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The Ultimate Nature of Phenomena (Part 3)

(ABC Newsletter, Sep-Oct 97)

Using the term "on the base" may give the misconception, the belief, that there is table on the base. The phrase "mind labelling on the table" might give the misconception that there is table on the base. Actually, the appearance that there is table on the base - that itself is the object to be refuted. According to the highest philosophical school, the Madhyamika Prasangika school, that is the very subtle object to be refuted.

Apprehending that there is table on the base - that itself is ignorance. According to the Prasangika school, that is ignorance - the mind not knowing the ultimate nature of the table: while there is no table on the base, apprehending that there is table on the base; while the table is empty of existing from its own side, apprehending that it exists from its own side.

According to the Prasangika school, the perception of an inherently existing table, a not-merely-labelled table, a table which has existence from its own side, and the perception that there is table on the base, is the same. They are exactly the same. Both are hallucination. Both mean the same thing. Both do not exist. The table on the base, and the inherently existing not-merely-labelled table on the base - both are nonexistent. Both are referring to the same thing.

Here is the difference (which is very important) between the Madhyamika Prasangika school and the Madhyamika Svatantrika school. The Svatantrika school's view is that although table is labelled by mind, it also exists from its own side. That is what their philosophers believe. So according to the Svatantrika school, there is table on the base - you can find table on the base. That is the philosophy of the Svatantrika school. However, according to the Prasangika school, even the merely labelled table cannot be found. Even the merely labelled table doesn't exist on the base of the table. Therefore you can say there is no table on the base.

Through analysis, through meditation, you can realize this and come to the point where you don't see any table on the base. Through your own meditation, through your own analysis, the conclusion will come to this. So whether it is true or not, the way to discover it is through your own meditation, and through your own analysis. It is like tasting honey, how it is sweet - when you actually take it that's when you discover it. It is similar to this.

So you can see the difference in the views of the two schools - the Madhyamika Svatantrika and the Madhyamika Prasangika. And this is extremely important, the difference between these two, their different understanding, their different views. It helps to make things very clear in your mind.

Now, here is the reason why we see phenomena, including the "I", in a false way, the reason why we are blocked from seeing phenomena according to reality, according to what they are - that which exist in mere name, and therefore empty from their own side. That is the reality, and what blocks us from seeing things that way is the mistake which arises because we cannot differentiate the base and the label. We cannot differentiate the base and the label in our mind. In our perception, those two are mixed.

Ling Rinpoche, the elder tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, used to explain the refuting object (that which we have to realize is empty) in this way. Rinpoche said that the definition of the refuting object is an object (like the table) appearing undifferentiable with regards to the base and the label. Like the table appearing with the base and the label undifferentiated. "Undifferentiable with the base and the label" - that is how Rinpoche explained it. And this has great meaning. It is another way of presenting what the problem is: the table appearing, in our view, with the base and the label "table" undifferentiable. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, used to express it, slightly differently, in this way: the label "table" appears mixed in the base. Kind of like inside of this, inside the base.

Now we go back to what Mr Sin said. Mr Sin said that there is no independent table, but there is a dependent table on the base. What Mr Sin is saying is that the inherently existing table is not on the base but the merely labelled table is there, on the base. That's what he is saying.

However, in the view of the Prasangika school, the merely labelled table on the base (that which we have to realize is empty) doesn't exist. So that becomes the obstacle. Even apprehending that there is a merely labelled table on the base becomes the obstacle. Apprehending this way, that is ignorance: while there is no merely labelled table on the base, believing that there is a merely labelled table on the base. In the view of the Prasangika school, apprehending even a merely labelled table as existing on the base is the object to be refuted, the object that has to be realized is empty. As it is empty, in reality.

If you are seeing that there is a table on the base means you are seeing an inherently existing table. There's no way to see table on the base, no way to perceive the table as appearing on the base, without it appearing inherently existing. That's what it means.

