[Advaita-l] AchArya on the Objects of the Waking State (B.S., II.2.29)

michael reidy michael_reidy at eircom.net
Sun Sep 2 03:21:29 CDT 2007

Dear Vinayaka,

The difference between the points of view of Gaudapada and Shankara 
concerning the dream state is really that between a broad intuition and 
a closely argued philosophical position.  On the one hand there is the 
sense of absolute reality which as it were annihilates the relative and 
on the other hand the concept of various levels of reality nested one 
within the other like Russian dolls.  

It is possible to discern traces of Idealism in the approach of 
Gaudapada in relation to the topic of dreaming vis a vis the waking state.
" As the dream objects are unreal in a dream, so also, because of that 
very reason, the objects in the waking state are unreal.  But objects ( 
in the dream state ) differ because of existence inside ( the body ) and 
because of contraction  ( in the dream )."  Karika II.4

Shankara's commentary traces the logic of this position thus.  In the 
dream state objects are perceived, in the waking state also objects are 
perceived.  We know that the objects in the dream state are unreal even 
though they are perceived.  By parity of reasoning we can infer that the 
objects in the waking state are also unreal for the reason that they are 

As we can see the attention is being switched from the objects as such 
to the awareness.  Hidden in that approach is a theory about what it is 
that we are directly aware of in any mode of consciousness.  In Karika 
IV.27 this is made clear:
"Consciousness does not ever come in contact with external objects in 
all the three states.  There being no external objects how can there be 
any be any baseless false apprehension of it?"

Shankara makes clear that this position has the counter intuitive 
implication that "there is no such thing as false knowledge at all".

The more moderate position that, what we are aware of is states of 
consciousness and it is from them that we infer the reality of external 
objects, is met with  in modern times.  It is false because there is no 
distinction between the valid form of knowledge which is perception and 
the valid form of knowledge which is inference.  You cannot conflate 
inference and perception. ((cf. Vedanta Paribhasa (perception) on this 

In B.S.B. II.ii.29 the concept of contradiction is introduced or as the 
translation of Swami Gambhirananda has it, 'sublation'.  An interesting 
term first used by Radhakrishnan, it has its origin in Hegelian logic.  
The idea is of one position being absorbed by another in a higher and 
more comprehensive synthesis.  The dream images which seem real enough 
in the state of dream are contradicted by the reality of the waking 
state.  What Shankara denies is the notion that it's all just mental 
life, it's all just images, it's all just forms of awareness.  He is 
saying that we can distinguish between dream and waking in the way that 
we can distinguish between memory and perception.  We don't have to look 
for evidence for this distinction because in fact that would be to 
distinguish between different packages of awareness which is 
incoherent.  No, we just know without evidence.  "And it is not logical 
for those who consider themselves intelligent to deny their own 
experience".  Further on he says: "But anything that cannot be the 
characteristic of something in its own right, cannot certainly be so 
because of a similarity with another".  Here he means that if we cannot 
say this is the waking state because I know that this is the waking 
state then I cannot say that it is like the dream.  To draw a likeness 
between two things is to distinguish between two things which is what it 
is claimed we cannot do. (cf. Gaudapada quoted above).

Best Wishes,

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list