Indian Buddhist Theories of Persons
Date of Posting: May 10, 2006
(This work was sponsored by Infinity Foundation as part of a multi-volume textbook series on Indian Approaches to Psychology.)
In the sixth century B.C.E the Buddha presented an eightfold path a person is to follow in order to become liberated from suffering in sa j s a ra. This eightfold path involves the use of wisdom ( prajñ a ) and skillful means ( up a ya ) to prepare oneself to acquire the wisdom needed to achieve liberation. Included in the skillful means part of the of the path are the practice of yogic meditation, of the sort explained in Pata ñ jali’s Yoga S ã tras and the practice of spiritual discipline ( s ila ), which consists primarily of the performance of skillful action ( karma ) that enables persons to be reborn in the human realm and creates the other conditions favorable to the acquisition of wisdom. Some of the Buddha’s later followers claimed that he taught only a path to the goal of individual liberation from suffering and others claimed that he also taught a path to the goal of universal liberation. (Those who practice the first are now called the Theravadins and those who practice the second are the Mahayanists.) The practice of wisdom itself includes the acquisition of meditative knowledge of both the workings of the mind and the ultimate nature of its objects, which include the mind itself. Over time different schools of wisdom were formed by the Buddha’s followers, each claiming that it alone correctly represents his teachings. Four basic schools, each with a number of different subschools, emerged by the ninth century C.E. Indian Buddhist theories of persons were formulated in the wisdom schools in the context of explaining why a person suffers in sa j s a ra and how he can become free from this suffering.
In all of the different wisdom schools of Indian Buddhism, the theory of the S a j khyas and Vai s e s ikas, that a person is a permanent, partless and separating existing entity, is rejected because it was judged to be incapable of contributing anything to the explanation of how a person suffers in sa j s a ra and can free himself from this suffering. The Buddhists claimed (i) that the root cause of suffering in sa j s a ra is that a person, who is by convention conceived in dependence upon “the aggregates of his body and mind” ( skandha -s), gives assent to a naturally occurring false appearance of himself as a self ( a tman ) that is created when he conceives himself, and (ii) that he can become free of this suffering by eliminating his assent through meditation on the selflessness of persons ( pudgalanair a tmya ). They agreed that a permanent, partless and substantially existent self is not the self that a person falsely and innately appears to be, but they did not agree about how exactly to characterize the false appearance of a person as a real entity, or about whether a conventionally existent person is reducible in existence to something else, some claiming that he is reducible in existence to the aggregates of body and mind in dependence upon which he is conceived, others that he is reducible in existence to a form of consciousness, and yet others that he is not reducible in existence to anything else, and so is nothing but a mental construction.
In all Indian Buddhist wisdom schools four theses are accepted. The first is that all causally conditioned phenomena, including persons, are impermanent. The second is that all contaminated phenomena constitute suffering. Contaminated phenomena are mental afflictions ( kle s a -s) or phenomena contaminated by mental afflictions. The mental affliction that is the root cause of suffering in sa j s a ra is called A the mistaken cognition related to the transient collection @ ( satk a yad i ), which is an inborn assent to the false appearance of a person as a self and of his aggregates of body and mind as possessions of this self. The elimination of this mental affliction is the basic goal of Buddhist practice, since it will result in the cessation of suffering. The third thesis is that nirv ~ a, conceived as the absence of the suffering in sa j s a ra , is the peace that is the cessation of all suffering. The fourth thesis is that all phenomena are without a self. This thesis distinguishes the teachings of the Buddha from the teachings of the Indian sages who claim that a permanent, partless and substantially existent self exists.
The Indian Buddhist Conception of Persons
The conception of a person, according to the Indian Buddhist philosophers, is the conception of an object (i) to which we refer when we use the first-person singular pronoun to refer, and (ii) of which we say, by convention, that it possesses as parts a body and mind that enable us to perceive objects, think about them, have feelings when they are perceived or thought about, perform actions for the sake of acquiring or avoiding them, etc. We may call (i) the referential component of the conception of a person and (ii) the descriptive component. In what follows I will often call the conception of a person the conception of ourselves, and when I use A we @ in what follows I mean A persons @ in the sense that persons are the objects to which we refer when we use the first-person singular pronoun to refer and of which we say, by convention, that they possess bodies and minds, etc. When it is said that a person is conceived, it means that we conceive ourselves as persons. The view, that we conceive ourselves as persons, may be rendered simply as A we conceive ourselves. @ To conceive ourselves, however, is not to conceive ourselves as selves, since persons are not selves. Finally, when I use A he @ and A him @ to refer to a person I do so without prejudice. The various devices commonly used to avoid A gender bias @ in our language (e. g. using A she, @ A s/he, @ or even A it @ ) seem to me either not to solve the problem or to be too awkward.
