a quiet, safe place with few companions ;
2. few desires : cultivating few and simple needs ;
3. contentment : attending to what is given in the moment ;
4. few concerns : a simple lifestyle, dealing with what is present right now ;
5. ethical discipline : recognizing the harmful and not indulging in it ;
6. avoiding compulsive thinking : no mental spiels, glib talks, goofy cravings, in particular about worldly desires.

Before discussing the Nine Stages of Calm Abiding, let's define the Five Faults ("âdînava"), Six Powers ("bala") and Eight Antidotes ("pratipaksha") :

The Five Faults :

As long as one of these faults is present, the object of placement is unstable.

1. laziness ("kausîdya") : the wish to establish the object of placement is not present ;
2. forgetting the precept ("avavâdasammosha") : the object is indeed entirely forgotten ;
3. laxity ("laya") & excitement/excitation ("auddhataya") : implying lethargy or a heaviness of mind & body, laxity is either the absence of a clear mind apprehending the object (coarse) or the absence of an intensity of clarity, i.e. a sense of tightness of mind with respect to the object (subtle) - excitement is a scattering of the mind away from the object to an object of desire, i.e. remembering a pleasant object while trying to focus on the object. Coarse excitement replaces the object of placement with the object of desire, while in subtle excitement only a "corner" of the mind has come under influence of discursiveness while the appearance of the pleasing object is imminent ;
5. non-application ("anabhisamskâra") : the antidotes to laxity & excitement are not applied ;
6. over-application ("abhisamskâra") : the antidotes to laxity and excitement are applied too often.

The Six Powers :

Only by the presence of these power can the object of placement become stable.

1. hearing ("shruta") : refers to clearly listening to the instructions (stage 1) ;
2. thinking ("chintâ") : thinking over what has been heard (stages 2 & 3) ;
3. attention ("smriti") : keeping the object in mind (stages 2 & 3) ;
4. introspection ("samprajanya") : watching attention slip (stages 5 & 6) ;
5. effort ("vîrya") : doing what is needed to practice (stages 7 & 8) ;
6. familiarity ("parichaya") : being familiar with the object (stage 9).

The Eight Antidotes :

By not applying these antidotes, the hindrances to a stable object of placement remain.

Antidotes to laziness :

1. faith ("shraddhâ")
2. aspiration ("chhanda")
3. exertion ("vyâyâma")
4. pliancy ("prashrabdhi")

5. attention ("smriti") : antidote to forgetting the precepts ;
6. introspection ("samprajanya") : antidote to laxity & excitement ;
7. application ("abhisamskâra") : antidote to non-application of antidotes ;
8. equanimity ("upekshâ") : antidote to over-application.

The Four Mental Applications :

Four engagements are necessary on the path to meditative equipoise :

1. forceful engaging : one has to force the mind to remains focused on the object of placement (stage 1 & 2) ;
2. interrupted engaging : our practice is interrupted by thoughts and we have to continually bring it back (stages 3 to 7) ;
3. uninterrupted engaging : the mind no longer wanders and stays with its object without interruptions (stage 8) ;
4. spontaneous engaging : the mind rests in meditative equipoise (stage 9).

The Nine Stages to "Śamatha" :

The primary obstacles to attain the apex of Calm Abiding, called "setting in meditative equipoise" are laxity and excitement. The former diminishes mental clarity and is a kind of inner dullness & heaviness, while excitement is a scattering of the mind by desirously engaging in another object deemed pleasant. Both diminish the ability to concentrate on the object of placement and so prevent Calm Abiding. When they appear, the antidotes counteract them. In a general way, laxity is remedied by brightening or enlarging the object of placement and excitement is counteracted by decreasing the size & brightness of the object, heightening one's concentration on another object (like the breath) or contemplating impermanence & death.

1. Mental Placement :

Setting the mind. The object, like an image or statue of the Buddha or another virtuous object, is found. Concentration is intermittent and random thoughts enter often. The object can only be briefly held. Attention is brief and the object is often lost. There is a lot of mental chatter. Emotional resistances to the training are strong and lead the mind away from its object.

2. Continual Placement :

Continuously setting the mind. Without gross excitation, by an increase of attention, the object can be held for a minute. Mental chatter is present but moves to the background. Resistances fade but are still present. After a small period of placement, the mind is led astray again and the object is lost for some considerable time. Then it is found again.

3. Patched Placement :

Resetting the mind. One stays on the object longer, but due to gross excitation it is occasionally lost, but comes back quickly. It is not yet perfectly clear and background mental chatter is still intermittently present. Attention is never lost for long, but the mind does momentarily slip off into distraction.

4. Close Placement :

Close setting of the mind. The mind is imbued with calmness, and the object is not lost for hours at a time. Attention is stable enough for distraction to get hold. There is enough "ballast" to keep the boat of attention from rocking over into wandering. Gross excitation is temporarily overcome. But when continuity of attention is greater, laxity becomes stronger. Introspection is necessary to watch whether it is rising. One need to get rid of gross laxity, fading vividness. This is done by paying closer attention without putting in too much effort. The lens of attention is focuses more and more finely, seeing greater details. There is no wandering, but some background chatter remains. A split focus is present : one on the object, another on this noise, imagery on the periphery of one's awareness. After some time, a naturally arisen mental image or "sign" ("nimitta") appears in the area of attention, like a web of light surrounding the object of placement. Finally gross excitation is gone, but gross laxity not yet.

5. Taming :

Disciplining the mind. Vividness is enhanced. The advantages of this training emerge and they are delightful. Gross laxity is addressed. The object is not lost and mental chatter is gone. But bright vividness is not yet there, and so this state is not to be confused with "samâdhi". Training attention to details, paying very close attention to the object of placement brings greater "density" of moments of clear attention directed upon the object. Eventually gross laxity stops. But subtle laxity remains.

6. Pacification :

Pacifying the mind. The senses are withdrawn. There is very little sensoric input. All resistance to the training is gone and attention is stable and very tightly woven. Here, subtle excitation happens. Only a "corner" of the mind has come under influence of discursiveness while the appearance of the pleasing object is imminent.

7. Complete Pacification :

Thoroughly pacifying the mind. To overcome subtle laxity, vividness needs to be improved further. The object is clear, but can become even clearer ! Intense vividness is sought. Finally, subtle laxity stops and one focuses on the "sign" of the object of placement.

8. Single-Pointed Placement :

One-pointedness of mind. No laxity or excitation whatsoever arise. The training needs very little effort in the beginning and then goes effortlessly. The mind is cruising. Introspection is no longer necessary. The only thing done is to accustom the mind to this state, creating a deeper and deeper sense of familiarity with it.

9. Balanced Placement :

Setting the mind in meditative equipoise. No effort is needed. Entering meditation is like putting on new clothes. The mind is like a breeze. Transformation is happening on the deepest level possible.

7.4 Insight Meditation.

"If You analytically discern the lack of self in phenomena and You cultivate that very analysis in meditation, this will cause the result, attainment of nirvâna ; there is no peace through any other means."
Buddha Śâkyamuni : King of Concentrations Sûtra.

When meditative equipoise is realized, the yogi can effortlessly enter the concentrations of the Form Realm and the stabilizations of the Formless Realm. The first stabilization is a very deep state of "samâdhi", and is one step beyond balanced placement. Hence, the practice of the Four Immeasurables. These extraordinary states of mind, cherished by various spiritual systems, are however part of "samsâra" ! Even the highest of these, the "Peak of Samsâra" or cosmic consciousness is definitely not the goal sought ! Calm Abiding, in all its various forms, is not a terminus ad quem, only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for enlightenment. The gods too enjoy these trances, as so do yogis who only train to increase their personal samsaric pleasures. According to the Buddha, these states are always transient and so do not lead to true peace, which needs to be lasting. According to the Great Perfection Sûtras, practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle are also trapped in these "personal" kind of liberated states.  Even the great Hindu yogi Patañjali warns us :

"The union of those who have merged with Nature & those who are bodiless is due to their focus on the notion of becoming."
Patañjali : Yoga-sûtra, 1.19.

Calm Abiding is a preliminary training to enhance concentration, and the latter is needed to be able to do Insight Meditation
("vipaśyanâ"), the crown jewel of Buddhist yoga. Insight Meditation (or Emptiness Meditation) is a special type of analytical meditation, focusing on the ultimate virtuous object : emptiness.

The various analytical processes to realize emptiness conceptually (cf. infra) are not enough to bring about a direct, non-conceptual, nondual experience of the ultimate nature of phenomena. Insight Meditation, using these analytical processes, will not be sufficient either.

The conceptual structures developed through reflection or Insight Meditation need to be refined through placement meditation. Only when body & mind have become pliant, is the serviceable & responsive condition attained to practice without resistance, taking delight in focusing on emptiness. Serenity makes the body feel light & buoyant and the mind equipoise,
lacking lateral dominance and ready to engage any object of placement without resistance.

Although one may practice placement meditation before Insight Meditation on emptiness, it is impossible to achieve serenity when alternating between analysis and post-analytical placement meditation. When analyzing, the mind moves from object to object. When serene, it does not move at all.

Once serenity has been attained, one should return (or begin) with the practice of Insight Meditation, working again and again through the Four Essential Points (cf. infra). Tsongkhapa emphasizes it is impossible to develop true insight by realizing emptiness analytically and then practicing serenity by stabilizing the mind on the conclusions. This is an important point !

One sustains one's conceptual understanding of emptiness by repeatedly going over the analysis again and again, following and working through all possible lines of reasoning. Being deeply accustomed to the conceptual framework, the view becomes strong, clear and long-lasting. So after having attained serenity, one works to sustain conceptual insight through continued analysis. This point is stressed by Kamalaśîla, Chandrakîrti, Bhâvaviveka, Śântideva and Tsongkhapa. For Kamalaśîla, Insight Meditation is built upon a foundation of mental calmness. Although one may study and reflect upon emptiness before reaching mental equipoise, the real fruit emerges only if this is repeatedly done after having attained serenity. This is also reflected by the order of the Six Perfections, with concentration preceding wisdom.

Tsongkhapa makes it clear Insight Meditation after mental equipoise is not enough either. One needs to alternate between both, reinforcing both. By Insight Meditation profound certainty is realized that "not even a particle of true existence in any thing or non-thing whatsoever" abides (Great Treatise, Volume 3, Chapter 25, a"). Striking a dynamic balance between two seemingly discordant practices is the task ahead. With too much analysis, the stability of the mind weakens (a flame placed in the wind). With too much serenity, the mind gets too absorbed in the object (a person who is asleep).

At some glorious moment, Insight Meditation (analysis) spontaneously induces the bliss & pliancy of serenity ! This profound meditation is the union of serenity and insight and is called special insight. Only this type of analysis induces mental equipoise. Before this point, Insight Meditation is only an approximation of insight. But when analysis, within the same meditation session, makes serenity fuse with it, true (conceptual) insight is realized.

This "special insight" generates a generic concept of emptiness. The mind is still apprehending and focusing on this image of the lack of inherent existence. Can this lead to a direct realization ?

"Kaśyapa, it is like this. For example, two trees are dragged against each other by wind and from that a fire starts, burning the two trees. In the same way, Kaśyapa, if You have correct analytical discrimination, the power of a noble being's wisdom will emerge. With its emergence, correct analytical discrimination will itself be burned up."
Śâkyamuni : Kaśyapa Chapter Sûtra.

The following steps persist :

mindfulness meditation : passive awareness training ;
analytical meditation : reflecting on the Dharma, establishing an object ;
placement meditation/Calm Abiding : active serenity training on an object ;
realizing meditative equipoise : realizing total absorption of the mind on the basis of an object ;
emptiness meditation : analytical meditation on the object of emptiness ;
alternate meditation : moving between analysis of emptiness & serenity ;
"special insight" : natural rising of serenity in emptiness meditation ;
seeing : non-conceptual, nondual, direct experience of emptiness during meditation (entering the first "bhûmi").

When the Path of Seeing has been entered, the Bodhisattva becomes a Superior One, enters the first Stage of the Bodhisattva training, has eliminated all self-cherishing and all self-grasping, except innate self-grasping. Eliminating the latter (on the Path of Meditation) leads directly to Buddhahood (Path of No More Learning).

In my take on the Ten Stages, innate self-grasping is the result of the abiding influence of the first mode of cognition : myth. To be able to totally and irreversibly end the activity of this primitive & psychomorphic mind leads to Buddhahood.

7.5 Training the Four Immeasurables & Generating Bodhicitta.

Calm Abiding on the Four Immeasurable ("apramâna"), or the "four Divine states of dwelling" ("brahma-vihâra"), namely joy ("muditâ"), love or kindness ("maitrî"), compassion ("karunâ") & equanimity ("upekśâ") remedies the various forms of self-cherishing. Hatred, indifference and self-centeredness have loving kindness as antidote. Grief & cruelty have compassion, frivolity has joy and resentment & hostility have equanimity as their far enemies. They are perfect virtues ("pâramitâs") and are said to bring about rebirth in the heaven of Brahmâ. They were cherished in Hinduism and can also be found in the three "religions of the book" (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). They represent the fine flowers of spiritual humanism and need no religion to be practiced but are shared by all human beings.

According to the Buddhadharma, these virtues need to be perfected. If not, they are the best way to achieve the highest samsaric realizations, but do not lead to "nirvâna". Calm Abiding on them alone gives no entry. Therefore some practitioners say they are "blind" if not perfected, i.e. empowered by Insight Meditation.

The joyous one, the joy and the enjoying lack characteristics from their own side. The lover, the love & the loved are empty of self-power. The compassionate, the compassion and those endowed with it lack substance. The equanimous, the equanimity and those treated equanimously all share the same process-nature, emptiness. These insights perfect the Four Immeasurables.

Besides practicing the Four Immeasurable and the Six Perfections, the Bodhisattva differs from Lesser Vehicle Practitioners by his vow to generate the mind of enlightenment for the sake or benefit of all sentient beings. This is Bodhicitta, and it has two forms : conventional & ultimate. Conventional Bodhicitta is directed to dependent arisings and is either aspiring or engaging. Aspiring Bodhicitta merely wishes all sentient beings to be free from their samsaric chains & traps, while engaging Bodhicitta actualizes this by actually helping & assisting sentient beings gain such liberation or awakening. Teaching the Dharma is the most rewarding way to do this, for it empowers people to put in the effort to counter the severe attachments typical for the human realm. Giving help to sentient beings can be done after explicitly being requested to do so or by blessing all sentient beings irrespective of their condition, just like the Sun shines on all beings in the same way. This is Great Compassion ("mahâkarunâ"), constantly engaging in the activity of bringing Dharma to all possible sentient beings (from hell-beings up to the gods). Finally, ultimate Bodhicitta is directed towards emptiness, realizing the perfection of Bodhicitta is impossible without the wisdom-mind taking emptiness as its object.

All these activities, from quietness training to generating conventional Bodhicitta, intend to end self-cherishing, making the mind supple enough to realize emptiness. Indeed, the unquiet, locked-up mind cannot develop "special insight", and this remains the ultimate target, and should not be forgotten. Although many of the techniques discussed are found in various spiritual traditions, only in the Buddhadharma is the ultimate nature of all phenomena truly addressed, leading to true peace. This is the ultimate peace entered when inherent existence is not attributed to a single atom, nor to a single self.

While some Hindu critics of emptiness claim "śûnyatâ" is a level below cosmic consciousness, they actually turn things around. Cosmic consciousness, or the elimination of all fluctuations of or superimpositions on consciousness merging with the world-ground or "Brahman", remains within "samsâra" and this bliss is not lasting, for the yogi "returns" to his former waking state. Moreover, "Brahman" involves a brontosauric reification of the unity of a sapient ("vidyâ") mega-subject ("âtman") & a mega-object called "God". Brahman, conceptualized as the only "real" substance, exists by its own, very nature, independent from all means, like knowledge. Or in the words of Śankara (788 - 820 ?) :

"... like the effulgence of the sun, Brahman has eternal consciousness by Its very nature, so that It has no dependence on the means of knowledge."
Śankara : Brahma-Sûtra-Bhâsya, I.i.5, my italics.

Enlightenment or awakening is continuously realizing ultimate existence exists conventionally, for all phenomena, Brahman included, lack substance. In the ultimate Buddhist view, both "samsâra" and "nirvâna" are transcended (cf. Dzogchen).

 8 The Second Turning II : Understanding Emptiness.

This paragraph is at the heart of this paper. The actual method realizing a conceptual understanding or generic image of emptiness is at hand. Various authors have approached this subject in multiple ways. Three of them will be studied : (a) the Four Essential Points, as given by Tsongkhapa, (b) the Four Profundities, as found in the Heart Sûtra, and (c) the Sevenfold Analysis, as found in Chandrakîrti's Introduction to the Middle Way.

These analytical meditations are all complementary and mostly based on the same type of formal logical reasoning involving sameness & difference. The fundamental preliminary insight involves grasping the difference between A = A (sameness - identity) & A ≠ B (difference). Something is either identical (A = A) or different (¬ A = B). In classical formal logic, there is no third possibility between A & ¬ A (tertium non datur) for the "third" is excluded (principium tertii exclusi). The principle of the double negation follows : ¬ ¬ A = A or A = ¬ ¬ A : negating the negation of A equals A or A is the negation of its own negation.
If "This rose is red." is true, then "This rose is not-red." cannot be true !

In classical calculus, there is nothing identical and different at the same time. Anything ¬ A is a priori B (or ¬ A  ≠ A), for if sameness is violated, then the result is per definition difference. In the case of sameness & difference this cannot be otherwise. Buddhist logic is based on the classical system of formal logic. For Russell, in his The Problems of Philosophy, three "Laws of Thought" as more or less "self-evident" or a priori :

1. Law of Identity : "Whatever is, is." or A = A ;
2. Law of Non-Contradiction : "Nothing can both be and not be." or A ≠ ¬ A ;
3. Law of Excluded Middle : "Everything must either be or not be." or A v ¬ A, or
either "this is red" is true or "this is not red" is true (Principia Mathematica, 2.1).

For example, in the case of A = white and B = black, A ≠ B pertains. But what about C = all shades of gray ? Although C ≠ B ^ C ≠ A, while C is a combination of A & C, nothing except A is identical with white ! So anything not the same as A (black or gray) a forteriori differs from A (white), even if A & B produce C. This is rather clear-cut and this classical formal logic will be used to conceptually identify emptiness, i.e. generate a generic image or idea of it.

In Von Neumann's quantum logic (describing subatomic states in complex Hilbert-spaces working with i = √ -1), A (particle) and ¬ A (wave) do occur simultaneously and are processed by the calculus accordingly. But once such a complex state is observed, the complex numbers are replaced by squared integer values and either A or ¬ A pertain. Because ultimate analysis targets our conventional misrepresentations, it is bound to use classical logic, the formal representation of conventionality.

8.1 Conventional & Ultimate Analysis.

Scientific truth is conventional truth. Empirico-formal propositions convey something about sensate & mental objects. These facts are, for the time being, considered as true conventions, i.e. as valid and authoritative insofar as scientific knowledge goes. They represent what is conventionally known about ourselves, others & the world. Conventional falsehoods are statements about objects in conflict with experimental results and/or true conventional theories. Falsehoods may be due to impaired senses (wrong perceptions), incorrect tests, misuse of instruments and/or wrong discursive processes, like relying on false testimonies, wrong assumptions, invalid logical deductions or asymmetrical conditions of discourse (based on strategic action backed by the media power & money instead of communication), etc.

Epistemological analysis brings to bare the provisional, fallible nature of conventional truth, nevertheless incontrovertible regarding the logical & functional existence of phenomena. Facts do exist logically & functionally, and so are working & effective. To analyze conventional truths, we study testability, experimental backing, formulate hypothesis, argue and develop conventions about theoretical constructs. For Tsongkhapa, these truths have conventional validity and depend on things, not as they are in and of themselves, i.e. ultimately, but as they appear to valid cognizers, i.e. to minds capable of objectifying sensate & mental objects correctly, articulating factual statements about them, conventionally. When a blue sky is observed, the mere existence of it is studied, not its ultimate nature. This leads to statements about light-frequencies and topographic differences between up & down, and these considerations lead to other phenomena interdependent with the blue sky. The appearances studied by conventional truth are therefore always nominalist and taken at face value. The "existence" of these facts is accepted by convention and the entities designated exist because their identity & function have been objectified correctly, i.e. by valid experiments and correct reasoning.

