[Advaita-l] Some questions on 'khyAti vAda-s' - Theories of/on Error

Anand Hudli anandhudli at hotmail.com
Sat Apr 17 11:00:52 CDT 2010

V Subrahmanian wrote: 
>AtmakhyAti - YogAchAra Bauddha (VijnAnavaada)
>asatkhyAti - MAdhyamika Bauddha (shUnyavAda)
>akhyAti - PrAbhAkara mImAmsA
>anyathAkhyAti - NyAya, Vaisheshika and BhATTa mImAmsA
>and anirvachaneeya khyAti - Vedantins (Advaita)
>to describe the phenomenon of error, adhyAsa.  The adhyAsa bhAshya contains
>a reference to some or all of these vAda-s.

Here are my notes on this topic. I have tried to explore the common ground among 
different khyAti vAdas and shown that anirvachanIya khyAti is the most suitable of 

There are a few others that one can add to the list:
sadasatkhyAti of sAMkhya, satkhyAti of the vishiShTAdvaita, and abhinava-anyathAkhyAti 
of dvaita. 
Each school has its own theory about illusion, for example, the shukti-rajata, the illusion
of silver in nacre or rope as snake. A nacre is mistaken for a piece of silver. A rope is 
mistaken for a snake. Shankara says regarding adhyAsa, "atasmin.h tadbuddhiH", cognition
of one thing as another. This is the common ground among all schools, as far as illusion
(bhrama) is concerned. If A is mistaken for B, where A is the substratum and B is the 
illusory object superimposed on A, then we have the following possibilities:
1) both A and B are unreal, 2) A is real, but B is unreal, 3) both A and B are real,  
4) A is real, but B cannot be defined as real or unreal or both, 5) A is real, but B is both
real and unreal. Here "real" is sat and "unreal" asat.
In the asatkhyAti of mAdhyamikas, both the substratum of the error or illusion and 
the object of illusion are unreal (asat). The YogAchAra school holds that both the 
substratum (nacre) and the illusory object (silver) do not exist apart from their
subjective cognitions, i.e., they are ideas in the mind. This is called AtmakhyAti.
In early sAMkhya, for example, as expounded by Ishvarakrishna, there is no theory of
perceptual error. Later contributors such as Aniruddha and VijnAnabhikShu put forth the
theory of sadasatkhyAti. Aniruddha explains the silver-nacre illusion in his
 sAMkhyasUtravritti -
इदं रजतमिति पुरोवर्तिविषयतया सत् अबाधनात्, रजतविषयतया तु असत् बाधात्,
तस्मात् सदसतो तत्त्वम् ।
In the cognition, "this is silver", the thing before (the observer),
the "this", is real (sat) because it is never sublated, (even after the illusion ends). 
The silver is false (asat), because it is sublated. Therefore, illusion or 
erroneous perception is the cognition of  both the sat and the asat. 
The PrabhAkara school of mImAMsA says there is non-apprehension (hence the 
name, akhyAti) of the distinction between the illusory object (silver) and the 
substratum (nacre).  Hence the illusion. 
शुक्तेश्चक्षुषा ग्रहणं रजतस्य च स्वातन्त्र्येण स्मरणं, "इदं न रजतं" इति भेदग्रह्स्याभावश्च 
त्रितयं कारणम् । The apprehension of nacre with the eye, the independent recollection of
silver, and the absence of apprehension of the form "This is not silver" to differentiate
(the thing in front from silver), - these three are jointly the causes. 
The nyAya school puts forth the theory of anyathAkhyAti. Here, the silver that was 
perceived at some other place at some other time is now perceived in nacre. This is 
made possible by something called a jnAna-lakShaNa-sannikarSha. Both the silver 
and nacre are real, but the silver that is being perceived was actually perceived at
some other place at some other time. "sarvathA .asatve pratItyanupapattestatraiva
sattve vA bAdhAnupapattiriti" - If the silver were completely false, it would not have
appeared (before the observer). If it were present right in the place where it was
perceived, there would be no sublation (of such a perception).

