What follows is a review of the four foundations of mindfulness of bodies, feelings, mental states, and phenomena. Through closely attending to and analyzing bodies, feelings, mental states, and phenomena generally a Buddhist practitioner is able to see that all things are marked by impurity (in that there everything has elements that we do not care for or even actively dislike), suffering (in the sense that even pleasant experiences, let alone the unpleasant, are not able to provide unchanging or complete satisfaction), impermanence (exemplified by our constantly changing mental states), and no-self (the lack of an independent and unchanging self-nature). Śāntideva will examine each of these four foundations to see if any of them can be identified as a Self or as having a self-nature.

Śāntideva begins by observing that no part of the body in isolation is worthy of being identified with as the Self. The six consciousnesses of the five physical senses and the mental consciousness of thoughts and feelings, which are just fields of awareness of passing phenomena, are also disqualified as being the Self.

“The teeth, hair, or nails are not I, nor is the bone, nor am I the blood, neither the mucus nor the phlegm, nor the pus nor the synovial fluid. I am neither the marrow nor the sweat. I am neither the lymph nor the intestines. I am not the rectum, nor am I the excrement or the urine. I am neither the flesh nor the sinews. I am neither heat nor wind. I am neither the orifices nor, in any way, the six consciousnesses.” (IX.57-59)

 The argument now turns against the proponents of Sāṃkhya, one of the six schools of orthodox Vedic philosophy in India because they might argue that one of the six sense consciousnesses is indeed the Self or the evidence of a transcendent Self interacting with material nature. The Sāṃkhya are dualists who believe that reality can be divided between persons (S. puruṣa) who are bare consciousnesses and nature or material reality (S. prakṛti), composed of three threads or “qualities” (S. guṇa) of purity (S. sattva), passion (S. rajas), and darkness (S. tamas). According to the Sāṃkhya, the person or Self is consciousness which falsely identifies with material nature and its qualities and thereby becomes bound to samsara. Even the intellect and ego-consciousness are products of this interaction and are not actually the person or true Self, which is just consciousness. In order to attain liberation, the person must overcome the ignorance which causes false identification with the ego-consciousness and even the intellect. Freedom comes from isolation of the eternal pure consciousness which is the true Self from material nature and all its products. The theoretical underpinnings of the Yoga school of orthodox Vedic philosophy and practice are very similar to those of Sāṃkhya, though Yoga is more theistic in that its practices can include devotion to a deity (S. īśvara).

 Śāntideva observes that if a permanent Self were auditory consciousness, then sound would always be heard, but there is not always something to hear. If consciousness has no object it might as well be a block of wood. Now consciousness might be conscious of something else besides sound, but how can auditory consciousness also be visual consciousness? The assumption here is that for consciousness to be an unchanging independent Self it must also be constant in how it is experienced, and not something intermittent or with a changing object of awareness. (IX.60–63)

The Sāṃkhya try to argue that a single consciousness can have different objects, in the same way a person can be both a father and a son. Śāntideva points out that the analogy of a person being both a father to one person and a son to someone else depends on external relations, but the Sāṃkhya teach that their alleged primal nature has no such external relations, and its three alleged qualities of purity, passion, and darkness are supposed to be internal constituents. The bottom line is that a visual consciousness is not the same thing as a sound consciousness. (IX.63-64) Śāntideva rather sarcastically remarks:

  “If you say consciousness is like an actor taking on different roles, then it is like no simple unchanging thing I have ever heard of. What is the one unchanging thing that it is? If its simply the quality of being consciously aware, then one consciousness would be all consciousnesses, there would be no way to distinguish them. Even consciousness and unconsciousness would just be different modes of the same thing. If differences are false, then there can be no meaningful distinctions or even identifications.” (IX.65-67)

 In other words, it makes no sense to talk about consciousness apart from processes and discreet moments of awareness of particular sensory objects. Consciousness is a provisional phenomena that always arises on a different basis as distinct series of conscious moments with different objects. It is not a singular independent unchanging thing. In the above remarks, Śāntideva points out that even the Sāṃkhya admit that distinctions can be made between the consciousnesses of different people, therefore it is not a ubiquitous entity with no distinguishing characteristics. So consciousness is better thought of as more like a wave that rises and falls depending on the interactions of water, wind, shifting currents, and other factors than an inert lump of wax waiting for an impression.

