[Advaita-l] abhinava anyathAkhyAti - 2(was: Some questions on 'khyAti vAda-s' - Theories of/on Error)

Anand Hudli ahudli at gmail.com
Tue Apr 27 10:16:57 CDT 2010

We have seen how the mAdhvas have formulated their theory of illusion called
the abhinava anyathA khyAti. The illusory object, say a snake superimposed
on a rope or silver superimposed on nacre (shell), is considered asat or
false or nonexistent for all periods of time. Still, it is admitted that it
is cognized in a real substratum or locus (rope), and has a corresponding
sadrisha sat-vastu, a real snake that is similar to the snake seen during
illusion. This clearly differentiates, as per the dvaitin's own theory,
illusory objects from purely nonexistent or fictitious objects, such a
hare's horns, objects which are never seen even during an illusion.

The advaita theory of anirvachanIya khyAti holds that the illusory object,
the snake, cannot be real because it ceases to be after the sublating
knowledge that it is rope arises. But the illusory snake cannot be entirely
unreal like the hare's horns because it is perceived in a real substratum
during illusion. What is experienced cannot be equated to a fictitious

At the outset, it can be said that the objection that dvaitins have raised
against the advaitins regarding introducing the concept of anirvachanIyatva
is without a sound basis. The dvaitins themselves have agreed that illusory
objects cannot be treated on par with fictitious entities. How is the
advaitin incorrect if he treats illusory objects differently from fictitious
ones? The anirvachanIyatva spoken of by the advaitin is the same as
mithyAtva, which, after the illusion ends, is unreal, no doubt, but cannot
be, by any means, said to be asat. Given that the dvaitin cannot object to
assigning illusory objects to a different category than fictitious entities,
what remains is the question: should they (illusory objects) be assigned
1) to a sub-category of asat as dvaitins do or 2) to a separate category
that is different from sat and asat? We will examine some aspects of the
advaita theory of anirvachanIya khyAti to see why the second option is the
correct choice. One immediate and simple answer is: to avoid any confusion
that might be caused by labeling illusory objects as asat, because that word
is usually used to represent unexampled entities which cannot be in the
sphere of experience (anubhavagochara), while the illusory objects clearly
fall within the sphere of experience.

Shankara BhagavatpAda, in his adhyAsa bhAShya defines adhyAsa or
superimposition using these words, "स्मृतिरूपः परत्र पूर्वदृष्टावभासः", the
appearance elsewhere of something that was seen before, with a nature
similar to recollection. Each word here is analyzed by later commentators to
explain the concept of adhyAsa. The bhAmatIkAra, VAchaspati Mishra,
says that what was seen before (पूर्वदृष्ट), even though real in its own
nature, is superimposed and anirvachanIya or indeterminate, unreal. The
substratum or locus of superimposition, which is real, is indicated by the
word "परत्र".
(तच्च पूर्वदृष्टं स्वरूपेण सदप्यारोपणीयतया अनिर्वाच्यमित्यनृतम् । आरोपविषयं
सत्यमाह - परत्र इति।)

A previously seen object could appear later and this would be a valid
cognition. For instance, Devadatta, who was seen earlier in Pataliputra,
could be seen now in MahiShmatI. In this case, we recognize the Devadatta
seen earlier. It is not an illusion.
अत आह - स्मृतिरूप इति। स्मृतेः रुपमिव रूपमस्येति स्मृतिरूपः
।असंनिहितविषयत्वं च स्मृतिरूपत्वम्। संनिहितविषयत्वं च प्रत्यभिज्ञानम् ...
(To rule out such cases, the bhAShykAra) has used the word "smritirUpa" in
the definition of adhyAsa. The nature of the appearance of the object is
similar to that of memory or recollection. The word "recollection" indicates
that the object is not present (during the time of illusion). In the case of
recognition (pratyabhijnAna), the object is present. What the bhAmatI says
here is illusion needs to be distinguished from recognition. The Devadatta
seen earlier and is being seen now is a case of recognition, because he is
really here now. However, in an illusion of snake on rope, the snake seen
earlier (पूर्वदृष्ट), is not seen. The panchapAdikA clarifies why the word
smritirUpa is to be taken not as recollection (smriti) itself but
*like* recollection. स्मृतेः रूपमिव रूपमस्य, न पुनः स्मृतिरेव।
पूर्वप्रमाणविषयविशेषस्य तथा अनावभासकत्वात्। This has the nature similar to
that of recollection but it is not recollection itself. (Why?) Because, (in
a recollection,) the thing that was revealed by a pramANa (such as
perception) does not appear (here and now). For example, I have seen
the Eiffel Tower before. When I remember it, the tower does not appear
before my eyes here and now. It is only a mental image that is formed. But
in an illusion, the illusory object appears before and is experienced here
and now by the person under the influence of the illusion.