The mAdhva theory of abhinava anyathAkhyAti says that the silver is false and the 
post-illusion experience "the false silver appeared" shows this. Unlike the naiyAyikas, 
the mAdhvas hold that silver, the illusory object, never occurs anywhere at any time.
Cognition of a false (nonexistent) object in a substratum (adhiShThAna) is admitted in
this system. Madhva holds that one cannot deny that a false object can be cognized 
even in illusion. 
न च असतो भ्रान्तावपि प्रतीतिर्नास्तीति वाच्यम् -विष्णुतत्त्वविनिर्णयः
In fact, he explicitly denies what is cognized in an illusion is anirvachanIya, as the
advaitins claim, and goes on to say that what is cognized in the illusion is asat.
JayatIrtha clarifies, in his PramANa paddhati, that  what is meant is atyanta asat, a
completely false entity , "atyanta-asadrajatAtmanA pratibhAtItyAchAryAH" . The following from the
 विष्णुतत्त्वविनिर्णय of Madhva makes the definition of illusion or bhrama clear:
असतः सत्त्वप्रतीतिः सतोऽसत्त्वप्रतीतिरित्यन्यथाप्रतीतिरेव भ्रान्तित्वात् । The cognition of a
nonexistent (false) entity as existing and an existing entity as nonexistent is called bhrama or illusion. This kind of cognizing one thing as another is illusion.
The Kannada commentary by Shri Vishvesha Tirtha, Mathadhisha of the Pejawar Math clarifies this further:
ಅಲ್ಲಿ ನಮಗೆ ತೋರಿದ ಬೆಳ್ಳಿ ಎಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ತೋರದೇ ಇರುವುದುರಿಂದ ಅದು ಅಸತ್ಯವೆಂಬುದರಲ್ಲಿ ಸಂದೇಹವೇ ಇಲ್ಲ.
ಆದರೂ ಭ್ರಮೆಯ ಸ್ಥಿತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ನಮಗೆ ಅದು ತೋರುತ್ತದೆ. 
The vishiShTAdvaita theory of satkhyAti is also called yathArthakhyAti. According to 
this theory, all perceptual knowledge, whether it be of an illusion or otherwise, is 
valid. "satkhyAtirnAma jnAnaviShayasya satyatvam.h." This is the theory of satkhyAti
which holds that the content (object) of a cognition is real. It recognizes bhrama or 
illusion only by virtue of the fact that there can be no meaningful activity with regard
to the "illusory" object. The silver that is perceived in nacre is real but it cannot be part
of any activity, such as picking it up. Therefore, the silver is bhrama. 
viShayavyavahArabAdhAt.h bhramatvam.h. How can silver possibly be really present 
in nacre? पञ्चीकरणप्रक्रियया पृथिव्यादिषु सर्वत्र सर्वभूतानां विद्यमानत्वात् । अत एव शुक्तिकादौ रजतांशस्य
विद्यमानत्वात् ज्ञानविषयस्य सत्यत्वम् । By the process of panchIkaraNa, every element occurs in every element such as the earth. Therefore, the cognition of silver in nacre is true, since there is a (small) portion of silver (actually) in the nacre. If the silver in nacre is real, then it cannot be called illusory silver but real silver! However, this real silver occurs in a such a small quantity as to be practically of no use. तत्र रजतांशस्य स्वल्पत्वात् तत्र न व्यवहार इति तत् ज्ञानं
भ्रमः । Because, the amount of silver (in nacre) is very small (infinitesimal) there cannot be any activity involving it.The theory of satkhyAti has its basis in 
the shrI-bhAShya statement by Ramanuja - "yathArthaM sarvavijnAnamiti vedavidAM
Finally, the advaita theory of anirvachanIyakhyAt holds that the illusory object, silver,
cannot be categorized as sat or asat or both sat and asat. It cannot be sat, because
it is sublated upon perceiving the substratum as it is. It cannot be asat, because it 
was perceived as existing during the illusion phase. An asat entity cannot be perceived
even in an illusion. GauDapAdAchArya says (mANDUkya kArikA  3.28):
असतो मायया जन्म तत्त्वतो नैव युज्यते ।
वन्ध्यापुत्रो न तत्त्वेन मायया वाऽपि जायते ॥
There can be no birth of a purely nonexistent thing either through mAyA or in reality.
A barren-woman's son cannot be born either through mAyA or in reality. 
Therefore, by implication, the thing that is illusory and superimposed, e.g. a snake 
 on a substratum, e.g. a rope, cannot be asat or nonexistent, because a nonexistent
thing is never cognized as occurring in a substratum. If it is not asat, then can it be 
sat? It cannot be sat as explained above. Therefore, it must be different from both sat
and asat, i.e. anirvachanIya or something that cannot be described.
This anirvachanIyatva concept is derived from Shankara's statement in the adhyAsa
bhAShya, considering all views on adhyAsa (superimposition): "सर्वथापि त्वन्यस्यान्यधर्मावभासतां
न व्यभिचरति".  Among all these views, what is common is the appearance of attributes of
one thing in another. For example, nacre appears to have attributes of silver. A rope
appears to have attributes of a snake. 
The bhAShyaratnaprabhA explains:

एतेषु मतेषु परत्र परावभासत्वलक्षणसंवादमाह - सर्वथापि त्विति । 

अन्यथाख्यातित्वादिप्रकारविवादेऽप्यध्यासः परत्र परावभासत्वलक्षणं न जहातीत्यर्थः ।

शुक्तावपरोक्षस्य रजतस्य देशान्तरे बुद्धौ वा सत्त्वायोगात्, शून्यत्वे प्रत्यक्षत्वायोगात् ,

शुक्तौ सत्त्वे बाधायोगात् मिथ्यात्वमेवेति भावः ।


In all these views (of adhyAsa, illusion), the common characteristic is the appearance

of one thing in the place of another thing. This is indicated in the bhAShya as "in all

ways". Even the khyAti vAda's of other schools, such as anyathAkhyAti of nyAya, the

characteristic of one thing appearing in the place of another is never given up. (However,

the khyAti vAda's of other schools are defective.) In the illusion of silver in nacre, 

the silver is directly perceived in nacre and therefore it is not a suitable explanation to say

that the silver was perceived in another place or it exists only as a (subjective) cognition

or only in memory. (This refutes the theories of anyathAkhyAti of nyAya, the AtmakhyAti

of YogAchAra, and the akhyAti of prAbhAkara mImAMsA.)

If it is shUnya or void or asat (as claimed by the mAdhyamika school or the mAdhva 

school), then it is not possible for it (silver) to be perceived. If the silver really exists in

nacre (as claimed by the satkhyAti of the vishiShTAdvaitins), then its sublation is not 

possible (when the illusion ends). (Also, it cannot be sadasat, as claimed by the 

sAMkhya school because that would be a contradiction.) (Since the khyAti vAda's of 

other schools are refuted), what remains as the correct khyAti vAda is that of 

mithyAtva or anirvachanIyatva.  

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