A valid base

For things to exist, mere labeling by mind is not enough. There has to be a valid base. Not just any base—a valid base. Therefore, I cannot label my bell "car." This object can receive the label "bell," but not "car" or "airplane." It receives the label "bell’ by virtue of the way the valid base functions. Mere labeling by mind is not enough—there has to be a valid base. In the case of a bell, the base has to have a certain shape and perform the function of ringing. This is what validates it.

Furthermore, the valid base that is merely labeled "bell" by the mind should not be harmed by another’s valid mind. What’s a valid mind? A mind that perceives things correctly, that is not under the influence of disease, drugs, mantras or hypnotic spells, which might cause it to see sense objects in an illusory way.

Next, the object we claim to exist should not be harmed by a fully enlightened being’s mind. A Buddha's mind is completely unmistaken, completely purified, free from hallucination. All existent phenomena are the object of the omniscient mind; it sees whatever exists. If the omniscient mind does not see the bell, the bell does not exist.

Finally, for the bell that is merely labeled by the mind to exist, it should not receive harm from the wisdom realizing emptiness, ultimate nature. If the bell, which is merely imputed by the mind, is harmed by the wisdom realizing emptiness, it does not exist. Thus, there are three kinds of mind that can harm, or invalidate, the existence of what appears to be, for example, a bell: another person’s valid conventional mind; an omniscient mind; and the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Now, regarding this valid base, this phenomenon that has the function of ringing and possesses this particular shape, our mind creates the label, "bell." This, then, is the real bell, the bell that we use, the one that is merely imputed by our mind, the valid base that is labeled "bell" by our mind.

The worst ignorance

So what is the bell that does not exist ?

When our mind perceives the bell, it does not see a bell that is merely labeled by the mind. It sees something slightly beyond that, ever so slightly more than that. It sees something as existing from the side of the bell, something existing from its own side, from the side of the object. If you concentrate, if you analyze carefully how the bell exists, that it is merely labeled by the mind, you can see that there’s nothing coming from the side of the bell. When you look deeply into the meaning of "merely labeled by the mind," you can see that nothing exists from the side of the object. When you concentrate on this, you can see how its existence comes only from your mind.

But the way the bell appears to us, the way we believe it exists, is slightly beyond its reality, slightly more than its actual mode of existence, which is being merely labeled by the mind. That’s where the hallucination begins. Starting from there, the rest of the way it appears is a total hallucination. The way it appears, the way we believe it to exist—as something slightly beyond that which is merely labeled by the mind—is our biggest hallucination, the biggest suffering in the lives of us sentient beings. That’s what keeps us continually circling in samsara, dying and being reborn, dying and being reborn, experiencing the same beginningless problems again and again.

There’s no beginning to our experience of samsaric suffering and so far it has not ended. Why do we still suffer? Because we have not yet realized emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena—that things are empty, that things exist merely in name. We have not discovered reality; we have not discovered the wisdom that cuts the root of all delusion and karma, the true cause of suffering, the cause of samsara. We have not eradicated ignorance, the unknowing mind. We have continually been creating ignorance, the root of samsara. Instead of meditating on emptiness, practicing mindfulness, we have been making our mind more and more ignorant. That’s why we continue to suffer.

So, what is this bell (or any other object you care to look at)? It is nothing other than that which is merely labeled by the mind. But our minds are so replete with negative imprints left by past ignorance, the simultaneously born concept of inherent existence, that even though things exist as merely labeled by the mind, we hold on to them as if they exist from their own side. We apprehend them as inherently existent, as not merely imputed by the mind.

Therefore, this bell is merely labeled by the mind.

But because of the negative imprints left on our mental continuum by past ignorance, the concept of inherent existence, the apprehension and belief that phenomena exist from their own side, as soon as our mind creates the label "bell," as soon as it merely imputes "bell" on the base, the negative imprints left on our mental continuum project the hallucination that it exists from its own side. It’s like when you take a roll of film to be developed—the images from the negative are projected onto special paper, mixed with chemicals, and a picture appears to make the photograph—or like putting a film into a projector and beaming the images it contains onto a screen. Whatever the object—a bell, your I—the moment it’s labeled by the mind, the negative imprints project upon it the adornment of inherent existence.

The thing is that we’re unaware, or we forget, that what we’re seeing is merely imputed by our mind.

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