The Eye of the Beholder

So far much has been said about the nature of phenomena perceived by an awareness, but this act of perception has not been described. The four schools of Buddhism maintain that there are 'sense consciousnesses', such as an eye consciousness, which perceive objects. Since Svatantrikas accept that phenomena are established by way of their own character, they believe that sense consciousnesses perceive objects as they exist, barring any superficial causes of error. The Prasangikas claim that this is like saying that our horse is appearing as it really is although it is actually an illusion. To perceive an object as existing by way of its own character is mistaken, but to avoid contradicting the world, it is said that sense-direct perceivers are non-mistaken conventionally. It bears stating at this point that throughout all of this talk about the false appearance of objects, it is not permissible to traffic with totally imaginary phenomena. The classic example of this is the horn of a rabbit. No such thing exists; any argument based on the existence of such is false, and any argument that fails to account for the ear of a rabbit, which does exist conventionally, is false.

A theory of how an object is perceived is dependent on a theory of what the sense object is made of. The founder of Svatantrika, Bhavaviveka, states that objects composed of minute particles are connected to each other such that each particle contributes to the entity of the object. (16) He rejects the Yogacarin claim that minute particles, while substantially established, are too subtle to serve as sense objects, and that therefor external objects do not exist. Since every particle is an aggregate (going back to the lack of one or many), a group of substantially established aggregates large enough to be seen ought to be substantially established as well. If not, at what magnitude do the particles become unestablished? (We will use an inverse form of this argument to poke holes in the western concept of particle-based existence.) Bhavaviveka's assertion that sense consciousnesses are generally non-mistaken due to perceiving an object that is objectively established as a composite of particles is similar to the position of the Sautrantikas. Although the Sautrantikas assert that sense objects exist ultimately, while Bhavaviveka says they are only conventionally existent, the similarity in conception of external objects is the basis for calling Bhavaviveka's system Sautrantika-Svatantrika-Madhyamika.

Again, Bhavaviveka states that external objects exist conventionally by way of their own character, and so a sense consciousness can correctly perceive an object. According to Lopez, it is Tsongkapa's conclusion that "since Bhavaviveka asserts that each particle in a composite of particles serves as a cause of a sense consciousness and that each of the particles is substantially existent and seems to assert that each particle is final (that is, most subtle), Bhavaviveka asserts that partless particles are observed-object-conditions of sense consciousnesses". (17) However, the notion of 'partless particles' (not 'minute particles') runs counter to the lack of being one or many and the doctrine of dependent arising. It seems unlikely that Bhavaviveka would have overlooked such an obvious point. This statement of Tsongkapa's is an essential part of the Prasangika contention that Svatantrikas assert existence by way of own character, so perhaps there is some overlooked contradiction here in their claim.

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Copyright © 2005 Dan Haig