Conventional appearances are objects found by a valid cognizer with regard to which he or she becomes a distinguisher of conventionalities. Facts are nothing more than their conventional label allowing the mind to identify them and the series of functions defining their working status. But to any conventional cognizer, these facts do appear to exist from their own side, as independent entities. That this is an illusion is not ascertained. That facts only appear to exist from their own side while they cannot be found to truly exist in that way, is beyond conventional analysis.

Just like the Sun, in its diurnal arc, appears to rise & set, conventional facts appear to be self-powered. Sensate objects seem "out there" and mental objects appear "in here", seemingly independent from our mental labeling or imputations. Even after having realized it is the rotating movement of the Earth which makes the Sun seem to rise & set, the appearance of the moving Sun abides. Knowing this appearance is deceiving us does stop us from believing the phenomenon at face value, but it does not take away the illusionary fact. It only stops us from being deceived by it. This example clarifies two things : (a) the distinction between how objects merely appear substance-like while ultimately they are process-like and (b) the difference between conceptually realizing the ultimate nature of phenomena and actually seeing it. By way of ultimate analysis, we generate a generic image of the emptiness of an object, halting the deception of its self-powered appearance, but this without piercing through it and having a direct, nondual, non-conceptual knowledge or the wisdom-mind apprehending the actual emptiness of the object.

Ultimate analysis allows the mind to understand facts seem or appear otherwise than they truly are. Instead of merely distinguishing between conventionalities, as in conventional analysis, it poses the fundamental question :

What is exactly & truly there ?

The merit of the Middle Way Consequence School consists in not positing anything regarding this true, ultimate existence. As in the Via Negativa, it merely removes all deceptions. It is thoroughly logical and not metaphysical. Being logical, it invites anybody to posit a metaphysical statement about the ultimate nature of things which can withstand the Sword of Wisdom of its ultimate analysis.

8.2 Other-powered, Imputational & Thoroughly Established Natures.

To clarify its position, the Mind-Only School made a series of interesting distinctions helpful to understand, in the context of the Middle Way Consequence School, the target of ultimate analysis. While logic does not endorse their definition of emptiness (the nonduality of apprehended-object & apprehending-subject), it is nevertheless interesting to use these categories, but then devoid of their substantialist & idealist connotations, reintroducing inherent existence (namely as the absolute consciousness devoid of apprehended-object and apprehending-subject). Moreover, the refutation of the tenets of the Mind-Only School is a very good exercise to clarify the radical and irreversible conclusion of the Consequence School. I shall however refrain from doing so and concentrate on the distinction between three modes of being or three natures : other-powered, imputed & thoroughly established natures, the three modes, so to speak, of every phenomenon.

other-powered (dependent) nature : all objects under influence of causes (or more generally, determinations) and conditions outside themselves. They exist thanks to something other than themselves. They are impermanent and have no power to stay a single moment without others. They are not self-powered and possess no own-form. Although they seem solid, permanent, independent, etc. they cannot remain a single instance without forces & conditions outside themselves. Other-powered, impermanent natures are the sole objects of cognition. All possible objects of knowledge are other-powered ;
imputational nature : a false status imputed to other-powered natures and described as superimpositions entailing the distant and cut off appearance of subject and object. The latter seems "external" through the power of false ideation
("vijñapti") by the former. Due to this false imputation, these natures establish themselves by way of their own character, with attributes & properties falsely appearing to exist from their own side. All conventional truths are other-powered phenomena falsely appearing, under the influence of false ideation, as distance & cut off ;
thoroughly established (perfect) nature : or the final mode of other-powered natures, given when devoid (or empty) of their imputational nature. This is the final object of the path of purification, i.e. a cognition removing the obstructions built on unfounded, false ideation. As this object does not change moment by moment (as other-powered phenomena), the Mind-Only calls it "permanent" (which is not substantial, as Tibetan Prâsangika interpreters often would have it). The consciousness or mind devoid of apprehended object and apprehending subject is a thoroughly established (perfect) nature, and thus truly established and self-powered.

Only the last nature is ultimate, while the two former are conventional.

These three natures, or three aspects of every phenomenon, can be understood as follows : the object itself is the other-powered nature. This is the basis of the false ideation, the imputational nature, as well as the basis of the thoroughly established nature, which is the other-powered nature's lack of that imputational nature.

By superimposing the imputational nature onto other-powered and thoroughly established natures, sentient beings designate the convention that the latter are of the character of the imputational nature, i.e. in accord with false ideation. The conception phenomena exist as entities of nominal, conventional and terminological imputations is not the superimposition of imputation. The conception these conventional objects exist by way of their own character is an assent such referentiality inheres in objects themselves. This is the superimposition the path of purification stops.

8.3 Self-Grasping : the Logic of Reification.

The study of the three natures points the true culprit : inherent existence. Imputation itself cannot be avoided and without it no conventional truth could be established. By itself, attributing names and labels to objects, is not afflictive. This cognizing superimposition is the normal way of worldly wisdom. But as soon as these names given to their identity & function (quantity, quality, relation, modality) are considered to inhere in them, i.e. exist in them from their own side, independent and cut off from other phenomena, ignorant superimposition is at work. Having identified it, analysis intends to put an end to it by proving such substantializing imputation cannot be found.

Self-grasping is precisely that : projecting inherent existence on objects, considering them as distant, cut off, independent and substantial (existing by their own power, i.e. not other-powered).

Let me recapitulate the three steps involved to identify conceptual objects and reify them :

  • formal-logical designation by way of identity & contradiction : every object is self-identical (A = A), object of an affirming negation (everything B which is not A) or (A ≠ B) and either A or B ;

  • functional, relational designation : every object A relates to other objects, say C, by performing functions or C = f(A). With these two steps, a complete nominalist identification is at hand. To establish the conventional truths of science, nothing more is needed ;

  • substantialist designation : because object A exists, i.e. can be logically identified & functions, it is deemed self-powered, i.e. independent & cut off from other objects. This substantial A (As) exists by way of its own characteristics, or As = E!x and not merely as Эy (y = A), i.e. as empirico-formal knowledge articulating a mere connection between an object and a predicate. Qualities are deemed inhering, existing "in" objects from their own side, not as state-based, process-like properties, functionally related to them.

This last reifying designation lies at the heart of all forms of substantialist ontology and is the first cause of all possible suffering. Consider it as the technical definition of ignorance, the delusion to stop in order to realize the radical transformation of mind.

The mere process of conceptualization designates something as being present as an object of mind, instantiating it. This process implies (a) logical identification (naming, labeling) and (b) functional description (working relations with other objects). As soon as we grasp, in dependence upon the existence of an object, onto the so-called "true existence" of the object, identifying its labels & functions as inhering in the object, we grasp onto a presumed quality, namely inherent existence, adding "true existence" as a predicate. And this "true existence" is more than the existence of an object labeled and functionally described, i.e. it does more than merely instantiate this object. Under its spell, we lose the sense of objects being designated by the force of factual agreement (on their sensate & mental properties). Instead, the conventional truth is compounded by the false ideation the object seems to exist in and of itself ! Applying this to ourselves & others, we establish a false subject (seemingly enduring while transient). Applied to all other objects, we establish a false object (faking stability while impermanent). Both falsehoods (the false subject and the false object) constitute the "self" the doctrine of selflessness annihilates.

This false self is the object apprehended by ignorance.

Organic philosophy, based on process-thinking
"has to abandon any approach to the substance-quality notion of actuality. The organic philosophy interprets experience as meaning the 'self-enjoyment of being one among many, and of being one arising out of the composition of many'." (Whitehead, A.N. : Process & Reality, 1929, chapter VI, section I).

8.4 The Four Essential Points.

The Four Essential Points summarize the way Gelugpas, following Tsongkhapa, conceptually analyze & gain understanding of emptiness, i.e. constitute a generic image of it by establishing the correct view. I shall first explain these points in general terms, and then apply them to the substantial identitylessness of  persons & the substantial identitylessness of phenomena.

8.4.1 The Proper Negation : Attending & Attributed Object.

The attending object of a conceptual cognition is the unity of its logical identity (its name or label) and its functional properties (its relationships with other attended objects). This attended object is thus the observed sensate or mental object and the mere observation or apprehension is attending to it.

In dependence upon attending to the object, there arises the sense the object truly exists, i.e. that the observed identity with its properties inhere in it. This sense of a truly existent object, this attribution of substantial existence or "true existence" to the attending object, this moving beyond the mere logical & functional instantiation of an object, is the attributed object. The latter object is the attribute of ignorance, not of wisdom. Conventional truth does not escape the attributed object, as methodological realism & idealism show. Science does accept its objects to be cut off and independent, although, under transcendental analysis, such truly existent properties (like separateness and independence) cannot be found.

The attended object of the conventional mind is the conventional logical identity & its functions, the mind of "worldly wisdom", while its attributed object is the inherent existence of this identity & its functions, i.e. the presence of their true existence or inherent existence. The latter is the mind of ignorance.

The attended object of the mind apprehending this conventional identity & its functions grasps the relative self.

worldly, scientific truth : attends conventional identity & function ;
ignorance : attributes inherent existence to objects attended.

The attended object of wisdom-mind is the conventional identity & its functions, while its attributed object is the absence of their true existence and so grasps the absolute self, their emptiness.

supramundane, ultimate truth : attends logical identity & function as the mere observation of objects ;
wisdom : attributes emptiness to objects attended.

The First Point consists in understanding what needs to be negated. If too much is negated, like existence as a whole, nihilism ensues. If too little is negated, so inherent existence somehow endures, eternalism pertains. Tsongkhapa identifies the culprit as inherent existence.

Conventional reality or conventional truth is not the agent of ignorance. Logical & functional existence, the mere observation or attending of objects, is not delusional. Conventional truth is valid insofar as worldly truths, namely dependent arisings, goes. So nihilism is avoided, for conventional reality escapes ultimate analysis as a valid means to acquire conventional knowledge (establishing conventional objects by way of label & function).

Ultimate reality or ultimate truth is not some ontologically separate "thing", like a self-sufficient ground, ultimate true existence or substance. Ultimate truth attends conventional reality without reification, i.e. without attributing inherent existence or adding substantial nature to the sensate & mental objects attended as logical identities with their functions. Hence, no object is attributed as existing on its own. Eternalism is avoided, for ultimate truth exists conventionally, and although establishing a different object (namely the emptiness of the attended object), it does not attribute an eternal nature to it, does not posit its emptiness as an instantiating, inherent quality, nature or property existing from its own side, ontologically separate from the conventionalities.  As = E!x does not apply.

Summary of the First Point : identify inherent existence !

8.4.2 Sameness ? Is a truly existing object identical with its parts or with the collection of its parts ? No.

Conventional objects merely exist as transient, functional identities or compounds. Every worldly entity can be subdivided. But, to make sure, we do ask : can, in logic and/or in fact, partless objects be found ?

In logic. Suppose A is a partless object. This implies A cannot be subdivided. Suppose there is such an indivisible, infinitesimal partless material particle A. How can material compound Y consisting of X parts come into existence ? When X parts are joined to partless A to form Y, then A has X parts, and so A is not partless. Suppose these X parts converge to A to form compound Y, but then all compounds would be infinitesimal as A. As compounds have extension, this conclusion is absurd.

In fact. The subject of knowledge, the empirical ego, is imputed upon parts, namely its body, actions, affects, thoughts & consciousness. How can the self be partless if imputed upon parts ? Sensate objects of experience are always physical compounds, ranging from galaxies to the universal quantum field. Per definition, compounds cannot be partless. Mental objects of experience, like the mathematical point, can be partless, but then refer to nothing more than an ideal theoretical beginning in no way to be compared with functional physical objects, or wholes defined by their parts. These ideal constructions are merely necessary to make functions possible.

Lemma : definable & functional objects have parts and so are compounds.

Now suppose an inherently existing object A. Object A is singular, but its parts are multiple. Is A identical with its parts ? As its parts are many and A is inherently, i.e. permanently singular, A cannot be or become identical with its parts, for otherwise there would be as many A's as there are parts. As there is only one, single, inherently existing object A, it follows such an object cannot be identical with its parts.

Suppose A is identified as the singular collection of its parts, then one must reckon there is no such "collection" apart from the parts, i.e. this "collection" is not an entity in its own right, but only the mathematical set or label subsuming certain parts. If we identify A with this set, then this set must be found to substantially exist as A is assumed to exist. However, the set is only a designated gathering of parts and nowhere is this "collection" as such found, but only its parts. Hence, A cannot be the collection of its parts.

Summary of the Second Point : singular, inherently existing objects cannot be the same or identical with their plural parts, nor can they be identical with the collection of their multiple parts.

8.4.3 Difference ? Is a truly existing object different than its parts ? No.

Can this hypothetically truly existing A exist as something distinct from its parts, i.e. utterly unrelated to them ? If this is the case, then this truly existent A, so self-powered it is able to posit itself as distinct from its parts, must be found. However, this is not the case. Only other-powered parts are found. Hence, A is cannot be different than its parts.

Summary of the Third Point : singular, inherently existing objects cannot be distinct from or different than their multiple parts.

8.4.4 Realization ! As a truly existing object is not the same nor distinct from its parts, how to find such an object ? As yet, none have been found.

The word "realization" has been used a lot. In a general way, it refers to something made concrete, or clearly & distinctly understood. In a more specific way though, four mental processes have to be present to denote this important word clearly :

1. to fathom : applying the correct procedures to grasp an object ;
2. to understand : gathering all necessary, valid knowledge about it ;
3. to eliminate uncertainty : sustaining a clear, certain view concerning it ;
4. to intensely experience : living it directly, in a sharp & saturated way.

When the negation of these characteristics is thoroughly overcome, one has truly realized something. Lack of a proper grasp, misunderstanding, abiding uncertainty & fleeting observation are the marks of not realizing an object. Not fathom the object can be due to faulty senses & wrong views. The latter may be due to lack of information, incorrect thinking or attachment. Misunderstanding the object is the result of persistently & consistently applying wrong views. Remaining uncertain is due to not enough study of & reflection on the object. Lacking experience may be due to not enough exposure to or lack of repetitive encounters with the object.

When the First, Second & Third Point are realized, there is only one conclusion left : no inherent existent, substantial object can be found. The Consequentialist does not conclude : "An inherent object does not exist !", for this is positing he has found an path to deduce such a final, complete conclusion. As he has been using the reductio ad absurdum, showing the absurd conclusions resulting from accepting substances hypothetically, the only outcome possible confirms no substances have as yet been found ! This is an "open end" kind of logic. So to his critics, he may ask : "Show me a static object !", "Posit a substance !", etc. As soon as the challenge is taken up, the absurdities can be deduced, dislodging the opponent. When asked to positively prove no substances are to be found anywhere, he can only answer : What is a mere absence cannot be affirmed.

Let us summarize the realization by two analogies.

In logic. Married bachelors.

Searching after inherently existing substances is like someone looking for a married bachelor to be happy. As the latter cannot be unwed because he is married and he cannot be wed because he is a bachelor, the wish to find one is unreasonable and based on a misconception, for the set of married bachelors is a forteriori empty.

Likewise, the concept "inherently existent objects" involves a contradictio in terminis. If these objects are truly inherently existing, then they must be either the same or distinct from their parts. As they are neither the same nor different from their parts, they cannot logically exist at all and so constitute an empty set. Moreover, insofar as they are inherently existing, they cannot change and so cannot perform functions. As all objects are "objects" because of the conceptual designation of their identity and their functions, it follows no conceptually designated objects can inherently exist and so no inherently existing object can be identified & perform functions. The two are mutually exclusive. So the phrases "inherent existence", "married bachelors", "square circles" or "four-angled triangles" are analytically not well-formed. Although they seem to mean something, they don't. They are all examples of analytical fallacies a priori.

In fact. A hippopotamus in the house.

If substances exist, they must be as easy identifiable as any large object, say a hippopotamus. Suppose a house has ten rooms and someone says there is a hippopotamus in the house. If, after having closed all exits, a healthy, reasonable person is placed in each room and asked to search everywhere for the hippopotamus, and if, after having searched thoroughly, all ten willing observers agree on the fact no hippopotamus was found, then the conclusion there is no hippopotamus in the house must be considered as a posteriori valid. If the claim is made again, and the search is repeated a number of times with identical results, then at some point the absurdity of the claim must become obvious to all reasonable persons and no more searches are made or need to be made to ascertain whether there is a hippopotamus in the house. Likewise, if after thinking over all possible arguments positing inherent existence honestly, repeatedly & profoundly, no such object is found, then one may reasonably assume such an object cannot be found. Not wanting to posit unfindability, one merely asks : "Show me a single static object !". "Where is the hippopotamus ?"

Summary of the Fourth Point : an inherently existing objects cannot be found.

The Six Instantiations I

In a general sense, "instantiation" means representing an idea in the form of an instance of it, i.e. as an item of information representative of the idea, clarifying it by giving an example of it. For Kant, a concept has "sense and meaning" ("Sinn und Bedeutung") when it is possible to experience an instantiation of this concept. For him, saying something "exists" merely points to the categorial instantiation, and does not add anything substantial to the object.

"Existent" is not a determining predicate belonging to the set of predicates defining a concept. "Being" cannot be added to the concept of a thing, for it is not a property, nor a quality. Neither does it report any details about it. At times, this verb and its variants behave as predicates, like in : "Unicorns don't exist.", and then seem to report something not done by unicorns, namely "existing". In fact, each time, the verb is only qualified as a grammatical or "logical" copula.

For Kant, "existence" only instantiates, designates or posits the concept. So when the "existence" of something or someone is thus posited, the totality of known predicates of a thing or an individual is affirmed, adding nothing to it. When this existence is denied, the whole set of predicates vanishes and the referent with it. An object is what can be ascribed to it, nothing more. To affirm the set A "exists" is to instantiate (posit) its concept, but does not instantiate the richer concept "existing A". Every statement of existence  ("there is", or "there are"), says about a concept it is instantiated, rather than it exists. Any legitimate existential statement must be built out of propositions of the form : "There is an A.", where "A" stands for a determining predicate.

In an epistemological context, this refers to the fact the word "existence" is an idea to be grasped in terms of various instances, namely specific sensate & mental objects. The latter are identified as logical entities, functions, conventional empirico-formal propositions, substances, ultimate objects or mere existentials.

logical instantiation : the existence of object A or Эx (x = A) is an instance of it being identifiable in classical logical terms LA according to the principles of identity (A = A) & non-contradiction (A ≠ ¬ A), and, classically, excluded third (A v ¬ A) or ЭLA ;
functional instantiation : the existence of object A is logically (LA) instantiated and identifiable in functional terms FA according to A = f(B) or B = f(A) or ЭFA ;
conventional instantiation  : if the existence of object A is logically (LA) and functionally (FA) instantiated, then it is substantially instantiated, or (ЭLA ^ ЭFA) »* (As = E!A) ;
substantial instantiation ("esse", being, true existence or inherent existence) : if object A has properties Z (or A(z)), then -by way of false ideation Cf- the essence of A or As "having" these properties necessarily inherently exist, or ЭA(z) ^ Cf » E! Эy (y = A) = As = E!A ;
ultimate instantiation : the existence of object A is logically LA and functionally FA instantiated without being -by way of true ideation Ct- substantially instantiated as inherently existing or (ЭLA ^ ЭFA) ^ Ct » {¬ (As = E!A)} ;
mere existential instantiation ("existit" or mere existence) :  the existence of object A is logically (LA) and functionally (FA) instantiated and nothing more : ЭA = ЭLA ^ ЭFA.

