The next section of Rinpoche’s book is the heart of why the book is so useful. Rinpoche gives us a logic sequence that we can use as a template to read any logic book:
Consider sound (dra, sgra),
It is changing (mi-tak-pa, mi rtag pa),
Because it is produced (che-pa, byas pa).
So a couple of important things here: first, I am going to translate the Tibetan word mi-tak-pa (mi rtag pa) as “changing,” rather than “impermanent” (as it is in the book), because, to be honest, impermanent is not an accurate translation. The definition of mi-tak-pa is momentary, changing from moment to moment; this is not the same as impermanent, which means here now and gone later, because, for example, there are unchanging things (tak-pa, rtag pa) that come and go, because changing things (you, smoke, a pot) can have unchanging characteristics (smoke is black, a pot has no quality of being a pot from its own side) that are not true when the object that possesses them is destroyed (when the smoke dissipates it is no longer black, when the pot is destroyed it doesn’t exist, so it no longer can have the quality of not possessing its own identity). Okay, some of that may sound tricky, and I’ll come back to it, but for now, just understand that changing and impermanent are not synonyms (don-chik, don gcig).
More importantly, we should discuss why we should learn this. As we said previously, logic is the magic key that opens our understanding of reality, because it is how we verify the truth of things that we cannot see directly. But to understand Tibetan logic, we have to know how to form and test syllogisms.
Syllogisms in Tibetan logic have three parts: a subject, an assertion, and a reason. The definition of reason in Tibetan logic is “anything put forth as a reason.” So I could say:
It is changing,
Because I like monkeys.
“I like monkeys” is the reason, because I put it in the spot where a reason goes in a syllogism. So obviously “I like monkeys” is not a good reason for believing sound is changing. So how do we determine if a reason is true or false? We have to run the three tests.
Tibetan logic argues that if a syllogism passes the three tests (we’ll discuss it later), then it must be true. So let’s run the three tests:
Test #1 (1 & 3): is there a connection between the subject and the reason? So here: (1) “Consider sound, (2) it’s changing, (3) because it’s made.” Is there a relationship between (1) sound and (3) being made? In other words, is sound something that’s made? Yes.
Test #2 (if 3 is true, 2 must be true): if the (3) reason is true, then the (2) assertion must always be true. In our example above, if something is made must it be changing? Yes.
Test #3 (if not 2, not 3): if the (2) assertion is negated, does that also negate the (3) reason? For example, if something is not changing (unchanging), must it also not be made? (For example space, which cannot be made.) Yes.
So because it passes all three tests, this syllogism is true. Again, for more information please see my book, but this is the core of what you need to understand to practice Tibetan logic. If you understand how to form a syllogism and how to run the three tests, you can read and understand any (translated) Tibetan logic problem.
So let’s do another one. In Daniel Perdue’s book, Debate in Tibetan Buddhism, he describes one of the first debates Tibetan monks learn in the monastery (102). It’s ostensibly a debate about color (really its not), but it goes:
Consider a white religious object,
It is red,
Because it is a color.
It sounds silly, but it is true? I don’t know, we have to run the tests and check:
Test #1 (1 & 3): is there a connection between the subject and the reason? So here, is there a relationship between (1) a white religious object and (3) it being a color? In other words, does something white have color? Yes, because white is a color.
Test #2 (if 3 is true, 2 must be true): if the (3) reason is true, then the (2) assertion must always be true. In our example above, if something is a color must it be red? No, of course not.
Test #3 (if not 2, not 3): if the (2) assertion is negated, does that also negate the (3) reason? Therefore, if something is not red, must it also not be a color? No, for example, it could be blue, or green, or any other color than red.
So this syllogism fails tests #2 and #3, and is therefore false.
I’ll explain later why these debates are more important than they seem on the surface, but for now, just understand how to run the three tests, because this system of testing syllogisms holds true for any Tibetan syllogism you will find! Therefore, again, understanding this simple structure is the key to reading any Tibetan logic book.