from Meditation on Empitness
by Jeffrey Hopkins (1983) Wisdom Publications
Source Nga-wang-bel-den's Annotations
THE ASSERTION OF SELF
The non-Buddhist systems assert the existence of a substantially existent self based on scripture and counterfeit reasoning. The scriptures are those transmitted from one to another, setting forth the existence of a personal self. The reasonings are:
A self exists because without prior consideration, when phenomena such as the shape of a face are seen, the thought of the presence of a person is generated, not just the thought of the presence of a shape.
A self exists because without prior consideration, when enjoyment preponderantly of pleasurable feelings is perceived, the thought of the presence of a high person is generated, not just of feeling. When enjoyment preponderantly of painful feelings is perceived, the thought of the presence of a low person is generated, not just of feeling. (307)
When the name 'Devadatta' is designated, one thinks of a person, not just of a discrimination of the name.
When engagement in afflictions - such as desire - or virtues - such as faith - are perceived, the thought of the presence of a childish person or a wise person is generated, not just of engagement.
When the mind understands its objects through the eyes and so forth, one does not just think that the mind sees but that 'I see.' This shows that there is a sentient being, or I separate from the mind.
If there were no self separate from the mental and physical aggregates, one would not think, 'I have seen a form,' or 'I will see a form,' but would only think of the aggregates as engaging in activities. However, this is not the case; one must definitely think of the self prior to engagement in activities.
BUDDHIST REFUTATION OF SELF
Since those seeking liberation must completely refute the referent object of the view of the transitory collection as a real I and must assert a mere I or mere person, they must become skilled in the ways of refutation and proof through reasoning. Otherwise, falling to the extreme either of asserting no I at all or of affirming a substantially existent I, all their efforts will be senseless. Since the mere person is not to be refuted, a person as qualified by a certain attribute is. This is called a true (*satyaka, bden pa), ultimate (paramartha, don dam), or substantially existent (dravyasat, rdzas yod) person. (308)
In short, the person is conceived to exist substantially whereas it only exists imputedly (prajnaptisat, btags yod). Here, an imputedly existent object is a phenomenon, such as a forest or army, which when it appears as an object of the mind must depend on the appearance of some other basis which has a character different from it, such as trees or soldiers. However, the substantially existent appears under its own power without depending on such-for instance, a tree or soldier. This explanation of 'substantial existence' comes from the lower systems because in the Prasangika system nothing substantially exists since the appearance of any phenomenon must depend on the appearance of its basis of imputation, which is not itself. (308, 309)
1. Refuting the reasoning that the person substantially exists because it is observed that when phenomena such as the shape of a face are seen, the thought of the presence of a person is generated without prior consideration
Are phenomena, such as the shape of a face and so forth, perceived and the thought of a sentient being generated with respect to them, or is something else perceived and the thought of a sentient being generated with respect to it? If the former, then that thought is erroneous because it conceives such to be a sentient being whereas a sentient being is other than the shape of a face and so forth. If the latter, one has let fall the position that the thought of a sentient being is generated only from perceiving such phenomena. (309)
Does that base which, when perceived, generates the thought of a sentient being have the nature of a sentient being or not? If the former, then that thought is erroneous because the sentient being appears to be self-sufficient in the sense of having a character different from that of the mind and body. If the latter, then one would have to assert that even a pot could serve as a cause generating the thought of woolen cloth. (309)
Do you accept that the thought of a sentient being can be generated with respect to what is not a sentient being or not? If not, it is manifestly contradicted by the experience of generating the thought of a human to a pile of stones seen in the distance. If, however, the thought of a sentient being can be generated with respect to what is not a sentient being, then the basic assertion that the thought of a sentient being understands its object just as it is is indefinite. (309)
Do you accept that the thought of non-sentient being can be generated with respect to a sentient being? Do you accept that the thought of a certain sentient being can be generated with respect to another sentient being? (309, 310)
When the aggregates are perceived, is the base that generates the thought of a sentient being manifest or hidden? If manifest, then the aggregates would be the sentient being because another phenomenon not included among them is not manifestly perceived. If hidden or obscure, then a small untrained child would not generate a thought of a sentient being. (310)
2 Refuting that the person substantially exists just because it is observed that one engages in activities having first thought, 'I will murder,'or 'I will forsake murder'
Do these activities arise from mental causes or from the cause of the self? If the former, then one has let fall the position that these are activities of a substantially existent person. If the latter, then it contradicts the position that these activities are preceded by thought. (310)