(*) the implication or "if A then B"

The wisdom of the Buddha teaches substantial instantiation to be invalid. Realizing this fully, comprehensively & profoundly, as in ultimate instantiation, is entering "nirvâna". When this has happened, the only way conventional objects appear are as mere existential instantiations, observing their illusion-like emptiness underlying their dependent arising.

Ultimate logic has been extensively studied elsewhere. It is also part of my metaphysics.

8.5 Emptiness of Persons.

First Point : the logical & functional "I" established by mere existential instantiation is not targeted, but the substantial instantiation of the "I" is ;

Second Point : Is the substantial, permanent "I", which is singular, identical with its multiple parts, to wit its "body" and "mind" (volitions, affects, thought, consciousness) ? If so, then there should be a body-I & a mind-I, which runs against the singularity of the "I". Perhaps body & mind are a singular entity, but then designating "I" would be superfluous. There would be no need for the appellation of the word "I", which is again problematic if a substantial I is postulated.

Is the "I" perhaps the collection of both body & mind ? There is no such a "collection", for the collection of body & mind is designated upon the basis of body & mind. If this collection would be truly existent, it would be found under analysis. As body & mind depend upon their components and so change, they cannot, apart or as a "collection" be identical with the substantial, unchanging "I".

Hence, the truly existent "I" is not identical with the aggregates, nor with the mere "collection" of the aggregates. The identity of the "I" with its aggregates cannot be validated. The postulated "I" cannot be found as identical with its aggregates.

Third Point : Is the substantial "I" perhaps distinct from the aggregates of body & mind ? If so, then analytically setting aside the body on one side and the mind on the other, there should be something left over to point to as the truly existent "I". But besides body and mind, nothing is found.

A substantial "I" would have to be independent from the aggregates, but as there is no substantial "I" apart from them, this postulated "I" cannot be found distinct from the aggregates.

Fourth Point : as the substantial "I" is not found to be identical or distinct from the aggregates upon which it is designated, it cannot be found.

8.6 Emptiness of Phenomena.

First Point : the logical & functional objects established by mere existential instantiation are not targeted here, but the substantial instantiation of these object is ;

Second Point : Is the substantial table identical with its parts ? If so, then there are as many tables as there are parts, which is absurd. There is only one table with multiple parts, like a single table-top, three or four legs, nails etc. As soon as the table is broken in pieces, the designation "table" is no longer valid. We can say, "This is a broken table.", but if we split the pieces again and again, at some point the logical instantiation A = table can no longer be made by a new observer of the multiple pieces scattered about.

Perhaps the substantial table is the collection of its parts, but such a "collection" can not be found. We observe the object, and on the basis of the available parts designate "table". We never observe the "collection" as such.

Hence, the table is not identical with its parts nor with the mere collection of the parts.

Third Point : Is the substantial table different from its part ? If it were, we should be able to find the table if we eliminate all its parts. Then we would find the "essence" of the table. However, this "tableness" can not be found, only the parts are logically instantiated.

Hence, the table is not distinct from its parts.

Fourth Point : As the table, instantiated as a substance, cannot be found to be identical or different than its parts, we conclude the substantial table cannot be found.

These arguments can be refined and expanded in many ways, accommodating various counter-positions. But despite their sophistication, these reasonings do not make it possible to find the substantial object without leading to absurdities, inconsistencies and fallacies. Of course, as the Consequent Middle Way approach is not axiomatic, it does not infer emptiness, but invites one to try to find an inherent existent object.

At some point, and this remains subjective, this search is abandoned and the mind relies on the generic image of emptiness realized by these analytical meditations on emptiness. When this happens, the scene is set for the direct, non-conceptual cognition of absence of inherent existence during meditation, in other words, for the process-like, dependent arising nature of all phenomena, ending the Path of Preparation and initiating the formidable turn of mind from an ordinary Bodhisattva to that of a Superior Being who has ended all acquired self-grasping.

8.7 The Four Profundities.

The Four Profundities belong to the Heart Sûtra (Mahâprajñâpâramita-hridaya-sûtra), or "heartpiece of the perfection of wisdom sûtra", one of the shortest & most important sûtras of the Mahâyâna, belonging to the collection of forty sûtras constituting the Prajñâpâramita-sûtra. It formulates, in a very clear and concise way, the teachings on emptiness and was written in the first century CE. It is of major importance in Zen.

8.7.1 The Profundity of the Ultimate.

"Form is Empty."

Under "form" is understood all objects of the five sense consciousnesses. All gross physical objects and a person's body are included. The aggregate of form is taken as the first basis for establishing emptiness. If form would be inherently existing or truly existing, i.e. substance-like, it would exist as it appears and be found from the side of the object itself without depending upon the apprehending consciousness.

Take the physical body as example. If we remove all objects different from our body, then if our body would inherently exist, we would be able to point to this body without pointing to any phenomenon not our body. But when we point to our body, we always point to a certain place, like the chest, the head, an arm, etc. These parts are not our body, for then we would have as many bodies as the body has parts. Suppose we say the collection of its parts is the body. However, if individual parts are not our body, then how can a collection of parts suddenly turn out to be our body ? A mere collection of "non-bodies" cannot magically transform into a body. Moreover, can we point to the "collection" ? Clearly not. If we eliminate all parts of our body the collection does not remain. Hence, our body is not found among its parts nor as the collection of its parts. Likewise, we may analyze each of the parts and find they too lack inherent existence. In fact, everything having parts cannot be found as existing from its own side, self-powered. All phenomena are other-powered, dependent of determinations & conditions outside themselves.

The body and its parts merely exist because they have a suitable basis to impute them, i.e. identify them and their dynamic functions. This is a merely nominalist designation, in no way establishing a static substance. Although a generic image of such a substance exists, it cannot be validated under analysis. While form appears to be static, it cannot be found to be so. The use of this false generic image is the false ideation to be removed.

Ergo, all form is devoid of or lacking inherent existence.

8.7.2 The Profundity of the Conventional.

"Emptiness is Form."

Here, phenomena are seen as manifestations of emptiness. Ultimate truth and emptiness of inherent existence are synonyms. Emptiness is called a "sacred object truth" because its appearance to a non-conceptual direct perceiver is in accordance with its mode of existence. Unlike conventional truths, which do not appear as they ultimately are (they appear static but are in fact dynamic), emptiness does not conceal its true nature. To a wisdom-mind realizing emptiness directly, only emptiness appears and inherent existence does not appear. Conventional truths are true with respect to the conventions of ordinary minds. Although they are deceptive regarding their mode of existence, they are not deceptive insofar as their logical identity & function go. If an object does not function as it appears, then a conventional falsehood is at hand (for example : a hallucination, a fata morgana, etc.). Such objects are "non-existent". Conventional objects are "truths for an obscurer" because self-grasping ignorantly conceives the apparent inherent existence, the substantial instantiation, to be true, which it is not.

The profundity of the conventional aims to make clear the subtle nature of conventional objects. All conventional objects share the same fundamental, ultimate nature, emptiness. Each and every object is therefore not separate from its emptiness, but is an appearance arising out of its emptiness. While objects do not inherently exist (First Profundity), we can establish the mere existence of form by pointing to its base of designation. This is a conventional appearance arising out of the ultimate nature of form, its subtle conventional nature (Second Profundity).

Take for example a gold coin. The underlying nature of the coin is gold, and this gold appears in the form of a coin. The coin appearing to us is not separate from its gold, unable to exist without it. Just as the coin is a manifestation of its gold, objects are a manifestation of their emptiness or lack of inherent existence. Coin A and coin B can be identified as "A" or "B" because of the different generic images or inscriptions & images on them, but the gold is the same. Likewise, objects differ because we designate a different "name" or "label" on their basis of designation, i.e. their conventional identities & functions. However, their subtle conventional nature (their emptiness) is the same.

Ergo, all emptiness is form.

8.7.3 The Profundity of the Two Truths being the Same Entity.

"Emptiness is not other than Form ; ..."

The Two Truths are the same entity but not identical, or one ontic entity with two epistemic isolates.

If two phenomena are identical, they have the same generic image (logical identity & function). If they are not identical, they have a different generic image. If two phenomena are not identical but are the same entity (like fire and its heat, or the body and its shape), this means they do not appear as separate to wisdom-mind, but appear as different to an ordinary conceptual mind. The same entity is at hand, but two different objects are known : the conventional nature or mode of existence is known by the conceptual mind, the ultimate nature is known by wisdom-mind.

Only to a Buddha do form and form's emptiness appear simultaneously. For all others minds, phenomena appear to be inherently existent. Hence, to the deluded mind, form and inherent existence of form seem to be the same entity, rather than form and the emptiness of inherent existence ! When emptiness is explained, the Two Truth appear as two distinct, separate phenomena, like a chariot and the charioteer. The Two Truths appear as different entities. How to understand they are the same entity ? By realizing emptiness of inherent existence is an inseparable characteristic or property of form. Every object has its emptiness. The object and its emptiness are not two entities. There is only one entity, the object, but two different natures or modes of existence can be identified : the conventional nature, the mere existential instantiation, and the ultimate nature, the absence of inherent existence.

Only Buddha minds apprehend the Two Truth simultaneously. Even Superior Bodhisattvas cannot maintain meditative equipoise on the emptiness of an object while performing other actions (of body, speech & mind). When doing so, they relinquish their wisdom-mind and engage in the conventional process, victim of subtle & very subtle substantial instantiation. Hence, only Buddhas "merely" observe objects, i.e. are capable of a perfect mere existential instantiation, i.e. an observation totally & perfectly devoid of substantial instantiation (lacking attributing inherent existence).

Ergo, emptiness is not other than form.

8.7.4 The Profundity of the Two Truths being Nominally Distinct.

"... Form also is not other than Emptiness."

Although the Two Truths are the same entity (Third Profundity), they are not identical. Being designated on the basis of the same form, they are two different epistemic isolates or two different objects of knowledge. The Two Truths can be distinguished on the basis of the difference between the conventional and ultimate nature of every object. The ultimate nature of an object is the object's emptiness of inherent existence established by wisdom-mind. The conventional nature of an object is the object's dependence on all other objects, i.e. it being other-powered. Hence, conventional objects are not independent substances, but interdependent dependent-related phenomena.

In order of increasing subtlety, this dependence of objects on other objects can be analyzed in five ways :

1. dependence on determinations : phenomena depend on laws determining their evolution from initial condition to outcome. These laws may be causal, interactive, teleological, statistical, etc. ;
2. dependence on parts : if phenomena were independent of parts, we would be able to remove the parts and find the phenomenon ;
3. dependence on names : phenomena can only be conceptualized by way of the names & labels given to them. Nameless phenomena cannot be objects of conventional reason ;
4. dependence on a basis of imputation : the names given to phenomena are given to them because some identity & some functions have been grasped. The latter serve as the basis of designation, allowing the conceptual mind to impute or posit the name ;
5. dependence on imputation by conceptualization : phenomena cannot be understood to depend on determinations, parts, names and a basis of imputation without the cognitive process itself allowing the conceptual mind to produce empirico-formal propositions about them.

Emptiness does not oppose conventional reality. The ultimate truth is not in opposition with conventional truth, in fact, the former exists conventionally. But dependent-arising is the direct opposite or direct enemy of inherent existence. Ultimate truth opposes substantial instantiation, nothing more.

Understanding the dynamic, other-powered nature of all possible phenomena opposes the false ideation they have their own static existence within themselves, quite separate from, and independent of, all other phenomena. So realizing the dependent-arising of phenomena actually undermines the false ideation accommodating substantial instantiation.

The Two Truths, although always referring to the same entity are nominally distinct.

Ergo, form also is not other than emptiness.

8.8 The Sevenfold Analysis.

The Sevenfold Analysis is based on the teachings of Chandrakîrti (ca. 600 – 650), as given in his Mâdhyamakâvatâra (Entering the Middle Way).

This analysis is based on two conditional compound statements :

1. if the inherent existence of an object is the case, then this substance of the object would be findable in at least one of seven ways ;
2. if this substance is not findable in any of the seven ways, then the inherent existence of the object is not established.

The seven ways are :

1. the object is not inherently the same as its parts ;
2. the object is not inherently different from its parts ;
3. the object is not inherently dependent upon its parts ;
4. the object is not inherently the substratum upon which its parts depend ;
5. the object is not inherently the possessor of its parts ;
6. the object is not inherently the mere collection of its parts ;
7. the object is not inherently the shape of its parts.

1. The object is not inherently the same as its parts :

If the object has parts, then this singular object has multiple parts. If it were the same as its parts, then there would be as many objects as there are parts. As there is only a singular object, it cannot be the case the object is the same as its parts. Again, accepting parts change, how can an unchanging object be identical with changing parts ? If the object has unchanging parts, then where is such an object to be found ?

2. The object is not inherently different from its parts :

If the object differs from its parts, then it must be possible to apprehend the object without its parts. Strip away the parts and the object should be found. This is however not the case. Where would this partless object be ?

3. The object is not inherently dependent upon its parts :

This is another case of (2). If the inherent object would be dependent of its parts, it must be different from these parts (for dependence implies difference). As this is not the case, the object cannot depend upon its parts.

4. The object is not inherently the substratum
upon which its parts depend :

This is another case of (2), the object being inherently different from its parts, and similar to (3) with the dependence running in the opposite direction.

5. The object is not inherently the possessor of its parts :

Yet again another case of (2) and (1). Suppose the object possesses its part as "I" possess my hand. This could be the case if "I" am the same entity as my hand (refuted). If the possessor and the possessed are two separate entities, then what links both ? Where is this link ? Nothing is found. An object redundant of its parts cannot inherently exist.

6. The object is not inherently the mere collection of its parts :

The object is not the parts, but posited on the basis of the parts. The collection of parts does not exist as a separate entity, or, if it does, only as a mental object designating an empty set.

7. The object is not inherently the shape of its parts :

If the object is its shape, then a change of shape is impossible, for if it were the case, the inherent object would change, and this cannot be the case for substances, able to persist through changes in the shape of their parts.

Ergo, as an inherently existing substance is not findable in any of the seven ways, the inherent existence of the object is not established. Such an object is not found. Confronted with the opposite claim, just ask : Point out any static object ?

8.9 Ultimate Truth : Absence of Inherent Existence.

Technically, the ultimate nature of phenomena can be conceptualized as the absence of substantial instantiation, ending attributing own-form or existence to objects from their own side. The mere observation of objects, exclusively instantiating their logical & functional properties, i.e. the mere existential instantiation hic et nunc is all that is left to the enlightened wisdom-mind, the direct yogic perceiver.

A Buddha knows ultimate truth in two ways :

1. as space-like emptiness :

This is the sphere where perception and sensation of objects fades. This is the non-differentiated experience, to be directly and personally experienced by the enlightened mind. It cannot however be conceptually known or linguistically described from the outside. Even a Buddha cannot offer any criterion to describe it. In this sphere, suffering, with its coming, going, stasis, passing away, arising, stance, foundations, support, etc. end. Consistent with the universals & the summit of the Via Negativa of mystical experience, nothing can be conceptualized or said about this "apex" or capstone of nondual cognition. While clearly cognitive, for the object of wisdom-mind is emptiness, it is ineffable. If something is actually uttered concerning this, science nor metaphysics are at hand, only sheer sublime poetry.

2. as illusion-like emptiness :

In this mode of knowing ultimate truth, phenomena are apprehended as relational, interdependent and illusory. Relational because, as substantial instantiation has ceased, there are no independent objects and so all things are related. Interdependent because all objects are other-powered. Illusionary because they only appear as independent to conventional reason, while they are not. Although there is duality, this does not constitute a misconceived duality. When, with right discernment, one sees all phenomena as dependent co-arisings as they are actually present in this moment, one does not run after the past nor the future. The mere presence of duality, as mere existential instantiation is not problematic. Duality by itself causes no delusions, but the reification of its terms always does. Take this away, and the panacea against all suffering has been found !

8.10 Conventional Truth : Co-Relative Functional Interdependence.

Conventional truth involves the instantiation of the logical & functional properties of objects entailing substantial instantiation. This means conventional objects, under the power of this conventional instantiation, always appear different than they ultimately are. Because of the ontological illusion they entertain, making them stand out as independent, self-powered, permanent entities, they are grasped as existing from their own side, independent from the apprehending consciousnesses. In fact, they are interdependent, other-powered, impermanent entities. This false appearance, like a magician conjuring a hallucination, a dream or a fiction, deceives the conventional mind, believing objects are more than mere identified functions, projecting their properties as inherent in them.

Conventional appearance as such is not the target of ultimate analysis, for by mere existential instantiation objects also arise. But this mere existential appearance does not entail substantial instantiation, the false ideation telling us these appearances exist on their own, as inherent existent entities. Hence, conventional truth is not opposed to ultimate truth. The latter only opposes inherent existence. Conventional truth makes objects appear deceivingly, ultimate truth not. The reason why this deception happens, reification, is the direct opposite of dependent arising and its co-relative functional interdependence. Ultimate analysis does not wish to eliminate conventional objects, but only their reification. It wants to end the substantial entailment of conventional instantiation. When this happens, only mere existential instantiation is left, and this is the aim.

8.11 Reality : One Entity with Two Isolates.

For Gorampa, the whole matrix of the conventional world must be eradicated. While for Tsongkhapa, the object of negation is reification, for Gorampa it is conventionality and so cognition as a whole. For him, there can be no mutual supportive relation between conventional conceptuality & the non-conceptual ultimate. Wisdom has no empirical grounding, and gaining ultimate wisdom means operating entirely without reliance on such a ground. He insists on disunity between the Two Truths. For him, they are always single, for truth per se is not divisible into two. Since only mind provides the basis for this division, only ultimate truth, or wisdom, is convincingly satisfying the criterion of truth and so conventional truth, or ignorance, cannot be taken as truth. Both are invariable contradictory, and cannot coexist. Conventional truth has to be eliminated in the ascent to wisdom. Ontologically, epistemologically and soteriologically, ultimate truth is more significant. Tsongkhapa is radically opposed to such a reductive view, leading to unsurmountable problems. He convincingly argues how the Two Truths are the two natures or modes of being of every empirically given phenomenon. Both truths are actual truths, albeit pointing to different cognitive isolates, and both are interlocking. Hence, neither of the two establishes primacy over the other.

When Tsongkhapa analyzes the phrase "seeing with not seeing", describing the activity of Buddhas, "seeing" has the negation of conceptual elaborations ("aprapañca") as its referent, and "not seeing" points to "conceptual categories" ("prapañca"). The seen is the empty mode of being of phenomena (the space-like emptiness), while the "not seen" is the conventional mode (the illusion-like emptiness). For Gorampa, "seeing" refers to ultimate reality, and "not seeing" refers to empirical reality. For him, a Buddha altogether stops witnessing empirical events. One cannot hold Buddhas retain any connection with the conventional world, seen as detrimental to the pursuit of enlightenment. A total separation from the conventional world is needed, for the latter is identified with ignorance.

For Tsongkhapa, who does make the crucial difference between substantial instantiation and mere existential instantiation, only reification is identified with ignorance, and so the conventional world is not separated from ultimate truth, on the contrary. Without both interlocking, the dual-union of the Two Truths is missed and the soteriological significance of the empirical ground cannot be established. Besides making it impossible for Buddhas to actually apprehend anything when enlightened, all soteriological connection between Buddhas and sentient beings is lost. These serious consequences Gorampa never realized and so his monism turns into a static interpretation of the Two Truths, while Tsongkhapa maintains the dynamic equilibrium between wisdom and conventional reality. He only targets substantial instantiation, not conventional instantiation ! Only the former is ignorant, while the latter, although false, is valid in its own sphere, namely distinguishing between conventionalities.

