I want to present my understanding of Syllogistic Logic.

When we meditate, we try to rest our mind on a thought or image which will lead us directly towards liberation and enlightenment. If we are going to make good progress, we need to ensure we are meditating on the correct objects and that we understand them properly.

After settling our mind and removing distractions, we engage in contemplation meditation, where we think about an object of meditation (for example, the preciousness of our human life) and really try to get a clear feeling for it. Once this feeling arises, we hold it without distraction in placement meditation.

This post is about how we can clearly establish our object of meditation using a special way of thinking known as a syllogism. (From here on in this post, I will be drawing extensively from the sublime explanation of this topic given by Geshe Kelsang in the book ‘How to Understand the Mind‘).

 Conclusive Reasons and Subsequent Cognizers

In this context there are two types of object: manifest objects and hidden objects. Manifest objects are ones which appear to us directly such as tables, chairs, sounds and the warmth of the sun on our skin. We do not need to develop any special reasoning to believe that these things exist because we can perceive them directly.  Hidden objects do not appear to us directly (at least, not initially), but we can develop complete certainty that they exist though the contemplation of a conclusive reason. Most of the Lamrim meditation objects are hidden objects and we need to understand conclusive reasons to realise them.

One hidden object from the Lamrim teachings is the realisation that we currently have a precious human life. Although most of us understand that human life is precious, we do not value it as highly as we should, because we do not generally realise its full utility.  If we had the constant notion that our human life is incredibly precious (more precious than a universe filled with diamonds, for example) then we would use it to its full potential, and attain enlightenment. The only way to fully realise the preciousness of our human life is to develop a ‘subsequent cognizer’ which is a completely reliable cognizer whose object is realised in direct dependence upon a conclusive reason.

A conclusive reason is a completely valid and convincing reason that naturally propels us to realise the object. It is not just a reasonable reason, or even a correct reason. It is both of these and more – it is a completely and utterly irrefutable reason which leaves no other conclusion possible.

Whenever we realize something by means of a conclusive reason, we use a special form of logical reasoning known as a ‘syllogism’.

Subject, Predicate and Reason

Within the syllogism ‘My human life is precious because I can use it to attain enlightenment” is everything we need to develop a subsequent cognizer that realises the object ‘my human life is precious’.

To understand how this syllogism leads us to the realisation, we need to break it down into its components parts and examine their relationships – specifically, how the ‘reason’ relates to the other parts of the syllogism.

There are three parts to the syllogism ‘My human life is precious because I can use it to attain enlightenment’: the subject, the predicate, and the reason.

The subject is ‘my human life’. This is the object we are trying to establish something about.

The predicate is ‘is precious’. This is what is predicted, or to be established.

The combination of the subject and the predicate is known as the ‘probandum’. In this case the probandum is ‘My human life is precious’ and it is this that we realise in dependence upon a conclusive reason.

The reason is ‘I can use it to attain enlightenment’. This is justification for the probandum.

As a starting point we need to confirm to ourselves that each of the parts of the syllogism are true (or at least not obviously false) – if any part of the syllogism is faulty, the conclusion will be invalid:

Examine the Subject: Do I have a human life? Yes I do, so this statement is true.

Examine the Predicate: Is it precious? It certainly could be. This is what we are trying to establish with our syllogism, so we don’t know for certain it is true yet – but at this stage, it is enough for us to say that it is not false. If we were to propose that our human life was unending, rather than precious, we could say straight away that predicate is false, and it would not matter what reasons were given – nothing could make it true.

Examine the Reason: Can I use my life to attain enlightenment? Geshe-la says this is the case, as does Buddha himself and all the other lineage Gurus. On this basis, the reason is true (although see footnote 1 at the end of this post if you are not sure).

The Three Modes

Once we are happy that the parts of the syllogism are valid, we need to examine the relationships between the parts and see if the probandum is conclusively justified by the reason. If it is, then the statement is completely reliable and the object of meditation is completely valid. The definition of a conclusive reason is a reason that is qualified by the three modes. The three modes are: property of the subject, the forward pervasion and the reverse pervasion; and any conclusive reason will be qualified by all three.

Property of the Subject

The first mode (or ‘quality’ of the reason) is ‘property of the subject’. This means that the reason must apply to, or be a property of, the subject. In this case the reason is a property of the subject because human lives can be used to attain enlightenment. If the statement was ‘my car is precious because I can use it to attain enlightenment’, the reason would not be qualified by the first mode because cars cannot be used to attain enlightenment.

The Forward Pervasion

Again, focussing on the reason, the reason must be pervaded by the predicate. This means that whenever there is one, there is definitely the other – wherever the the reason is present, the predicate must also be present. In this case we can understand that whatever we can use to attain enlightenment is indeed precious.

The Reverse Pervasion

Finally, we examine the reason ‘the other way around’. For the reverse pervasion to apply, we need to be certain that if the predicate does not apply then the reason must also not apply. In this case the reason is qualified by the third mode because if our human life is not precious then we cannot use it to attain enlightenment. (If you are not convinced that your human life is precious, see note 2 at the end of this post.)

The use of the Syllogism in Meditation

After carrying out the above analysis, we can conclude that our human life is precious because we can use it to attain enlightenment. We can use our life to attain enlightenment (first mode), anything which we can use to attain enlightenment is precious (second mode) and if our human life is not precious, we cannot attain enlightenment (third mode). By contemplating these aspects we can come to develop a conclusive certainty that our human life is precious. When this certainty arises, we have developed the Subsequent Congnizer realising the preciousness of our human life, and we hold this certainty in placement meditation for as long as possible.


From this examination we can understand that to fully realise the hidden Lamrim objects we need to examine syllogisms carefully and realise the three modes fully. Only by doing this can we develop a subesequent cognizer realising the object. This illustrates the importance of understanding syllogisms.

If we have been meditating for a while and yet we do not feel Dharma in our hearts in the meditation break, it is because we are not meditating on the correct objects, because we have not established the probandum with a conclusive reason qualified by the three modes.


Footnote 1

If we really have a problem with this statement, then there is no point in continuing to look at the syllogism ‘My human life is precious because I can use it to attain enlightenment’, because we have a fundamental issue with the reason. We will be unable to develop a fully qualified object if we have this doubt in our minds. This is because just as a stable building needs a stable foundation, the stability of our subsequent cognizer depends upon the stability of (or our conviction in) the parts of the syllogism. If we are not 100% convinced about the parts of the syllogism, then the conclusion reached contemplating the syllogism will not be heartfelt, and we will not have realised the correct object.

Instead, we need to contemplate the statement ‘I can attain enlightenment using my human life because Buddha (who is complely reliable) says so’. This itself is a syllogism, and we can examine it in the same way as explained above to develop incontrovertable faith that it is true. When we have this faith, then we can go back to the original syllogism.

Footnote 2

For this to be understood, we need to remember that for our human life to be precious, it must have several qualities known as ‘freedoms’ and ‘endowments’, which you can find out more about in the book ‘Joyful Path of Good Fortune‘. In short, for a human life to be precious it must (for example) be free from free from obstructions like being in a location where religion is banned. Our human life must also have endowments such as being in a location where Buddha’s teachings are present. In this context we can see that if our life is not precious, we cannot attain enlightenment. Again, we can use preliminary syllogisms to prove the parts of the current syllogism.