Śāntideva then turns his attention to the view of the Self held by the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools of orthodox Vedic philosophy that dealt with metaphysics, logic, and epistemology. Both of those schools believe the Self is a non-material, all-pervasive, independent, unchanging substance that can possesses consciousness, but is not itself consciousness. Oddly, the Nyāya also think that the Self, though all-pervasive, is only the size of a particle. Consciousness is also a material particle that the Self can possess to relate it to the world. Obviously, Śāntideva finds these ideas incoherent. He argues that a Self that is not conscious can no more be thought of as a Self than an inanimate insentient object such as cloth. If having consciousness is integral to the existence of a Self then it follows that when it stops being conscious of something it perishes. If the Self is in fact unchanged whether or not it is has consciousness, then why should it possess consciousness at all? Something which is unconscious and does not partake in any activity is really no different than space. (IX.68-69)

Before returning to the analysis of the body, Śāntideva anticipates objections to the assertion that a Self cannot be found.

 “If you argue that the connection of action and consequence is not possible without a Self, for ‘If the agent of the action has perished who experiences the consequence?’, we say: For both of us it is established that actions and consequences happen at different times and places. Now an unchanging self is not affected by changing contexts, so on this we are agreed. Can the same person act and receive the consequence in the same moment? Such an occurrence is never seen. It is taught that there is an agent and an experiencer of the consequence in terms of a unity of the continuum of consciousness.” (IX.70-72)

The conflict here is that the opponent is assuming that only a Self can maintain the continuity between cause and effect, but the contradiction is that an eternal, independent, unchanging, and singular Self would not be affected by change, and cause and effect is all about the process of changing circumstances and activities. What makes the connection is the continuity of the flowing stream of consciousness, not an unchanging Self.

The proposed Self, then, is not findable. Echoing chapter 18 of the Diamond Sūtra, wherein the Buddha says, “…past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped, and future mind cannot be grasped,” Śāntideva says, “The past or future mind is not ‘I’ since that does not exist. If the present mind is ‘I’ then, when it has ceased, the ‘I’ does not exist any more.” (IX.73)

In the Samyutta-nikaya (Connected Discourses) the Buddha compared the five aggregates that are mistaken for a Self (or as pertaining to or possessed of a Self) to things that are ephemeral or (in the case of the plantain trunk) not possessing a solid core to show that all of them are empty of a Self.

 “Form is like a lump of foam,

Feeling like a water bubble;

Perception is like a mirage,

Volitions like a plantain trunk,

And consciousness like an illusion,

So explained the Kinsman of the Sun.

“However one may ponder it

And carefully investigate it,

It appears hollow and void

When one views it carefully.”

(SN 22.95)

Likewise, Śāntideva says, “Just as the trunk of a banana tree is nothing when split into pieces, in the same way too, the ‘I’ is not a real entity when hunted out analytically.” (IX.74)

Another objection that Śāntideva anticipates is how a bodhisattva can cultivate compassion if there are no sentient beings to be compassionate towards because there is no Self or selves. He answers, “For anyone projected through the delusion which is embraced for the sake of what has to be done.” (IX.75) In other words, the bodhisattva deliberately maintains the conventional or provisional view that there are sentient beings to be saved in order to develop compassion and act on it. But the opponent might then object: “Whose is the task to be done, if there is no being?” If the bodhisattva does not exist, then who is doing anything? To which Śāntideva responds, “True, moreover the effort is made in delusion, but, in order to bring about an end to suffering, the delusion of what has to be done is not prevented. So the bodhisatva is also, for a time, provisionally asserting his or her own existence in order to develop themselves so that ultimately all delusion can be transcended. The Tiantai view, however, sees provisional existence as one part of the three truths that implicate each other, and not as a delusion ultimately negated when buddhahood is attained. The truth of provisional existence when completely understood is not in contradiction to the truth of emptiness but rather a different perspective on it. Those to be liberated and the bodhisattva who compassionately makes efforts to liberate them are empty of intrinsic existence precisely because their existence is provisionally established on the basis causes and conditions rather than intrisically or inherently. The deep understanding of one is therefore the deep understanding of the other, and of the Middle Way that does not get stuck on either emptiness or provisionality but recognizes that they mutually illuminate one another.