The duality between object & subject, contrary to what the Mind-Only School claims, is not problematic, but necessary to leave the operations of cognition intact. Conventional and ultimate truth are not two distinct ontological realities, the former purely ignorant & invalid and the latter wise & truly true, i.e. nondual in a non-cognitive way. Both are two distinct objects of knowledge or epistemic isolates, the former valid insofar as conventionalities go and ignorant insofar as these conventionalities are reified, the latter wise and ultimately true, i.e. nondual in a non-conceptual way. Tsongkhapa eliminates reification & thus conceptuality, not cognition. Gorampa eliminates conventionality, conceptuality & cognition ! Tsongkhapa brings the "apex" of cognition to the fore, while Gorampa, to climb to the top, eliminates it. Both agree ultimate truth is nondual, but for Gorampa this means totally beyond cognition, while for Tsongkhapa is it merely beyond conceptuality and reification. For the former nondual means the ultimate prevails over the relative (the Two Truths are actually One Truth or 2 = 1), for the latter the nondual is a dual-union between both truths (or 2 = {Ø})! The difference is crucial.

For Tsongkhapa, emptiness is known by wisdom-mind. This a cognitive act ! Gorampa disagrees. Once ultimate truth is realized, there is no cognition left, and so no duality. Object and subject no longer exist. Problem : How to apprehend an object without an apprehender ? Can a Buddha know he or she is a Buddha ? This matter points to the most "ultimate" problem in Gorampa's interpretation : a Buddha cannot truly ascertain the ultimate truth, for the possibility to do so, with the elimination of cognition as such, is gone. For Tsongkhapa this is not the case. Although what is known remains ineffable, from the side of a Buddha, a cognitive act endures, namely fully & profoundly apprehending emptiness through wisdom-mind, while simultaneously attending conventional objects by mere existential instantiation, i.e. absolutely devoid of reification, "seeing" their relational, truth-concealing, interdependent mode of being.

Gorampa's interpretation has another, more "conventional" problem. How can the empirical world of sentient beings be integrated in the wisdom of a Buddha ? If for the latter, conventionality has to be eliminated, how can this Buddha experience compassion for suffering beings ? Moreover, as cognition is eliminated, how can the science of determinations & conditions, i.e. dependent arising, the "king of logics", be conceived ? If this has no bearing on spiritual life, worse, runs against it and should be annihilated to enter "nirvâna", clearly soteriological problems arise. How to help those unable, as yet, to eliminate this ? How to address the many different kinds of sentient beings ? How to deal with the empirical ground in an adequate way ? Because of his breaking way from cognition as such, Gorampa catapults Buddhas so far away from the conventional world, one can no longer conceive why they should bother to help us deluded beings at all.

Tsongkhapa does not face these "ultimate" and "conventional" problems. As ultimate truths are not different ontological isolates, but merely cognitive isolates of the same entity, or, in other words, the ultimate exists conventionally, his pansacral view encompasses both truths and so does not need to cause, as Gorampa does, a Platonic rift between two worlds (an ultimate,  true world and a conventional, ignorant world), for the Two Truths merely point to two cognitive acts establishing two different objects. Here we have the distinction between a relative & an absolute approach of phenomena, nothing more.

The Six Instantiations II

Let us recapitulate what we know in terms of the Six Instantiations :

logical instantiation : the existence of object A or Эx (x = A) is an instance of it being identifiable in logical terms LA according to the principles of identity (A = A) & non-contradiction (A ≠ ¬ A), and, classically, excluded third (A v ¬ A) or ЭLA ;

Example : the calculus of computers. They identify objects in terms of "0" or "1" and this binary code follows the classical rules :

(a) 0 = 0 ^ 1 = 1
(b) 0 ≠ 1 ^ 1 ≠ 0
(c) 0 v 1 ^ 1 v 0

This instantiation is not yet an empirico-formal object, but a mere formal or analytical object.

functional instantiation : the existence of object A is logically (LA) instantiated and identifiable in functional terms FA according to A = f(B) or B = f(A) or ЭFA ;

This instantiation involves recognizing empirical functions and has all the properties of a direct empirico-formal object, i.e. one ostensively ascertained hic et nunc. This comes very close to mere existential instantiations, except for the fact the latter have purified all substantial connotations whatsoever, while logical & functional instantiations lead to conventional instantiation.

conventional instantiation  : if the existence of object A is logically (LA) and functionally (FA) instantiated, then it is substantially instantiated, or (ЭLA ^ ЭFA) » (As = E!A) ;

For Tsongkhapa, unlike Dolpopa & Gorampa, conventional knowledge is not a priori invalid. While all ordinary consciousnesses are mistaken, Tsongkhapa makes the crucial distinction between their appearing object and their object of operation. All conventional objects appear in a mistaken way. They appear as inherently existing, but are, under analysis, dwindling, or, which is the same, merely designated by impermanent conceptual cognitive activity. However, their object of operation is valid insofar as conventionalities go. For example. An eye consciousness does not conceive or apprehend a patch of blue as inherently existing. It merely sensates a blue object. While this appears as an inherently existing blue object, and so represents its object mistakenly, it nevertheless operates as a valid conventional sensation of a blue object. Mistaken with respect to its appearance, it is not with respect to its operation.

This crucial distinction allows Tsongkhapa to make room for consciousnesses certifying, validating or justifying common phenomena established by valid cognition while being mistaken with respect to their appearance. Doing so allows science an entry. Likewise, in his system, though uneducated common beings do not propound, conceive or apprehend inherent existence or nominal imputation, by way of false ideation Cf, their objects appear to them to be inherently existent.

One may have consciousnesses not engaging in apprehensions of inherent existence, objectifying them without qualifying them as being either nominal or inherent. Nevertheless, with respect to their appearing object they are mistaken, but not necessarily with respect to their object of operation, for they do not necessarily apprehend the object as inherently existing. This explains the possibility of valid conventional cognition (like sensating a blue object), while the appearance of the object of this cognition is mistaken. Allowing this, scientific propositions of fact are not a priori relegated to the category of invalid cognitions. So this leaves open the possibility of designating valid and invalid conventional objects on the basis of conventional rules of establishing conventional knowledge. Both for science & ethics, this is important. For how are the latter possible if conventionality per se is deemed invalid ?

When apprehending, i.e. conceiving objects, direct & indirect empirico-formal propositions of fact are at hand. While theoretical epistemology avoids ontologizing the possibility of knowledge (dismissing an idealist or realist sufficient ground), practical epistemology underlines and does not stop, misled by false ideation Cf, to associate the attribution of inherent "reality" & "ideality" to facts & theories respectively (cf. methodological realism & methodological idealism). In fact, it we consider facts to be exclusively intra-mental and never extra-linguistic, conventional knowledge can no longer be called "knowledge" at all, for in order to be called "knowledge", the latter must be knowledge about something extra-linguistic. Hence, conventional knowledge is always mistaken, but not always invalid.

In conventional knowledge, objects are :

(a) identified logically ;
(b) described functionally and
(c) considered, by way of Cf, to exist cut off & independent from other objects, while the properties of objects are deemed to inhere in them.

This third characteristic is the substantializing ontology, attributing to objects an essential, sufficient ground remaining stable, unchanging & permanent, somehow able to possess the characteristics or accidents of the object despite change and impermanence. For Plato, this was an idea or form existing on another ontological plane (causing a division between two worlds : the world of stable being and the world of unstable becoming). For Aristotle, this was the form realized in the material object (hylemorphism). For both concept-realists, this "form" was enduring, permanent and eternal, the true essence of substantial core of any object ...

This conventional instantiation is the way of conventional truth, valid insofar as distinguishing between conventionalities is at hand. It is a deceptive truth, for objects appear not as they truly are. This deception can however not be grasped as long as one does not try to find this "eidos" or enduring "essence", not realizing it cannot be found. Conventional instantiation is commonsense knowledge and insofar as it has been tested & discussed, triggering "correspondence" and "consensus", it is moreover scientific. As this knowledge does not probe into the deep to find whether there indeed is a substantial core, it is superficial and provisional.

substantial instantiation ("esse", being, true existence or inherent existence) : if object A has properties Z (or A(z)), then -by way of false ideation Cf- the essence of A or As "having" these properties necessarily inherently exist, or ЭA(z) ^ Cf » E! Эy (y = A) = As = E!A ;

This instantiation is the automatic result of sentience, for it is not made by computers. When an imperative calculus is computed, the machine does not attribute own-power ("svabhâva") to the binary objects processed. It just executes the algorhythm and that is that. So insofar as the substantial instantiation can be identified, the Turing test will, ex hypothesi, always fail, and this despite the complexity of the machine.

Although theoretically, science is nominalist, scientists are not. An expert on Solar winds does not doubt the properties of these winds inhere in them. The substantial instantiation or false ideation positing these attributes or accidents as inherent in the "real Solar winds" is automatic. This automatism of grasping at an enduring "self" or self-grasping is innate & acquired. Infants, like animals, manifest it and in the course of our education humans are confirmed in attributing independent, self-powered reality to objects attended.

ultimate instantiation : the existence of object A is logically LA and functionally FA instantiated without -by way of true ideation Ct- being substantially instantiated as inherently existing or (ЭLA ^ ЭFA) ^ Ct » {¬ (As = E!A)}.

¬ (As = E!A) is a non-affirming negation, i.e. it negates substantial instantiation without positing anything else as in other-emptiness. So it is not empty of itself, for ЭLA ^ ЭFA endures. It only negates As by way of true ideation Ct.

As under ultimate analysis no enduring "self" or substance can be found or ¬ (As = E!A), the substantial instantiator E!A can be eliminated. When this is done, conventional objects appear together with their lack of inherent existence. This implies they appear as mere existential instantiations or dependent-arisings simultaneously with their lack of inherent existence. Whatever is a dependent arising does not inherently exist because inherent or independent existence is the opposite of dependent arising or E!A = ¬ {ЭLA ^ ЭFA}.

mere existential instantiation ("existit" or mere existence) : the existence of object A is logically (LA) and functionally (FA) instantiated and nothing more : ЭA = ЭLA ^ ЭFA.

Insofar as objects, like certain mathematical problems, are processed by computers, they are only logically & functionally instantiated. This mere existential instantiation is all what "appears" to them. As they are not bewitched by any substantial instantiation (because delusion Cf -lacking sentience- is impossible to them), and their processors only compute what "appears" before their executive "clock" hic et nunc (namely the computation presently at hand), these operators with their operations represent a mere existential instantiation, i.e. logic & function, nothing more. Of course, they cannot be aware of any absence, for there never was presence in the first place ! In that sense, like amorph stones or the cilicium they are made off, computers are stupid by default. A priori, their process-like objects appear without any reference to lacking inherent existence.

Sentient, aware beings on the other hand always conceive their objects as logical, functional and, by force of Cf, substantial. Because of their ignorant sentience, they, unlike computers, attribute selfhood to the objects they attend to. Because of this false attribution Cf, they possess the potential to consciously eliminate this and enter wisdom ! This potential to realize wisdom is what is meant by their Buddha-nature. Without the latter, beings, although merely existing, do so devoid of the possibility of enlightenment.

Buddhas perceive the absence of inherent existence, or ultimate instantiation, hand in hand with mere existential instantiation, seeing dependent arisings free of inherent existence. They know ultimate truth as ultimate, or space-like (without any obstruction), and simultaneously as merely existential, or illusion-like. The former is ineffable, the latter a dependent-arising concealing its ultimate nature. Buddhas perceive all phenomena simultaneously as empty and as merely existing hic et nunc.

8.12 The Five Paths.

Kamalaśîla (ca. 700 - 750 CE), integrated the teachings on emptiness in five "paths". These form the basis for the understanding of the Path of the Bodhisattva in Tibetan schools like the Gelugpas. They presuppose the realization of Calm Abiding.

  • Path of Accumulation : so named because one amasses the two "collections" or "baskets" of merit & wisdom. Entered upon the spontaneous arising of the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings (Bodhicitta), becoming a Bodhisattva, the practice of the Six Perfections causes the two baskets (of merit and wisdom) to be filled, creating the corresponding good karma and positive mental states. By improving their method and wisdom, Bodhisattvas train in generating virtuous minds, the Four Immeasurables and the Six Perfections. Understanding of emptiness is enhanced by relying principally on the wisdoms arising from listening and reflecting ;

The path of accumulation has three stages : small, middling and great :

small : spontaneous aspiring Bodhicitta before taking the Bodhisattva vow ;
middling : after taking the Bodhisattva Vow, engaging Bodhicitta no longer deteriorates. The concentration of the "Dharma continuum" is attained ;
great : using this concentration, our awareness equals our consciousness continuum, remembering past lives and never forgetting what is learned. Perceiving Emanation Bodies of the Buddhas, direct teachings are imparted.

While in meditative equipoise on emptiness, Bodhisattvas advance to the next path. They go in and out of meditation many times and practice methods to benefit others during meditation breaks. Taking emptiness as their object of placement meditation, they analyze emptiness. Insight Meditation induces a special mental suppleness which helps them deepen their insight into emptiness, generating a wisdom analyzing emptiness (or "special insight", also called "superior seeing"). Superior seeing is a mind able to investigate emptiness while remaining in one-pointed concentration on emptiness. Performing analytical meditations on emptiness makes their mind automatically enter meditative equipoise.

  • Path of Preparation : entered upon the generation of superior seeing, a deep conceptual insight into emptiness, the fundamental nature of all phenomena, is realized by way of Insight Meditation. Once achieved, this full conceptual understanding is irreversible. This preparation is necessary to directly perceive emptiness, for when the conceptual mind is truly convinced of the rational grounds for the absence of substantiality, it has the power to identify the illusions of conventional reality, generating the conceptual antidote for conceptual, acquired self-grasping ;

This path prepares the Bodhisattva for a direct realization of emptiness. Here, his or her mind still reflects emptiness using a mental image or concept. At first, emptiness is a virtuous object among virtuous objects. Then, the object and its emptiness are drawn closer and closer, until they start to mix. By repeated Insight Meditation, the union of Calm Abiding and "special insight", dissolving "own-being" ("svabhâva"), a deep conceptual understanding of the ultimate nature of every object is attained .

The Path of Preparation has four stages : heat, peak, patience & supreme Dharma :

heat :
the beginning of a very powerful enthusiasm to perfect wisdom. The "fire" of non-conceptual understanding will soon be produced, precursor of unconditioned "gnosis". In meditative equipoise, a clear conceptual awareness of suchness is realized ;
peak : the culmination of this strong love of wisdom is a very intense mind coming conceptually very close to emptiness, as if the mind mixes with it, which is however not yet the case. The virtuous roots cultivated will no longer be lost or cease. Conceptual understanding of suchness increases ;
patience : a special attitude is generated towards Dharma in general and emptiness in particular. Gross conceptuality is gone, but subtle conceptual appearance remains, hindering a complete mixing of mind & emptiness. Nevertheless, a refined experience of emptiness is the case. One is no longer able to be reborn in the lower realms of "samsâra" ;
supreme Dharma : here mind and emptiness are nearly mixed. It is the highest experience of the ordinary Bodhisattva. All their experiences are supreme Dharma paths of preparation, and the highest worldly attributes are attained. Object & subject are no longer consciously perceived as separate ;

  • Path of Seeing : after this full understanding, a direct experience of emptiness is at hand and object & subject disappear in suchness. Then the Bodhisattva enters the First Stage ("bhûmi") and is called a "Superior Bodhisattva" ("Ârya"). He or she has to start training the elimination of the subtle & very subtle delusions (caused by subtle and very subtle innate self-grasping, the latter hindering omniscience) ;

Releasing all conceptually-formed, intellectual delusions (based on erroneous systems of teaching, language and social convention), a direct experience of emptiness arises. This new, powerful realization is the first causal ground or First Stage of a process resulting in Buddhahood. Innate self-grasping is still to overcome, and this is done in the following nine stages of the Bodhisattva training. On the Path of Seeing, the Bodhisattva enters the First Stage of the Ten Stages of this training.

This Path has two parts : uninterrupted paths and paths of liberation. During meditation, the former abandon all artificial self-grasping. Having attained them one then moves on to a path of liberation or path of release in the same meditative session. On the path of liberation, all artificial self-grasping is overcome. During meditation all objects & subjects are experienced as empty, while during post-meditation they are no longer perceived as solid & real, but rather as magical displays. There is an unconditioned perception of the ultimate nature of entities for the first time. Mundane patterning no longer determines mental functioning. This is not the temporary suppression of these habitual patterning, but the actual elimination of their automatic readout in cognitive activity.

Like water poured into water, the mind completely mixes with emptiness. During meditation, the gap between the mind and its apprehension of objects as devoid of inherent existence is closed, i.e. while in meditative equipoise, substantial instantiation stops, i.e. the dualistic appearance of cut-off objects, ends. This means the generic image used on the previous paths is cast aside. At the end of the Path of Preparation this image already began to fade, but now it has no bearing on what happens. During meditation, only profound emptiness is seen, and the object of placement and its ultimate nature are mixed together and indistinguishable. When this happens, the Bodhisattva has become a "superior being", an actual "Sangha Jewel" and thus an object of true refuge ! This is fundamental transformation of major importance. Although a lot of work is still to be done, this exceptional virtuous & superior being has finally shed his or her ordinary nature. In post-meditation, and exclusively due to innate self-grasping, the Ârya again observes dualistic appearance, but objects no longer possess solidity, are not felt to be cut-off, but always experienced as in relation with the apprehender, never "outside" the mindstream.

  • Path of Meditation : here, thanks to Insight Meditation, this direct experience is further developed, stabilized & refined by way of the remaining nine levels (eliminating big, middling & small innate self-grasping delusions in three stages). The experience of emptiness of the Hînayâna Arhat is identified with the Sixth Stage. In Stage Seven, the Bodhisattva has a mind entering into meditative absorption on emptiness and rising again in a finger snap. Only obstructions to omniscience remain and when the subtlest traces of adventitious self-grasping are eliminated (in Stages Eight to Ten), they never re-emerge ;

  • Path of No More Learning : this is the state of Buddhahood, i.e. the simultaneous experience of conventional & ultimate truth, of "samsâra" & "nirvâna", of compassion & wisdom. One enters the state of beyond-samsâra and beyond-nirvâna, the Path of Complete Perfection.

The Ten Stages called "Very Joyful", "Stainless", "Luminous", "Radiant", "Difficult to Overcome", "Approaching", "Gone Afar", "Immovable", "Good Intelligence" & "Cloud of Dharma", underline the epistemological intention at work. Each stage deals with a level of innate self-grasping.

Summary :

When the ordinary Bodhisattva, freed from self-cherishing, attains the "supreme Dharma" of the Path of Preparation, and his mind is nearly mixed with emptiness, all of his or her experiences are felt & conceived as part of the "continuum" of the Dharma. This is due to the realization all phenomena are of the same nature, namely without an independent, substantial, inherent existence, own-power or self-power. Arrived at by ultimate analysis, this fact is clearly conceptualized. This mere idea of emptiness mixes with the mind. Entering the Path of Seeing, this generic image is eliminated. The direct experience of emptiness in meditative equipoise is a powerful, transforming event, transforming the ordinary Bodhisattva into a Superior Bodhisattva.

Ignorance is very vast, and even the tiniest insect is deluded. The latter is however not afflicted by self-grasping formed as the result of conceptual thought & incorrect reasoning. In general, this kind of conceptual self-grasping can be mild or severe. Due to education and the conditioning it implies, a mild form of it is at work in all human beings. It is severe in those adhering to wrong philosophical views. The various tenets are intended to eliminate this conceptually-formed self-grasping step by step. To do so is very difficult, and like a flash of lightning in a bright, open sky, creating terror & fear. This ends the Path of Preparation.

On the Path of Seeing, the First Bodhisattva Ground, all acquired self-grasping ends, but innate self-grasping remains.

The Path of Meditation is intended to deal with innate ignorance, the root of all self-grasping. By attacking innate self-grasping, the root of "samsâra", common to all sentient beings, may be systematically out rooted. Once self-grasping is destroyed, all delusions are gone and with them the obstructions to Buddhahood. This is the panacea of wisdom, the sole remedy for all possible suffering.

