Theory of knowledge

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 7 12:54:08 CDT 1998

Whatever I say below are just my current opinions and subject to change
on further better understanding, which I hope other members will provide

For a long time I couldn't understand why so much thought had to be
spend on the theory of knowledge - the subject, the object, the means of
knowledge etc. And that seemed to be all that the Nyaya and some Bouddha
darshanas were interested in.

Now that I'm at the crossroads trying to distinguish between thoughts
and myself, I'm able to appreciate it better.

I thought I'd start a thread on this subject. We could try understanding
the fundamentals using our day to day experience and common sense,
rather than immediately going to books. That IMO, would enable better
understanding when we finally hit the books.

Why do we need to analyze the subject, object relationship? Why can't we
just concentrate on the subject itself, which is the primary focus of
our study?

Nagasena in Milindapanha, a Bouddha text, expounds the concept of an
everchanging soul. He states the soul is like a flame changing every

Taken alone, this theory seems plausible. But when you try to reconcile
it with our day to day experience, the subject - object relationship,
the theory fails. Shankara attacking the Bouddha concept of
momentariness states : By momentariness it is meant that objects appear,
exist for a moment and then cease to exist. That would mean that A
exists, ceases to exist and then B appears. But then that would mean
that B came out of nothing and reason shows that objects cannot come out
of nothing. So there has to be an underlying continuity without which
memory and day to day experience would be impossible to explain.

Let's try analyzing the process of cognition.

The eye sees a tree. It's generally said that this information is passed
to the mind, which with memory associates the object perceived as a
tree. But then we know that mind is just a bundle of thoughts. So there
has to be something else which facilitates the whole process. Is it that
when the eye sees a tree the information is then sent to something which
with accumulated data from the past identifies the object and then
generates the thought that the perceived object is a tree? Then could
this something, which facilitates the reference with past knowledge and
generates the thought, be the Soul?

But then the Soul is declared to be the Changeless Absolute. Being
Changeless it's not capable of any activity and hence can neither do the
process of reference with the memory nor generate any thought. This
would also question Yagnavalkya's characterization of the Soul as the

Another question is : If the thoughts come out of nowhere, how are we
able to control them? So what's this will which helps us control the
thoughts? And who exercises this will?

And regarding Jaladhar's question about the consciousness during deep
sleep - I disagree. There cannot be any consciousness, as we know it in
our day to day experience, during the state of sushupti. That is the
reason that most people have a difficulty of staying awake while
meditating and that the state of meditation is equated with deep sleep.
And to be conscious in deep sleep just means that you're awake :-) At
this point in time, I can't agree with the usage of the word
"consciousness" to describe the state of existence.

Get Your Private, Free Email at

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list