Is the cause of the activities permanent or impermanent? If permanent, then it could not act. If impermanent, then these could not be the activities of a permanent self. (310)
Does the sentient being who is the agent have a nature of exertion or non-exertion? If the former, then the self could not be permanent. If the latter, it would be contradictory to say that the non-exerting exerts. (310)
Do the activities of a sentient being have causes or not? If not, then the activities would always be performed. If caused, then since they would be preceded by other causes, they would not be the independent activities of a self. (310)
Are activities performed under one's own power or under the influence of the other? If the former, then the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, death, and so forth would never be experienced because what one experienced would be in one's own power. If the latter then it would not be suitable for these to be the activities of the self because the self is asserted to be under its own power. (310)
3 Imputation of the self to the aggregates
If the person is imputed to the mental and physical aggregates, then it could not be a self-sufficient entity different from the aggregates. (310, 311)
If the person abides in the aggregates like a pile of grain in a mandala, is the person permanent or impermanent? If permanent, then it could not be helped or harmed by pleasure and pain; hence, it would not accumulate virtuous and non-virtuous actions (karma las) and thus would not assume a body, in which case there would be no sense in asserting it as a person. If impermanent, then something that is other than the aggregates and is produced and disintegrates would have to be observed, but it is not. (311)
If the person is other than the aggregates (which include all products) like sticks set side by side, then since the person would be a non-product, it would be senseless to assert it. (311)
If the aggregates do not exist at all, then since there could be no relation with fetters, one would be liberated effortlessly. (311)
4 Positing the character of the person
If a person separate from the aggregates exists, does it have the nature of being the viewer of forms and so forth or not? If it does, is it imputed to the eye consciousness and so forth or is it another object altogether? If the former, then it could not be substantially existent. (311)
If the self is the viewer of forms and so forth but is other than the eye consciousness, then it would be either the object or the instrument of viewing. If it is the object, then it would be the basis of the activity of viewing. This could be in the sense of, like a seed, newly producing its own similar type in the next moment, but then the viewer would be impermanent, not permanent as is asserted. Or, this could be in the sense of transformation, like a potter or a human with magical powers, but then it would be impermanent and conventional. If just as a magician emanates illusions under his own power, so the self is under its own power, then the viewer would not undergo any suffering. The self might be conceived as the basis of the activity of viewing in the same way as the earth serves as the basis of and destroys the moving (sentient beings) and non-moving (the environment), but this is not observed in the self. Or, the self could be the basis of activity, like space, in the sense that one can stretch out and contract one's limbs in space which is non-obstructive, but this also is not observed in the self. Furthermore, if just as space is posited to a mere elimination of obstructive contact, so the viewer is posited to a mere elimination of its object of negation, then the self could not appear to the mind under its own power because it would be a mere absence. (311, 312)
If the viewer is the instrument of viewing, then like a sickle, its engaging in activity would definitely depend on an agent in which case it would be dual-natured, being both that which engages the object (as the instrument) and that which is engaged in the object (as the object upon which the agent acts). If, like a fire, it sometimes engages its objects under its own power without an agent (as in spontaneous combustion), then it would be senseless to assert the existence of the person in fear of the lack of, an agent. (312)
If the person does not have the nature of being the viewer of forms and so forth, then it is senseless to assert a person that does not have any valid cognition. (312)
5 Positing the self as afflicted and purified
Does the self have the character of being afflicted and purifier or is it other than these? If it does, then it would be unreasonable to assert a person separate from the aggregates because food, clothing, and so forth help the self, imbalance of the element and so forth harm it, and afflictions are perceived only in the aggregates, not in anything else. If the self does not have the character of the afflicted and the purified, then it could not be afflicted and purified. (312)
6 Positing the self as engaging and disengaging
Does a person who has the character of engagement and disengagement engage and disengage or does a person who does not have the character of engagement and disengagement do such? If the former, then a person separate from the aggregates could not exist because the activity of engagement is observed only in phenomena of the aggregates. There is (1) engagement by way of having causes, like the body from its causes of semen, blood, and so forth, (2) engagement by way of having a nature of production, like a sprout, (3) engagement by way of having a nature of disintegration, like the gradual descent of a waterfall, (4) engagement from the one to the other like the connection of a flame to its next moment of similar type, and (5) engagement of transformation-having done one activity, engaging in another - like mounting a mount and thereby changing one's situation. All of these are observed only in the aggregates. (312, 313)