Whereas Śāntideva’s position is that temporarily indulging the delusion that he or she is a being who can cultivate themselves to relieve the sufferings of sentient beings is helpful in providing a compassionate focus for practice, he does not advocate indulging in the false view that there is a Self. “However, egotism, which is the cause of suffering, increases from the delusion that there is a Self, and, if this is the unavoidable result of that, it is better to meditate on no-Self.” (IX.77)

At this point, Śāntideva returns to the contemplation of the body as an abstraction and not an inherently existent thing or the basis for believing that there is a Self. There is no “body” because you can only point to parts. “Body” is only an abstraction based upon the parts in a particular configuration. Everything can be analyzed in this way, even atoms. When analyzed, bodies are just like dreams, so how can there be a woman or man existing as a simple unconditioned entity? Anything that depends on other factors or is composed of other things does not have a self-nature. The conclusion is that body or form is empty. (IX.78-87)

Feelings, the second of the four foundations of mindfulness, are also empty of self-nature. Śāntideva observes that feelings come and go. It doesn’t make sense to speak of a previous feeling as still existing if another feeling is being experienced. Analysis of such mistaken assumptions as that of a feeling remaining even when it is not felt is the nourishment of contemplative practice. (IX.88-92)

Since feelings arise from contact, Śāntiva goes on to address the view that ultimately things can be analyzed into partless unchanging minute particles and that it is these particles that contact one another and give rise to feeling. If the sense faculty and the sense object are ultimately indivisible particles, then they could not contact one another in part, because they have no parts. Nor could they contact each other by merging as one, because then they would become the same entity, so again you could not talk about one thing in contact with another. (IX.93-94) He asks, “How can we explain contact if things are are composed of unchanging indivisible particles?” (IX.95)

Furthermore, how can there be contact between a non-physical consciousness and a physical object? Or how could there be contact with a “body,” which has already been shown to be an abstraction and not an entity with its own self-nature. If it doesn’t make sense to talk about contact between two indivisible separate entities that inherently exist, how does it make sense to talk about the feelings that arise from contact as an indivisible entity or Self that inherently exists and not as something composite and relational? This contemplation is meant to undercut craving for feelings that cannot inherently exist but only arise depending upon the seeing and touching by a self which is like a dream or illusion. (IX.96-99)

Śāntideva also argues that we never experience feelings at the time they arise. Consciousness arises in response to something that precedes it. Such a pre-existing phenomena can be the object that the arising consciousness is aware of. Consciousness cannot arise as the awareness of something that is not yet there. Therefore, a feeling cannot be the object of the consciousness that is arising simultaneously with it in the present moment. A past feeling can be the object of awareness of a subsequent moment of consciousness as a memory, and a possible future feeling can be anticipated, but the feeling that arises in the present moment along with the present moment of conscious awareness is never directly felt. If an actual feeling (not just a memory or anticipation) is never experienced, it can be concluded that there is no inherently existing feeling and also no inherently existing Self that feeling can afflict. (IX.99-101)

Mental states or mind, the third of the four foundations of mindfulness, is the next to be revealed as empty. Śāntideva says:

“The mind is not positioned in the sense faculties, nor in form or the other aggregates, nor in the space in between. The mind is found neither internally nor externally, nor anywhere else either. What is not in the body nor elsewhere, neither intermingled nor separate anywhere, that is nothing. Therefore living beings are inherently liberated.” (IX.102-103)

Mind as a phenomena is a very difficult thing to locate and account for, so Śāntideva concludes that it is also empty of any kind of self-nature that can be isolated or grasped as a thing or entity. It is therefore not something that can be an object for attachment, and in this sense it can be said that living beings are inherently liberated, because there is not any actual thing that inherently exists which binds or can be bound. This perspective on the elusiveness of the mind is dramatized in the meeting between Bodhidharma (c. 5th-6th century CE) and his successor Dazu Huike (487-593):

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it”

Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”

Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”

“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”

(Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings by Andy Ferguson, p. 20)

This way of contemplating the nature of the mind also something that appears in a writing attributed to Nichiren called “On Attaining Buddhahood” wherein the writer explains the meaning of the characters that compose the daimoku or title of the Lotus Sūtra in Chinese which in Japanese are pronounced Myōhō-renge-kyō:

“What then does myō signify? It is simply the wondrous nature of our life from moment to moment, which the mind cannot comprehend or words express. When we look into our own mind at any moment, we perceive neither color nor form to verify that it exists. Yet we still cannot say it does not exist, for many differing thoughts continually occur. The mind cannot be considered either to exist or not to exist. Life is indeed an elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor nonexistence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the wondrous entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality. Myō is the name given to the wondrous nature of life, and (S. dharma), to its manifestations. Renge, which means lotus flower, is used to symbolize the wonder of the Dharma. If we understand that our life at this moment is myō, then we will also understand that our life at other moments is the Wonderful Dharma. This realization is the wondrous kyō, or sutra.”

