Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Distinguishing the Imputation from its Basis

(9.23cd) When we remember the object experienced, we remember the consciousness related to it,
Just as we would recall being poisoned by an animal bite when we experienced the pain that subsequently occurred.

Prasangikas do not deny that the mind can know its basis of imputation, they simply deny that the mind can know itself. This is a central tenant of the Prasangikas – they make a distinction between the basis of imputation and the imputation itself. For example, the basis of imputation of a forest is many trees. The forest is the object itself, and the basis is the trees. In the same way, the basis of imputation of a mind is the aggregates of consciousness, discrimination, feeling, and compositional factors.  The Prasangikas say the mind can know its basis, it simply cannot know itself.  The mind can know a consciousness associated with the mind, it just can’t see itself, the mere imputation mind. Therefore, the ability to remember our previous moments of consciousness does not establish the existence of self-cognizers – namely a mind that knows itself – rather it merely establishes that the mind can know its basis of imputation, which includes consciousness. The Prasangikas have no problem with that. When we remember a previous mind, we are remembering a previous awareness of its basis of imputation, in this case consciousness.   

(9.24ab) (Chittamatrin) “If people who have attained states such as tranquil abiding can see the minds of others far away,
Surely one can see one’s own mind, which is very close.”

Both the Chittamatrins and the Prasangikas agree that when we attain tranquil abiding we gain certain clairvoyance that enable us to see the minds of other living beings far away. Here, the Chittamatrins assert if when we attained tranquil abiding we can know others’ minds, then certainly we can know our own mind. This shows that it is perfectly possible for a mind to know a mind.

(9.24cd) People who apply magical eye lotion can see treasure vases deep beneath the ground,
But they cannot see the lotion!

(9.25) We have no intention of refuting the existence of
Eye awareness, ear awareness, or any other awareness.
What needs to be abandoned is the awareness that grasps at truly existent forms and so forth,
Which is the fundamental cause of all suffering.

The Prasangikas first point out that distance or proximity has nothing to do with knowing. Just because our mind is close and others’ minds are farther away does not mean we should have any greater ability to see one or the other. Additionally, the Prasangikas agree that we can have awarenesses, including being aware of others’ minds. We just cannot know directly our own mind. The object to be abandoned by the Prasangikas is truly existent forms, namely forms that exist in the way that they appear, independent of the mind. The Chittamatrins say that all forms do exist truly because they are aspects of the mind and the mind itself exists truly. Therefore, they say all forms truly exist. The Prasangikas argue that the mind does not truly exist, but agree that forms are aspects of the mind. The primary part of the Chittamatrin view refuted by the Prasangikas is the truly existent mind.

(9.26ab) (Chittamatrin) “Illusion-like forms are not other than the mind,
But neither can they be considered to be one with the mind.”

Here, the Chittamatrins agree that forms are illusion-like, but they have a different understanding of the term. The object to be abandoned for Chittamatrins is the existence of external objects. An external object is an object that exists outside of the mind. Therefore, for the Chittamatrins, they agree that illusion-like forms are the root of samsara and argue that their view also refutes the existence of such illusion-like forms and therefore holders of Chittamatrin views can escape from samsara. Just as the Prasangikas make a distinction between the basis of imputation and the imputation itself, the Chittamatrins make a distinction between illusion-like forms and the mind itself. Objects are aspects of the mind, but their appearing to exist externally from the mind is the root of samsara because in fact they do not exist in that way. Therefore, they say that illusion-like forms are not other than mind, meaning they are still aspects of and by nature the mind. But they are nonetheless different from the mind in the sense that they are illusions. In this sense, they cannot be considered the same thing as the mind. This enables the Chittamatrins to agree that grasping at illusion-like forms is the root of samsara while still positing that the mind itself exists inherently.

If they are true, why say they are not other than the mind?
And if they are not other than the mind, why say they are true?

(9.27ab) Just as illusion-like forms lack any true existence,
So it is with the mind that beholds them.

Here the Prasangikas say that just as forms lack true existence, the same is true for the mind that knows them. It is perfectly possible for a non-truly existent mind to know a non-truly existent form. But how is it possible for a truly existent mind to know a non-truly existent form? How can something true come into contact with something not true?  If they can’t come into contact with each other, then how can any object be established?

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