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The context for this question is contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Monastic debate and associated definitions as practiced at Sera Je Monastic University. I'm looking for answers according to the specific definitions and system of jargon used in that context.

In Tibetan Buddhist monastic debate according to The Course in Buddhist Reasoning and Debate an existent is defined as, "that which is realized by a valid cognizer."

I'm asking whether under such a definition a dream object - such as a snake - is considered an existent or a non-existent such as the son of a barren woman.

I believe that it must be considered an existent as it is known by a directly perceiving mental consciousness given the above context. The same can be said of a face in the mirror although in this case it is directly perceived by the eye consciousness. Is this true from viewpoint of above context? Is it true from the Prasangika viewpoint?

I posit that a dream snake and a snake I perceive in waking life are both conventionally existent. Further, that neither are ultimately existent. And that neither are real except from the perspective of a worldly consciousness. That is, they are both equally unreal. Is this true from the Prasangika viewpoint?

If not, please give reasons according to the context mentioned above.

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A dream object is an existent, since it is apprehended by a conventional valid cognizer, that is a conventional cognizer that is not subject to any of the four superficial causes of error.

A dream object is a phenomena source. It is apprehended by mental consciousnesses (except in the continuum of a buddha).

According to Geshe Tenzin Tenphel, a dream consciousness is necessarily a non-conceptual perceiver, while Geshe Lobsang Jamphel says that a dream consciousness can be either non-conceptual or conceptual. Either way, a dream consciousness apprehending a dream car as a dream car is valid with regard to the entity of the object it apprehends.

The reflection of a face in the mirror is also an existent. Unlike the dream object, it is not a phenomena source but form. While it is empty of being an actual face, it is not empty of being a reflection. It is in the entity of a reflection. A consciousness apprehending it as a reflection is valid with regard to the entity of the thing. On the other hand, a consciousness apprehending a mirage as actual water is wrong with regard to the entity of the thing, but that does not make the mirage a non-existent.

According to Prasangika-Madhyamika, conventional truths are not real. However, they are real in relation to the world in that, in the perspective of an ordinary being, they exist the way they appear. That is also why we say: of both truths (conventional and ultimate), only ultimate truths are actually truths. Conventional truths are only truths in relation to a consciousness that is wrong with regard to the mode of existence of phenomena.

  • Thank you. Why do you feel it necessary to embolden that both are real from the perspective of a worldly consciousness? Moreover, I would dispute that a worldly consciousness would consider the dream snake real. Rather, I think that most people would insist that the dream snake is unreal so as to emphasize the concrete reality of the waking snake. – Yeshe Tenley Apr 17 '18 at 20:23
  • Welcome. Most people might insist that a dream snake is unreal, but Prasangika mean something else with 'real'. A phenomena that is real is a phenomena that appears the way it exists. That's why, respecting the jargon, I'd say 'a dream snake is empty of being an actual snake', but (1) it exists conventionally (2) it is as unreal as any other conventional truth. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '18 at 20:40
  • Je Tsongkhapa in the Middle-length Lamrim: Since in the Madhyamikas’ own system the two appearances of reflections, and so forth, and blue, and so forth, to those who possess ignorance do not differ with respect to whether they are mistaken or not in relation to their appearing object, they do not make a division into the two — real and unreal conventionalities. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '18 at 21:08
  • I think there was a misunderstanding in my first comment above. What I was disputing was this line: "they are real in relation to the world" where I took "they" to specify the rope and the snake. My dispute was with the contention that a dream snake is considered real in relation to the world. However, upon rereading I think you meant "they" to refer to conventional truths. Also, can you provide a link or source for the last comment quoting Je Tsongkhapa? I do not understand the context of this quote or how it is relevant. – Yeshe Tenley Apr 18 '18 at 13:18
  • Indeed, "they" referred to conventional truths. But since the dream snake is a conventional truth, a dream snake is real in relation to the world. In the analogy of the rope and the snake, the rope is real in relation to the world while the snake imputed on it is utterly non-existent. In addition, since you said 'most people might insist that a dream snake is unreal' I quoted Tsongkhapa to stress the point that what we mean with 'real' is entirely different. Therefore, the paragraph in which you say "That is, they are both equally unreal. Is this true from the Prasangika viewpoint?" is right. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 18 '18 at 13:42
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Alright, lets give this a shot.

Lets write down a chain of how reality is perceived before we start. That way, we can understand where this question lies on the spectrum of experience.

The fundamental nature of reality of an unenlightened being is described as thus:

  1. Nirvana exists.
  2. All experience is born through Nirvana.
  3. Experience is conceptualized as a false self. The illusion of consciousness is created.
  4. A false self "observes" the same experience in item 2.
  5. All "non-self" experience is conceptualized.
  6. Conceptualized experience is labeled as an "existent" or "non-existent".

I believe that it must be considered an existent as it is known by a directly perceiving mental consciousness. The same can be said of a face in the mirror although in this case it is directly perceived by the eye consciousness. Is this true?

Consciousness is an illusion, and therefore, I disagree with your belief. Consciousness is a part of the illusion of a separate, permanent self. If I understand your definition of "existent" correctly, then I would say anything you directly experience is considered an existent, with the exception of Nirvana. Nirvana can not be experienced, but it can be realized. Therefore Nirvana is an existent.

I posit that a dream snake and a snake I perceive in waking life are both conventionally existent.

Yes. There is no difference in how our "waking sight" and "dream sight" operate. Both are nothing more than experience coming through our 6 sense doors. Anything that is experienced, is an existent. You can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell both a dream-snake and snake. You can not directly perceive the son of a barren woman through sight, sound, taste, touch, or scent, but you can conceptualize about the son of a barren woman. You can experience thoughts about the concept of a son of a barren woman. These thoughts are absolutely an existent.

Further, that neither are ultimately existent. And that neither are real. That is, they are both equally unreal. Is this true?

What you are observing here, if I understand you correctly, is what is called emptiness. All experience is. No experience has any qualitative aspects. No experience holds any meaning. No experience holds any wisdom. No experience holds any concepts. No experience holds any truth. It is not that snakes are not real. Our experience of any type of snake is real, waking or dreaming. They are both equally empty. There is only experience. We single out one aspect of experience and say "this is a snake!" A snake is nothing more than an interpretation of experience. A snake is the conceptualization of only a small aspect of experience. A snake is just a concept that we use to label experience. A label is empty. Just a word or idea. A concept can be realized, but that doesn't mean there is something behind the concept.

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    Thank you for your answer. The question I'm asking is hard to answer if you are unfamiliar with the specific jargon used and the rules/customs regarding that jargon. In a way, the question is a request for help to understand the way in which a single definition is understood to be used by these rules/customs. – Yeshe Tenley Apr 17 '18 at 20:18

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