The aggregates in dependence upon which we are conceived are A the causal basis @ of the conception of ourselves. Included in the causal basis of the conception of ourselves, depending upon the context in which we refer to ourselves, are (i) all of the aggregates present at the moment we are referring to ourselves, (ii) these same aggregates, along with previous aggregates in the causal continuum of aggregates of which the present aggregates are a part, and (iii) these same aggregates, along with future aggregates in the causal continuum of aggregates of which the present aggregates are a part. So the causal basis of the conception of myself when I say, A I am writing this sentence, @ includes all of my present aggregates, the causal basis when I say, A I wrote this sentence yesterday, @ includes both all of my present aggregates plus the aggregates in dependence upon which I referred to myself yesterday, and the causal basis when I say, A I will write another sentence tomorrow, @ includes both all of my present aggregates plus the aggregates in dependence upon which I will refer to myself tomorrow. When I speak of A our aggregates @ I will mean A all of the aggregates in dependence upon which we conceive ourselves. @
Indian Buddhist philosophers assume that we are, from a conventional point of view, wholes of parts. According to those who composed the Abhidharma texts, which are systematic summaries of the Buddha’s teachings, the parts of these wholes we are can be identified independently of the wholes of which they are parts, but the wholes themselves cannot be identified independently of their parts. They think that our parts, which they conceive as extrinsic to the wholes we are in the sense that they can be characterized without reference to us, are the aggregates of body and mind that are the causal bases of the conception of ourselves. These aggregates exist in a beginningless causal continuum perpetuated by the mistaken cognition of the mentally constructed person as a self. When we conceive ourselves, we falsely appear to ourselves to be wholes that are identifiable independently of our parts and our parts falsely appear to be identifiable in dependence upon the wholes of which they are parts. As a result of assenting to the first false appearance we acquire the false idea of A I, @ and as a result of assenting to the second false appearance, we acquire the false idea of A mine. @ Our assent to these false ideas of A I @ and A mine, @ in combination, is the mistaken cognition related to the transient collection that is the root cause of our suffering in sa j sara. Were we wholes that are identifiable independently of our parts, we should be found, along with our aggregates, among the phenomena in dependence upon which we conceive ourselves. However, nothing but the aggregates are\is found among these phenomena. Hence, the Abhidharmists conclude, we are not selves. Nonetheless, they believe, what is defined when a person is defined is a whole that cannot be identified independently of reference to its parts and whose parts can be identified independently of the whole of which they are the parts.
The conventional definition of a person the Abhidharmists accept is based on what the Buddha said about how the aggregates are related to persons. The Buddha often referred to the aggregates in dependence upon which we are conceived as the upadanaskandha -s. This term is often understood to mean “aggregates to which there is clinging,” but its special sense in this context seems to mean A aggregates that have been acquired. @ Acquired by what or whom? The Abhidharmists assume that the Buddha meant that the aggregates are, according to convention, said to be acquired by a person. Hence, a person, as a conventional reality, is the acquirer ( upadat ) of the se aggregates. But in what sense does a person acquire aggregates? Surely, the sense, according to the Abhidharmists, is that in which a table, for instance, is a whole that acquires different parts when its legs are replaced. Of course, if we can be said to acquire aggregates, we can also be said to possess them, just as a table is said to possess the parts it has acquired. In the sense in which the surface of a table is a part of a table, moreover, we also attribute the color of this part of the table to the table itself. In like manner the attributes of the aggregates are also ascribed to the person. In general, when we take into account the functions performed by the aggregates of a person, the implication is that the descriptive content of the conception of a person is that of being an owner or possessor of aggregates who acquires different aggregates over time, and by reason of possessing them is said, e.g. to perceive objects, since consciousness does so, and to walk, since the legs of the person do so, etc.
