Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Mind Cannot Know Itself

(9.19cd) (Chittamatrin) “When clear crystal turns blue, it does so in dependence upon something else;
But lapis lazuli is by nature blue – it does not depend upon anything else to appear blue.

(9.20ab) (Chittamatrin) “Similarly, some awarenesses are related to objects other than themselves,
Whereas others, such as self-cognizers, are not.”

The Chittamatrins agree that mind knows, but they say there are two different types of cognizer: cognizers that know other phenomena and cognizers that know themselves, or self cognizers. To illustrate the difference, they give the analogy of an object that reflects as blue and an object that is by nature blue.  According to the Chittamatrins, when the mind knows other phenomena, the mind itself is like the crystal that appears blue when it comes into contact with a blue object. The mind itself is crystal, and the crystal appearing is the mind appearing as the blue object. The Prasangikas agree with this.  Again, the Prasangikas agree objects are the nature of mind. Where they disagree is the nature of the mind itself.  Chittamatrins say that the mind truly exists, whereas the Prasangikas say it does not. To illustrate how an object that knows can know itself, the Chittamatrins use the example of lapis lazuli which is by nature blue. In the same way a self-cognizer is by nature knowing of itself.   

(9.20cd)The blueness of lapis lazuli does not exist without depending upon anything else –
It does not create its own nature!

It is incorrect to say that lapis lazuli is inherently blue. Its blueness itself arises from various causes and conditions. Blueness is not an inherent characteristic of lapis lazuli. But we can say that lapis lazuli is by nature blue.  This makes a clear distinction between the object – lapus lazuli – and its defining characteristic – its blueness.  In the same way, we cannot say that the ability of the mind to know is an inherent characteristic of the mind, because that would say the mind is knowing. But we can say that the defining characteristic of a mind is the ability to know since that is part of its valid basis.  

(9.21) (Chittamatrin) “Even though a lamp does not illuminate itself, it is the nature of illumination.”
Then you should say that mind does not know itself
But is the nature of conscious illumination.
However, you cannot say that it is known by a mind that is substantially different from itself.

Here the Prasangikas are making a difference between something that is by nature something and something that is inherently something.  To be inherently something means that the object is its defining characteristic. To be by nature something means to have a defining characteristic or the substance of the object is something. For something to be inherently existent means to exist independently of everything else. If something arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, then it necessarily does not exist inherently. The blueness of lapis lazuli arises from causes and conditions, therefore it does not exist inherently.

(9.22) According to you, if there is no truly existent awareness that knows mind,
Then mind does not exist;
In which case it makes no more sense to discuss whether the mind illuminates itself or not
Than it does to discuss the looks of the daughter of a childless person.

Remember both the Chittamatrins and the Prasangikas agree that for an object to exist it must be known by a valid mind.  If the Chittamatrins cannot establish a truly existent mind that knows itself then it cannot establish the existence of a mind, and then therefore there is nothing that could know anything or attain enlightenment. To talk about a mind that does not exist that knows something is like speaking of the child of a childless woman.  An object cannot be known by something that does not exist.

(9.23ab) (Chittamatrin) “If self-cognizers do not exist,
How do we remember subjective consciousness?”

What follows is some back and forth debate between the Chittamatrins and the Prasangikas about the existence of self-cognizers. The Chittamatrins put forward a variety of different proofs or reasons trying to establish the existence of self-cognizers. In this section, the Prasangikas refute the Chittamatrin proofs.

Since both the Chittamatrins and the Prasangikas agree that objects can only be established in dependence upon being known by a valid mind, how the mind knows itself is central to the debate about self-cognizers. The first argument that the Chittamatrins give to establish self-cognizers is the existence of memory of our previous minds. The Prasangikas say that a mind cannot know itself. The Chittamatrins assert that the mind exists truly, but to establish that they must have a mind that knows the mind. The Chittamatrins say that the Prasangikas are wrong that a mind cannot know itself because a mind can remember previous moments of mind. Therefore, mind can know itself. We will refute this argument in the next post.

2 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Mind Cannot Know Itself

  1. The Chittamatrins say agree
    the Chittamatrins use the examples example of lapis lazul
    the mind to know is and inherent characteristic
    the mind to know is and inherent characteristic
    nature something comma and
    To be by nature or something means to have a defining
    only be established independence upon
    The Chittamatrins say that the percentages are wron

    Above are typos I’ve found.
    Loving this series!

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