Therefore I normally choose to present it this way: "the mind makes up the label table relating to the base of the table." In this way there is no confusion, this way it becomes very clear. The phrase "putting the label on the base" might give people, who do not have good understanding, the wrong idea that there is table on the base. Mind merely imputes the label "table" relating it to the base. What the table is now becomes very subtle. It is empty of existing from its own side. It exists but it is empty. While the table is existing, at the same time, it is empty of existing from its own side.

The "I", the aggregates, and all these objects here - the people, the holy objects, the ceiling, the walls, the lights - every phenomenon that we look at looks like it is there, there on the base. All these in reality are not there. All these are superstition, hallucination. It is just in your mind. It is not there. It doesn't exist. So you should practice mindfulness of this.

Presenting it this way might help make it clear: it is just your concept, just your superstition, just in your mind. It is not there, all these things are not there even though it appears there. Therefore all these, including the subject "I", and all the rest of the phenomena, are empty. Empty, not existing from its own side. So similarly, when you are on the road, or at home, or in the office, every object appearing like it's there on the base, like it's not merely labelled by the mind, like it's existing from its own side - every single thing, including yourself, your own "I", and all the objects - everything appearing like it is there, everything there, all these are superstition and hallucination. It is not there, nothing is there. So all these things do not exist. It exists in mere name, by depending on the base and on thought - labelling. But even the mind itself which labels, even that exists in mere name. Even the base exists in mere name. Similarly, all the rest of the phenomena, all exist in mere name. Therefore they are empty of existing from their own side.

So practise this mindfulness, seeing the false object as false, and that which is hallucination as hallucination. Then, only then, will you be able to discriminate between what is true and what is false. Only then will your mind be able to distinguish the truth from the false. When you practise the mindfulness that false is false, hallucination is hallucination, that gives you an idea of what the truth is. But when you don't meditate, when you don't practise mindfulness of seeing what is false as false, then you do not notice what the truth is, and you are not aware of it.

Then, when one is unable to differentiate between what is the truth and what is false, this becomes the basis of all the problems of life. It becomes the root of samsara, the root of the unimaginable sufferings, the oceans of the six realms' suffering, the oceans of the human beings' problems. When facing criticism, or when badly treated, one gets so upset, so angry. And when one gets some disease, some pain, without a quick recovery, it is so unbearable. In addition there is the incredibly painful relationship problems lasting for years, the pain in the heart. These oceans of human beings' problems come from the mind being ignorant, being unable to realize the false, and then because of that, being unable to realize the truth, the ultimate nature. Not knowing what is the truth and what is false - this is the root of all the problems, all the undesirable sufferings of samsara.

Therefore this meditation becomes the practice of mindfulness in this - that what is false is false, what is hallucination is hallucination. It is possible to live life with this meditation continuously. Not only during the meditation session but even during working time, and especially when there is danger of the mind getting depressed, upset or angry, when there is danger of engaging in negative karma. Especially at those times, this meditation - seeing that the things, including "I", actions, objects, appearing to oneself are not true, but false. Seeing that they are false becomes an extremely powerful solution, the remedy. This way then, there is no basis for delusion to arise. No reason for any delusion to arise.

So with this, with awareness of the ultimate nature of phenomena, all the delusions - anger, attachment, pride, jealousy - all these delusions do not make any sense. It's nonsense, childish nonsense. All these thoughts are nonsense when you practise mindfulness in the nature of the phenomena.

There is one old lady in England, a member of the London general centre, who said that, when she was depressed and when things were not happening the way she would like, she would think of how everything is merely labelled by the mind or that the way things appear, the situations, are empty. She would then feel good, feel alright, and not be depressed and sad. When she thinks in this way, she feels free and peaceful. It is like that. So some people use the meditation on emptiness at the time when they meet problems. It is excellent, and is one of the most powerful remedies if one can think this. It is the most powerful remedy because it is the belief that the problem is real, real in the sense of existing from its own side, that makes the mind very depressed, unhappy and so forth. When one thinks of the truth - that they are just labelled, and are all empty - that then keeps up one's spirit, and doesn't bring one right down.

(Teaching on emptiness by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, given on 24 March 1997, at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore)

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