According to the wisdom school called the Pudgalav ~ dins, the whole we are conceived to be contains not only our aggregates as extrinsic parts, but also an entity that is without a separate identity. They agree with the Abhidharmists that we are conceived in dependence upon the aggregates. But they do not agree that we are said to acquire and possess aggregates in the way in which a table acquires and possesses parts, since the table is the same in existence as its parts. In the appendix to Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Knowledge , which presents the most basic theses of the Ka s miri Vaibha s ika wisdom school, the Pudgalav ~ dins are represented as arguing that we acquire aggregates in the way, for instance, that we acquire knowledge when we become grammarians. The implication is that persons are the same in existence as the underlying supports ( a Ñ raya -s) for the parts they acquire as wholes, not the same in existence as the parts acquired. This idea seems to have been borrowed from the Ny ~ ya-Vai Ñ e ikas, who believe that persons, as separate substances, are underlying supports for mental states. The Pudgalav ~ dins, however, construe persons as inexplicable phenomena rather than as substances. Moreover, they do not believe, as the Ny ~ ya-Vai Ñ e ikas do, that persons, apart from being conceived as persons, are the underlying supports for mental states, for in that case they would possess separate identities.
Candrak § rti, who is often credited with founding the Pr ~ sa v gika-M ~ dhyamika wisdom school, shares the view of the Abhidharmists and the Pudgalav ~ dins, that we are conceived in dependence upon our aggregates, but he rejects their view that the aggregates are substances. Moreover, he believes not only that we are conceived in dependence upon our aggregates, but also that our aggregates are conceived in dependence upon us. All wholes, he believes, are conceived in dependence upon their parts and all parts are conceived in dependence upon the wholes of which they are parts. The idea of our aggregates being our extrinsic parts, therefore, he deems to be incoherent. For instance, he thinks that the aggregate of consciousness cannot exist apart from a person any more than a person can exist apart from the aggregate of consciousness. So he shares the Pudgalav ~ dins = view that our existence is not the same as that of our aggregates.
All Indian Buddhist philosophers seem to agree that we are able to ascribe to ourselves the functions our aggregates perform because, as conventional realities, we are not other than our aggregates. For instance, because consciousness present within the aggregates in dependence upon which we conceive ourselves perceives objects and we are not other than this consciousness, by convention we say that we perceive objects and that we are perceivers of objects. Similarly, because bodily forms are present within these aggregates and we are not other than these bodily forms, by convention we ascribe the attributes of our bodies to ourselves. When we conceive ourselves as performing the functions of all of our different aggregates, however, we appear to possess an identity not possessed by any one of them. Our assent to this false appearance is the mistaken cognition of ourselves that causes us to suffer in sa j sara.
The fact that the aggregates in dependence upon which we conceive ourselves exist in a single uninterrupted causal continuum, the Abhidharmists and Candrak § rti assume, explains the success of the convention that we are the same persons at different times. The Pudgalav ~ dins seem to believe that a better explanation of the success of the convention is that we are the inexplicable underlying supports of all of the aggregates in the causal continuum of the aggregates in dependence upon which we are conceived. It is because they believe that we are the inexplicable underlying supports of all such aggregates, we may assume, that they claim, as reported in our Chinese sources, that we are neither the same persons over time nor different persons over time. The meaning of this view, of course, is that we are neither the same persons over time in the way substantially real underlying supports of aggregates would be nor different persons over time in the way we could be if we were the same in existence as our aggregates.
The fact that the aggregates in the causal continuum of aggregates in dependence upon which we are conceived are not the same as one another from moment to moment, Indian Buddhist philosophers assume, explains why, by convention, we are conceived as different over time. When we conceive ourselves as different over time, however, our difference over time is not conceived as our being different persons over time (except perhaps in a special sense of A persons @ ), but as our possessing different parts over time. In this way, they are able to explain the convention that we change over time without ceasing to be persons.
When we conceive ourselves as single individuals simultaneously performing the functions of different aggregates, the Abhidharmists seem to believe, we appear not only to be independently identifiable, but also to be independently one, i.e. to be wholes whose existence is not the same as the existence of our extrinsic parts. The Pudgalav ~ dins may believe that the conception of ourselves as irreducibly one has a different explanation. They are in a position to claim that the basis upon which the simultaneous performance of the functions of different aggregates can be attributed to us is that we are reducible in existence to single entities that are without separate identities. So perhaps they would say that we possess what might be called an A inexplicable unity, @ which is our being one without being either a separate substance or a collection of substances being conceived as a single entity. All Indian Buddhist philosophers would seem to believe that aggregates, although not functioning independently of one another, are not the same as one another, explains why we can, by convention, be conceived as possessing different parts.
