First time trying this. Much Metta to all beings here. I've been studying and meditating on a Mahayana based sutra for months, which is quite detailed in philosophy. I don't seem to understand the meaning of a particular passage.

"Now, Mahāmati, false discrimination rises from form (nimitta). How, Mahāmati, does it rise from form? In [the consideration of] the relativity aspect of Svabhāva, realities appear in various ways, as having forms, signs, and shapes; when, Mahāmati, these objects, forms, and signs are adhered to [as real], this adherence takes place in two ways. The Tathagatas, Arhats, and Fully-Enlightened Ones thus declare false discrimination to consist in attachment to names and attachment to objects. By the attachment to objects is meant, Mahāmati, to get attached to inner and external things [as realities]..."

-Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter II, Suzuki Translation.

I'm confused on what it means by attaching to objects as realities. Thoughts? Thank you!

2 Answers 2


What are objects?
Worldly things, for ex. 'Table'. or 'Car'.

If we divide them to parts, is that 'thing' exist further?
can we say that 'thing' exist before divide to parts?
So that 'things' are considered as 'forms'(nimitta).

The 'things'(forms) has signs('name') and shapes('rupa'/form/object).

We believe(adhere to) these 'things' are real objects.
This is called false discrimination (attachment to names and attachment to objects).

This adherence takes place in two ways.('ajjhattaṃ'- Internal and 'bahiddhā'- External). As shown in 'Sathipattana sutta'

.....In this way they meditate by observing an aspect of the body inside; they meditate by observing an aspect of the body outside; they meditate by observing an aspect of the body inside and outside.

(In Pali: Iti ajjhattaṃ vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, ajjhat­ta­bahid­dhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati;)

So what is "get attached to inner and external things [as realities]..."
Inner things - person, I, Myself, Me, Body etc.
External things - others, they, He/s ,It etc.

  • 1
    Thank you! I like how you stated that we think things are real objects by discrimination, but when divided it doesn't exist.~
    – Maxwell T.
    Oct 19, 2015 at 1:22
  • The illusion is we believe after divided, the parts are exist. @MaxwellT. But the parts and whole both mind made.
    – Shrawaka
    Oct 19, 2015 at 1:34
  • The delusion is subject and object are real. By experience this nature can bypass the bondage of 'is'. There is 'state' not producing 'world' or anything.
    – Shrawaka
    Oct 19, 2015 at 9:10

Our experience of reality is made by the mind. We don't experience the world directly, instead our mind builds models - and this is what we experience, assuming that to be reality. You would think our models are more or less accurate except some small details - but no, not at all. They are like flat 2D cross-sections of the multi-dimensional reality. They are not just simplifications, they are more like schematics, like wire-frames.

What we habitually assume to be solid entities are mind-made wire-frames. Buddhism teaches that all entities are not solid (we say they are "coreless" or "empty" - shunya). What does this mean?

If you don't think of objects point-in-time, but watch the whole thing over time, you'll see that what you assume to be entities are really just temporary arrangements of various parts set in motion by chains of causes. So entities are just point in time assemblies of trajectories of causes traversing space-time. In addition to causes, there are also ambient conditions necessary for existence of certain entities: pressure, gravity, electromagnetic field, temperature etc. All of these: parts, causes that got them together at this place and time and ambient conditions that keep them together for now - is what we call components of objects. All objects are compound aggregates of components. Traditional term for this is Pali sankharo (Sanksrit samskara) - literally "co-made", made-up by many constituents.

If you think about the above really well, you may realize that the threads of causation I describe above are not really linear. Instead, there is a network of causes and conditions, infinitely forking, joining, and interacting. Depending on the level of observation and on the context the mind will delineate different entities. You are familiar with physical, chemical, biological, electromagnetic, informational levels of observation. These are all different ways to see the same reality. So your experience of entities always depends on you, the observer - providing the level and context, making the delineation, making the interpretation. And what are you, the observer? It is also a temporary arrangement of factors (physical, biological, social, informational etc.)! So what happens in the moment when experience of so-called reality takes place, is that many factors come together to create the so-called "external"/"objective" and the so-called "internal"/"subjective" components of the experience. So what we perceive as objects or entities at the moment the experience takes place are temporary arrangements of physical factors, assembled into a coherent experience by temporary arrangements of mental (experiential) factors - which themselves are temporary arrangements of factors! Actually, physical factors and mental/informational factors are not two different types of factors, they are two sides of the same coin. We say, "form is emptiness and emptiness is form". Nothing solid to rely on at all! This situation is known as "Emptiness" (Shunya-ta).

Besides physical objects, let's not forget that our lives are full of entities of other kind: abstract concepts. Do you know how many times people killed each other because of disagreement about the concepts? And yet, very few seem to realize the obvious: that abstract concepts don't and can never have well-defined meaning. They are just labels that make sense in relation to other labels that we arbitrarily designate. So concepts, ideas are not solid either. They have different meaning depending on context and on who uses it and for what. These dependencies of the concepts serve the role equivalent to the role of causes and conditions that physical objects depend on. We say that both so-called physical objects as well as concepts are both "compound" or "conditioned" phenomena (sankharas) - they are aggregates of factors, with label (nama - name) stamped on top.

One of such entities is "I" - we assume there is something stable, but there is no such thing - only factors, only trajectories, only forces interacting. There is no "internal" vs "external" world (that this separation is a mind-made fiction is proven by the fact that your "internal" is "external" for me). Objectively, there is no "internal" vs "external" - only an infinite field of interacting factors.

Unfortunately most people assume all types of entities (objects, groups, concepts, "I", etc.) to have solid identity that can be relied on (traditional term for this is "existence-by-itself" - svabhava). Not just assume, they insist that their delineation/interpretation of entities is the reality. This is what the sutra calls attaching to external & internal objects" and "attaching to names (concepts, labels, identities)".

  • Abbidamma use 'Vidyamana' instead of 'svabhava' in Theravada.
    – Shrawaka
    Oct 18, 2015 at 6:09
  • 1
    Thank you! I am grateful for your long but insightful answer. I am starting to understand what the Buddha meant when he taught that objects don't really exist, or at least not as we think of them. The idea of self or "I" is responsible for subject-object duality as you said, since it divides experiences into "mine, me, I" and "other, this, that." which is the experiencer and that being experienced. But I think you touched upon it well when you said that this is only an illusion produced by mind, and that really all things are interconnected. Object arises from subject, and vice versa.
    – Maxwell T.
    Oct 19, 2015 at 1:21

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