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--- Dharma Online : Lama Zopa Rinpocheís Teachings ---

The Ultimate Nature of Phenomena (Part I)

(ABC Newsletter, May-Jun 97)

Let us bring our attention to the very nature of phenomena, the ultimate nature of phenomena - the ultimate nature of the "I", actions, objects, and all there is. Since everything - what is called "this" and "that" - is all name coming from the mind, given by the mind, it 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", the part of the view of the "I", appearing as something real from there, and the actions, objects, and all the rest of the phenomena appearing that way, as something existing from its own side, as though there is something on the base, or something appearing from there - all these are hallucinations. The "I", yourself, actions, objects, and all phenomena, including body and mind, anything appearing to you in that way, existing from its own side - all of these are hallucinations. Which means all these things do not exist. The way things appear to one's hallucinatory mind is not true.

Here is an example which might give some idea to those who are not clear what the false view is, what the hallucination is, and what is true and what is false regarding our view. At dusk, when the sun has set, there is a piece of rope on the road, lying curled like a snake. Because it is dark, the rope looks like a snake. It causes the mind to make up the label "snake." The mind labels that there is a snake there. When the mind labels "snake," and you believe in the label, there is then the appearance of a snake. You then believe you are seeing a snake.

So you think that, even though there is no snake, and snake does not exist. You think that, even though there is no snake at all, not even the slightest atom of it on that rope. You simply cannot find snake on that rope - in reality there is no snake there at all. Even though that is the reality, in your view, after you believe in your label, you see it as a snake appearing from there.

You can see, from this example, that something appearing from there doesn't mean it is true. It doesn't mean it really appears from there, that there is something existing from there. Just because you see it that way, and it appears to you that way, doesn't mean, and doesn't 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. That snake exists nowhere. Even though it appears existing from its own side, it is not like that in reality. In reality there is no such snake there. It doesn't exist at all.

Let us proceed further in the example. Now, the piece of rope is a collection of hairs. What is there is a collection of hairs that is put together. Its function is to tie things. On seeing this phenomena which performs that function, the mind makes up the label "rope." Seeing that particular phenomena makes the mind decide on the particular label "rope," to choose that particular label "rope." So the mind which sees that base, that phenomena, makes up the label "rope." The mind just decides like that, just thinks like that - you just create the idea, just make up the label.

Just from this, you can understand that there is really no rope there. There is no rope on that base, on that collection of hairs that has been put together. Rope is not there. "There" means "on the base" - on that base, that particular phenomena, the collection of hairs used to tie things.

After the mind labels "rope," and merely imputes "rope," then by not being aware that it is merely labelled by the mind, it appears back to your mind as rope. And when it appears back, it doesn't appear as merely labelled by your mind. It appears back to your mind as though it exists from its own side. Remember earlier how "snake" appears back to the mind after one puts the label. It is exactly the same here - another hallucination, another false view.

In this perception, how the rope appears back to you, there is a big pile of hallucinations. All the false views, the objects to be refuted, as pointed out by the different schools of philosophy, from the Chittamatrin school to the Madhyamika schools (the Madhyamika-Svatantrika and the Madhyamika-Prasangika schools), all of these are piled up there. When the rope appears back to us, there is this big pile of hallucinations, from the very gross ones up to the very subtle ones.

When we are not aware, we believe all these different hallucinations that we have, all the false views on the object in our perception. We believe all these are completely true, one-hundred-percent true - all the false views, the objects to be refuted (in the way the rope appears), as pointed out by all these different schools of philosophy. When we are not aware, without studying Dharma, without meditating, without analyzing wrong views, we think all these are completely true.

What really exists is what exists in mere name, but that, for our mind, becomes non-existent. What exists, for our mind, seems non-existent. That which exists in mere name, merely labelled by mind, is too subtle and we don't notice it - so for our mind it is like itís non-existent. So the emptiness is like non-existent. Emptiness exists, the rope is empty, but for our mind, it is like it doesn't exist.

And what doesn't exist - all the false views that we have on the merely labelled rope, which are explained as false by the philosophical schools - all these which do not exist at all, we think are one-hundred-percent true. So, for our minds, what exists appears like it doesnít exist, and that which doesn't exist we think exists. So it is completely opposite. Reality and the way things appear to us, in everyday life, is totally opposite.

While it is impermanent, a phenomenon appears as permanent; while it depends on the parts, it appears existing alone; while it is dependent on causes and conditions, it appears existing with its own freedom; and while it depends on the collections of the base and the continuation of that, it appears as a self-entity. The rope appears as a self-entity.