Even though the Indian Buddhist philosophers agree that the conception of a person does not have an object that can be identified independently, they never conclude that the conception has no object at all, since the view that it has no object at all is considered to be a nihilistic view rejected by the Buddha. To what then does the conception refer? On this question there is disagreement among the philosophers whose theories of persons we are discussing. Although all agree that the object of the conception of ourselves is a conventional reality, they disagree about what it means to be a conventional reality and about whether or not the conception is used to refer to us in dependence upon its reference to something else, and if it is, to what else.
According to Abhidharmists, the conception is used to refer to us as conventional realities because it also refers to our aggregates. This reference to us, of course, also depends upon the convention that we are present when the aggregates in the collection of aggregates of which we are composed are present. According to the Pudgalav ~ dins it is used to refer to us as conventional realities because it also refers to an entity that cannot be independently identified. This entity, they claim, is perceived when the aggregates in the collection in dependence upon which we are conceived are present. According to Candrak § rti, the conception is used to refer to us in dependence upon our aggregates, but it itself does not also refer to our aggregates or to an entity without a separate identity, since we are not the same in existence as either of these. All reference, he believes, relies on phenomena that are not the same in existence as the phenomena to which reference is made, and for this reason, there is no independent reference to anything else on the basis of which a dependent reference to ourselves is made. So the only object of reference to ourselves, in his view, is ourselves as mental constructions. No Indian Buddhist philosopher, of course, believes that the conception of ourselves refers to us because it also refers to a separate substance.
Interpretations of the Selflessness of Persons Thesis
There are two interpretations of the selflessness of persons thesis accepted in all of the Indian Buddhist wisdom schools. According to the first, it is the thesis that we are not other than our aggregates. To be other than our aggregates is to be a separate substance. The S ~ j khyas and Vai s e s ikas, who claim that we are separate substances, add that we are also causally unconditioned, permanent and partless. In no Buddhist wisdom school is it believed that we naturally appear to ourselves to be separate substances when we conceive ourselves. It is claimed that when in everyday life we conceive ourselves from the first-person singular perspective and ascribe attributes to ourselves we never appear to ourselves to exist apart from our aggregates in the way, for instance, one color appears to exist separately from another or in the way a color appears to exist separately from a sound: the one can appear to the mind without the other appearing to it.
The second interpretation of the selflessness of persons thesis is that we do not possess any attributes apart from being conceived in dependence upon our aggregates. It is agreed that even though we conceive ourselves in dependence upon our aggregates, we naturally appear to ourselves, when so conceived, to be wholes of parts that are identifiable apart from our parts. In all Indian Buddhist wisdom schools other than the Prasa v gika-Madhyamika, it is believed that we suffer in sa j s ~ ra primarily because we assent to this appearance. According to Candrak § rti, who presents the Prasa v gika-Madhyamika viewpoint, our assent to this appearance is not the basic cause of our suffering in sa j s ~ ra. However, he does seem to believe that we naturally appear to be identifiable by ourselves, apart from our aggregates, as their owners or possessors, in spite of never appearing to our minds when our aggregates do not appear. When we investigate, therefore, we discover that we cannot be identified except in relation to these phenomena.
In most Buddhist wisdom schools it is believed that since we cannot be identified except in relation to our aggregates, we cannot exist apart from them. For this reason it is assumed in these schools that the argument that shows that we cannot be identified independently also shows that the thesis, that we are permanent, partless and substantially existent, is false. There is one wisdom school, however, in which it is claimed that we can exist apart from our aggregates without being independently identifiable or being separate substances. This view is held in the Pudgalavadin school.
Candrak § rti, unlike the Abhidharmaists and the Pudgalavadins, thinks that the Buddha gave an interpretation of the selflessness of persons thesis according to which the false appearance of ourselves the assent to which is the actual root cause of suffering in sa j s ~ ra is that of appearing to exist from our own side, apart from being conceived. He assumes that our assent to our appearance of existing without being conceived is a subtler error of cognition than our appearance of appearing to possess an identity distinct from any possessed by our aggregates.