8.13 Emptiness in the Diamond Vehicle.

Emptiness meditation targets the elimination of inherent existence, in other words, the end of substantial instantiation. While by itself, this eliminates ignorance, the root of suffering, it is not the total message of the Vajrayâna in general, or the philosophy or view of Tsongkhapa in particular. The point underlying the entire design of the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment is the continuity between emptiness meditation, belonging to the Great Perfection Vehicle, and Tantrayâna. The latter can only be entered after one has trained in the paths common to both, or renunciation, compassion (Bodhicitta) & emptiness. By entering the Vajrayâna after having realized the Paths of Accumulation & Preparation, we can bring happiness to all sentient beings, making our lives extremely worthwhile.

How does emptiness meditation contribute to this ? Deity Yoga is the core practice or skillful means added by Tantra. By self-generating as a Deity the yogi accelerates his or her spiritual evolution considerably. These Deities are not mega-substances, as in theism at large, but complex, rare and highly functional dependent-arisings. As Emanations from Buddhas, they act as bridges between the physical world of manifestation ("Rûpakâya") and the ultimate truth or "Dharmakâya", the sphere of suchness (or space-like emptiness). Because they are empty, they do not cause any reification to happen. As without emptiness meditation this cannot be apprehended, the practice of Tantra without at least a conceptual realization of emptiness leads to ego-inflation and rebirth as a god of the desire realm.

By self-generating as a Deity, the yogi combines the highly functional (bliss) with the absolutely ultimate (emptiness). This not only allows one to accumulate vast merit (Form Bodies) and wisdom (the Truth Body), but also, in the generation phase, to simulate their simultaneity, actually accomplished in the completion stage. Generation prefigurates the omniscience of Buddhahood while the completion phase rapidly leads to it.

 9 The Third Turning :
 Buddha-nature, the Potential to Buddhahood.

9.1 The Enlightenment Potential of Sentient Beings.

In the Tathâgata Essence Sûtra, the Nirvâna Sûtra, and other works in the same line, Buddha speaks of a permanent, fully developed Buddha existing in the mindstream or consciousness-continuum of each sentient being. This "tathâgatagarbha" embryo, identified at the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, complements the Mâdhyamaka view on "śûnya", self-emptiness & "svabhâva", own-form or own-nature, for it posits an indestructible, permanent and "inherently existing" core, basis of all samsaric & nirvanic qualities ! This "womb" or "embryo" of the "Tathâgata", the seed of Buddhahood, is uncovered through spiritual practice to shine forth. As Rangtong & Shentong have a different definition of "inherently existing", confusion is at hand. For Rangtong, inherent existence is substantial existence, self-existent & self-powered. For Shentong, inherent existence merely affirms something (in this case Buddha-nature) exists. It does not point to the substantial instantiation but to the mere existential instantiation !

Considered by many yogis as the "highest logical truth" ("paramârtha"), the existence of this Tathâgata-embryo is accessible neither to the imagination ("kalpana"), nor to discrimination ("vikalpa"). As the Śri-Mâlâ-Sûtra claims, it can only be understood by faith ! Or meditation ? The embryo is described as the "supreme eternity" ("nitya-pâramitâ"), the "supreme bliss" ("sukha-pâramitâ"), the supreme unity ("âtma-pâramitâ") & the "supreme purity" ("śubha-pâramitâ"). These are not to be understood as specific attributes, qualifying a quintessential hypostasis, but refer to the absolute suchness of the ultimate nature of phenomena ("Tathatâ"), as experienced by the masters of Yoga & Tantra. This, as the Ratnagotra says, cannot be explained, is invisible, unutterable, immutable, unimaginable, indiscriminative & unthinkable ... In no way does this necessarily turn Buddha-nature into a substance, but the temptation to do so is strong ! These qualities are nothing other than translations of the supreme remedial antidote ("pratipaksa") : emptiness ("śûnyatâ"). The profound nondual, non-conceptual cognition into the emptiness of all, occasions the perfect joy of the supreme bliss. The supreme unbounded wholeness apprehended by the wise is the insubstantiality of the dwelling-place of ignorance.

For the Consequentialist, Buddha-nature should not be taken as definitive. In that case, it gives the "cause" the name of the "effect". In their view, the emptiness of the mind (or "cause") is what gives rise for the radical transformation of a person's mind, and, in the "tathâgatagarbha" doctrine, this emptiness is called "a fully developed Buddha" (or "effect"). However, only the emptiness of the mind is the quality of mind or wisdom-mind allowing for the radical change of ignorance into the wisdom of a Buddha. This is not "a fully developed Buddha", but the "cause" of Buddhahood. Buddha praised this "cause" by calling it a "fully developed Buddha", but this was clearly only a figure of speech leading beings incapable of understanding emptiness correctly.

"... (the Buddhas) declare (the Buddha-essence, etc.) for the sake of those who are attached to self-theories, in order to eliminate their fear of selflessness."
Tsongkhapa : Essence of True Eloquence, chapter VI.

If this teaching were to be taken literally, all beings would already be Buddhas and the practice of the paths would be pointless. For the Consequentialist, Buddha-nature equals the ultimate nature of the mind, its absence of own-form or emptiness. Only in discussion with the proponents of the "tathâgatagarbha" doctrine do the Prâsangikas call the emptiness of the mind the "cause" of Buddhahood, for it is indeed the precondition of change and transformation, the potential to awakening.

Insofar as this doctrine is viewed in substantialist terms, implying the substantial instantiation of an absolute substance, the "tathâgata-garbha" doctrine resembles the Hegelian Absolute Spirit, self-evolving from Substance to Subject. But proponents of Other Emptiness do not reify Buddha-nature. They accept the Second Turning and so the self-emptiness of the "tathâgatagarbha". But, on the basis of the direct experience of the knower, they add this nature is empty of all other properties foreign to itself.

So the Third Turning can be interpreted in three ways :

(1) one affirms an absolute, inherently existing mind-core covered by defilements (as in Hinduism or Shentong understood by Rangtong) ;
(2) one negates the inherent existence of this nature, understanding it as a potential to awakening, actualized by emptiness-meditations on the mind itself (as in Rangtong) ;
(3) one affirms the self-empty nature of Bodhi-mind (as in Rangtong), but adds this entity to also merely always exist as enlightened properties, i.e. as empty of all otherness (i.e. of adventitious properties not belonging to this mind). This is the view of Shentong as understood by the proponents of Other Emptiness.

• The first approach comes very close to the Hindu "âtman" doctrine, but cannot survive ultimate analysis. This means such a substantial ground cannot be found, and therefore its substantial instantiation is not valid and so must end.
• The second approach identifies the "tathâgatagarbha" with the ultimate nature of the mind, namely with its emptiness. This  is not "a fully developed Buddha", but a mere potential or precondition. How could awakening ever be obscured, dulled or hidden by anything ? Buddhahood is not a temporal state, but an immortal condition in which body & mind, although impermanent, are similarly and endlessly (re)produced !
• The third option embraces both self-emptiness & other-emptiness, positioning these approaches on the basis of the difference between the Second & the Third Turning, accepting Buddha-nature to be self-empty but nevertheless possessing inherent (merely existing) properties free from adventitious defilements.

For Rangtong, Buddha-nature is a quality naturally abiding in the mindstream of all sentient beings. It is a Buddha-potential. This potential to emptiness is innate. As a capacity for enlightenment, it elicits sentient beings to attain Buddhahood and enter the Buddha lineage or Buddha constituent ("dhâtu"). In sensu stricto, this emptiness of the mind cannot be the "cause" of becoming a Buddha, for this suchness of the mind is (a) permanent (non-disintegrating) and (b) always existent, but not inherently or truly existent, i.e. not as a static substance, but as an exemplary & sublime continuum of dependent arisings ! Because there was never a time this suchness was not, it cannot be caused, for causation implies a temporal sequence between the beginning of the cause and the end of the effect. Take away this time-factor, and causation cannot be thought.

• Buddha-nature is non-disintegrating because, although a predicate or property of the mind, it is not destroyed or produced each moment (as the mind is) ;
• Buddha-nature is always existent, because from beginningless cyclic existence each sentient being's mind has existed and will continue to exist uninterruptedly right through Buddhahood. Always existent and inherently existent should not be confused. The former merely points out the mind is an uninterrupted, dynamical phenomenon. The latter affirms the mind is a static substance, and this cannot be established, while the opposite is backed by valid, indirect argument (cf. the "argumentum ad absurdum" of ultimate analysis).

Buddha-potential is the precondition to Buddhahood. As all sentient beings have, given their sentience or epistemic capacity, the possibility to clear away or stop substantial instantiation, the Buddha-potential, given due effort, may be expected to become actual. This prospect turns it into an enlightenment-potential. Clearly "potential" does not refer to and does not posit an inherently existing capacity, but aims at the mere possibility for coming into actuality. These distinctions are crucial to counter any relapse into the ignorance of attributing self-sufficiency to the mind (as in "âtman = Brahman") or by identifying the "tathâgatagarbha" with the truly existing "âlaya-vijñâna" of the Mind-Only School.

When the emptiness of the mind is realized, i.e. its substantial instantiation totally halted, it becomes the Wisdom Body ("Jñânakâya"), the ultimate true path, and its emptiness becomes the Nature Body ("Svabhâvikakâya"), the ultimate true cessation. These are the two aspects of the Truth Body or "Dharmakâya". Buddha-nature is therefore the mere possibility, precondition or inherent potential of the mind to realize the Dharmakâya. This inherent potential does not inherently exist ! It is not a static self-sufficient ground, but merely an inherent quality, property, accident, characteristic, predicate of the mind realized as soon as the mind is merely existentially instantiated, i.e. when the emptiness of the mind is realized. The various qualities of Buddhahood do not inherently exist in this Buddha-nature, as it were "released" when this inherent nature is "purified". These qualities are spontaneously generated (like a fish jumping out of the water) when not a single substantial instantiation of any quality or part of the mind is left, i.e. when the mind has fused with its emptiness as water poured into water realizing the "Great Seal" ("Mahâmudrâ").

9.2 Direct Yogic Perceivers :  Non-Conceptual & Nondual.

It seems appropriate to remind us again of the importance of meditation. Without this practice, a calm mind cannot be attained and without tranquility, true insight into the ultimate nature of phenomena is impossible. Once meditative equipoise is established, objects can be contemplated for extended periods and this repeatedly. Meditation cultivates the secondary causes necessary for being able to ascertain the ultimate truth.

Experience teaches how during meditation the mind functions differently. Indeed, discursivity, the continuous jumping from one object to another, is halted. Then and only then can "yogic perceivers" come into play, i.e. mental operators at work as the result of meditative equipoise on objects of placement, with the emptiness of objects as ultimate object. These "perceivers" make it possible to pierce through mere illusionary appearance of inherent existence and delve into the object's ultimate reality, lacking substance and being process-like.

As these yogic perceivers no longer work with or are mediated by concepts, they are called "direct". As they ascertain objects as they are and not as they appear, they are truth-bearing and not truth-concealing (objects apprehended by the mind of ignorance). Hence, direct yogic perceivers are the apprehending faculties of wisdom-mind and their object is not conventional truth, but ultimate truth. They come into play as soon as the Path of Seeing has been established. They are the ultimate source of knowledge of Superior Bodhisattvas on the First Bodhisattva Ground and beyond.

The direct yogic perceivers apprehend phenomena as space-like, i.e. devoid of substantial instantiation, as mere existences. For Tsongkhapa, they are not conceptual, but remain cognitive. Unlike Dzogchen, the idealist Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamikas (like Gorampa) and Shentong, Critical Mâdhyamaka does not, to arrive at the ultimate truth, eliminate the Two Truths, abrogate duality per se or reject the cognitive act. This does not mean ultimate truth is merely "intellectual", for the apex of cognition is an ineffable nondual mode of thought, ascertaining both truths simultaneously. Non-conceptuality and non-cognitive are not the same. Lack of concepts is indicative of myth, pre-rationality & nondual thought, while absence of cognition does away with any kind of object / subject relationship. Negating the transcendental pre-condition of thought itself, it is a no-thought doctrine, by itself a "contradictio in actu exercito".

For Critical Mâdhyamikas, like Tsongkhapa & his Gelugpas, nonduality is therefore not non-cognitive, but a dual-union, i.e. the continuous simultaneity of two epistemic isolates in the singular cognitive act of wisdom-mind apprehending emptiness, or 2 = {Ø}. Neither does this imply there is only One Truth (ultimate truth), or 2 = 1, for in each and every cognitive act of the enlightened mind only emptiness is perceived, but always as the property or characteristic of a conventional object. The ultimate exists conventionally. Finally, the object of negation is not duality, the Two Truths or cognition as such (these are cases of negating too much), but merely substantial instantiation : E!A(z),  nothing more. This leaves conventional truth to be a valid but mistaken non-yogic perceiver, establishing consensual distinctions between conventional objects, justified insofar as empirico-formal cognition is at hand, but misrepresenting its object. Insofar as the ultimate truth of each and every conventional object is also perceived by the direct yogic perceivers of wisdom-mind, the empty nature of objects is apprehended in the same cognitive act.

Direct yogic perceivers are cognitive acts of an extraordinary nature. They have a clarity, concentration, penetration and compass far exceeding the most brilliant ordinary minds. Although various differentiations between direct yogic perceivers can be made, the crucial distinction lies between yogic perceivers establishing inherent existence and those that do not.

In the Mind-Only School, the yogi's perspective is the norm. This is also the case in Shentong. But for Tsongkhapa, and the Critical Mâdhyamikas after him, the perspective of an experienced & highly developed yogi is considered to be an exception. Like Kant, who refused to integrate "intellectual perception" (the experience of the "Ich Denke" of itself) in the architecture of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft, precisely because this faculty "was not given to everybody", Tsongkhapa refuses to make uncontaminated meditative equipoise (the ultimate direct yogic perceiver) the criterion deciding what is truly established, i.e. existing by way its own characteristics, self-powered, independent & substantial. Tsongkhapa does not underestimate the fruit of meditative equipoise, nor the presence of a totally nondual non-conceptual realization. He agrees if something is able to bear ultimate analysis, it must be ultimately existent, truly established and so inherently existing by the own-power of its substantial (self)essence. But the root-difference between Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka & Shentong and Tsongkhapa is obvious : he finds the set of phenomenon bearing ultimate analysis to be empty.

9.3 Emptiness in Dzogchen, the Great Perfection.

In Tibetan, "dzogpa" means (a) something completed, finished, exhausted, and (b) everything is full, perfect & complete. Dzogchen or "mahâsandhi" in Sanskrit, considers itself the "highest truth", a view superior to Mâdhyamaka. For many Mâdhyamikas, Dzogchen is not even Buddhism, but a sort of Chinese Dharma like Ch'an or coming from Advaita Vedânta, Kaśmiri Śaivism, or even Persian religion. This discussion is ongoing. Although Dzogchenpas claim to agree with Mâdhyamaka regarding emptiness, identifying the primordial base of all phenomena with the self-empty "Dharmakâya", the teachings do affirm the natural state of the mind, of the nature of clarity, to be "from the very beginning" inseparable from this base. In doing so, one may ask whether the conditions for substantial instantiation have not been fulfilled, entailing a transcendent metaphysics of unbounded wholeness ? Does this take reason beyond itself ?

What is the view of Dzogchen ?  At the heart of the Great Perfection is the notion of "inseparability", which is not like bringing two different things together (this is unification or coalescence), but the fact these have never been separate. Like water and wetness or fire and heat, the primordial base ("gzhi"), the state of total primordial purity ("ka-dag chen-po") identified with self-emptiness ("śûnyatâ") is characterized by and inseparable from the natural state of mind ("rigpa") or awareness. While Mâdhyamaka speaks of the objective side of things (emptiness), and does so correctly, Dzogchen speaks of the subjective side of things, the clarity side, the awareness side.

In this view, only one source of enlightenment is recognized, not two. For Tsongkhapa, relative truth allows for the accumulation of merit, realizing the Form Bodies (Sambhogakâya and Nirmânakâya), while absolute truth allows for the accumulation of wisdom, with as fruit the Dharmakâya. For Dzogchen, there is only one base, the Dharmakâya, and so only one source. This must lead to the doctrine all the virtues of the Buddha already exists in the natural state of the mind. Only if secondary causes are present, will these virtues spontaneously manifest.

This is the crucial contradiction between Dzogchen & Mâdhyamaka. Dzogchen affirms the natural state spontaneously contains the Six Perfections, and the "tathâgatagarbha" is nothing other than this natural state. When we enter the natural state, compassion and all the other perfections arise spontaneously and effortlessly. We do not need to produce them artificially by using the conceptual mind. They are there from the very beginning, whole & complete, in this natural state of "rigpa" ! Moreover, this natural state cannot be grasped by the mind, it is beyond thought, i.e. non-cognitive. For Sakya Pandita this is the proof Dzogchen is a Chinese Dharma teaching, preaching suddenist doctrines and affirming "no thought" ("mi rtog-pa"). Dzogchen masters reply "rigpa" is beyond cause and effect, beyond the mind and so beyond thought, which is not the same as "no thought", for the latter is an experience ("nyams"). Dzogchen compares eliminating afflictions by mental processes with washing away the blood on our hands with more blood. They do not think thoughts can eradicate thoughts (like the wood-worm eats his own wood). For them, there is no end to thoughts. Only finding the source of all thoughts, the natural state beyond the mind, is finding the final One Truth.

In this view, emptiness (the objective base) and the natural state of the mind (the subjective awareness) are inseparable, and so there is only One Truth. If only the single and unique natural state is practiced, all the virtues and powers of Buddhahood are contained within it. Practicing this state is practicing self-liberation, letting the watcher and the watched both dissolve at the same time and just leave them as they are. In the base of all ("gzhi"), the natural state of the nature of mind, all qualities, both samsaric & nirvanic, spontaneously manifest, representing the creative potentiality or energy ("rtsal") of the natural state ("rigpa"). All things sentient beings experience are manifestations of the inherent energy of the natural state to which they all return. All appearances exist as spontaneous self-perfection and are empty. Emptiness side and clarity side are inseparable. To realize the natural state is all what is necessary and to do so this state needs to be pointed out by someone who has established it and then cultivated it.

The inseparability of emptiness & clarity cannot be demonstrated, and if this idea is articulated, as Dzogchen does, then it is a dogma, an axiom. It has to be accepted without any arguments. This alone shows Dzogchen not to be the highest truth, for how can something which in truth cannot be expressed in words actually name itself, let be the "One Truth" ! This is again a "contradictio in actu exercito", like drinking out of a cup while saying : "I do not drink out of this cup." or walking in a room while affirming : "I do not enter this room.", etc.

Another hot issue is the tension between accepting objective emptiness as the ontological foundation of phenomena, the natural state of the mind included, and the affirmation the latter contains all the virtues of Buddhahood from the very beginning, whole and complete. How to think this "inherence", this state of being within ? Do these virtues inherently exist in the natural state ? If so, then this awareness cannot be called self-empty but other-empty and Dzogchen is a form of Shentong. If these virtues are not inherently existing in the natural state, then how do they exist, i.e. how can their whole, complete & abiding quality be harmonized with the axiom the objective basis (inseparable from "rigpa") is empty in the way Mâdhyamaka claims ?

For Tsongkhapa, the virtues of Buddhahood arise as the result of clearing away substantial instantiation, for Buddhahood can per definition not be covered up, limited, obscured or devoid of manifestation. The fact such a formidable phenomenon as the manifestation of a Buddha is said to come into manifestation by secondary causes only is also rather strange. Why not accept the causal role of the Two Truths in realizing Buddhahood ? Why, to effectuate the grand, radical transformation the Buddha intended, adhere to such a trivial thing as secondary causes (like a pointing-out instruction by a Dzogchen master) ? Does this not seriously limit the salvic potential of the Buddhahdarma, for without Dzogchen masters nobody can become a Buddha ! Moreover, if all these great powers of Buddhahood indeed merely inhere in the natural state, then how come there are no more Buddhas in manifestation ? Apparently, this is not the case, for to accumulate sufficient merit & wisdom takes time ...