Śāntideva next explores the relationship between mind and phenomena, the fourth of the four foundations of mindfulness, in terms of which arises first or if they arise together.

 “If consciousness exists prior to what is cognized, on what basis does it come into existence? If you argue that consciousness arises simultaneously with the object perceived, on what basis does it come into existence? If it arises after the thing to be cognized, then from what does the consciousness arise? In this way, it is demonstrated that no phenomenon comes into existence.” (IX.104-105)

The problem is how causality is conceived. For something to cause or condition something else, it must be prior to that other thing, not simultaneous with it or appearing afterwards. On the other hand, if phenomena is only momentary, what exists in a previous moment is gone in the next, so how can it cause or condition what follows it? Śāntideva concludes that there is no temporal arrangement that can make sense of how consciousness and phenomena arise. Mind and phenomena, therefore, are both empty of inherent existence. The point of this is that taking a granular view that divides everything up into inherently existing parts, even if they are as minute as atoms or sub-atomic particles, and into fleeting moments of time that can be rigidly divided into past present, and future, cannot account for reality. All things that one might examine are seen to be products of dependent origination and empty of inherent existence.

The debate turns in verses 40-56 to the question of whether the Mahāyāna sūtras and the teaching of emptiness they convey is authentic and whether it is necessary for attaining liberation. The hīnayānist states, “Liberation comes from understanding the [Four Noble] Truths,” and then asks, “What is the point of understanding emptiness?” Śāntideva appeals to the testimony of the Mahāyāna sūtras, saying, “The reason is that scripture states that there is no awakening without this path.” The hīnayānist, however, does not accept the Mahāyāna sūtras as canonical and asks, “Surely Mahāyāna scripture is not established?” Śāntideva replies, “In what way is your scripture established?” The hīnayānist says, “Because it is established for both of us.” In other words, all Buddhists accept the pre-Mahāyāna sūtras as canonical. Śāntideva points out that “It was not established for you at first! Apply your criteria for the acceptance of it to Mahāyāna scripture also. If something is accepted by two different parties even texts such as the Vedas would be true. If your objection is that Mahāyāna scripture is controversial, reject your own scripture since it is contested by non-Buddhists, and any part in that scripture contested by your own people or others.” The point here is that it is not the number of people who agree or disagree that something is authentic, the criteria is the validity and efficacy of what is taught.

Śāntideva then criticizes the arhats, saying that because they do not contemplate and realize emptiness they are still deluded.

“The dispensation is rooted in the monkhood and the monkhood itself is imperfectly established. Even the enlightenment of those whose minds grasp onto entities is imperfectly established. If your objection is that liberation results from the destruction of the defilements, then it should happen immediately afterwards. Yet one can see the power over them even of undefiled action. If you put forward the argument that they have no craving leading to grasping, our response is: Even if their craving is undefiled, does it not exist as delusion? Feeling causes craving, and they do have feeling. A mind which has objects will get stuck on one or another. Without emptiness a mind is fettered and arises again, as in the meditative attainment of non-perception. Therefore one should meditate on emptiness.” (IX.44-48)

He says this because the arhats are recorded as still being under the power of old habits, and even though they are free of the obstacle of the defilements of greed, hatred, and more obvious forms of delusion by realizing no-self, they have not yet broken through the obstacle to knowledge (or the obstacle of clinging to lesser knowledge) by realizing emptiness. Therefore they still have not freed themselves of fundamental ignorance and still have attachment for nirvana and aversion for samsara.