The Aggregates of Body and Mind in Dependence upon which Persons are Conceived
Since all Indian Buddhist philosophers assume that a conventionally real person is a whole that is projected onto aggregates conceived as its parts, their accounts of how a person causes himself to suffer and free himself from suffering are basically accounts of the different functions performed by the aggregates in the production and elimination of suffering. Hence, Buddhist psychology, as a theory of how persons cause themselves to suffer and can free themselves from suffering, takes the form of an account of the causal interactions among the aggregates. We may begin this account from the perspective of the basic division of the aggregates into their five different kinds.
Although in the Buddhist tradition the order in which the five aggregates are usually listed is bodily forms ( r ã pa -s), feeling ( vedana ), discrimination ( sa j j ñ a ), volitional forces ( sa j skara -s) and consciousness ( vijñana ), it will be convenient for our purposes here first to explain bodily forms, and then, in turn, consciousness, discrimination, volitional forces and feeling. In what follows I will explain the aggregates according to the Abhidharma account, presented in Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Knowledge( Abhidharmako s a ), as opposed to the Mahayana account of Asa v ga, presented in his Compendium of Knowledge ( Abhidharmasamuccaya ), though I will call attention at the end to certain innovations made by Asa v ga.
The Abhidharma account of bodily forms is far from complete and is believed by most scholars to be problematic, and I will discuss it only from the point of view of their perception. Included among bodily forms are the five sense-organs, the five kinds of secondary elements that are the objects perceived by means of these sense-organs, and the four primary elements of which the sense-organs are composed and are said to provide underlying supports for the secondary elements perceived by means of the sense-organs. The four primary elements, which are earth, water, fire and air or wind, are not earth, water, fire and air or wind as they are usually conventionally conceived, but impermanent substances whose existence is inferred in order to explain the facts that tactile objects can repel one another (earth), can attract one another (water), can become hot (fire), and can move (air or wind). The different configurations of the primary elements in the inseparable combinations of elements of which the sense organs are composed is assumed to explain the functional differences between the sense-organs. The five kinds of secondary elements directly perceived by means of the five sense-organs are visible forms, sounds, odors, flavors, and tactile phenomena. Each of these five is distinguished into different kinds. In our realm, the four primary elements and visible forms, odors, flavors, and tangible objects are present in all combined material particles. For obvious reasons, sound need not be present. Bodily forms are said to be included among the aggregates in dependence upon which we are conceived, since we are by convention conceived as owners or possessors of the bodies we use to perceive the secondary elements, to feel bodily pleasure and pain when we perceive them, to have physical desires and aversions towards them, and to perform bodily actions to acquire or avoid them, etc.
Consciousness as we normally think of it is revealed in meditation to be a causal continuum of consciousness events, each of which is a mental substance. The primary cause of each consciousness is its immediate predecessor in a beginningless causal continuum. Its secondary causes are an organ of perception and an object of perception, both of which exist in the preceding moment and are in contact. A consciousness of the sort to which reference is made in the list of the five aggregates is the substance that performs the function of apprehending the existence of an object, as opposed to apprehending a character it possesses. A consciousness, so defined, is often called a A mind @ ( citta ), and when it is, it is being contrasted to A mental factors @ ( caitta –s). The general function of consciousness, insofar as it includes both a mind and its mental factors, is the perception of an object. Mental factors are distinct substances that combine with a mind to comprise a perception of an object. Every mind is attended by ten mental factors, among which are feeling, discrimination of a character the object possesses, and a number of other mental factors included among the volitional forces that comprise the fourth aggregate. Consciousness is divided into six different kinds when classified according to the six different kinds of organs of perception by means of which it is produced. The first five kinds of consciousness are those that arise in dependence upon the five sense-organs and the different objects within their separate domains. They are the eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, nose-consciousness and body-consciousness. The sense-objects in their domains, respectively, are the secondary elements, which are visible form, sound, flavor, odor and tactile phenomena. The sixth kind of consciousness is called a A mental consciousness @ ( manovijñana ), which is a consciousness that arises in dependence upon a A mental organ @ ( manas ) and one of the mental objects within its special domain. A mental consciousness can directly perceive an object in its own special domain, conceive an object in the domain of one of the sense-organs, be a thought about one of these objects, and be the conclusion of a correct inference that establishes the existence of one of these objects.