Of course, Dzogchenpas may eliminate these objections by making unfair moves, like affirming pure and impure, virtue and non-virtue are both self-liberating manifestations of the natural state (opening the door to immorality and crazy wisdom) and/or waving away any rational objections against their clarity-dogma by maintaining reason and mind cannot penetrate this and so all objections are vain anyway.

To remain truly authentic, Dzogchen masters must remain totally silent. If not, they are bound to behave like the Baron Von Münchhausen, who tried to get himself out of a swamp by pulling his own hair. In exoteric Dzogchen, the Buddhadharma just seems a formidable, absurd joke.

Critical Mâdhyamaka is the highest because it is the  final view in the arena of views, positing the "ring-pass-not" of the Buddhadharma a priori. One cannot "combine", in terms of "primordial inseparability", emptiness with "clarity" and just affirm inseparability a priori. Although based on valid yogic perceivers, their superstructural interpretation must be false, for if emptiness is the end of all substantial instantiation or the realization of a "pure" ultimate instantiation, then in no way can "subjective awareness", clarity or "nature of mind" ("rigpa") be validly posited as "inseparable" with "emptiness". For such a position always presupposes a ground "outside" emptiness, holding an absolute prerogative in its sleeve, one based on unfindable objects, claiming to "see" this "inseparable" bond between emptiness and "rigpa", this inner clarity confirmed in meditative equipoise on selflessness. The Dzogchen masters are right when they say for them the correct sequence of words no longer matters. But this can hardly be the examples suffering sentient beings need ? As long as the ladder of the doctrine is climbed the ladder is needed. At the lonely top no ladder prevails. Does compassion ?

If emptiness is the objective side, and the logic of the Two Truths is accepted, not rejected and replaced by the One Truth, then claiming a "subjective" side, although phenomenologically & yogically valid in terms of a direct yogic perceiver, must be in accordance with ultimate analysis. If emptiness is the affirmation of the process-like, interdependent, other-powered, inter-related, dependent arisings or events identified & functionally described, then the "subjective" side posited (this "clarity") is already part of the "objects" covered by the objective side, namely in terms of "mental objects". Hence, logically, the subjective side is ineffable, and Dzogchen Masters cannot teach Dharma but only point it out. Moving towards a quasi-eternalism of the natural state of mind, the primordial state of phenomena and their energy, the doctrine stating emptiness is inseparable with clarity cannot, to remove concepts, be "higher" than Critical Mâdhyamaka.

Although all suffering is empty, removing any static contents of mind as well as the substantiality of the mind itself, is not automatic, inherent or "fully there from the very beginning". It is caused by the accumulation of merit & wisdom, allowing one to move beyond a certain threshold to find liberation & Buddhahood. This happens because the whole process interdepends with functional features of the mindstream acquiring the sobriety & mindfulness (renunciation), entering tranquil abiding on Immeasurables (compassion). These "prepare" the mind for insight studies and meditations on emptiness. To "jump" to "emptiness" may lead to misunderstandings creating hindrances. As emptiness is the tool to clear the latter, how is one thus deluded able to do this ?

The continuity of the Buddhayâna, the implicit process-like nature of the Buddhadharma itself, encompasses a path-structure from renunciation, compassion to emptiness. Indeed, renunciation & compassion "prepare" and every mason knows how important that is ! The Dharma is the same in the West as in the East. As emptiness is the panacea, its purest transmission from beginning to end is central. Critical Mâdhyamaka provides this. It never rejects one of the Two Truths and refuses to posit a natural state of mind ("rigpa") inseparable with emptiness ex cathedra. For the rest the questions remains : Where is the static object ? Is there a hippopotamus in the house ?

Although Dzogchen masters stress preparation, their target is only one in a million. Even then, it remains to be repeated, unsaying cannot be said.

9.4 The Doctrine of Other-Emptiness.

For Shentong (the Jonang school) in general, and Dolpopa (1292 - 1391) in his  Mountain Doctrine and Târanâtha's (1576 - 1634) The Essence of Other-Emptiness & Twenty-one Differences Regarding the Profound Meaning, in particular, the fundamental point within Critical Mâdhyamaka, considering itself the highest possible tenet based on Nâgârjuna, Âryadeva, Buddhapâlita, Chandrakîrti & Śântideva, is the status of meditative equipoise and the meaning of emptiness.

In Shentong, meditative equipoise conveys established phenomena. For Tsongkhapa, they do not. But both define "inherently existing" or "established" differently. For Shentong, it merely indicated Buddha properties do exist, whereas for Tsongkhapa, it means they substantially exist.

Dolpopa does not distinguish between being found by a mind in meditative equipoise on emptiness and being able to bear ultimate analysis by such a consciousness. In his view, shared by lots of yogis, when an object is found in meditative equipoise, it is deemed a forteriori as existing. The ultimate can bear analysis by a mind in meditative equipoise because it is not a dependent-arising. Transcending the conventional, the ultimate found is what the Buddha's pristine wisdom realizes, namely the qualities of enlightened body, speech, mind. These are not merely generated, but are all ultimately established, primordial and permanent. They do not inherently exist, but merely exist and so the ultimate is the basis of emptiness, empty of all other non-enlightened conventionalities, but not empty of itself, i.e. non-empty, but complete & from the very beginning awakened (this view is consistent with a substantialist interpretation of Buddha-nature). The ultimate is an affirming negative, it takes away the conventionalities and retains the merely existing Buddha-nature, in which all enlightened quality already inhere. Compounded phenomena are empty of themselves and thus merely illusionary.

Rangtong replies.

Meditative equipoise is not a valid criterion to establish inherent existence. Only ultimate analysis is. If an object is found to be substantially initiated  (A), then it would exist as a substance, not as a process. Tsongkhapa makes a clear distinction between objects found during concentration (direct yogic perceivers) and ultimate analysis finding no inherently existing objects. Pristine wisdom-mind (subject) and the ultimate, namely emptiness or the absence of inherent existence (object) are mutually exclusive and not equivalent. Rationality, conceptuality, cognition and conventional reality are valid. As the ultimate, direct yogic perceivers are non-conceptual, but not also non-cognitive, duality is not the problem at hand. For Rangtong, Shentong accommodates a wrong object of negation. But one may agree that in meditative equipoise on emptiness, there is no sensing of their difference, for in this realization of the ultimate only emptiness abides, only endless purity is perceived.
 No truly established objects can be found, conventionally nor ultimately. All phenomena, wisdom-mind and its object, emptiness itself, are self-empty, i.e. devoid of self-power, inherent, substantial establishment (¬A). All phenomena are dependent-arisings ("pratîtya-samutpâda"). Buddhas are no exception. Shentong agrees, but posits Buddha-nature as existing and "empty" of anything else but its own enlightened properties.
 Compounded phenomena, although devoid of inherent existence, are not empty of themselves, i.e. Rangtong is not nihilist and self-emptiness does not necessitate nihilism. Although conventional objects do not appear as they are, they are not merely illusionary, but exist in terms of their logical, formal & conventional instantiations. They are mistaken (and so illusionary) insofar as they entail a misleading substantial instantiation, but valid (and functional) insofar as their logical & functional instantiations go.
 Tsongkhapa agrees the ultimate, i.e. emptiness as absence of inherent existence, of "self" in sensu lato, is other-empty insofar as it is not a compounded, mistaken conventional object. As even the ultimate is empty of inherent existence (and so cannot be established by ultimate analysis), it is a self-empty emptiness and not a non-empty emptiness of inherent Buddha qualities, as Shentong claims ! Buddha-nature is not inherently endowed with ultimate qualities. Given the permanently residing Buddha-potential, joyous effort (diligence) practicing the Buddhadharma, compassion & wisdom are needed to generate all the qualities of Superior Bodhisattvas & Buddhas. These are not given inherently, but must be actualized by changing Buddha-potential into realized Buddha-nature or Buddhahood.

A few pertinent ontological & epistemological differences :

For Shentong, the ultimate existent, the inherently established, own-powered & substantial Buddha-nature, is not a dependent-arising, for permanent and non-deceptive. This refers to a different ontological perspective. The ultimate is a different entity, belonging to another, superior & pure, ontological stratum of the set of all phenomena, one not governed by dependent arising, free from causes & conditions. Like in Plato's system, the world is split up in two worlds. On the one hand, a true ultimate "being" and on the other side, an illusionary false "becoming". In Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka & Shentong, the Two Truths are different entities, like an object and its shadow. In final analysis, ultimate truth must be the "One Truth" and only this truth is truly worthy of the name "truth", while conventional truth is only falsehood & illusion. Because Buddhas are always in meditative equipoise directly realizing the ultimate, they cannot be in any way related to conventionality. But of not, then how can they teach ?

If wisdom-mind is permanent because it is one with ultimate truth, we may ask how Shentong explains the actual apprehension of emptiness by Buddhas ? Without any type of duality, with aduality instead of nonduality, how can there be any cognition, any real apprehension of this substantial Buddha-nature ? When cognition is identified with conceptuality, then it must be eliminated together with all other "compounds". For Shentong, the object of negation is conventionality, cognition included. This undermines its conceptual exposition, running in the same problem as Dzogchen, affirming in the act what is refuted by the words ("contradictio in actu exercito").

In Tsongkhapa's view, not a single phenomenon escapes ultimate instantiation. Like Aristotle, a single world is affirmed. This pan-sacral world, in which the ultimate exists conventionally, offers sensate & mental objects with their subjective, apprehending consciousnesses or minds. There are Two Truth because each entity gives rise to two objects of knowledge, one conventional, one ultimate. In other words, every single entity has two epistemic isolates or two ways of knowing it. The ultimate, nondual direct yogic perceiver is a non-conceptual mode of cognition. Experiencing sensate & mental objects, it apprehends their ultimate natures, emptiness, hand in hand with their conventional natures, dependent arisings. Hence, duality is not considered to be a problem.

Conventional knowledge is deceptive and mistaken insofar as it makes objects appear as if they were substantially initiated, while they are not. Conventional knowledge or empirico-formal propositions of fact are valid insofar entities are logically & functionally distinguished from other objects. While mistaken with respect to its appearing objects, it can be valid with respect to its object of operation. These conventional objects are also perceived by Buddhas as the diversity & interdependence of phenomena (cf. the illusion-like emptiness). Buddhas know both the ultimate & the conventional explicitly (omniscience). While they themselves only perceive endless purity, they also directly, explicitly & simultaneously perceive all other contaminated phenomena, but the latter only as these appear to sentient, deluded beings. So Tsongkhapa agrees with Dolpopa ordinary phenomena do not appear to wisdom-mind. But he disagrees this perfect mind is disconnected or set apart from conventionality and its valid misunderstandings. Doing so gives Tsongkhapa the edge to distinguish between valid & invalid misunderstandings, keeping the Buddhadharma directly connected with science and its progress.

Dzogchen posits inseparability as the first axiom of its view. Thought cannot end thought. Because it adheres to the ultimate as non-cognitive, it may tend to belittle the conceptual force of Mâdhyamaka. Shentong stays within Mâdhyamaka format, reasoning its way. Although the ultimate is also deemed beyond cognition per se, conceptuality is not immediately relinquished, as the doctrine of other-emptiness as non-empty emptiness proves. These two positions face an ultimate criticism : their objects are not established ! Dzogchen's "inseparability" between "base" and "clarity" and Shentong's non-empty emptiness, i.e. inherent Buddha-nature, cannot bear ultimate analysis. They do not pass the conditions of the "Path of Preparation", and so these views both jump too quickly to non-established "absolute" grounds. Although both give vent to what happens during meditative equipoise on emptiness, their philosophy is not to be taken as definitive but as interpretative. Both bring the impact of profound meditative experiences to the fore, but these cannot be "translated" into language, for at the summit is ineffable.

Gorampa's idealist interpretation of Mâdhyamaka should not be confused with Dzogchen's "inseparability" of emptiness & clarity or Shentong's other-emptiness. Although participating in the Mâdhyamaka framework, his "idealism" sways to the yogic Mind-Only view, attributing -in the Prâsangika interpretation-inherent existence to the ultimate wisdom-mind and rejecting conventionalities as illusionary other-powered entities of sheer untruth. The intricate balance between the Two Truths is lost, and the ultimate "One Truth" remains.  Cognition is aborted for duality is targeted, ultimate truth (as wisdom) is turned against ignorance (as ordinary sentience). Cognition, conceptualization & conventional truth are identified and deemed illusionary, false and worthless. Gorampa negates too much. He negates conventional instantiation itself, while only its substantial instantiation must end, as Tsongkhapa explains. Hence, Gorampa cannot come to the mere existential instantiation of conventional objects, nor make the ascertainment of wisdom-mind clear to explain Buddhahood, nor make the ultimate connect with the conventional. Thus crippled, how to guarantee compassion, based on interdependence.

At the stage of Buddhahood, wisdom-mind is as impermanent or evanescent as all other phenomena, but, for Tsongkhapa, this evanescent, interdependent, process-like Buddha-continuum, because of an awakening generated by meditations on the ultimate nature of the mind, goes on forever and so is dynamically permanent (cf. like a permanent "strange attractor" in a chaotic phase-space).

If rational exposition is deemed necessary, and to teach Buddhadharma it clearly is, then ultimate analysis & the correct object of negation are all what is needed to establish the non-findability of substantial, static objects of knowledge. This means all events are process-like and no event is substance-like. The ultimate nature of all events is therefore their empty nature, or absence of substantial core or "self". Self-emptiness is the universal, fundamental nature of all phenomena, be they relative or absolute. All things share this nature, as all sentient beings share the potential to awakening. Enlightenment is the end of non-empty, substance-like apprehension.

About this absence of "svabhâva" or "own-form", nothing can be affirmed or posited objectively. Under ultimate analysis, no primordial inseparability, not-empty other-emptiness, primordial Buddha-embryo or primordial base can be found. The only things found is the universal absence of own-form (as object of wisdom-mind) and the universal order of the coming and going of interdependent happenings (as object of the conventional mind, driven by the ignorance of substantial instantiation).

If the importance of ultimate analysis is not clearly established, then the door to wild & crazy speculations remains wide open, unchecked. Is the Buddhadharma, besides ultimate, not also scientific & rational ? Moreover, such a rational approach does not a priori negate the ultimate event of awakening, but, instead, is a "vis a tergo", pushing towards this virtuously invoked higher state. For Tsongkhapa, and his school of "virtuous ones" ("Gelugpa"), extremist yogic "expositions" of ultimate truth always wreaks havoc with a rational & compassionate view on the world and the gradual evolution towards liberation and awakening. This yogi-scholar maintains balance by not negating too much or affirming too little. Tsongkhapa only negates substantial instantiation, not conventional instantiation, nor mere existential instantiation. For him, Buddhahood is generated by meditation on the emptiness of the mind itself, i.e. on the mind as a dynamism, as a process.

Given his reasons a priori and the history of religion a posteriori, we must agree mystical elocutions are hardly sound. Authentic mysticism is not defined by concepts, but by the sheer moral elevation caused by a direct experience of the "radical other" ("totaliter aliter"). The elocutions of a transcendent metaphysics, unbridled by ultimate instantiation ending substantial instantiation, cannot exceed the interpretation of sublime poetry, display, performance & an epiphany of Divine energies, of sound and lights and rays, pointed out by crystals & mirrors and cultivated by cutting-through & crossing-over ... The sobriety of the Critical Consequence School or Critical Mâdhyamaka, is precisely the marriage of exact negation with respectful silence.

9.5 The Great Seal : Looking at the Mind.

We saw how a subjective, personal, intimate, experiential interpretation of emptiness, the one of the yogis, assumes (a) the non-empty other-emptiness of the Buddha-embryo (Shentong) or (b) the primordial inseparability of emptiness with clarity on the basis of meditative equipoise on emptiness (Dzogchen) or (c) the One Truth beyond cognition (Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka) or (d) the absolute consciousness without apprehending subject and apprehended object (Mind-Only). Some posit the presence of the substantialist instantiation, others not. For Shentong, an objective characterization of the subjective pole of every cognitive act, namely of the cognizer, remains possible. This is rejected by Rangtong.

Meditative equipoise on the mind itself brings to light its conceptual (gross) & non-conceptual (subtle) cogitations. Mind-as-perceiver nor the perceived are the chosen objects of placement. Calm Abiding is exclusively applied on the mind-as-perceiving, i.e. on the objective features of the cognitive act of actually perceiving the perceived, leading up to the perception of each actual moment of consciousness. When, on the basisd of "special seeing", the substantial instantiation of each and every cogitation or "state of mind" has been irreversibly halted, then the emptiness of the coarse & subtle layers of the mind are realized, prompting the deepest level, the very subtle mind of Clear Light, the natural state ("rigpa"), to spontaneously & effortlessly rise. Placing the "Great Seal" happens when this direct experience of the self-emptiness of mind "seals" every moment of consciousness nunc ipsum. Then the "winds" enter the central channel triggering awakening. So far the concise view on the Tantra of the "Great Seal".

Historically, the "Great Seal" or "mahâmudrâ" is one of the highest teachings of the Vajrayâna, especially in the Kagyu school (Tilopa, Nâropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa). It is unique to this Adamantine Vehicle. It entered Tibet as late as the 12th century, but was already practiced by Nâgârjuna and revealed to the "mahâsiddhas". Tradition says Buddha spoke of it in the Mahâmudrâ Subtle Drop Tantra, the Glorious Unblemished Tantra and the Thoroughly Abiding Tantra, texts part of the Mahâyâna and probably written between the first and the fifth century CE.

Because it deals with the transformation of the mind, it is a "Tantra", but of all possible Tantras or "continua" it is the highest. Mahâmudrâ is taught in all four Tantra sets (Action, Performance, Yoga & Highest Yoga), but particularly in the highest set. It is elaborated in the Kâlachakra Tantra. As the "Great Seal", this Tantra is also called "Dharmamudrâ" and associated with the very subtle "drop" in the heart-wheel, the "supreme unchanging bliss" of the wisdom-mind of Clear Light realizing the ultimate nature of the mind, apprehending its emptiness or ultimate instantiation.

In the Tibetan lineages, the Great Seal is described as the realization of emptiness, freedom from cyclic existence and the inseparability of these two. The teaching itself is divided in three parts : (a) the view : insight in the true nature of the mind ; (b) the path : direct, effortless experience of the ultimate nature of the mind by way of "Vajra Yoga" and (c) the fruit : the spiritual freedom leaving behind all defilements of the mind. In the Kagyu lineages, the view of the Great Seal is also defined as recognizing the mind as the unity of emptiness and luminosity (the clarity of awareness). When thus approached, the difference between Mahâmudrâ and Dzogchen is not fundamental, and only depends on the lineages and the method. Indeed, many Kagyupa masters identify both. But from the perspective of the Critical Mâdhyamaka, the Kagyu view, like Dzogchen, assumes too much. Likewise, the Gelugpas will criticize the Jonang school for positing too much, claiming they identify the "Great Seal" with an inherently perfect Buddha-nature, deemed to possess its qualities "from the very beginning". In the Kagyu view, this association with the Tathâgata-embryo is also made. But all agree Mahâmudrâ allows one to realize awakening in one lifetime !

All phenomena are imputed by the mind. All sensate & mental objects are apprehended by subjects of experience and "exist" relative to them. Śântideva refers to the mind as the hub of our existence, holding all parts together. About this essential point both Kagyupas and Gelugpas are in full agreement. They also share the view Calm Abiding on a coarse (Buddha statue) & subtle (breath) object must already have been achieved before Mahâmudrâ meditation should be initiated. For only then can the mind take itself as a stable object of placement. Again, if the mind is seen as a lantern, then the object of placement is not the objects illuminated by it (the perceived), nor the lantern itself (the perceiver), but only the light emitted (the act of perceiving). With this in mind, the reifying tendencies are identified and reversed. In this way, both coarse & subtle minds are eventually experienced as empty. This is the goal of the Great Seal.