He goes on to say:

“You accept that whatever text might be in accordance with the discourses was spoken by the Buddha. So why are the Mahāyāna scriptures not accepted as equal in value to your own discourses? If the whole is faulted because one part is not accepted, why not treat the lot as spoken by the Conqueror because a single part is the same as in the discourses? Who will bar acceptance of the teaching over which those led by Mahākāśyapa hesitated, simply because you do not understand it?” (IX.49-51)

Śāntideva is pointing out that it doesn’t make sense to accept or reject everything simply because you accept or reject one part. It also doesn’t make sense to reject something simply because you don’t understand it at first, as Mahākāśyapa and the other arhats admitted to doing in the Lotus Sūtra.

In conclusion he says:

“Remaining in cyclic existence for the benefit of those suffering through delusion is achieved through freedom from the two extremes, attachment to nirvana and fear of samsara. This is the fruit of emptiness. So, that being the case, there is no valid objection to the emptiness position. Therefore, emptiness should be meditated upon without reservation. Since emptiness is the countermeasure to the darkness of the obstacle to knowledge and the obstacle of the defilements, how is it that one who desires omniscience does not make haste to meditate upon it? Granted that something which causes suffering causes fear – but emptiness allays suffering. So why does it cause fear? Granted, too, fear may come from any quarter whatsoever if there is something called ‘I.’ If your position is that there is no ‘I,’ who can be afraid?” (IX.52-56)

So there is no reason to fear emptiness, because it is emptiness that frees those who contemplate it from fear and its contemplation is necessary to follow the way of the bodhisattva. Even hīnayānists have no good reason to fear emptiness because they agree that there is no self that can be harmed by it.

Śāntideva states, “Merit comes from a Conqueror who is like an illusion in the same way as it would if he was truly existent.” (IX.9) In other words, you do not need to posit the inherent existence of even the Buddha for there to be merit and demerit. Merit and demerit are dependently originated and have no inherent existence, but they are certainly phenomena that are experienced.

This leads to the first question, which is “If all is illusory, how can there be karma and rebirth?” This is considered to be asked by hīnayāna Buddhists who believe that the dharmas intrinsically exist. The reply, “Even an illusion persists for as long as the concurrences of its causes” (IX.10) means that while inherent existence is illusory, there is certainly a continuum of states that nominally can be called a sentient being.

The next question is asked by an advocate of the Consciousness-Only school of Buddhism. “If consciousness does not exist, then there is no evil in, for example, murdering an illusory man.” (IX.11) Does the teaching of emptiness really mean that we are unreal in the same way that characters in a video game are unreal? If this is true, then killing other people would be of no more consequence than killing people in a video game. The response of Śāntideva points out that the crucial difference is that living beings are sentient, they can feel fear and pain. (IX.11) The ability to feel and think does not make sentience any less illusory. In other words, while a crucial difference morally, sentience is still dependently originated and not inherently existentent.

The Consciousness-Only advocate is convinced, however, that consciousness is the one thing that is real. The advocate responds, “An illusory conscious mind is not possible, since spells and the like cannot produce such an illusion.” (IX.12) Today we might also argue, that since we do not have the technology to create actual sentience or an authentic AI, so the sentience of living beings is not illusory the way video game characters are, therefore the analogy that sentient beings are like illusions is false. There must be some quality of consciousness that is truly real because we cannot replicate it. However, Śāntideva replies, “Illusions are of different kinds, arising from different causes. Nowhere is there a single cause which has the power to produce everything.” (IX. 12-13) The point of the analogy is not that sentient beings are merely magical illusions or like video game characters (which pushes the analogy too hard). The point is that sentient beings can seem to be one way (inherently existent) but actually be another (caused and conditioned). Like video game characters, sentient beings arise due to causes and conditions, but unlike video game characters the causes and conditions are of a kind that produces sentience, a kind that is so complex that even today we are still not able to replicate true sentience.

