The Merely Imputed I


How to cut the cause of suffering?

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings at the 33rd Kopan Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 2000. This teaching is an excerpt from Lecture Six of the course, lightly edited by Gordon McDougall. Multimedia presentation created by Megan Evart.

The I exists because there are aggregates. The base is the aggregates and the base has a label, I. The I is merely imputed by mind, therefore it’s totally empty from its own side. So, it exists but it’s an extremely subtle phenomenon. The way the I exists is unbelievably subtle.

“The way the I exists is unbelievably subtle…”

It’s the same with the aggregates. Again, the aggregates in general are merely imputed. How they exist is merely imputed by the mind because there is the collection of the five aggregates. How the aggregate of form exists is because there is the collection of all these parts of the body. So the aggregate of form is an extremely subtle phenomenon. It is merely imputed by the mind and it is nothing more than a collection of all these parts of the body. All those parts that we call the head, legs and hands, all these are nothing except what is merely imputed on the collection of parts. Even the parts are merely imputed by the mind, depending on the base. So it goes, down to the atoms.


What is an atom?

An atom is also merely imputed by mind. Particular atoms are merely imputed by mind, because there are other particles. Starting from the I, go through everything down to the particular atoms and you will find that nothing exists from its own side. Nothing has any inherent existence. Everything is totally empty, but that doesn’t mean things don’t exist. They exist in mere name. Starting from the I down to the particular atoms, everything exists in mere name.

“Everything is totally empty, but that doesn’t mean things don’t exist…”

Starting from the I down to each mental factor and consciousness, all these are also merely imputed by mind, depending on the base. These different thoughts that have different functions, these minds are merely imputed different labels, “this” and “that.” They are different thoughts which have different functions and perceive different objects. Go down to the seconds of consciousness and the split-seconds of consciousness. Starting from the I, everything is merely imputed by mind. All these things are totally empty, starting from the I down to a split-second of consciousness. That’s why the Buddha said in the teachings, “Everything exists in mere name, by being merely imputed by the mind.”


 “Everything exists in mere name, by being merely imputed by the mind.”

Puja at Aptos House
Puja at Aptos House

Tak-yer means “exists in mere name,” existing merely imputed by the mind. Yer is “exist” and tak is “labeled.” Everything exists as merely imputed by the mind, so the conclusion is that everything is empty. The meditation is from the year down to the split second; from the I down to the atoms. Meditate on how [see a gray highlight like this? click it for more], like that. The aggregates are the base to label I, but even the general aggregates are a label imputed on the collection of five aggregates. They become a label and that exists on the base.

So like that, everything from the I down exists in mere name and is merely imputed by mind. This meditation is very important to avoid thinking that the I is the aggregates. The I is merely imputed because there is the base, the aggregates. When we think this way it differentiates the aggregates and the label I, then we don’t think the I is there. At that time, we don’t think the I is on the aggregates. That’s a very important point to appear to our mind. When we get the feeling that there’s no I on the aggregates, it’s easy to see that the I isn’t here. It exists in mere name, and it is merely imputed by the mind. It’s empty. That’s the idea we should get. This is very effective.

Don’t be fooled by appearances

It’s similar with all the rest of phenomena. What we discover is that the way these phenomena exist—what the reality is—is something totally different to what we believed has been appearing up until now.

“If we can see the differences, then we’re able to distinguish between what is false and what is the truth in our life….”

If we can see the differences, then we’re able to distinguish between what is false and what is the truth in our life. With this realization or recognition, we don’t cheat ourselves and we aren’t deceived by these hallucinations. Otherwise, what we falsely believe is true is like a bad friend who we believe to be good and trustworthy, and then he cheats us.

We believe that all these appearances really exist. By clinging to them, delusions continually arise and we create karma, die and are reborn in samsara without end. We suffer in samsara without end. Meditation on emptiness is the path and it is the only way to directly cut the delusions, the cause of samsara. It is the only way we will be liberated from the sufferings of samsara.

Getting depressed by emptiness?

A student doing shi-nä retreat asked Rinpoche why he sometimes felt depressed after meditating on emptiness. The dialogue of question and answer between Rinpoche and the student was as follows:

Student: Sometimes in retreat, when you really meditate that everything is appearance, an illusion, and empty, it feels like the mind can become very depressed.

Rinpoche: Depressed?

Student: Yes, very cold…

Rinpoche: It should be other way around. Do you feel depressed because you are unable to stay with your meditation in daily life?

Student: No, the mind feels numb, unfeeling. Because everything is a label, then it feels like anything that happens is not really there.

Rinpoche: In what context? I don’t think it’s a problem.

Student: For example, if I go outside and see something beautiful, then I think, “It’s just a label, it’s not beautiful,” so I feel like I can’t enjoy it. Or if I feel happy, I realize the happiness is just a label, so I don’t feel anything any more, I go back into nothingness. The same when I feel sad. I say, “That’s just a label,” so I don’t feel sad any more. So, the result of doing that meditation over and over is that you end up feeling nothing. It feels very bleak and the mind gets a little strange.

Rinpoche: If the way of meditating is correct, the effect should be to feel more free. It should be like that, not feeling more upset. The other way is not free. If you see something beautiful and the grasping mind arises, this is not free. This is a prison. If the way of meditating is correct, the effect is to feel more free.

Student: But even the feeling of being free is labeled.

Rinpoche: Yes, labeled, but there is the base. You are not just labeling; there is a base. There is a feeling, and you label that feeling “free.”

Student: But when that feeling of being free comes, my mind immediately says, “Even that is a label,” and I can’t become attached to that feeling of being free. I would be meditating on the emptiness of that feeling, so I wouldn’t allow myself to feel it because that is also a label.

Rinpoche: Yes, a label, everything is merely imputed. That is why it is important first to meditate on karma, the suffering of samsara, and the shortcomings of delusions. Then, when this realization, discovery, and renunciation are very strong, then you meditate on emptiness. Then, the method to use, like an atomic bomb, is emptiness—to destroy delusions and be free from samsara, to destroy samsara.

But you need to meditate on karma, the shortcomings of delusions, how the delusions cheat us and cause the extensive sufferings of samsara, the shortcomings of samsara, which are the shortcomings of delusions, delusions as the enemy, how these objects are the nature of suffering, especially how samsaric pleasures are all in the nature of suffering. Seeing how everything is the fault of delusions and seeing delusion as the enemy—when you have that and you know emptiness is like an atomic bomb that destroys the delusions, then you are only happy. However much one is able to meditate on emptiness is only happiness. It’s a jewel, it’s incredible. Without that you can’t be liberated forever from the hell realms, hungry ghost realm, animal realm, sura realm, asura realm, and human realm —you can’t be liberated from those sufferings forever.

“It’s a jewel, it’s incredible…” 

Every single problem human beings have is due to the shortcomings of delusions, the shortcomings of the root of these delusions: ignorance. Whatever the delusion—attachment, anger—it goes back to the shortcoming of ignorance, the root of samsara. Everything comes from that. All the other delusions that make life so difficult for oneself and others come from the root, ignorance. The shortcomings of ignorance, holding the “I” as truly existent, are the root of samsara.

You haven’t meditated enough on looking at how samsara is suffering, on the nature of samsaric pleasure, on renunciation, because of that you don’t see samsaric pleasures as suffering and then there is clinging to samsaric pleasures. Because of that, when you meditate on emptiness, it becomes depressing, like a problem. So, please meditate more on karma, on how samsaric pleasure is suffering, on the delusions as the enemy, especially ignorance, .

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