Samkara's theory of reality

Allan Curry acurry at UVIC.CA
Sat Oct 11 17:20:33 CDT 1997


The following quote is from  R.Puligandla's "Fundamentals of Indian
Philosophy". I liked it very much and would like to consider it an accurate
representation of  Samkara's thought. If it misrepresents Samkara in any
way, I'd appreciate hearing about it...

"Central to Samkara's theory of reality is the concept of sublation.
Sublation is essentially the mental process of correcting and rectifying
errors of judgment. Thus one is said to sublate a previously held judgment
when, in the light of a new experience which contradicts it, one either
regards the judgment as false or disvalues it in some significant sense. It
is obvious that sublation of a given judgment necessarily results in its
being replaced by a new one. Not only judgments but also concepts, objects,
relations. and in general any content of consciousness, can be sublated.
For Samkara sublatability is the criterion of the ontological status of any
content of consciousness; anything that is in principle sublatable is of a
lesser degree of reality and value than that which replaces it as a result
of sublation. It is through the concept of sublation that Samkara arrives
at his ontological hierarchy. On the criterion of sublatability, Samkara
distinguishes reality, appearance, and unreality. Reality is that which in
principle cannot be sublated by any other experience. Apearance is that
which in principle can be sublated by other experiences. Unreality is that
which in principle neither can nor cannot be sublated.

Let us first note that the act of sublation presupposes an essential
dualism between the experiencer and the experienced, the subject and the
object, consciousness and the contents of consciousness. It also
presupposes a plurality of objects, concepts, judments - contents of
consciousness in general. The distinction between subject and object is
necessary for sublation because it is the subject who sublates the object.
Plurality of objects is necessary for sublation because sublation
analytically implies juxtaposing one object or experience against another
incompatible object or experience and judging that the first has a lesser
degree of reality (or is of lesser value) than the second. In the light of
these remarks, to say that the experience of reality is unsublatable is to
say that no other experience can conceivably contradict the experience of
reality. The reason for this is that reality is devoid of all distinctions
- not only the distinction between one object and another but also that
between the subject and the object, the self and the non-self. Thus the
experience of reality transcends all distinctions and is therefore the
experience of pure identity between the subject and object, the self and
the non-self. It is clear that the experience of reality is unsublatable,
since there can be nothing besides the unitary experience which may
conceivably contovert the experience. Reality is unsublatable because it is
wholly bereft of any distinctions, oppositions, qualifications or
relations. It is the experience of reality that sublates all else, itself
being unsublatable by any other experience whatsoever."

-Allan Curry

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