If a person who does not have the character of engagement and disengagement engages and disengages, then the self would not become engaged, because of not having the character of engagement. Since disengagement depends on a previous engagement, it is impossible when engagement is impossible. (313)
7 Positing the self as the experiencer, agent, and liberator
Is something that is affected by pleasure and pain which are generated by objects asserted as the experiencer or is one who is not? One who is not affected by pleasure and pain could not be the experiencer since something that is helped or harmed from enjoying objects of experience is the meaning of an experiencer. If something that is affected by pleasure and pain generated by objects is the experiencer, then it is senseless to say that the self substantially exists because the state of being affected is perceived only in impermanent products. (313)
Is something that is affected by the mind asserted as the agent, or is something that is not? As above, being affected is perceived only in impermanent products. Something that is not affected by the mind is not an agent because 'agent' means something that is affected by the mind. (313)
Is something that is affected by the root and secondary afflictions asserted as the self that is liberated or is something that is not? As above, being affected is observed only in impermanent products. Something that is not affected by the afflictions could not be liberated because of not having been formerly bound. (313)
8 Positing the self as the instrument
Is agentship posited only to the self or can it also be posited to others? If only the self, then it would not be suitable to say 'The light of burning fire illuminates the area,' indicating an agent other than the self. If others can be posited as agents, then it would be allowable to designate the selp as the agent in seeing, hearing, and so forth, but there would be no point in asserting a substantially existent self. (314)
9 Positing the self as what is expressed by person'
Is the verbal convention 'person' used only for the self or also for others? If only the self, then it would be wrong for one, having observed only the body of a being, to use the verbal convention of his name with respect to it. If 'person' can be used for other things than the self, it could also be used for the viewer of forms and so forth. Though such would be allowable, it would be pointless to assert a further self. (314)
10 Positing the view of self
It is not feasible for the view of self to be virtuous because it is especially produced in the obscured, is generated without application of effort, generates fear with respect to liberation, and is seen to nourish faults such as desire. Being non-virtuous, the view of a self is erroneous and mistaken with respect to its referent object, in which case one cannot prove the existence of self through citing the existence of the view of self. Furthermore, it is not feasible for the view of selflessness to be non-virtuous because the Omniscient Buddha spoke highly of it and because it must be achieved with great effort, does not generate fear with respect to liberation, causes the speedy attainment of auspicious fruits, and acts as the antidote of faults. (314)
Is it that a substantially existent self abides as an objective reality and thus through its power the view of self is generated, or is it that whereas the person lacks substantial existence, the existence of a substantially existent self is superimposed through the power of conditioning to improper thought? If the former, then it would follow that Buddhists could not generate ascertainment of selflessness because this view of self, which would be produced by the power of the thing itself, would prevent it. If the latter, then it cannot be proved that a substantially existent self exists by way of citing the existence of the view of self. (314, 315)
In brief, a person which is not imputed in dependence upon the collection, continuum, and so forth of the mental and physical aggregates does not inherently exist because of not being established as one nature with or a different nature from the aggregates. However, the opposite, the substantial existence of the self, is believed due to the assumption that the self exists validly as it appears to the innate false view of the transitory collection as a real I. To such an innate false view the self only appears to be a different object from the aggregates, for one seeks to leave these aggregates and gain others that are better than these but does not wish to leave the self. (315)
When the substantial existence of the person is refuted, one understands implicitly that the person only imputedly exists. A mere person must be asserted on the positive side, and mere imputation is to be realized through the implicit force of refuting substantial existence. Thus, although self (dtman, bdag) and person (pudgala, gang zag) are in general synonyms, they are not synonyms in the expression 'selflessness of the person'; in this context, the term 'self' refers to substantial existence (dravyasat, rdzas yod), whereas the term 'person' refers to the nominally existent sentient being imputed to the mental and physical aggregates. Though some Buddhist Vaibhdshika systems (exemplified by some modern-day Theravadins) assert that there is no agent, only action, Dzong-ka-ba says that they are mistakenly opposing worldly conventionalities. The fact that a substantially existent agent cannot be found does not mean that person or agent do not exist at all; they exist imputedly and effectively. (315)