Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading Four: The Object We Deny
Next we will explain what it means when we say that the three of basic knowledge, path knowledge, and the knowledge of all things have no real nature of arising. This explanation has three parts: identifying what it is we deny with reasoning that treats the ultimate; introducing the various reasons used to deny this object; and, once we have established these two, detailing the steps to develop correct view.
The first of these has two sections of its own: a demonstration of why we must identify what it is we deny, and then the actual identification of this object. Before a person can develop within his mind that correct view which realizes emptiness, he must first identify the final object which is denied with reasoning that treats the ultimate. As the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life states,
Until you can find what you thought was there,
Suppose that what you sought to deny was the existence of a water pitcher in a certain place. If before you started you had no mental picture of what a water pitcher looked like, you would never be able to verify with an accurate perception that it wasn’t there. Here it’s just the same. What we seek to deny is that things could really exist. If before we start we have no mental picture of what a thing that really exists would be like, then we can never have a clear idea of emptiness: the simple absence where the object that we deny isn’t there.
Here now is the actual identification of the object we deny. Suppose something were to occur in some way that was opposite to the way that all the phenomena of physical form and so on exist deceptively. Anything that could occur this way would be precisely the final object we deny with reasoning that treats the ultimate. Therefore we must first explain how it is that all the phenomena of physical form and the rest exist deceptively.
The second part to the discussion of how things exist deceptively consists of an explanation of the various scriptural references. First we will give a brief treatment of these references, and after that talk about how this system establishes the two truths; this latter step will include an instructive metaphor. Here now is the briefer treatment.
There is a specific reason why we say that all these phenomena, physical form and the rest, exist deceptively. They are described this way because their existence is established by means of a deceptive state of mind, one which is not affected by a temporary factor that would cause it to be mistaken.
That state of mind which acts to establish the existence of physical form and other such things, and which is colored by seeing things as being real, and which is not affected by a temporary factor that would cause it to be mistaken, is only the deceptive mind. This deceptive state of mind though is not the actual grasping to real existence, for it holds its object in a way which is consistent with what the object actually is. The state of mind is deceptive in that the deceptive mind is affected by the tendency to grasp to things as being real.
Therefore any and every object whose existence is established by a consistent state of mind belonging to a living being who is not a Buddha is said to exist “deceptively.” The deceptive state of mind occurs by force of a deep mental seed which causes it to be mistaken; this is a seed for the tendency to grasp to things as being real, and it has been in our minds for time without beginning. This seed makes every living creature who is not a Buddha see every existing phenomenon, physical form and the rest, look as if it were a pure, discrete entity. And so we call a state of mind “deceptive” when it holds that physical form and all other things purely exist, whereas in fact they are quite the opposite: they do not purely exist. We say it is “deceptive” (Sanskrit: sawˆ vr¸ti] because such a state of mind is itself blind to the way things really are, and also because it functions in a sense to screen (Sanskrit: vr¸] or cover other things; it keeps us from seeing their suchness.
So now we can define the final object which we deny by reasoning that treats the ultimate. It is any object of the mind that could exist on its side through its own unique way of being, without its existence having to be established by the fact of its appearing to a state of mind that is not impaired. This is true
because the final way in which physical form and all other such phenomena exist deceptively is that they are established as existing by force of a state of mind which is not impaired by any temporary factor that would cause it to be mistaken.
There is an instructive metaphor we can use for describing how physical form and other such phenomena are from our side established as existing, by the fact of their appearing to a state of mind which is not impaired; while at the same time these objects of our mind exist on their own side through their own way of being.
Suppose a magician is making a little piece of wood appear as a horse or cow. Seeing the piece of wood as a horse or cow comes from the side of the viewer, by the force of his own mind, as his eyes are affected by the spell of the magician. And yet the piece of wood, from its side, is appearing this way as well. Both conditions must be present.
There is a reason why the first condition must be present: the condition of being established from the side of the viewer, by force of his own mind, as his eyes are affected by the spell of the magician. If this condition didn’t have to be present, then a spectator whose eyes were not affected by the spell would have to see the wood appear as the animal, whereas in actuality he does not.
At this same time the second condition, that the piece of wood appear from its own side as a horse or cow, must be present as well. If this condition didn’t have to be present, then the piece of wood’s appearing as a horse or cow would have to show up as well in places where there were no piece of wood, whereas in actuality it does not.
In this same way are the phenomena of physical form and the rest established by force of a state of mind which is not impaired. They are labeled with names, through an unimpaired state of mind and a name which is consistent with what they are.
They do not however exist on their side through their own unique way of being, without their existence having to be established by the fact of their appearing to a state of mind that is not impaired. If they were to exist this way, then they would have to be the ultimate way things are. And if they were, then they would have to be realized directly by a state of mind which was not mistaken; by the wisdom of a realized being who is not a Buddha, and who in a state of balanced meditation is directly realizing the way things are. In fact though they are not directly realized by such a wisdom.
Suppose a magician makes a little piece of wood appear as a horse or cow. Spectators whose eyes have been affected by his spell both see the piece of wood as a horse or cow and believe that it really is. The magician himself only sees the horse or cow; he has no belief that it is real. A spectator who arrives later, who hasn’t had the spell cast on him, neither sees the piece of wood as a horse or cow nor believes that it is.
Three different combinations of seeing and believing exist as well with physical form and other such phenomena. The kind of people we call “common” people, those who have never had a realization of emptiness, both see and believe that form and the rest really exist. Bodhisattvas who are at one of the pure levels see phenomena as really existing during the periods following emptiness meditation; but they do not believe it. Realized beings who are not yet Buddhas, and who are in the state where they are realizing the way things are directly, neither see physical form and other such phenomena as really existing, nor do they believe that they really exist.
The Implication and Independent branches of the Middle Way school are identical in asserting that to exist really, to exist purely, to exist just so, to exist ultimately, and the idea where you hold that things could exist these ways are all objects which are denied by reasoning that treats the ultimate.
The Independent branch though does not agree that to exist from its own side, to exist by nature, to exist in substance, to exist by definition, and the idea where you hold that form and other such phenomena could exist these ways are also objects which are denied by reasoning that treats the ultimate. They say that in fact anything that exists must exist these ways, with the exception of existing in substance. (There is some question though about things that are nominal.) They assert that any functional thing that exists must exist in substance.
Neither the Implication nor the Independent branches of the Middle Way school asserts that to exist as the way things are, to exist as ultimate truth, or to exist as the real nature of things is the final object which is denied by reasoning that treats the ultimate; for if something is ultimate truth, it always exists in all these three ways.
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading One: The Three Kinds of Refuge
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading Two: The Wish for Enlightenment
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading Three: What is Nirvana?
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading Four: The Object We Deny
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading Five: The Proofs for Emptiness
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - Reading Six: Who is Maitreya?
- Manual of Prajna Paramita - CLASS NOTES