A mental organ is a consciousness that produces, in the next moment of a continuum of consciousnesses of which it is a part, a direct perception of itself and/or of one or more of its mental factors. The consciousness that has this perception is the mental consciousness. An eye-consciousness, for instance, can give rise to a mental consciousness that directly perceives this same eye-consciousness in the next moment. For this reason it is said to be the organ by means of which it itself is directly perceived. In this case, the eye-consciousness is both the object directly perceived by the immediately following mental consciousness and the mental organ by means of which it itself is directly perceived by that consciousness. A perception to which an eye-consciousness, as an organ of perception, gives rise, however, need not be a direct perception of the eye-consciousness and/or its attendant mental factors. It might instead be an indirect perception of the object of the eye-consciousness. In this case, the perception involves a mental image of an object of the eye-consciousness, and the perceiving consciousness is said to conceive the object. The conception of an object is a consciousness that conceives the object.
Consequently, there are six kinds of objects directly perceived by the six kinds of consciousness, but the sixth consciousness, which is the mental consciousness, can not only directly perceive the immediately preceding mind and/or its attendant mental factors in the same causal continuum, but can also conceive the objects of each of the six kinds of consciousness. Both a direct and an indirect perception of an object is called a A cognition @ ( buddhi ). A cognition of an object is said to occur in dependence upon contact that occurs between an organ of perception and an object of perception. If a cognition establishes the existence of an object, it is called a A valid cognition @ ( prama n a ) and if it does not it is called an A invalid cognition @ ( aprama n a ). The three kinds of valid cognition acknowledged are A direct perception @ ( pratyak a ), A correct inference @ ( anuma n a ), and scripture ( agama ).
Since the object of a direct perception is one of the causes of its direct perception and the causal efficacy of a phenomenon is one of the criteria of its existence, the direct perception of an object establishes its existence. If the object is a substantial reality, the existence established is that of a substantial reality. If the object is a substantially established reality, i.e. a phenomenon whose existence, by convention, consists in the existence of its substantially real parts, the existence established is that of a substantially established reality. The Pudgalav ~ dins, by contrast, believe that some objects known to exist are inexplicable in the sense of being neither substantial realities nor substantially established realities. Since there are inexplicable phenomena that cause themselves to be directly perceived, they believe, they must exist. They assume that an entity need not possess substantial reality or substantially established reality in order to be considered causally efficacious. Since Candrakirti denies the existence of substantial realities, substantially established realities and inexplicable realities, he rejects the views that their existence can be established by a valid cognition. However, he believes that, by convention, there are valid cognitions that establish the dependent existence of conventional realities.
According to the earliest Abhidharmists, a consciousness can directly perceive an external object without reproducing in itself a character the object possesses. In fact, it may be the acceptance of this very view that made it possible for the Pudgalav ~ dins, who in effect deny that persons have separate identities, to claim that persons are directly perceived. In Vasubandhu’s comnmentary on the Treasury of Knowledge , however, a theory of direct perception is presented according to which a character ( akara ) an object possesses is reproduced in a consciousness that perceives the object. The impression created in the perceiving consciousness, however, is not a mental image of the sort present in a conceiving consciousness, since only a conception of an object is a mental image of it. The exact nature of this reproduced character is not explained.
The Abhidharmists claim that the function of the mental factor, discrimination, is to distinguish an object apprehended from other objects that can be apprehended, which it does by discriminating a character it possesses. A character of an object not only marks off the object from objects of a different kind but also from other objects of the same kind. A consciousness whose perception establishes the existence of an object always discriminates a character it possesses, since an object whose existence is established by a valid cognition possesses a character by means of which it is conceived. Since objects of conceptions known to exist are either substantial realities or substantially established realities, the Abhidharmists are committed to the view that both substantial realities and substantially established realities possess characters discriminated when their existence is established.
If the causal basis of the conception of an object is a substantial reality, it is a substantially real phenomenon whose character has been discriminated. But substantially established realities are collections of different kinds of substances that are conceived as single entities of a certain sort, and so do not, from their own side, possess the character on the basis of which they are conceived. Only the collections of different sorts of substances on the basis of which single entities of some sort are conceived are the causal basis of the conception of the collections as single entities. When the causal basis of a conception of an object is a collection of different kinds of substances, the existence of the object is, by convention, established by a valid cognition of any of the substances present in its causal basis. Since a substantially established reality like milk can be known to exist by a valid cognition, it must possess a character by means of whose discrimination one of its parts is conceived. Hence, milk, for instance, is not identifiable as the single entity of the sort it is conceived to be apart from the substances in the collection of substances of different sorts of which it is composed. But since milk, insofar as it is conceived as milk, has a mentally constructed component, it is not identifiable apart from the convention that the collection of substances that are its ultimate parts is the causal basis of its conception as milk.
