Cutting the Source of Suffering: Realizing the Ultimate Nature of Phenomena
From a talk in Singapore by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
Let’s bring our attention to the ultimate nature of phenomena–the ultimate nature of the I, actions, objects, and all there is. Everything–what is called “this” and “that”–is all name coming from the mind, given by the mind. This means that everything is merely imputed by the mind. Therefore, nothing exists from its own side. There is no I existing from its own side.
The part of the appearance of the I which appears as something real from there–from the basis of designation–as well as all actions, objects, and other phenomena appearing that way, as something existing from their own side, as though there were something on the base–all these are hallucinations. The I, actions, objects and all phenomena, including the body and mind, anything appearing to you in that way, as existing from its own side, is a hallucination. This means they do not exist. The way things appear to our hallucinating mind is not true.
An example will give you some idea what the false projection is, what the hallucination is, what is true and what is false regarding our view. At dusk, there is a piece of rope on the road, lying coiled like a snake. Because it is dark, it looks like a snake and our mind labels that there is a snake there. When the mind labels “snake” and we believe in the label, then there is the appearance of a snake and we believe we’re seeing a snake. We think that, even though there is no snake and snake does not exist at all on that rope, not even the slightest atom of it. We cannot find snake on that rope. In reality there is no snake there at all. Even though that is the reality, in our view, after we believe in our label we see it as a snake appearing from there.
From this example, we can see that something appearing from there doesn’t mean it is true. It doesn’t mean that it is really there, that there is something existing from there. Just because we see it that way and it appears to us that way doesn’t mean or prove that it exists from there, from its own side. In this example not even the slightest atom of snake exists on that rope. That snake neither exists on that rope nor exists anywhere. Even though it appears to exist from its own side, it is not like that in reality. In reality there is no snake there. It doesn’t exist at all.
Let’s go deeper into this example. The piece of rope is a collection of fibers woven together. Its function is to tie things. On seeing this phenomenon, based on its function, the mind makes up the label “rope.” That particular phenomenon makes the mind make up the particular label “rope.” The mind that sees that base, that collection of fibers, makes up the label “rope.” The mind just decides like that, just thinks like that. We just create the idea and make up the label.
From this we can understand that there is really no rope there. There is no rope there on that base, on that collection of fibers woven together. Rope is not there. “There” means on that base, on that particular phenomenon, in this case the collection of fibers used to tie things.
After the mind labels “rope,” because we are not aware that it is merely labeled by the mind, it appears back to our mind as rope. When it appears back, it doesn’t appear as merely labeled by mind. It appears back to our mind as though it existed from its own side. Remember earlier how snake ap-peared back to the mind after we put that label on the base. It is exactly the same here–another hal-lucination, another false view. There is no real rope there on that base.
In our perception–how the rope appears back to us–there is a huge pile of hallucinations. All the false views, all the objects to be refuted as pointed out by the different philosophical schools, from the Vaibhasika to the Madhyamika, are piled up there. When the rope appears back to us, there is a huge pile of hallucinations from the very gross to the very subtle ones. When we are not aware, we believe all these different hallucinations, all the false projections on the object of our perception, are completely true, 100% true. We believe that all the objects to be refuted as pointed out by these various philosophical schools are real. When we are not aware, without studying Dharma, without meditating, without analyzing our wrong views, we think all of these are completely true.
What really exists is what exists in mere name, but for our mind, that becomes like non-existent. For our mind, what exists–that which exists in mere name, merely labeled by the mind–seems like it is non-existent. It is so subtle and we don’t notice it, so for our mind it’s like it is non-existent. So emptiness, which does in fact exist, is like non-existent for us. Emptiness exists. The rope is empty, but for our mind, it’s like that emptiness doesn’t exist. What doesn’t exist–all these things existing from there, all these things existing in their basis of designation, all these ob-jects to be refuted–we believe are 100% existent. And what does exist–the phenomena which exist in mere name, as merely labeled by the mind–is too subtle for us to see they exist. So what we believe exists and doesn’t exist is completely opposite to what, in fact, is the case.
While the table is impermanent, it appears to us as permanent, not changing moment by mo-ment. While it depends on its parts, it appears to exist alone. While it depends on causes and condi-tions, it appears to exist independent of these. While it depends on the collection of parts of the base and the continuity of that, it appears as a self-entity. These are some of the object to be refuted of the lower philosophical schools. While it depends on the mind and is a creation of the mind, it ap-pears to our hallucinating mind to be independent of the mind. According to the Mind-Only or Cit-tamatrin school, it is the imprint left on the eighth consciousness, the mind-basis-of-all, being expe-rienced out, manifesting into the rope and the consciousness which perceives the rope. While the rope exists like this, it appears back to our mind as though it didn’t depend on the mind, as though it didn’t depend on the imprint left on the eighth consciousness which manifested out.
On top of that, there is the false projection which is the object to be refuted according to the Svatantrika Madhyamika school: while the rope exists by being posited through the force of appear-ing to an undefective (valid) mind, it appears as though it were not dependent on being labeled by an undefective mind. It appears truly existent, which is a false view.
Now we come to the very subtle hallucination, the subtle false projection which is the object to be refuted according to the highest philosophical school, the Prasangika Madhyamika. Even though the rope exists merely labeled by the mind, it appears back to our hallucinating mind as though it were not just merely labeled by the mind, but some thing more than that. There appears something extra, something slightly more that what is merely labeled by mind, something from there. This very subtle additional thing is what doesn’t exist, what is not there. It is something which doesn’t exist on the merely labeled rope. This is the object to be refuted according to the Prasangika school, this very subtle hallucination, this thing which is slightly more that what is merely labeled by mind.