Then, it appears to our hallucinatory mind to be independent of our mind, even though it is a creation of one's own mind without an outside creator (coming from only the mind means there is no outside creator). According to the Mind-Only (Chittamatrin) school, it is the imprint left on the seventh consciousness, the base-of-all, being experienced out, manifesting into rope and into the consciousness which perceives that. But while the rope is existing like this, it appears back to one's own mind as though it is without dependence on the mind, without depending on the imprint that was left on the seventh consciousness and experienced out. Without depending on that, the rope appears to exist totally on its own side, which is a false view.

On top of that, there is the false view which is the object to be refuted according to the Madhyamika-Svatantrika school: while the rope is existing by way of an undefective mind, a valid mind, labelling that it exists, the rope appears as though it is without dependence on the labelling of an undefective mind. It appears totally existing from its own side.

Now we come to the very subtle hallucination, false view, and object to be refuted, according to the highest philosophical school, the Madhyamika-Prasangika school. The rope, even though it exists merely labelled by the mind, appears back to one's hallucinatory mind as though it is not just merely labelled by the mind, but something more than that, something beyond that. There appears something extra, slightly more than what is merely labelled by mind - something from there, something additional, something extra to what is merely labelled by the mind. This very subtle thing is what doesn't exist, what is not there. It is something which doesn't exist on the rope, the merely labelled rope. This is the object to be refuted according to the Prasangika school - this very subtle hallucination, this slightly extra, addition to what is merely labelled by the mind.

In reality there is only one emptiness, the emptiness we have to realize to cut the root of samsara, the ignorance. And the emptiness which we have to realize so that we can be liberated from the entire suffering and its causes is this emptiness, not those previous ones. It is this emptiness (as explained by the Prasangika school). We have to realize this very subtle hallucination, this false view, for what it is, and then see that it doesn't exist. It exists nowhere. It is empty. And we then have to realize this on the "I" and the aggregates.

So now, there's no rope on the base, the collection of hairs that, put together, can function to tie things. There's no rope there. But there is a rope on the road, on that spot, where there is this base, this collection of hairs put together. Where there is this, there is a rope, but there is no rope on this base, on this collection of hairs that is curled there. On that, there is no rope. You cannot find rope there.

But there is rope on the road. So, what is not there? It is the merely labelled rope appearing back as a real one from there. The very subtle false view of the object to be refuted, according to the Prasangika school, arises when the rope appears back as though it is not merely labelled by mind. If it appears back merely labelled by mind, that is OK, that is correct - that is the truth, and is according to reality. But it appears back as though it is not merely labelled by mind. It is good to use this phrase: "not merely labelled by mind." This will help you 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 hallucinatory mind, this rope appears not merely labelled by mind. But this is not there, this exists nowhere. Not only does this not exist on that base, the collection of hairs and how it's put together, it doesn't even exist on the road, on that spot. It exists nowhere in the world.

That rope, the merely labelled rope, appearing back as though it is not merely labelled by mind - this you can say is in your mind. It is not there, and it is not right. But just like this, in exactly the same way, the "I" appears. The merely labelled "I" appears not merely labelled by the mind, as though it is something real from there. But this is totally non-existent - it exists nowhere. It is totally empty.

And, as stated in the Heart Sutra, the same applies to the aggregates, the body, the mind, everything that appears back not merely labelled by the mind, as well as form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects, all the senses and all the sense objects, all the rest of the phenomena, the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Links, all of which are merely labelled by the mind but appearing back not merely labelled by the mind. So all phenomena that are merely labelled by the mind, appearing back to our mind as though they are not merely labelled by the mind - all this is totally hallucinatory, totally non-existent, totally empty. All this part of appearance, we can say, is just in the mind. Which is another way of presenting what is hallucination - by saying it is just in the mind, in your mind. It is one way of getting the idea, of getting the feeling of what is hallucination.

So when you go through the Heart Sutra, as you go through the different phenomena - aggregates and so forth - you should practise mindfulness on how each object appears. When it comes to the "I", how the "I" appears to you; when it comes to the aggregates, how the aggregates appear to you. So as you go through each subject, you look at your own perception and view of the object, and the way it is appearing - especially the way it is appearing back to you not merely labelled by the mind. And you can think: this doesn't exist. This, appearing this way, doesn't exist at all - itís just in the mind. Which means the hallucination doesn't exist. You can meditate like that.

It is like first recognizing your enemy. And as soon as you recognize your enemy, before the enemy cheats you, before the enemy destroys you, you destroy the enemy. So it is like this here. Look at your own view of the object, that which appears not merely labelled by the mind, as though it is something appearing real from there; and then by recognizing this, immediately think that it is hallucination, that it doesn't exist. Then use the word "NO!" like an atomic bomb on the hallucination, on your object of ignorance. See that it's empty. That's how you eliminate and cut the ignorance, the root of delusion, karma, and all the suffering.

(Teaching on emptiness by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, given on 23 March 1997, at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore)

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