The important difference between Gelug and Kagyu approaches of the Great Seal involves the luminosity of the mind. While both agree the mind is empty of inherent existence, i.e. not substantially instantiated, the Kagyu affirm the capacity of the mind to understand & reflect, or its "clarity", is inseparable from its emptiness. Gelugpas do not see this inseparability as part of the objective view, but only as part of the subjective fruit. Because of extensive analytical meditations & tranquility meditations on the mind itself, the Clear Light of the mind is generated or caused. As this Clear Light cannot be found under ultimate analysis, it cannot be posited beforehand and so should not be conceptually anticipated and be made part of the view. However, when the "Great Seal" has been placed on every instance of the mind, i.e. when all its cogitations are no longer substantially instantiated, the profound Buddha-qualities of this wisdom-mind of  Clear Light spontaneously & effortlessly arise ! Then the Clear Light dawns as a fish jumps out of the water, and the fact of it being inseparable with the emptiness of the mind may become a datum of direct yogic experience. But, in objective terms, nothing about this can be posited, for this personal, intimate and highly subjective experience is ineffable.

Mahâmudrâ Tantra is the mind of "meaning" Clear Light experiencing great bliss and realizing emptiness. Such a mind is fully qualified. Depending on whether emptiness is conceptuality or non-conceptual realized, two kinds of minds of Clear Light can be distinguished. Before the Bodhisattva enters the Path of Seeing, the mind of Clear Light realizes emptiness with a generic image and so is indirect. This is called "example" Clear Light. By using this example, yogis finally accomplish "meaning" Clear Light, the direct, non-conceptual realization of emptiness (on the Path of Seeing and beyond).

In a general way, Mahâmudrâ meditations, in tune with the process of dissolution and the "bardos" or "intervals" of "death", "intermediate stage" and "rebirth" of the ordinary, migrating mind, first clear away the gross reifying minds. The end of all gross & subtle cogitation is associated with the "bardo of death", or the interval between the moment the first signs of impeding physical death are present and the moment the "indestructible drop" in the heart-wheel splits, releasing the very subtle mind of Clear Light.

Realizing the emptiness of sensate objects (Earth), feelings (Water), volitions (Fire) and thoughts (Air), makes the coarse minds dissolve. On the Path of Preparation, this is done with a generic image. Next, realizing the emptiness of all forms of hatred (rejection), craving (attraction) and ignorance (indifference), cutting the roots of afflictive consciousnesses, the only reifying aggregate left, halts the substantial instantiation of the subtle minds (cf. empty White Appearance, very empty Red Increase & great empty Black Near-Attainment). When these subtle minds too are no longer substantially instantiating, they dissolve and the very subtle mind of Clear Light eventuates. Then, the union of this mind of meaning Clear Light & its adjacent "illusory body" (or "Sambhogakâya" of the intermediate stage) is merely existentially instantiated. This immediately continues into actual enlightenment or the end of rebirth (or "Dharmakâya").

Mahâmudrâ is a very profound Tantra, one in total harmony with the objective view of the Prajñâpâramitâ-sûtra, the emptiness-teachings  of Nâgârjuna (the Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ ) & the Critical Mâdhyamaka of Tsongkhapa the Great. Insofar as (a) nothing is affirmed about inherent qualities of the mind, (b) the process-like insubstantiality of the mind is found and (c) its reifying activities stopped, no conflict with the Critical Middle Way is present. But if before the actual manifestation of meaning Clear Light, the view on Mahâmudrâ anticipates this Clear Light by incorporating "clarity" at the beginning of the path, Critical Middle Way Mahâmudrâ is impossible. Hence, the distinction between non-Mâdhyamaka & Mâdhymaka Mahâmudrâ is pertinent. The former entails wrong views, the latter is in accord with the highest tenet as identified by Tsongkhapa.

9.6 Harmonizing Emptiness & the Clear Light.

In this paper, two paths  to emptiness were identified : the philosophical versus the yogic. These can be set up against each other, seeing them as two partisan, sectarian positions. They can also be harmonized with each other, as in Ri-mé. Philosophy accommodates the elimination of conceptuality by way of concepts, while yoga describes the actual experiential contents of meditations on emptiness. It is unwise to try to philosophize about these direct experiences. Likewise, once concepts are out, yoga should not invoke them back in ! Hence, philosophy is the highest tenet and yoga the experiential result.

Philosophy seeks an objective denotation of "śûnyatâ", emptiness. This must be strict and in accord with logic. As this also serves apologetic aims, a tough system is intended, one establishing the back-bone of the Buddhadharma, resisting the strongest counter-arguments and assist debate. This objective, conceptual intent makes physical science the ally of this philosophical inquiry, for the laws of nature apply for all physical objects (the sensate objects of mind). What laws operate all sentient beings ? The crucial discovery of the Buddhadharma is the absolute, total absence of static objects. This underlines the process-like nature of all phenomena, everywhere and always interdependent.

To formulate this discovery in terms of a single logical expression of emptiness was done by Nâgârjuna "the Protector" :

"Empty should not be asserted.
"Non-empty should not be asserted.
Neither both nor neither should be asserted.
They are only used nominally."

Nâgârjuna : Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ, XXII:11

It took another millennium to finalize the most perfect interpretation of this formal answer. "Not be asserted" means "not to be seen as an eternal substance", as Platonic ideas of sorts, as "universalia". In the ultimate analysis of the Critical Mâdhyamaka, absence of this kind of monadic & "closed" substantiality, featuring independent self-power, is the nominal use aimed at. The yogis may have misread Nâgârjuna, mingling subjective elements in the logical expression of emptiness, and then "adding" something to this absence of stasis. But precisely this addition betrays a subjective component : the primordial ground, the natural state of mind, a purified store-house consciousness, the Clear Light, clarity, luminosity, awareness, other-empty Buddha-nature, etc. Each time, objectivity is lost by an eternalization of the mind a priori. Based on phenomenological & experiential considerations instead of on logical one, they mingle subjectivity with the process of establishing an objective basis for the philosophy of the Buddhadharma, thus undermining the aim of the exercise of formal logic, rejecting the conditions of this logic itself and traditional debate.

Tsongkhapa identified the exclusive nominal use of emptiness with the object of wisdom-mind, aiming to identify the core of ignorance : the conditions of the possibility of static objects. Emptiness is merely the negation of characteristics or features inhering in objects. What makes them objective is not their appearance or mistaken own-power, but their being "empty" or not substance-like, i.e. process-like. Hence, objects are not independent bastions of substantiality, but interdependent processes.

The logico-philosophical view of the Critical Middle Way uses concepts to eliminate concepts, and, at the end of the day, tries to nullify the conceptual act of designating or labeling itself. This is the way of emptiness meditation. By itself, conventional reality is not considered as problematic, but its reification or substantial instantiation is. Because we understand objects to exist from their own side, independent from other objects, we nourish ignorance and cause afflictive mental states. These prompt us to act in non-virtuous ways, sustaining our suffering, dissatisfaction and dis-ease. For Tsongkhapa, a consciousness mistaken with respect to this appearing object can nevertheless be valid with respect to its object of operation, i.e. its logical, functional & conventional instantiation (displaying own-power). To differentiate between conventionalities, valid conventional truth prevails. Halting gross & subtle reification ends ignorance and suffering. The ultimate, one of two possible epistemic isolates of every sensate and mental object, exists conventionally, and so a pan-sacral outlook follows. This is like approaching enlightenment from "the outside", objectively and in accord with epistemology.

The way of Buddhist philosophy is to clear concepts with concepts, creating a systemic crisis. To do so, Critical Mâdhyamaka is best.

The yogis transcend conceptuality, grounding the system in a direct, non-conceptual experience from "the inside", affirming the luminous clarity of the natural state of the mind as part of their intuitive view. For Dzogchen, this experience is even non-cognitive ! They are more interested in the direct moment of awakening, less in its philosophy. In most cases, they integrate a mythical component relayed to Shamanism. They also often share a suddenism, imparting awakening directly. An organized path-structure is less important than pointing to the experience itself. Theory can move away from or shield direct confrontation, introducing concepts upon concepts and endless debates leaving the mind exhausted & bewildered. Theories, thoughts, sensations, affects, volitions and states of consciousness appear in the "mirror" of the mind, but are not the mind. The mind is like a mirror, reflecting a Buddha when facing a Buddha, and a pig when facing a pig.

Some yogis, promoting a "wild" awakening, formally agree with Nâgârjuna, but interpret emptiness in accord with the view of their teachers & initiators (Gurus). Inconsistencies between views are deemed less important than the ability of a given method or "Dharma door" to lead to actual awakening. Of course, the yogis are correct in pointing out the dangers of over-analysis and wrong analysis. But Tsongkhapa and others stress success in emptiness meditation depends on having attained meditational equipoise. Too much thinking does not disturb such a calm mind.

To describe the experience of awakening, the view of the yogis is best.

While the presence of the luminous clarity of the nature of mind, the Clear Light, is accepted in terms of subjective experience and as a datum of the phenomenology of meditation on emptiness, the importance of a very strong logic to explain the Buddhadharma is crucial. For how to remedy wrong views on emptiness ? The dangers of positing anything are considerable, and so by adding their own ineffable subjective experiences of wisdom-mind to the objective characterization of emptiness, i.e. to the objective view on emptiness, the yogis have not established a clear & distinct logical expression of emptiness, for different subjective views prevail (cf. Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka, Shentong, Dzogchen). These conflicting views show their logical instantiation of emptiness to be mixed. This fact elicits a critical proviso regarding their Insight Meditations on emptiness, not established by a clear & distinct object of placement and so lacking meditative equipoise on the correct object of negation in ultimate analysis. While highly accomplished yogis, their philosophical view may fall outside the Buddhadharma ! This is the view prevalent in the Critical Mâdhyamaka. It does not negate or deny the impact of direct yogic perceivers, but considers these to be poor grounds to erect the philosophy of enlightenment as taught by the Buddha. These various positions may be denounced as attempts to reify ultimate truth, smuggling (Indian) substantialist thought into Buddhism.

The yogis identify conventional reality with conceptual activity and the latter is identified with cognition per se. These have to be eradicated before awakening may emerge. Suffering is rooted in conventional reality and so "conventional truth" is a falsehood, only the "One Truth" of ultimate reality prevails. For the yogis, a Buddha knows the ordinary phenomena only implicitly, for by knowing ultimate truth explicitly they know ordinary phenomena do not exist.

While some say the remaining tension in Tsongkhapa's view involves coupling the immeasurable benefit for sentient beings brought by Buddhas with the fact they do not perceive ordinary phenomena from their own perspective, one may argue the only thing Buddhas truly need to help sentient beings is to explicitly know how conventional reality appears to sentience. By thoroughly knowing how phenomena appear to deluded, mistaken minds, namely as solid & independent, they are able to develop ways to end this reification. And this is precisely the kind of knowledge Tsongkhapa attributes to Buddhas. While, from their own side, only space-like & illusion-like emptiness is apprehended, they simultaneously know how conventional reality appears to deluded beings. Thus, they are able to curtail their delusions and bring them to the awareness of wisdom-mind apprehending only emptiness, i.e. the absence of substantial existence in merely existentially instantiated phenomena.

The logical problems faced  by the yogis are considerable. For them, Buddhas only implicitly know conventional objects by knowing they do not exist ! This undercuts their potential to be of any benefit. For how can sentient beings, trapped in conventional chains, be assisted by only telling them these chains do not exist ? Is this a skillful way ? Clearly not. Moreover, by affirming the luminous nature of mind at the start, some yogis cross a critical boundary, for logically, the only possibility left is to try to merely poetically convey this transcendent or supramundane core of the mind. This is not a definitive view, but merely one needing interpretation.

Of course, once a direct experience of the nature of mind is the case, a tremendous transformation is at hand ! Superior Bodhisattvas posit what they directly experience. They do so knowing no conceptual approach of their experience is possible. The profound power of their experience, coupled with their Great Compassion, makes it difficult for them to refrain from affirming something no concept is able to hold, and the license given by "direct seeing" only prompts them to designate concepts-of-no-concepts like "natural state of mind", "clarity", "luminous awareness", "Clear Light", "other-emptiness", "Buddha-embryo" etc. When, adding problems upon problems, they claim their position is the "highest" tenet, one moving beyond the self-empty logic of the Critical Middle Way, then they truly face severe difficulties. Using false logic and mere verbiage to back up their profound experience, they actually eternalize their position by way of the "argumentum ad verecundiam", or an appeal to false authority. Doing so curtails their compassion and eventually casts a shadow on the authenticity of their direct experience ...

"Virtue is not to be practiced,
nor sin to be renounced ;
Awareness free from both virtue and sin
is the Buddha-body of reality.
Virtue is not to be practiced,
if practiced there is no Buddhahood.
Neither is sin to be renounced,
if renounced, Buddhahood is not achieved."

No doubt, and Nâgârjuna would agree, this position beyond the surface of the mirror, this "Hintenwelt" is valid insofar as yogic experience goes, but Critical Middle Way logic forces us to deconstruct these concepts as "transcendent signifiers" beyond conceptuality and so beyond any possible linguistic denomination. They can be nothing more than limit-concepts and should therefore be "marked" with an asterix to identify their transgressive potential.

The self-emptiness of the Rangtong, devoid of any inherent Buddha qualities, is said to be "dead emptiness". Indeed, proponents of other-emptiness claim emptiness is the repository of all the qualities of Buddhahood inherent in all sentient beings. For Gelugpas, Buddhahood cannot be concealed by defilements and if inherent in all sentient beings, then the Buddhadharma is useless, for universal enlightenment would already be the case, which is clearly so.

There is a core of truth to be found in the position of the yogis though. If ultimate analysis is a conceptual structure ending conceptuality, then clearly conceptuality is to be eliminated. Only then can a direct experience of emptiness be possible. The fact conceptual logic does not penetrate this, brings the power of the yogi's phenomenological approach to the fore. For only the actual, direct experience of the mind of Clear Light authenticates. Hence, self-emptiness is the philosophical "Via negativa", a preliminary inviting a positive, direct experience of the ultimate nature of the mind. Lacking the capacity to reveal the clarity of the mind, conceptual philosophical inquiry should not hinder further progress towards the direct experience of this Buddha-nature. While philosophy can not affirm Buddha-qualities to inherently exist, it surely can point, on the basis of yogic perceivers, to these qualities. Philosophically, the latter must be understood as merely "generated" by the mind in meditative equipoise on emptiness, while the yogi's non-conceptual & nondual cognition apprehends them to be primordially present in all sentient beings "from the very beginning".

Given classical logic, philosophers must remain silent about what lies beyond the borders of logic. Yogis cannot assume their mind of Clear Light to be inherent. Both have to remain within their own domain.

What is the view of the philosopher-yogi ?

Suppose the logical boundaries established by Critical Mâdhyamaka are like the frontiers of the country of conceptual thought, bordered on one side by the non-conceptual mind of Clear Light. Insofar as philosophers turn away from this demarcation, as Kant did by denying intellectual perception its place, and so never point to what lies beyond the border of conceptuality, their view on emptiness does not even take the Clear Light into consideration. This would be a "dead" interpretation of emptiness by way of the "dead bones of logic" (Hegel), one limited by conceptual thought and missing the purpose of ultimate analysis : to end reifying concepts by way of concepts, looking over the border towards the country of Clear Light, a country the existence of which, as yogic perceivers show, cannot be denied ! Of course, logically, as Descartes pointed out, the "lumen naturale" or mind of Clear Light is before any possible conceptualization.

Insofar as these critical thinkers maintain the distinction between conceptuality and non-conceptuality to avoid contamination of the logic of emptiness by trans-logical phenomena (like the direct experience of the Clear Light), but integrate the natural state of the mind into the fruit of the path (not limiting the fruit to the mere establishment of a correct ultimate analysis), a healthy relationship between both countries is not a priori rejected. Instead of turning their backs, they move to the final frontier of discursivity and confirm, by generating the direct experience, the presence of the Clear Light. But this integration & acceptance are not based on logic or the integration of Buddha-qualities in the formal definition of emptiness (as in Shentong), but on their acceptance of the testimony of the yogis, if not of their own direct yogic apprehensions & experiences.

For Critical Mâdhyamaka, and correctly so, no logic is able to refute the Middle Way. Nothing about "nirvâna" can be affirmed (all eternalization avoided), and emptiness meditations on the mind itself find no ground to reify any part of its coarse & subtle operations. Thus eliminating its substantial instantiation, consuming all possible fuel, extinguishes the fire of reification and makes one effortlessly & spontaneously arrive at the "other shore" (all nihilism avoided). The mind, besides being known by conventional knowledge as an object of conventional truth, is also known by ultimate knowledge as an object of ultimate truth, i.e. lacking inherent existence.

In this view on the Great Seal, the Clear Light is, on the one hand, not anticipated or posited beforehand. The view does not assume it to be substantial (non-empty). To do so would lead to a form of eternalism. On the other hand, the Clear Light is made part of the fruit insofar as ultimate analysis is not an end in itself, but, on the basis of direct yogic experience on the Path of Seeing and beyond, a logic ending conceptualization, one eliciting the arising of the mind of Clear Light.

While the Clear Light is not a substantial part of the objective side of the view, it is introduced by accomplished yogis as a hypothetical subjective fruit each & every sentient being may, with due effort, directly experience. The Third Turning points to the presence of this pre-condition or potential in all sentient beings. This is not the same as logically affirming Buddha-qualities inhere in the "tathâgatagarbha" from the beginning. Instead, they are generated as the result of emptiness-meditations on the mind, turning successful because all sentient beings possess the potential for enlightenment from the start.

Affirming the ineffable empty nature of this wisdom-mind does not hinder master yogis to construe the Clear Light* as an interpretative, non-empty object of poetry, praising its inherent qualities, said to endure despite adventitious ignorance & defilement. In fact, the profound yogic experience of Dzogchen & Mahâmudrâ experts confirms this to be the case, and this despite the definitive logic proving conceptual thought cannot penetrate non-conceptual, ultimate truth. However, from the side of logic, these accomplished yogis with their sublime poetry only inspire, uplift and act as a excellent & sublime examples. This has to be made very clear, for the object of this art of the Great Perfection, positing the inseparability of the primordial base (objective "dharmadhâtu" or "khunzi") & the mind's natural clarity (subjective mind of Clear Light* or "rigpa"), has no conceptual ground whatsoever.

Within the country of concepts, Nâgârjuna's logic is final ; nothing can be affirmed about ultimate truth ! No logical, conceptual path leads to the beyond of discursive thought, only to its border, and so one is left to develop concepts ending the reification of all concepts. This is however not the end of cognition, at work until the last, tiniest drop of reifying fuel is burnt and beyond !

Thus gone, the Great Seal is placed, and "nirvâna" entered.


Book of the Hidden Chamber - Sixth Hour
The five-headed serpent "Tail-in-Mouth" ("aSA-Hrw"), the Greek Oroboros
"the mysterious image of the Duat, unknown and unseen"
Tomb of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (ca.1479 - 1426 BCE)

Systems of thought emerge from a logical core, a series of axioms, lemmas & theorems. If we define "logical intent" as the type of well-formed organization aimed at, different logical systems can be classified in five basic logical intentions : voidal, unitary, dual, ternary & quaternary.

Study the way these five are represented in the Buddhadharma :

{Ø} wholeness : nameless, ineffable, circularity, beyond "samsâra" & "nirvâna", the Great Seal, "Dharmakâya" ;
1 unitary, creational : singularity, the One Truth, Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka
, absence of object & subject, Absolute Mind, singularity, Oneness ;
2 dual, syntactic : linearity, the Two Truths, the Two Baskets of Wisdom & Compassion, the Two Form Bodies, the simultaneous dynamics of the Two Truths ;
3 ternary, generational, semantic : the Triple Gem, the Threefold Path, the Three Subtle Minds, the three drops ;
4 quaternary, actional, pragmatic : the Four Noble Truths, The Four Turnings, the Four Thoughts Turning the Mind, the Cardinal Directions, the Four Tantra Sets, etc.

