I have found a page in which a sravaka seems to object to a mahayanist that, if those that aren't ordinary people have no cognition, then it's ultimately correct to have sexual relations with a forbidden woman

If he says: Madhyamikas make statements such as the following: "[Cognition] is not in the eye, it is not in form, and it is not between them or in both of them. Wherever it might be present, it neither exists nor does not exist". So no cognition is apprehended.

The footnote says that the source of the quote is unclear, and not from MMK or Aryadeva. Bhavaviveka then seems to explain that the sravaka's conclusion, that forbidden women would then be ultimately correct to have sex with, is not proven, because it is no different to saying that all women can relieve desire: both are examples of improperly denying all things.

Bhavaviveka and his Buddhist Opponents p129

So, I think the general argument is that ultimate reality does not deny conventional reality. Even if distinctions do not ultimately exist, but do conventionally, that does not mean ultimate reality denies the truth of conventional distinctions. The difference is about being and not truth.

It may be worth noting that "non conceptual cognition" crops up a lot in the book, I think as the goal of Buddhist practice.

I'm not sure if I've misinterpreted the argument: did any Indian Mahayana Buddhists, such as Bhavaviveka, have non-cognition as a goal? And, would that mean they do not seek knowledge, or just that cognition is empty of svabhava?

  • Are you assuming that cognition is the only source of knowledge? It seems so. Emptiness might be a subject for cognition but knowledge of it would be a realisation. Buddhists seeks knowledge that is not available through pure cognition. To depend on cognition would be to fail to seek knowledge. . .
    – user14119
    Jan 4, 2019 at 10:30
  • It's difficult to answer a question about the phrase ("could the phrase only mean that...?") when you don't quote the phrase or find the book in which it's published. I'm thinking that if can find the book, then someone might explain what it's saying.
    – ChrisW
    Jan 31, 2019 at 19:31
  • 1
    that's what i'm asking for, a reference that says that @ChrisW
    – user2512
    Feb 1, 2019 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


Apparently that was Candrakīrti's position.

From Mario D'Amato's "Why Buddha Never Uttered A Word", quoting J.D. Dunne's study of Candrakīrti and Vose's study of Candrakīrti's commentator Jayānanda:

...As Dunne points out, for example, “Candrakīrti [c. 600–650 c.e.] holds strong views on the impossibility of a buddha having conceptual knowledge” (1996: 540). While, according to certain Buddhist thinkers, such as Dignāga (c. 480–540 c.e.) and Dharmakīrti (c. 600–660), perception is without conceptual construction, according to Candrakīrti’s view, “even raw sense data are in some sense conceptual,” so “at the highest state of understanding where one’s knowledge is completely nonconceptual, nothing appears at all” (ibid.: 544). Dunne goes on to specify that, according to Candrakīrti’s account of buddhahood, for buddhas “the fluctuations of mind and mental functions” have “completely ceased” (ibid.). Jayānanda (c. 1100), the only known Indian commentator on any of Candrakīrti’s works, affirms Candrakīrti’s account and “explains that enlightenment is a process of ‘not knowing’ and is characterized by the elimination of the knowing instrument, the mind” (Vose 2005: 191–192). (Footnote: Jayānanda writes, “Since enlightenment is by way of not knowing (anadhigama) at all, we assert that the activities of mind and mental factors— feeling and so forth—[all] having the character of experiencing, have ceased their engagement”.) But how can a mindless buddha teach the dharma? Dunne states that, according to Candrakīrti, “the dharma-kāya causes a didactic sound to emit from a buddha . . . [but] the production of this sound does not at all mean that a buddha is cognitively active” (1996: 549). Being mindless, a buddha is unable to use language in any ordinary sense; on this view, a buddha only appears to use language—what is actually occurring is that certain sounds emanating from a buddha are interpreted by unenlightened beings as words and language.

You can read the entire paper on academia.edu and it's included as a chapter in Mario D'Amato, Jay L. Garfield & Tom J. F. Tillemans (eds.), Pointing at the Moon: Buddhism, Logic, Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 41--55 (2009) - from where you can get the references to bibliography for Dunne and Vose works.

D'Amato has quite enough to say on "non conceptual cognition". If you are interested in that topic I suggest you check his this and other works. He provides interesting references too.

  • 1
    thanks for this!
    – user2512
    Mar 23, 2019 at 21:33
  • i find the interpretation a bit problematic, just because "nirvana with remainder" is a standard term, in theravada at least, and i thought signifies some residue of the skandhas
    – user2512
    Mar 23, 2019 at 21:53
  • Yeah, I suspect most real lineage Mahayanists would object to this idea, too.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Mar 23, 2019 at 22:08
  • yeah... i've read some scholarship on Jayānanda, and found it interesting at least
    – user2512
    Mar 23, 2019 at 22:13

Venerable Nāgārjuna says that "all dharmas’ true aspect is defined as mental activity’s and spoken language’s ending." (T1564.23c16)

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