[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge - 33

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 27 23:55:54 CDT 2009

Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge – 33

Upamaana or Comparison

Upamaana or comparison is considered as a separate means of knowledge by advaitins and meemaasakas. It is considered as distinct from perception and inference. Here the means of knowledge is the similarity of two different objects A and B. What is being perceived currently is object B. In the perception of B, which is somewhat unknown to the perceiver, he notices some features that are similar to an object A that he is very much familiar. On examining further he recalls the many attributes of A that he can now notice in the perception of B. Thus the similarity of B to A is gained by comparing the observed attributes of B with those attributes of A that he could recall. Since all objective knowledge is only attributive knowledge, one is gaining the knowledge of B because of the similarities B has with A. 

Vedanta ParibhASha provides an example. Consider a person who is very much familiar with a cow. Familiarity implies he has knowledge of the attributes of a cow based on which he can recognize or recall it in his mind. When he goes to a forest he sees a wild animal which looks like the domesticated cow in the town.  The wild animal appears to be similar to a cow, at a first glance. As he examines further he learns that indeed the wild animal is very much like the cow that he is familiar since many of the attributes of the wild animal are comparable to the attributes of cow that he knows. Based on the attributive knowledge of the cow that he knows and the perceptual knowledge of the wild animal that he is seeing, he concludes that this wild animal is like the cow he has. He also sees some dissimilarities between the wild animal and the cow to conclude that it is not a cow but looks like the cow he has. 

This is a common experience for everyone – when we look at new person and say he looks like the person I know. Here we are using comparison between the features of one with whom we are very much familiar with the new person whom we are meeting for the first time. When we meet a new baby we want to know how he looks like. The knowledge of the object in front is gained by comparing the similarities of the attributes of those with whom we are familiar. We can ask the question, what new knowledge are we gaining by this comparison? What we are seeing directly is an unknown person B.  What we are familiar is the person A, whom we know intimately.  At a first glance, the new person B seems to have some features that resemble the person A. Upon closer study, we find that many attributes of person A are in B. Upamaana as a means of knowledge should reveal something new that we do not know before. We have full knowledge of A but no knowledge of B. Upamaana
 provides a means of knowledge to know B by comparing and concluding the existence of many qualities of A in B.  Since any object is known only via its attributes, we now have the attributive knowledge of B, because of Upamaana pramANa. 

In the example of the wild animal (gavaya, a wild cow) VP provides a sequence of thoughts that happen in the seer. The first immediate thought is ‘this animal looks like my cow’. At this stage it is a proposition in the mind that arises at the first look due to some semblance of the wild animal with the cow that he is familiar. Then, he examines further details and concludes that “my cow is like this animal”. Here by process of comparison of the similarities and dissimilarities one arrives at a conviction regarding the similarities of the cow that exists in the wild animal. What knowledge are we gaining by this comparison? It is not the knowledge of the cow, since one already knows the cow. Right now cow is not available for direct perception.  What we do not know is the nature of the wild animal that is being seen right now. Since at the first glance, we say, it looks like a cow.  At the same time, since there are certain dissimilarities which
 make one not to recognize it as a cow, a further examination is required to establish the similarities and dissimilarities of the cow that one is familiar and the wild animal that one is not familiar. Only after detailed comparison, one learns that ‘the cow looks very much similar to this that I see’.  Or one can say this wild animal is very close the cow that I am familiar with. 

The great poet Kalidasa is well known as an expert in simile. Simile is the same as upamaana. All the heroes and heroines in his poetry are described using similes as she look like this or looks like that, etc. By these similes we come to know how his heroes and heroines look like, thus we are gaining the knowledge of them through similes or upamaanas or comparisons. My father describes in Telugu poetry the features of a lady of the house, whose complexion is very dark. He says her smile is like “kappum bimbamu lopala uppatilina chadrarekha mayin”, meaning it is like the crescent moon arising in the middle of dark clouds. Here what we are familiar are dark clouds in the sky and also how white the crescent moon looks like. Bringing these two together he compares her white teeth and dark face and also her smile. When she smiles, it is comparable to sudden appearance of a crescent moon arising in dark clouds. The reader gains the knowledge of the
 features of the lady of the house, besides there is a poetic beauty embedded in it. 

Two questions can arise in relation to upamaana as pramANa: Is upamaana any different from perception? Second, is it not an inferential knowledge, since some philosophers consider it as part of anumaana only and not a separate pramANa? These questions are addressed by Vedanta ParibhASha. It is not perception since the knowledge of the wild animal that one perceives is based on the similarities of attributes of the cow that one is familiar. One does not perceive the cow while perceiving the wild animal. During perceptual knowledge, when I see object cow, based on the attributes of the cow, a recognition that it is a cow is made by recalling from memory the attributes of the cow jaati that one has seen and known before. In contrast, here when I see the wild animal for the first time, there is no image stored in my memory to recall for me to know this is a wild animal. What I am recalling is not the image of the wild animal, but image of a similarly looking
 animal, the cow that I am familiar. Hence cognitive object, the wild animal, is different from the recollected object the cow. Hence in this case, upamaana involves a recollection of a different animal altogether from what one perceives. The knowledge of the new animal takes place due to similarities in its attributes with that of different animal that is not being perceived. Hence upamaana pramANa does not come under direct perception. 