The difference between voidal logic & all other logics is pertinent. While the former negates substantial instantiation, the latter operate dependent arising. Also between unitary & dual logical intentions, crucial distinctions pertain. Self-contained, unitary logics, in order to posit their object, need substantial instantiation. Without substance, no creational claim can be upheld.

Different logical systems yield different outlooks. For example. Since the discovery of the Big Bang, the beginning of the universe some 14 billion years ago, cosmologists speculate about how it will come to an end. While the universe may continue to expand for ever, some think it may actually shrink back into singularity (Big Crunch). In a dual logic, time & space begin and end with the emergence & dissolution of the universe. But in a voidal logic, entertaining the notion of "beginningless time", the whole process of the arising, abiding & ceasing of the universe is viewed as circular. Arising & ceasing are ongoing, implying a steady periodic process. Big Bang & Big Crunch define the bounderies of the universe-in-manifestation (cf. "guna-Brahman"). In the interval between its dissolution & reemergence, the universe is dormant (cf. "nirguna-Brahman"). To answer the question : What was there before the Big Bang ? some linear logics posit a Creator of sorts (cf. "creatio ex nihilo"), while in a circular logic, considering the universe is either awake or dormant, there is no need for this.

Shentong is clearly unitary, but makes use of duality to argue. The logical intent is not part of the method. Dzogchen intents wholeness. All other logics are play. Mâdhyamaka is serious play, but nevertheless mere display. Mind-Only is unitary and eliminates duality. Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka is also unitary, but -just like Shentong- makes use of dual logics to posit unity (2 = 1). Critical Mâdhyamaka is dualistic & voidal (2 = {Ø}), accepting duality as valid in its sphere, but bringing, without positing substance or unity, the two sides together in a single moment of consciousness.

The overall, shared dual view of the Mâdhyamaka in general, and of Tsongkhapa in particular, is path-oriented & graduated. The assumption the road must come to an end is the outcome of architectonic thinking, moving from delusion to a pre-determined end state : Buddhahood. The cognitive restructuring at hand operates a linear & temporal logic, starting with ignorant sentience & ending with Buddhahood. It avoids the tail-in-the mouth solution, the Oroboros of circular, voidal non-linearity, implying the fruit, the path & the view are one process, emphasizing the Oneness of unbounded wholeness.

To unfold its view, gradualism calls for a static logic. The axioms of these non-dynamical representational models are generally never questioned. Identity cannot be forsaken, or conceptualization is impossible. Non-contradiction must be maintained, or denial of concepts is abrogated. A third must be excluded, or mingling concepts is not to be avoided and no clear demarcation is possible.

However, classical logic, with its first-order linear rules of logical instantiation, prone to determination rather than freedom, to stasis rather than dynamism, has been found not to be the rule. Indeed, all living systems manifest non-linearity. Moreover, the mathematics of cosmology & quantummechanics often deny Euclidian geometry, excluded third, non-contradiction and the traditional divisions between time, space, matter & energy ! For example, in non-classical, intuitionist logic, the principle of the excluded third cannot be proven, and in quantum-logic, even the principle of contradiction is violated (cf. the features of complex Hilbert-spaces describing paradoxical, superimposed quantum mechanical events). In chaos-theory, more than three independent processes bound together imply chaos (cf. Dirac & the three-body problem) and complex systems are known to behave in ways conflicting our "everyday" experience, like small changes causing large results (cf. the Butterfly effect). We know actio-in-distans is a quantum mechanical fact (cf. the EPR thought experiment & the theorem of Bell). Logics defying the excluded third as well as non-contradiction do need a high index of logical "economy", "regulation" & "efficiency", but can be used to better describe diverse complex systems, like living organisms, societies, economies, politics & many natural systems like the weather, fractal organ-tissues, coastlines, and ... awakening !

But in the Critical Mâdhyamaka of Tsongkhapa, the Aristotelian laws of classical logic (identity, non-contradiction & excluded third) define logical instantiation, and so the whole edifice of his Middle Way School thinking depends on this, in particular the principle of excluded third. Tsongkhapa identified first-order, classical logic with the rules of presentation, refutation and establishment per se. Like Kant, who accepted the universal process of the categories and sought synthetical propositions a priori, Tsongkhapa rejected non-linear, non-classical logics, primarily because in the Tibet of his days, non-classical logics were unknown.

Would a non-classical interpretation of process and change be helpful in solving the tension between gradualists & suddenists, upgrading Critical Mâdhyamaka ?

"In there were no such things as dichotomies that exclude a third category, there would be no way to make a refutation with analysis that limits the possibilities to two, -(asking) whether it is asserted that something exists or does not exist, or is one or many, and so forth. If there are (dichotomies that exclude a third category), then when something is refuted as being one side of a dichotomy and it is not established as the other, it does not exist. (...) if something is eliminated as being one side of a dichotomy, it must be established as the other and that if one is refuted, the other is established."
Tsongkhapa : Extensive Explanation of "Supplement to 'Treatise of the Middle Way'", chapter 6, definite enumeration as only two truths.

Taking non-classical systems into consideration seems, at face-value, to reduce the power of ultimate analysis. Regardless, the notion that under ultimate analysis nothing stable can be found, remains the central theme of the Buddhadharma. In non-linear logics, close to chaotic, non-linear dynamic processes, change & transformation, as well as the ultimate lack of inherent stability or substance, cooperate well with the "king of logics", dependent-arising. Non-linearity brings impermanence, fugacity & volatility under higher-order logical & functional instantiations. These logics operate in phase-space, in complex realms characterized by strange attractors, ruled by the mere probability something will happen now.

Insofar as the Paths of Accumulation and Preparation go, Tsongkhapa definitively identified the correct object of negation, namely the false imputation of inherent existence to objects. Like Kant's "transcendental analysis", it introduces a perspective beyond mere realism or idealism. But because of this consistent lack of non-linearity, the pair substance/accident can still turn out problematic. As Whitehead points out, in most of our natural languages, any adjective ends up qualifying a noun, a static rather than a process. The axioms of logic are themselves impermanent, and this meta-logical consideration is, in all non-classical logics, an important point of reflection.

Insofar as Critical Mâdhyamaka does not take these developments into account, stubbornly accepting the universality of classical logic a priori, it may well be crippled by outdated logics. But suppose we take these new sciences into account. Can a contemporary, science-based Critical Mâdhyamaka be the outcome ? Integrating these finding in the very fabric of logic, may lead to other conclusions as the one proposed by Tsongkhapa and his philosophical school. A science of emptiness ?

The traditional philosophical view of the Consequence School represents the pinnacle of what can be achieved by way of the conceptual mind based on the traditional, linear, first-order view on logic & causality. It represents therefore a rather limited standard. Its great advantage is a clear-cut distinction between the two sides of a dichotomy, and the possibility to logically instantiate a clear & distinct form : either A v ¬ A, and if not A, nor ¬ A, then the set has no elements in it. With such precise boundaries, the classical form of the Two Truths, providing an unequivocal object of negation, As = E!A is given. However, this objectifying architecture of emptiness, best to eliminate concepts, lacks logics establishing efficient change. Map transformation is not the purpose of classical axioms.

We must ask whether a non-linear, dissipative interpretation of process and change can be helpful in solving the tension between gradualist & suddenist views, between Rangtong & Shentong ? This would be one moving beyond merely placing these views on either side of the border of conceptuality, merely focusing on the distinction established by the difference between the Path of Preparation, still conceptual, and the Path of Seeing, still cognitive but non-conceptual. This clear distinction is the dual-union established by Tsongkhapa, who never questioned the first-order principles of identity, non-contradiction & excluded third. The simultaneity of the Two Truths in the enlightened mind of a Buddha, this dual-union, is thus the purest, most definitive conceptualization of awakening, but not a description of awakening itself. What if we expand the axioms of logic ?

Suppose we view sentient beings as dynamical, dissipative, non-linear systems able to self-structure, auto-regulate and manifest autopoiesis, the self-maintaining, supercomplete unity or unbounded wholeness containing component-producing processes, like a luminosity displaying its energy to its environment ? Instead of viewing Buddhahood as the end result of a linear process, as gradualism demands, we could understand awakening, Buddhahood as the ever-present, fundamental, supercomplete state or natural ground-state of our system. Our suffering or sentient condition is then a lower, superficial energy-state of the same nonstatic system, i.e. an exception caused by defilements based on ignorance, fixating what is bound to change in concepts deemed to represent independent, cut-off, unchanging objects. What is deemed conventional, is a reduced level of negentropy within the same unique system. To move to or engender a higher order, the substantial instantiation bringing bewilderment must end. The supercomplete, cognitive state beyond any dichotomy, is not an inherently existing non-empty own-nature, although it does close to it, but a dependent arising involving the continuous dynamism of an uninterruptedly continual pristine wisdom-energy, like the interdependence of the continuum of consciousness with its objects, involving a process no longer substantially instantiated, and so, as a fugal flow, never slowed down.

Traditional Mâdhyamaka considers enlightenment never to be sudden, but the end result of a long process of spiritual evolution, moving through various stages. By accumulating compassion and wisdom, the conditions for awakening arise. By prolonged meditation on compassion Form Bodies ("Nirmânakaya & Sambhogakâya") are generated, and by emptiness meditations the Truth Body ("Dharmakâya") arises. So the two "baskets" of compassion & wisdom act as "causes" or antecedent conditions leading to enlightenment, and without them, suffering cannot end, for the fruit, given linear temporality, cannot be produced.

Given this linear logic, correct in classical terms, Buddha-nature cannot be an ontological a priori and the qualities associated with awakening cannot be considered to be given from the very beginning. They must be caused, generated or engendered by the efforts put in a posteriori. But sentient beings always retain the "pure", "virtual", innate potential to know ultimate truth. This is the core of the Third Turning.

Although the classical logic of the gradualist argument is clear-cut and powerful, it does stand in stark contrast to the experience of the yogis of the Mind-Only School, the view of the Kagyupas or the masters of Dzogchen. For these splendid yogic minds, focusing on meditative equipoise rather than on first-order logic, conceptualism & philosophy, enlightenment, the wisdom-mind apprehending ultimate truth, must be defined as an uncompounded, whole, continuous, permanent & unbounded state of mind. Some will add it is eternal, everlasting, self-arisen, independent and the inseparability of emptiness & Clear Light. How split, compounded, discontinuous, impermanent conditions may act as "causes" producing the profound fruit of Buddhahood is beyond them.

For Tsongkhapa, ultimate & conventional realities are not two different ontological strata (one pure and another impure), but refer to the two natures of the same entity. Precisely because the ultimate exists conventionally, can sentient beings become Buddhas. In other-emptiness, with its split between the ultimate and the conventional, the ultimate needs to be a "given", for the conventional is illusionary anyway. Critical Mâdhyamaka does not negate the conventional, but only its substantial instantiation. Hence, Buddha-nature merely refers to our innate potential, with due effort, to generate Buddhahood.

Nevertheless, the yogis relentlessly stress all sentient beings are enlightened sui generis, implying that to realize awakening, nothing more has to be done than to uncover this intrinsic Buddha-nature and its enduring, sempiternal qualities ... To do so is the highest form of compassion. This uncovering or unveiling may happen suddenly, only by pointing out the luminous, clear nature of the mind already there, a wisdom-mind ever united with the primordial ground. Once pointed out, the process of clearing away may start ...

This experience of theirs cannot be rejected. Their philosophy is clearly based on experience rather than logic. Their aim is to awaken, not to philosophize. They mistrust too much conventional knowledge. Their focus is on direct experience and actual yogic perceivers, on effectively work with the mind in meditative equipoise on the mind. On the Path of Seeing and beyond, they directly experience the Clear Light. It does not seem to them this natural mind is "generated" or "caused" by their previous meditations on emptiness, but its power & authority suggests it to have been there in the first place. All previous, deluded states of consciousness are merely "lower" expressions of the primordial energy experienced by way of yogic perceivers, i.e. minds trained to see emptiness. It is possible to integrate sound philosophy & yogic experience without inherent existence ?

In his magisterial work La Nouvelle Alliance (1979), the Russian-born Nobel Laureate chemist Ilya Prigogine (1917 - 2003), to describe a system's dissipation of entropy (disorder) into its environment, coined the term "dissipative structure". A system, or whatever we study with regard to its symmetry properties, is "dissipative" when it dissipates disorder. Such self-organizing systems possess principles of evolution and develop complex stabilities in their dynamism, but these are never in static equilibrium. These systems are "open" and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (according to which all systems must eventually decay into maximum chaos or highest entropy) does not apply to them, but only to "closed" systems.  In mathematical detail, Prigogine showed how these negentropic, highly ordered, open systems arise in accordance with the second law !

Every open system, i.e. any system exchanging energy and entropy with its environment, undergoes sudden changes of state from a state of lower energy & less order (high entropy), to a state of higher energy & greater order (lower entropy, or negentropy). The latter states are meta-stable, i.e. stable within a limited range of energy input. With an influx of energy above this threshold, the system will either break down to a lower state or evolve upward to another meta-stable state of higher energy and greater internal ordering (order, crisis, meta-order, crisis, etc.). Open systems can be found everywhere, in chemistry, nature, economy, sociology, cognitive development, etc. These dynamical systems are the rule, while closed, static systems are the exception.

Dynamical principles governing the organization of systems in general and dissipative systems in particular can be expressed in terms of symmetry transformations & symmetry breaks. A transformation is any action performed on a system leaving its integrity intact. Take a square. Turn it 5°. The square is still a square. The 5° rotation is a transformation. Symmetry transformations are changes leaving some property of the system unchanged. Rotating the square 90° in its own place leaves the property "orientation of the square in its plane" unchanged and is a symmetry transformation. Rotating it through any angle other than a multiple of 180° does not leave this property unchanged and so involves a symmetry break. When higher-order dissipative systems turn entropic, a symmetry break is involved. When they continue their meta-stable dynamics, they perform symmetry transformations.

Can Buddhahood be identified as a continuum with ongoing symmetry transformation ? To "attain" or "generate" it one merely has to increase energy influx so thresholds are corrected upward. The "path" is a change in energy-patterning, an increase of negentropy facilitated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Clearly, dissipative systems do not behave in accord with the "closed" logic of classical models. Their "logic" is non-linear, probabilistic and, on the quantum mechanical level, even violates the principle of contradiction (cf. the state of superposition). Guenther was the first to apply the work of Prigogine to the Buddhadharma. A Buddha, so his view goes, continuously wipes out what needs to be dissipated, and is a non-unfolded totality of qualities as the pure ground-potential. All sentient beings share this pure ground-potential. A Buddha is "gone-unfolded" (Guenther, 1989, p.14), i.e. a non-unfolded totality of qualities as pure potential, constantly destroying the substantial instantiation of objects, ending the false ideation causing the unfoldment of objects as independent static things. An "awakened one" is a structure dynamically ever-blossoming all endless potentialities of an given system ("one"), dispelling all of its confusion, disorder or entropy ("awakened"). This implies an ongoing dynamism relating to continuous self-(re)structuring by constantly emptying substantial instantiation. Consuming this entropy, a system "unfolds" Buddhahood because of the ongoing dissipation of excitability and the elimination of the delusion resulting from the ignorant attribution of substance to phenomena.

As this dissipation is constant, Buddhahood implies a supercomplete dynamism, an ongoing symmetry transformation. Because this totality is an unbounded wholeness, its dynamism is endless. Because, like all other things, a Buddha is devoid of inherent existence, he or she is a dependent arising. Depending on the conditions of the display of the energy of these symmetry transformations, Buddhahood is ever-changing, but because the specific dynamism of the symmetry transformations is enduring, ongoing & continuous, awakening is an impermanent everlastingness.

It can be argued early Indian Buddhism favored an essentialist and ontic approach. The word "Buddha" was used as a noun and not as the past participle of the verb "budh", "to awake", indicative of an experiential, existential state. In the Lesser Vehicle, the claim there is only one thing (person) "fully awake" leads to the absurd notion no other thing can be "awake". In this ontic reductionism, the Buddha then becomes an object, a noun and not a dynamical, experiential, existential state.

The Tibetan "sangs-rgyas" or "gone-unfolded" retains the dynamical connotation of a self-structuring process or dissipative structure. This dynamism moves beyond all static, fixed notions (quantity, quality, modality, relation).

Both the Yogâcârins and the Dzogchenpas emphasize self-organization and a dynamic perspective based on a free and creative appreciation of existential awareness & psychic receptivity in meditative equipoise. Their approach of the Dharma is from the side of the Path of Seeing, gaining an unfolding "out of this world", i.e. a breakthrough releasing the non-conceptual from the stranglehold of the objectifying, representational tendencies of the conceptual Path of Preparation exalted by Classical Critical Mâdhyamaka.

Although, according to the formal logic of the Critical Middle Way, this "subjective" interest can only be "poetical" (cf. supra), it is nevertheless at the heart of the "higher" Path of Seeing. While this path is cognitive, it is non-conceptual, intuitive, unmediated and revealing direct knowledge ("gnosis"). The intent of the Buddhadharma is not to establish a logical framework ending logical frameworks, but unveiling or uncovering the true, empty nature of reality. In meditative equipoise on the Path of Seeing, this is the emptiness  of the mind (ultimate reality realized by ending the substantial instantiation of the mind itself), revealing its luminous clarity. Of course, if this intuitive unity is squeezed into the narrow confines of the arguments of classical logic (as in traditional "philosophical" Shentong), difficulties rain down. But, taken as the elucidation of what can be directly experienced beyond conceptuality, namely the Clear Light or brilliant radiance of the mind actualizing its Buddha-potential, the latter can be apprehended (in a non-linear logical framework) as referring to the totality of supercompleted Buddha-qualities as pure potential (the maximal negentropy of a sentient dissipative system).

non-unfolded : Buddhahood is supercomplete, or an unbounded wholeness, an impeccable entirety, a profound ultimate completeness needing no unfolding in the past, present or future ;
totality of qualities : Buddhahood is enlightened body, enlightened speech, enlightened mind & enlightened activity ;
as pure potential : Buddhahood is an ongoing self-empty dynamic process of self-(re)structuring, a continuous symmetry transformation of endless qualities, a spontaneous "holomovement" (Guenther, 1989, p.195), a superimposition of all possibilities of the world of potentia (Heisenberg), displaying to and exchanging with its environment the actualization of these boundless possibilities (cf. the Form Bodies as symmetry transformations).

Eliminating the entitative, classical framework of language itself (a structure Tsongkhapa was unable to replace), makes it possible to understand how Buddhahood and sentience are connected by way of process, no longer introducing the rather "static" split & simultaneity of the Two Truths, linked to the classical logic at hand. Thinking dynamic freedom as a self-organizing process, "like a snake uncoiling", is understanding "samsâra" (conventional truth) as a symmetry break, a phenomenal "surface" transformation of Buddhahood (ultimate truth), a settling down on a lower energy-level due to substantial instantiation. So, viewing sentient beings from the side of a Buddha, is understanding the causes & conditions of their lack of entropy-dissipation, their devolution from dynamic, subtle, higher-order supercompleteness and involution into static, lower-order coarseness. This happens by bringing about symmetry breaks through actions contaminated by substantiality, triggering a lowered energy state and an increase of chaos, entropy, closedness, dissatisfaction & suffering for both the lower-order system and its environment. The only difference between sentient beings and Buddhas is the latter's lack of substantial instantiation.

Instead of seeing sentient beings as the rule and Buddhahood as the exception, awakening is understood as the "nominal" state and mere deluded sentience as the lower-end or ignorant exception to this unbounded wholeness. Sentience is a lower energy signature, Buddhahood the highest. Tsongkhapa focused on the object of negation, understanding Buddha-qualities as resulting from such emptiness-meditations. Here, one focuses on the self-empty Buddha-potential, drawing in higher energy by eliminating own-form, spontaneously manifesting Clear Light. Both are equivalent.

Positing Buddhahood as a supercomplete dissipative system dissipating ignorance turns sentience into a symmetry-break away from this natural supercompleteness, the super-dynamical, super-transforming pure potential innate in sentience.


© Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2017
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.


initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 30 X 2014 - version n°3