What has been said here of milk, according to the Abhidharmists, is also true of persons. A person, who is the object of the conception of ourselves, is known to exist just in case there is a valid cognition of at least one of the aggregates that are the causal basis of the conception. But a valid cognition of this sort does not establish the identity of the person as a person. For instance, the existence of a person who performs an action can be established by a valid cognition of an action that is present in the aggregates in dependence upon which that person is conceived, but it does not establish the identity of the person as an agent of the action. What is needed to establish the identity of the person as an agent of the action are the conventions that the aggregates in which the action occurs is the causal basis of the conception of a person and that the causal functions performed by these aggregates are ascribed to the person conceived in dependence upon the aggregates. For this reason, the identity of a person must be established both by valid cognitions of the aggregates that are his constituents and by convention.
When in the appendix of the Treasury of Knowledge Vasubandhu presents a philosophical critique of the Pudgalav ~ dins = theory of persons, he employs the principle that the object of a conception must be the same in existence as its causal basis. According to this principle, the object of the conception of ourselves must be the same in existence as the aggregates in dependence upon which we are conceived. It is this principle that the Pudgalav ~ dins attempt to refute when they argue that we are conceived in reliance upon our aggregates in the way fire is conceived in reliance upon fuel. The conception of ourselves, they believe, is not formed on the basis of perceptions of ourselves, but only on the basis of the perception of the aggregates that are present when we are perceived. Because, from an ultimate point of view, we are entities without separate identities, moreover, we are known to exist by means of perceptions of ourselves that do not include a discrimination of a character we possess by ourselves. Nevertheless, the Pudgalav ~ dins claim, we are known to exist by the six kinds of consciousness that perceive the objects in the domains of their associated organs of perception. However, they do not abandon the general principle that every consciousness is attended by the mental factor of discrimination. For they believe that a consciousness that perceives an object within the domain of its associated organ of perception also perceives us and that this consciousness is attended by a discrimination of the character of the object within the domain of its associated organ of perception. The idea, that there is an awareness of ourselves as entities without separate identities when our consciousnesses are aware of objects in their own domains, is a key element in the Pudgalav ~ dins = establishment of their own theory of persons.
Since by convention a name (a significant spoken sound) is associated with the conception of an object, this name is also applied to the object of the conception. The Abhidharmists call both this conception and its associated name prajñapti . This term may be translated as a “conception” in order to convey the idea that at its root it is a conception of an object and to show its etymological connection to prajñapyate , which may be translated as “is conceived. @
The Abhidharmists distinguish between true and false discriminations, but do not provide us with an account of the distinction. They say only that false discriminations are one of two causes of rebirth, the other being attachment to feelings. False discriminations cause rebirth because they give rise to false views. A false discrimination, it seems, is to be defined as what seems to be, but is not, a discrimination of a character possessed by an object. Among discriminations that are true are discriminations of the characters of aggregates, which are substantially real phenomena. But also included are discriminations of the characters of persons, since discriminations of their characters are assumed to be nothing but discriminations of the characters of the aggregates in the collections of aggregates in dependence upon which persons are conceived. Since by convention a perception of one of the aggregates of a person is a perception of the person, it can be said that there is a true discrimination of a character possessed by a person, even though the person is only real by convention. In general, a true discrimination is an actual discrimination of a character an object possesses. Although examples of a false discrimination are not provided, we can be sure that our assent to our false appearance of being independently identifiable involves a false discrimination.
Although sa j skara -s, as the name of an aggregate, may be translated as A volitional forces, @ a more literal meaning of the name is A things that causally condition, @ and what they causally condition are called sa j sk ta -s, whose literal meaning is A things causally conditioned. @ There are fifty-eight mental phenomena included in the aggregate of volitional forces. Included are all mental factors other than discrimination and feeling. These mental factors are positive, negative, or neutral in dependence upon the positive, negative or neutral result they bring about when they motivate actions. At the head of the list is the mental factor called A volition @ or A intention @ ( cetana ), which is the mental action that gives rise to actions of body and speech. That volitional forces are singled out as one division of the aggregates implies that it is believed that an important descriptive component of the conception of ourselves is the idea that we are agents of actions.
