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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
35 summer 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly schools regarding the exact identification of the nature of this dependent person. Given their shared acceptance of existence across lifetimes, all Buddhist philosophical schools rule out the continuum of the body as constituting the continuity of the person. Therefore, the differences of opinion surround the way that the continuum of consciousness could be the basis for locating the person or the individual. In a passage in his Precious Garland, Nagarjuna dissects the concept of a person and its identity by explaining that a person is not the earth element, water element, fire element, wind element, space, or consciousness. And apart from these, he asks, what else could a person be? To this he responds that a person exists as the convergence of these six constituents. The term “convergence” is the crucial word, as it suggests the interaction of the constituents in mutual interdependence. How do we understand the concept of dependence? It is helpful to reflect on a statement by Chandrakirti in his com- mentary on Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Stanzas on the Middle Way , where the following explicit explanation of how to understand a buddha in terms of dependent origination is found. He writes, “What is it then? We posit the tathagata in dependence upon the aggregates, for it cannot be asserted to be either identical with or separate from the aggregates.” His point is that if we search for the essence of something believing we can pinpoint some real thing—something objectively real from its own side that exists as a valid referent of the term or concept—then we will fail to find anything at all. Time and the Self In our day-to-day interactions, we often speak of time. We all take for granted the reality of time. Were we to search for what exactly time is, we could do so in two ways. One is to search with the belief that we should be able to find something objectively real that we can define as time. But we immediately run into a problem. We find that time can only be understood on the basis of something else, in relation to a particular phe- nomenon or event. The other way to search is in a relative framework, not presuming an objectively real entity. Take, for example, the present moment. If we search for the present moment believing that we should be able to find a unique entity in the temporal process, an objective “present,” we won’t find anything. As we dissect the temporal process, we instead discover that events are either past or yet to occur; we find only the past and future. Nothing is truly present because the very process of searching for it is itself a temporal process, which means that it is necessarily always at a remove from now. If, on the other hand, we search for the present within the relative framework of everyday convention, we can maintain the concept of the present. We can say “this present year,” for example, within the broader context of many years. Within the framework of twelve months, we can speak of “the present month.” Similarly, within that month, we can speak of “the present week,” and so on, and in this relative context we can maintain coherently the notion of a present moment. But if we search for a real present that is present intrinsically, we cannot find it. In just the same way, we can ascertain the existence of a person within the conventional, relative framework without needing to search for some kind of objective, intrinsically real person that is the self. We can maintain our commonsense notion of the person or individual in relation to the physical and the mental faculties that comprise our particular existence. Because of this, in Nagarjuna’s text we find references to things and events or phenomena existing only as labels, or within the framework of language and designation. Of the two possible modes of existence—objectively real existence and nominal existence—objectively real existence is unten- able, as we have seen. Hence we can only speak of a self conventionally or nominally—in the framework of language and consensual reality. In brief, all phenomena exist merely in dependence upon their name, through the power of worldly convention. Since they do not exist objectively, phenomena are referred to in the texts as “mere terms,” “mere conceptual constructs,” and “mere conventions.” Searching for the Self At the beginning of his eighteenth chapter, Nagarjuna writes: If self were the aggregates, it would have arising and disintegration; if it were different from the aggregates, it would not have the characteristics of the aggregates. (Facing page) ann and peter cape cod 1981, 2005 ➤ continued page 88