In fact, whenever we see a new object, the mind goes back into memory to check if there any image that resembles the one that we are perceiving. If there is no identical image for us to identify the object that we see as we are seeing this new object for the first time, we scan through the memory to see any object that has close resemblance with the new object. Thus similarities and dissimilarities of new object and old known objects are categorized into families or phylums to arrive at an expanded version of the classification scheme. This is how the knowledge grows. Hence upamaana is used extensively in gaining the knowledge of new objects. It is a separate means of knowledge to know objects that I do not know before. 

The next question is if upamaana the same as anumaana or inference. Recall anumaana pramANa has three components, if not five. We can write artificially the three components in upamaana, similar to anumaana:
 	My cow is like this wild animal.
	Because it has similar attributes as this wild animal.
	Whenever one has similar attributes to another, it will look similar to the other. 

Let us compare the above statements with those in the example of anumaana.
	The hill has fire.
		Because it has smoke.
		Whenever there is smoke, there must be fire, as in kitchen. 
In the inference of fire where there is smoke there are no similarities between smoke and fire. What is there is its concomitant relation with smoke, as in kitchen. This relation between the fire and smoke is deduced by dRiShTAnta or prior observation in kitchen and is universally applicable. 

In the knowledge of the wild animal that it is similar to the cow that we know, we are not really using any universal concomitant relation between any two objects that are similar. We do not come to the conclusion that this wild animal is like cow because of the universal relation that whenever one has similar attributes to another, it must look similar to the other. Without going through such syllogistic inference one arrives at the cognition that ‘my cow is like this wild animal’. This is a matter of common experience, says VP. There is a comparison of two things, not inference of one from the other because of vyaapti or concomitant relation between hetu and saadhya. We note here that anumaana or inference has very rigid structure to follow. It involves the knowledge of something that cannot be known directly by perception following a well established universal relation between what I see and what I conclude, as in smoke vs fire. There are no
 similarities between smoke and fire. What is there is a concomitant relation or vyaapti between what is seen or hetu and what is concluded, saadhya. Also we need to bear in mind that every inference does not directly come under anumaana pramaaNa, as we noted in the last post that some degree of inference is involved even in the direct perceptual process. For example, we are gaining the knowledge of the complete object even though what we perceive is not a perspective vision but a projected vision of the object. 

According to advaita, in upamaana or comparison, there is no immediate inference between two reciprocally related entities that western logic allows. Upamaana involves mediate knowledge unlike pratyaksha. There is a deliberate examination of the similarities between the wild animal and the cow before one comes to a conclusion or an assertion that my cow looks like that. No prior reciprocal relation between cow and the wild animal is established for immediate knowledge to take place. Before the knowledge takes place there is an extensive observation in evaluating the similarities between the cow and the wild animal. Hence it is mediate and not immediate knowledge. 

Swami Satprakashananda in his methods of knowledge says advaita does not dissent the Naiyayikas view that knowledge of dissimilarities can also be attained by upamaana. In the above example, dissimilarities involve a conclusion this wild animal is completely unlike my cow. Here, if the wild animal and the cow are completely dissimilar, the question arises why compare the two, to begin with, since what is being perceived is the wild animal and cow cannot enter into picture because it is dissimilar to the wild animal.  In fact the wild animal may be dissimilar to many objects in the world, including the trees, lakes and human beings. Mind does not go through comparison of each and every animal to arrive that this wild animal is dissimilar to the all other objects that I know. 

Hence for comparison to be made there must be some common ground or similarities between the two to justify further examination and conclusion that they are dissimilar in many other important aspects.   Let us take another example. It is very common in comparing two twins. John and Harry, who look alike or they may be even two siblings. We are familiar with John, but we were told that Harry is completely opposite to him. In this example the dissimilarities are emphasized to provide the knowledge of Harry in relation to John with whom we are familiar. Here we are comparing the attributes of Harry in relation to the known attributes of John. Being twins, there are some similarities to justify comparison. We obtain knowledge of one from the dissimilar attributes of the other that we know. Hence Naiyyaayikas ascertain that even the dissimilarities can come under upamaana pramANa. That is, one gains new knowledge based on the dissimilarities. Advaita does not
 dissent from this assertion. 

We will next analyze the application of upamaana in spiritual saadhana.

Hari Om!

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