The Object to Be Refuted

The Object to Be Refuted

Date of Advice:
June 2018
Date Posted:
February 2020

A student wrote to Rinpoche about their experiences while meditating on emptiness. Rinpoche gave this advice about the subtle object to be refuted according to the Prasangika Madhyamaka view.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I want to say something additional about emptiness.

It’s not just the first label that you have—the appearance—[like the car] is labeled on the base, the parts. [But to then think that the label and the base are intrinsic] is sort of a joke. That’s what you expressed regarding the car or whatever. You have to look at the base as the first label, the first level merely labeled by the mind. That base is then merely labeled on another base; then that base is labeled on another base; and so it goes on and on like that.

The body, for example, comes down to [limbs and so forth and then] to particles and atoms. According to the tenets of the four Buddhist philosophical schools, some do not accept truly existing particles whereas some accept there are fundamental particles.

[The Prasangika Madkyamaka view is that self and phenomena are] merely imputed. For example, the mind focuses on the base, the aggregates, and that same mind makes up the label “I,” which means the merely imputed I. That’s how the I exists. There is nothing even slightly more than that. If there were something slightly more than that, it would exist from its own side. Even though it wouldn’t exist completely from its own side, it would exist from its own side. That’s the subtle object to be refuted (Tib: gag cha), according to the Prasangika view.

The Svatantrika view is that the I exists from its own side [but it’s also labeled by the mind.]

The Prasangika view of emptiness is extremely subtle and it is the only way to realize emptiness. It is the only way to cease the root of samsara—the ignorance holding the I as real, as existing from its own side while it is not. The I is merely labeled by the mind, by that thought. There is nothing more than that. So we can see that from the label I on the aggregates, all the way down to the atoms and particles of atoms—all are merely imputed by the mind. Nothing more than that exists.

That is very good for meditation. That is very good for meditation. Meditate on that emptiness for as long as you can.

Next, look at everything in the world similarly, as merely labeled by the mind. Nothing exists from its own side. All phenomena in the whole world are empty, including your family, your house, everything. Meditate on that emptiness for as long as you can.

Then meditate on hell and enlightenment, after that samsara and nirvana, and after that the happiness and problems in your daily life. Meditate on the emptiness of each of these two things—hell and enlightenment, samsara and nirvana, happiness and problems—for as long as you can. Meditate on their emptiness.

There is one danger. Maybe it’s easy to say, but some people who haven’t done much study think that nothing exists. That would mean there is no I, no delusion, no karma, and no past or future lives. That means there is no Triple Gem or four noble truths. So it becomes like the Heart Sutra, if we believe in the literal teachings where it says “no, no, no”—no tongue, no ice-cream, no chocolate, no happiness, no pipi, no kaka.

Here you might think that things do not exist at all, but in this way you would be following nihilism. It is said in the teachings—I saw this in a commentary on the Four Hundred Stanzas, I think—that we create the negative karma of having killed 100 million people if we fall into nihilism, if we believe in that. So be careful.

This should help you to realize emptiness and understand how to think about emptiness. It should help. That is the main help to give you the realizations of how things exist. First you realize ultimate truth and secondly conventional truth—how things exist in mere name. How the name exists in mere name; how aggregates exist in mere name; how everything exists in mere name. The world exists in mere name; hell and enlightenment exists in mere name; samsara and nirvana exist in mere name; happiness and problems exist in mere name.

This is the most difficult thing to realize. Many learned meditators in Tibet have fallen into nihilism, have slipped into nihilism. I think maybe [this is like] Zen Buddhist philosophy, thinking that nothing exists, believing nothing exists, I don’t know. If we don’t exist, our hell doesn’t exist, then our enlightenment doesn’t exist, the four noble truths don’t exist, so it becomes very strange. I don’t know how Zen Buddhists reply to that.

It is extremely subtle, as I mentioned. The I exists in mere name, it functions in mere name. There is I because the base, the aggregates, exist in mere name. They exist but they exist in mere name, they function in mere name, so all the rest of phenomena are like this. They exist in mere name, they function in mere name. It is very subtle, that which exists in mere name.

There is the creator I [the subject], the action and the object. There is the creator I, there is the action of creating negative karma and there is the negative karma created. There is hell, there is I, there is actualizing the path and there is enlightenment. There is all this, but only in mere name.

 So you have to get more experience, then let me know. Meditate and let me know.

Please read some recent dictation I gave. [Now available from FPMT Foundation Store as a booklet Recognizing the False I.]

With much love and prayers ...