The panchapAdikA vivaraNa of PrakAshAtman has further explanation. This is
in response to an objection that the nacre seen as silver is actually only a
remembrance of silver.
स्पष्टं पुरोवस्थितत्वावभासनात्। यथान्यच्चेदं रजतमयं घट
इत्यादावितरेतरसंसृष्टौ सामान्यविशेषावपरोक्षाववभासेते तथेहापि प्रतिभासः । -
It (silver) clearly appears before us (and therefore not a recollection). In
a valid cognition of silver, pot, etc., of the form "this is silver", "this
is a pot", etc., the common part of the cognition, the "this" part, and the
specific part of the cognition (the "silver" or "pot") are fused together,
and the appearance (as a fused whole)  is immediate and direct (aparokSha).
In the same way, in the case of erroneous cognition or illusion, the "this"
and "silver" appear as one fused whole. In other words, during an illusion,
one does not have two cognitions, i.e., of "this" and "silver". Rather, one
cognizes: "this is silver".

 The word avabhAsa in the definition of adhyAsa is explained thus in the
BhAmatI: प्रत्ययान्तरबाधश्चास्य अवसादोऽवमानो वा, the word appearance means
it is terminated or discredited by another sublating cognition. Nor is not
possible to say that the superimposed object is wholly nonexistent (asat).
न चेदमत्यन्तमसत् निरस्तसमस्तस्वरूपमलीकमेवास्तु इति सांप्रतम्,
तस्यानुभवगोचरत्वानुपपत्तेः - भामती. It is not appropriate to hold that the
(illusory object) is entirely nonexistent or false, devoid of any essence,
because (such an object) cannot be within the range of experience. It is not
possible to have an experience of something that is totally nonexistent or

During sublation of the erroneous cognition, for example, "this is silver"
(इदं रजतम्),  it gets sublated by a cognition, "this is nacre (shell)" (इयं
शुक्तिः). What has happened here? The substratum of both cognitions, the
common "this-ness" part (idaMtva) remains the same, even after subation.
What has changed is that the specfic part, "rajatatva" has been replaced by
the specific part "shuktitva". Note that the sublation of the erroneous
cognition does *not* mean the entire cognition is negated or contradicted.
What is contradicted is only the specific part of the cognition. It is
replaced by another specific part. Even though the specific part of the
erroneous cognition is replaced, the common part endures. This is precisely
why the silver perceived during illusion as "this is silver" is not totally

The vivaraNa also provides further explanation. When the illusion ends, one
remarks "nAstyatra rajatam", there is no silver here and denies it during
all three times, past, present, and future. This silver that is being denied
is actually the real (empirical) silver that was never the object of
illusion. This silver is the silver that was seen earlier and is "stored" in
memory. However, one also says "mithyaiva rajatamabhAt", only the unreal
silver appeared. Here, the silver being referred to is the illusory silver
that was perceived here and now during the illusion.

ViTThalesha, in his commentary on BrahmAnanda's laghuchandrika, answers
another possible objection. The opponent may argue as follows. In the
illusion of silver in nacre, the nacre is no doubt  the basis of the
illusory silver. But the basis nacre itself is unreal  according to the
advaitin. Its reality is only empirical (vyAvahArika). So how can the
illusory silver be any different  from an entirely fictitious thing such as
a hare's horns, something that is imagined without a real basis? In reply,
ViTThalesha says that even  in the silver-in-nacre illusion, the basis nacre
is not absolutely false because the nacre is itself a superimposition on the
absolutely real sat  (Brahman). And this absolutely real Brahman cannot be
sublated ever. Therefore, the silver has to be ultimately a superimposition
on Brahman Itself. The silver seen during illusion is, for this reason, not
of the same category as a hare's horns, which is asat.

ShAnkarabhAShya on 2.2.28 says, "नचोपलभ्यमानस्यैवाभावो भवितुमर्हति", it is
not possible for the very object that is perceived to be nonexistent. Even
during an illusion, the person who sees the silver here and now has to admit
its existence. If one asks the person, "Do you see silver now?", the answer
will be "Yes." If the same person is asked, "Does the silver exist here and
now?", the answer is bound to be "Yes. It exists." After the illusion ends
by the sublating cognition of nacre, the same person will admit that the
silver he saw was illusory. This is exactly why advaita holds the illusory
silver to be unclassifiable as sat or asat.

Summing up the analysis of adhyAsa, VAchaspati says:
तस्मान्न सत्, नासत्, नापि सदसत् परस्परविरोधात्, इत्यनिर्वाच्यमेवारोपणीयं
मरीचिषु तोयमास्थेयम्, The water superimposed on rays of light (in a mirage)
has to be regarded as indeterminate (anirvAchya), since it is not real
(sat), not unreal (asat), not real and unreal as this would be a

(To be continued)


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