The view that we are, by convention, agents of actions surfaces several times in the Treasury of Knowledge . The Pudgalav ~ dins would seem to believe that their theory of persons provides a better metaphysical explanation of the convention that we are agents of action than the Abhidharma theory does. They compare a person and his aggregates to fire and its fuel in order to explain their belief that just as fire can unite with fuel and provide a metaphysical explanation for the convention that fire is what burns fuel, so a person can unite with the aggregates and provide a metaphysical explanation for the convention that a person acquires aggregates. The idea that the convention, that a person is an agent of action, requires, as a metaphysical explanation, the substantial reality of an agent of action, underlies the Ny ~ ya-Vai Ñ e ika arguments for the existence of a self. Since volitional forces are included among the collection of aggregates that is the causal basis of the conception of ourselves, the Abhidharmists believe that the convention that we are agents of actions is a central part of the descriptive component of the conception, and so requires an explanation in terms of the causal basis of the conception.
When it is said that suffering results from our contaminated actions, the reference is usually to feeling. A feeling is one of three kinds: pleasure, pain and a feeling that is neither pleasure nor pain. A feeling, which is part of every perception, arises in dependence upon contact between an organ of perception and an object of perception. Which of the three kinds of feeling occurs when an object is perceived is determined, in accord with the law of actions and their results, by the character of the prior action that caused it. All feelings that arise because of contaminated actions are forms of suffering. Even pleasure and indifferent feeling are forms of suffering, since suffering includes not only obvious suffering such as pain, but also the suffering latent in temporary pleasure and in perception that arises direct or indirectly in dependence upon the organs of perception. Feeling is included separately as one of the aggregates because attachment to it is a cause of rebirth. Attachment to feeling is a cause of rebirth because it leads us to perform contaminated actions.
Since volitional forces are coupled with feeling as two of the five aggregates, it becomes clear that the Abhidharmists assumed that the descriptive component of the conception of ourselves includes the idea of our being agents of actions and subjects that suffer the results of these actions. And, of course, since consciousness and discrimination are also included among the aggregates, another part of its descriptive component is the idea that we are rational agents of actions and subjects of such experiences.
In addition to the six forms of consciousness posited in the Abhidharma texts, the branch of the Yogacara wisdom school founded by Asa v ga posits two more forms of consciousness. The first is “an afflicted mind” ( kli st amanas ), which misapprehends the second, “the foundation consciousness” ( alayavij ñ ana ) as a self. The afflicted mind is contaminated by four mental afflictions, and when they are eliminated the person is freed from suffering. When a person becomes a Buddha this mind transforms into an awareness of the non-duality of consciousness and its object. In a Yogacara text composed by Vasubandhu, the Thirty Verse Treatise ( Trimsikakarikav r tti ), the workings of consciousness are explained. It is asserted that what we believe to exist apart from being conceived is a mere conception ( vijñaptimatra ), since what does not exist appears, because conceived, to exist apart from being conceived, just as what does not exist appears, because of an eye disorder, to exist apart from being seen. The foundation consciousness is a beginningless sequence of real momentary mental phenomena that manifests in different forms. In its most elemental form it is the foundation consciousness itself, which is a sequence in which the seeds that are produced by actions and give rise to their results is stored. In dependence upon this sequence it takes the form of the afflicted mind, which is a sequence of misconceptions of the first sequence as a self, and in dependence upon this sequence it takes the form of a sequence of six different sorts of variously qualified cognitions of objects as external to consciousness. All three of these forms of consciousness are said to be nothing but conception ( vijñapti ). It is explained that consciousness possesses three natures ( svabhava -s ), which are its dependence upon causes and conditions ( paratantra ), its having been made to falsely appear to be divided into a mind that grasps an object and an object that is grasped by it ( parikalpita ), and its thoroughly established nature ( parini s panna ) of not in fact being divisible into a mind that grasps an object and an object that is grasped by it. But these natures, it is added, can be redescribed as its threefold absence of a nature ( ni h svabhavata ). Its nature of having been made to falsely appear to be divided into a mind that grasps an object and an object that is grasped by it, is by definition its absence of a nature. Its nature of being dependent upon causes and conditions is its absence of a nature by virtue of which it would come to be by itself. Its thoroughly established nature is its absence of a nature by virtue of which it would be divisible into a mind that grasps an object and an object that is grasped by it. To become free of suffering, it is explained, we need to free ourselves from all conceptions, including the conception that all things are merely conception. This is done through meditation that will finally end the three kinds of mental sequences.