 The Consciousness-Only advocate then asks:

“If one liberated according to ultimate truth remains subject to cyclic existence according to conventional truth, then, in that case, even a Buddha would be subject to cyclic existence. So what is the point of the path of conduct leading to Awakening?” (IX.13-14)

In other words, ultimately everything is empty of inherent existence and there is no bondage to samsara or liberation through nirvana, but conventionally there is the experience of the sufferings of samsara and the liberation of nirvana. The question can be restated as, “If we are ultimately already free of samsara because everything is only emptiness, then why practice Buddhism?” Śāntideva responds, “Because illusion is not stopped unless its causes are stopped, whereas, even according to conventional truth, illusion is not possible when its causes are destroyed.” (IX.14-15) It is a mistake to think that even though ultimately samsaric existence is not intrinsic existence, that does not mean we do not need to practice to get rid of delusion. Delusions are not inherently existent but they will persist if their causes and conditions persist. Buddhist practice will prevent the causally conditioned arising of delusion, and thus samsara. There is no contradiction between the ultimate lack of inherent existence and the causally conditioned persistent delusion that beings and things have inherent existence and therefore can be objects of attachments or aversion, and this delusion can be eliminated by eliminating its causes. The Tiantai view of this would be that illusions will not completely cease to exist, but will be transformed into magical displays of skillful means utilized by the advanced bodhisattvas and buddhas who have awakened to their lack of inherent existence. The view presented by Śāntideva seems to be the view of the ultimate as “mere emptiness.”

The Consciousness-Only school then asks, “When even false perception does not exist, by what is illusion perceived?” (IX.15) In other words, the Consciousness-Only school insists that there needs to be a real perceiver, or mind, even if there are no real objects but only illusory objects. Śāntideva asks in return, “When, according to you, illusion itself does not exist, what is perceived?” to which the Consciousness-Only advocate replies, “It is an aspect of the mind itself, even if it is different from reality.” (IX.16) In other words, the inherently existing mind mistakenly perceives itself as the multitude of external objects. Śāntideva then replies, “If illusion is the same as the mind, what is seen by what? Moreover, it is taught by the Protector of the world that mind does not perceive mind.” (IX.17) The claim that mind perceives (or misperceives) itself doesn’t make sense because the subjective mind cannot make of itself an object, and there is nothing else for it to perceive according to the Consciousness-Only school. The point here is that experience arises due to the causes and conditions of a relation between a perceiving subject and a perceived object and neither of those needs to be inherently existent for there to be such a relationship. In fact, perceiver and perceived can only be spoken of in terms of an interrelationship and so neither can simply be what it is without the other. To state this even more simply: a subject cannot objectify itself. Perception is always relational and therefore rules out the inherent existence (which is not relational but independent and unchanging) of either a subject or an object.

The argument about the ability of the mind to perceive itself continues in verses 18-22. Śāntideva uses two analogies. The first is of a knife that cannot cut itself. The second is of a flame or ray of light that cannot illuminate itself because it was never concealed in darkness in the first place. The Consciousness-Only advocate objects by appealing to a different analogy, that of a blue stone that is not made blue by something else. What is meant is that some things, like a blue stone, can confer a quality upon themselves, like blueness. Therefore, there can also be a consciousness that is simply conscious of itself. Śāntideva responds by pointing out that blue stones do not turn themselves blue or bring themselves into being, so the blue stone is not a valid example of independence or something conferring or turning its own quality upon itself. He continues to press the point that you need a mind to know that something is illuminated, but you cannot catch the subjective mind that knows as an object to be known. To speak of mind or consciousness in and of itself (without a relation of knower and known) is as nonsensical as speaking of a barren woman’s daughter. As soon as you turn the subject or knower into an object or something known, then it is no longer the subject or knower. The knower cannot be the known in the very same act of knowing. Consciousness is always consciousness of another. It could also be pointed out that what we know in any given moment is not even the present moment but the end product of a process of perception that began in a previous moment, even if the time lag is measured only in milliseconds. Again, the point is that consciousness cannot catch itself in the act of knowing.

The Consciousness-Only advocate then asks, “If there is no self-perception, how is consciousness remembered?” Śāntideva replies, “Memory comes from connection with another experience; just as a bear that wakes up from hibernation feels the effects of having been bitten by a shrew while it was asleep.” (IX.23) What the Consciousness-Only advocate is asking is how can we be self-conscious or self-aware if mind or consciousness doesn’t perceive itself. Śāntideva’s then uses the analogy of a hibernating bear that is unaware of being bitten by a shrew, but feels the effect of the bite when it awakens, which is to say that mind or consciousness only indirectly knows itself, as it remembers or is conscious of previous moments of being conscious of something else. It is not, however, directly aware of itself in the present moment, though the immediate past measured in milliseconds or even seconds ago may seem like the present moment.