In reality there is only one (final) emptiness, the emptiness we have to realize to cut the igno-rance which is the root of samsara. The emptiness we have to realize so that we can be liberated from all suffering and its causes is the emptiness explained by the Prasangikas–not the previous ones. We have to realize this very subtle hallucination for what it is and then see that it doesn’t exist. It exists nowhere. It is empty. We have to realize this first on the I and then on the aggregates.
Seeing a table on the base and seeing an inherently existent table are the same. If we are not aware of our perception, we may intellectually think, “An inherently existent table is not there, but there is a table there on the base.” That is a mistake. The appearance of a table on the base is the object to be refuted by the Prasangikas. For the Svatantrikas, it is slightly different. They say the table is labeled by mind but it also exists from its own side, so there is a table on the base. But the Prasangikas say that even a merely labeled table cannot be found on the base. Through your own analysis and meditation you will come to this conclusion.
All phenomena exist by being merely labeled by mind and are empty of existing from their own side. What blocks us to see this is that we can’t differentiate the base and the label. In our perception these two are mixed. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche defines the object to be refuted as the appearance of the phenomenon with the base and the label being undifferentiatable. His Holiness the Dalai Lama defines it as the label of the phenomenon being mixed in the base, inside the base. If you think you see a merely labeled table on the base, it means you see the appearance of an inherently existent table. For us, there is no way for the table to appear on the base without it appearing inherently existent. What the table is is very subtle. The table exists, but it’s very subtle. The table exists, and it’s empty of existing from its own side.
Each object which appears there on its base is a hallucination. It doesn’t exist. It’s not there. It exists in mere name, dependent on the base and on the mind which labels it. Even the mind which labels it exists in mere name. We should try to practice mindfulness by recognizing that which is false is false, that which is hallucination is hallucination. Only then can we discriminate between what is truth and what is a falsity. When we practice mindfulness of seeing the false as false, we will become aware of what is true. Not recognizing what is false as false is the cause of all our suffering and prob-lems, in this and all lifetimes. When we practice mindfulness of the deeper nature of phenomena, all disturbing attitudes no longer make any sense. We will be able to see that anger and depression arise from believing the problem is real, that it exists from its own side, that the problem is out there ex-isting without being merely labeled by mind. In adddition, when we are angry or depressed, we are be-lieving in a person that doesn’t exist. We grasp at a merely labeled person as existing there on the base, there on the aggregates.
There is no rope on the base–the collection of fibers put together that functions to tie things. There’s no rope there. But there is a rope on the road, on that spot, where there is this base, the collection of fibers. Where there is this base, there is a rope. But there is no rope on this base, on this collection of fibers coiled there. We cannot find rope there. But there is a rope on the road. So what is not there? It is the merely labeled rope appearing back as a real one from there. The very subtle false projection, the object to be refuted by the Prasangikas, arises when the rope appears back as though it were not merely labeled by mind. If it appeared back as merely labeled by mind, that would be okay. That is correct, that accords with reality. But it doesn’t. It appears back as though it were not merely labeled by mind. It is good to use this phrase “not merely labeled by mind.” This will help us later to come to know the very subtle object to be refuted, the very subtle hallucination of the false view. That is what we have to realize is empty. Only then can we be liberated from samsara. However, to our hallucinating mind, this rope appears not merely labeled by mind. But such a rope is not there; it exists nowhere. Not only does it not exist on that base, the collection of fibers arranged in that way, it doesn’t even exist on the road. It exists nowhere in the world.
That rope–the merely labeled rope appearing back as though it were not merely labeled by the mind–you can say is in your mind. It is not there. In the same way, the merely labeled I appears not merely labeled by the mind. It appears as though it were something real from there. But such an I is totally non-existent. It exists nowhere. It is totally empty. As the Heart Sutra indicates, the same applies to the aggregates–the body, the mind, all other phenomena. They all appear back as not merely labeled by mind. Visible forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects, all the senses, the ob-jects of the senses, and all the consciousnesses, the four noble truths, the twelve links, the paths and stages to enlightenment–all these are merely labeled by the mind but appear back not merely labeled by mind, but as existing there, on that base. All phenomena that are merely labeled by mind appear-ing back to our mind as though they were not merely labeled by mind–all this is total hallucination. It is totally non-existent, totally empty. All this part of appearance is just in the mind. Saying it is just in our mind is one way of getting the idea of what hallucination means.
When you read the Heart Sutra, as you go through the list of different phenomena, practice mindfulness of how each object appears to you. When it comes to the I, examine how the I appears to you. When it comes to the aggregates, observe how the aggregates appear to you. Look at your own perception or view of each object, the way it appears and especially the way it appears back to you as not merely labeled by mind. And think, “This doesn’t exist. This doesn’t exist at all. It’s just in the mind.” This means the hallucination doesn’t exist. Meditate like that.
It is like recognizing our enemy. As soon as we recognize our enemy, before the enemy can cheat us or destroy us, we destroy the enemy. It is like that here. Look at your own view of the ob-ject, what appears not merely labeled by mind, what appears real from there. Then, by recognizing this, immediately think that it is a hallucination. That it doesn’t exist. This is like an atomic bomb on the hallucination, on the object of your ignorance. See that it is empty. That is how to cut the ignorance, the root of all other disturbing attitudes. That is the way to stop all suffering and its causes and to arrive at a state of lasting joy.