The Merely Labeled I

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1257)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught on emptiness at the 33rd Kopan Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 2000. This teaching is an excerpt from Lecture Six of the course, lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.  Click here to read more.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at Royal Holloway College, England, 1975. Photo: Dennis Heslop.

The I exists because there are aggregates. The base is the aggregates and the base has a label, I. The I is merely imputed by mind, therefore it’s totally empty from its own side. So, it exists but it’s an extremely subtle phenomenon. The way the I exists is unbelievably subtle.

It’s the same with the aggregates. Again, the aggregates in general are merely imputed. How they exist is merely imputed by the mind because there is the collection of the five aggregates. How the aggregate of form exists is because there is the collection of all these parts of the body. So the aggregate of form is an extremely subtle phenomenon. It is merely imputed by the mind and it is nothing more than a collection of all these parts of the body. All those parts that we call the head, legs and hands, all these are nothing except what is merely imputed on the collection of parts. Even the parts are merely imputed by the mind, depending on the base. So it goes, down to the atoms.

What is an atom? An atom is also merely imputed by mind. Particular atoms are merely imputed by mind, because there are other particles. Starting from the I, go through everything down to the particular atoms and you will find that nothing exists from its own side. Nothing has any inherent existence. Everything is totally empty, but that doesn’t mean things don’t exist. They exist in mere name. Starting from the I down to the particular atoms, everything exists in mere name.

Starting from the I down to each mental factor and consciousness, all these are also merely imputed by mind, depending on the base. These different thoughts that have different functions, these minds are merely imputed different labels, “this” and “that.” They are different thoughts which have different functions and perceive different objects. Go down to the seconds of consciousness and the split-seconds of consciousness. Starting from the I, everything is merely imputed by mind. All these things are totally empty, starting from the I down to a split-second of consciousness. That’s why the Buddha said in the teachings, “Everything exists in mere name, by being merely imputed by the mind.”

Tak-yer means “exists in mere name,” existing merely imputed by the mind. Yer is “exist” and tak is “labeled.” Everything exists as merely imputed by the mind, so the conclusion is that everything is empty. The meditation is from the year down to the split second; from the I down to the atoms. Meditate on how everything is a label placed on a base and how even the base is labeled on another base, like that. The aggregates are the base to label I, but even the general aggregates are a label imputed on the collection of five aggregates. They become a label and that exists on the base.

So like that, everything from the I down exists in mere name and is merely imputed by mind. This meditation is very important to avoid thinking that the I is the aggregates. The I is merely imputed because there is the base, the aggregates. When we think this way it differentiates the aggregates and the label I, then we don’t think the I is there. At that time, we don’t think the I is on the aggregates. That’s a very important point to appear to our mind. When we get the feeling that there’s no I on the aggregates, it’s easy to see that the I isn’t here. It exists in mere name, and it is merely imputed by the mind. It’s empty. That’s the idea we should get. This is very effective.

It’s similar with all the rest of phenomena. What we discover is that the way these phenomena exist—what the reality is—is something totally different to what we believed has been appearing up until now.

If we can see the differences, then we’re able to distinguish between what is false and what is the truth in our life. With this realization or recognition, we don’t cheat ourselves and we aren’t deceived by these hallucinations. Otherwise, what we falsely believe is true is like a bad friend who we believe to be good and trustworthy, and then he cheats us.

We believe that all these appearances really exist. By clinging to them, delusions continually arise and we create karma, die and are reborn in samsara without end. We suffer in samsara without end. Meditation on emptiness is the path and it is the only way to directly cut the delusions, the cause of samsara. It is the only way we will be liberated from the sufferings of samsara.