The Consciousness-Only advocate then insists, “The mind must be able to perceive itself because it knows the existence of other minds, for instance through ESP gained through yogic concentration.” (IX.24) According to the sutras, one of the supernatural powers attained by yogic practitioners as well as arhats, advanced bodhisattvas, and buddhas is the ability to read the minds of others. The Consciousness-Only school takes this as proof that mind can perceive mind, but Śāntideva responds, “Seeing distant things does not necessarily mean you will see things that are closer, just as when you use a magic eye-balm that enables you to find buried treasure you will not see the balm itself.” (IX.24) A more contemporary analogy would be a contact lense that we do not see but which enables us to see other things more clearly. The point being that what enables perception may not itself be perceivable, so the psychic ability of a mind to perceive other minds does not prove that a mind can perceive itself.

Śāntideva then clarifies his position, saying:

“It is not the process of perception that is being contested here, but what is being refuted is the belief that the process involves anything with an inherent existence, as that is the cause of suffering. It is inconsistent to claim that illusory appearances are the same as the mind but also different. Just as an illusion can be experienced even though it is not real in the same way as it appears, the mind that perceives illusion is not real in the way it seems to be. You think that without inherent existence there would only be space and no knower or known, but if there is only mind, how do the supposed non-existent illusory appearances arise at all? If you depend on things beings inherently real, then in saying that only the mind is real that means it is always free of delusions, everyone is already a buddha and there is no point in following even the Consciousness-Only teaching.” (IX.25-29)

There is no need to establish an inherently existent real thing in order to establish the flow of causality, wherein there is delusion and awakening. In fact, trying to establish something as inherently real will instead lead to the kind of contradiction which is pointed out here – where Buddhism becomes unnecessary because only mind is said to be real and delusions are unreal so there cannot really be a deluded mind at all.

The Consciousness-Only advocate then asks, “Even if we recognize that everything is like an illusion, how does this help get rid of defilement, when lust for a woman who is an illusion still arises in the one who created her?” (IX.30) The issue here is whether or not it really does anyone any good to realize that everything is empty. Śāntideva responds:

“That happens because the influence of the defilements and what is cognized has not been destroyed in her creator, so that at the time of seeing her the influence of emptiness in him is weak. The influence of phenomena is removed by employing the influence of emptiness, and even that is later eradicated by inculcating the realization, ‘nothing really exists’ (in its own right, or inherently).” (IX.31-32)

This means that if we contemplate the truth of emptiness long enough we will overcome our instinctual assumption that there are instrinsically existing phenomena. Finally, we must realize that even emptiness is itself empty of any intrinsic existence as noted above. The Consciousness-Only advocate then asks, “But if nothing really exists then how do we perceive anything?” (IX.33) To which Śāntideva replies, “When neither an inherently existent entity (being) nor the non-existence of an entity (non-being) preoccupies the mind, since there is no other alternative, having nothing more to grasp, the mind becomes tranquil.” (IX.34) Basically, Śāntideva is saying that there is no need to worry about it. From the perspective of Buddhism, the important thing is not to figure out out how or why the process of perception works, which would be the proper subject for neurology, but how to overcome our attachment and aversion and above all the underlying instinctive assumption that there are real things with intrinsic existence to be attached to or have aversion for. When this instinctive assumption is overcome by realizing the truth of emptiness, then we will stop worrying about whether things really exist or not and will attain true peace of mind.

Śāntideva then states, “The Buddha is not a self either, he benefits others selflessly just as a wish-fulfilling gem or a magical tree, or an anti-poison pillar does.” (IX.35-37) To which the hīnayāna advocate rejoins, “How could worship offered to something which has no consciousness be beneficial?” (IX.38) Śāntideva replies, “Whether or not the Buddha is present or already achieved final nirvana, whether only an appearance or truly existent, worship of the Buddha is a meritorious act.” (IX.38-39) Like the Consciousness-Only advocate, the hīnayānist seems to equate the self with consciousness, but Śāntideva has already argued that it makes no sense to say that consciousness is a self or has a self-nature. Instead, he is pointing out that it is not the reality or instrinsic existence of the Buddha that matters, but the intention of the practitioner who has a high regard for the Buddha and what the Buddha represents. To have and express faith in the Three Treasures will lead to the bodhisattva being motivated to practice and achieve buddhahood. Put simply, it is not the kind of existence that counts (real or provisional), it is the thought that counts.