[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge - 21

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sun Sep 7 20:37:12 CDT 2008

We are discussing the Vedanta ParibhASha of Dharmaraja Adhvarindra, on the basis of my understanding. 

                 Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge -21

We are addressing the perception of silver where there is nacre, due to silvery-ness observed by the senses. VP says there are two types of transformations that occur in a perception of any object by a subject, knower.  One transformation is at the level of the object or prameya, and the other is at the level of the subject, pramaata. That there is an object ‘out there’ itself is mityaa, since substantive of the object as per Vedanta is Brahman by the statement ‘sarvam khalu idam brahma’.  Brahman is formless and attribute-less, while the object has a form with other attributes.  What is perceived is only a form with a name, which is mithyaa. The vRitti that is formed is known as it gets illumined by the witnessing consciousness when the perceptuality conditions are met. That is, when the subject-consciousness is united with the object-existence in the form of vRitti.  By this process, not just existence but consciousness-existence forms a
 substantive for the vRitti. Since consciousness forms a basis for knowledge, ‘this’ that is related to object-vRitti now (as though) abides in the consciousness-existence of saakshii. A further identification of the object as ‘this is silver’ occurs due to the attributive content of silvery-ness in the vRitti that is formed. The cognition of that knowledge as ‘I know this is silver’, also follows.  Essentially a mithyaa object out there is transformed by the perceptual process as mithyaa object in the limiting consciousness. Hence ontologically, the object silver out there is now in par with the object silver-awareness in the mind – since in the both cases the substantives are not known. This transformation that preserves the ontological status of cause and the effect is called pariNAma. The substantive for the outside silver is Brahman as per Vedanta, and substantive for the object ‘this’ inside the mind is the limiting consciousness
 due to the perceptuality requirement. In essence, ‘this’ is in my consciousness for me to be conscious of ‘this’.  Since ‘this’ can be any object, and ‘all-this’ constitutes the world, I become conscious of the world when the world in my consciousness. Instruments, mind and the senses, form basis for this transformation process of the world of object out side to the consciousness of the objects inside, while preserving their ontological status.  Thus mind and the senses become ‘pramANa’ or the means of knowledge in this transformation process.  Thus it is clear that in the perceptual process, we are bringing together, the Iswara shRiShTi in the form of the world of objects and Jiiiva shRiShTi in the form of vRittis to establish the perception of  the world  ‘out there’ by preserving the ontological status of the existing objects out there with the objects in our consciousness. We are using the word ‘our consciousnesses’ in
 the sense of limiting consciousness of the witness.  We will now address some more objections raised by Naiyaayikas. 

Objection: In meeting the perceptuality condition, if ‘this’ is an object that is superimposed on the limiting consciousness (which is called witness or upahita caitanya), the cognition should be ‘I am silver’ or ‘I have silver’, similar to the cognition of ‘I am happy’. But the cognition is not like that. It is ‘I know that is silver’ or ‘I know that object over there is silver’. 

Reply: In response to the objection, VP illustrates a universal rule relating to the experience and the knowledge of that experience.  In every experience, there is an experiencer, experienced and experiencing – similar to knower, known and knowing -pramaata, prameya and pramaaNa. Thus in every experience, there is an object of experience which is localized in a particular form.  Here we are using the word ‘form’ in generic sense and not necessarily related to physical dimensions.  The experience takes the form of a latent impression that is left by that experience.  This is also called sometimes as ‘samskaara’.  Actions for example leave subtle impressions called vaasanaas.  Hence all experiences leave a latent impression.  When I see an object jar out there, this seeing constitutes an experience. It leaves a latent impression in the form of ‘this’.  VP says impression ‘this’ is the result of nescience, which covers the true or
 substantive knowledge of the object of ‘this’, which is Brahman.  Because of the nescience, the impression left is ‘this, existent-jar’ rather than ‘Existence, as this-jar’, since existence as such is formless. The experience of all objects, as a universal rule, is always – ‘this’ or ‘that’ with latent impressions, separating themselves from each other as well as from other impressions that are left behind – such as the experience of body, mind or intellect.  In the case of the experience of the mind, intellect or body, the impression is of two-fold nature. One is ‘this is mind’ and the other is ‘I am the mind’ due to nescience occurring at two levels.  When I say ‘this is mind’, it is similar to ‘this is a jar’ Here the nescience is ignorance of Brahman, since any ‘this’ according to Vedanta is nothing but Brahman – sarvam khalu idam brahma. Hence mind is illumined by the witnessing consciousness by which
 the knowledge of the mind, as ‘this is mind’ can occur.  (At this level ‘mind’ is part of Iswara sRiShTi.  This is one of the reason why when I become jnaani only my notional mind which is jiiva sRiShTi gets destroyed, but not the objective mind which is Iswara shRiShTi.) The second level of nescience also expresses as ‘I am the mind’, in contrast to ‘this is mind’.  This is due to the ignorance of myself as ‘I am the consciousness-existence entity’.  Hence in the cognition of the mind – ‘this is mind’ as well as ‘I am the mind’ both happen due to two-fold ignorance.  VP calls this as two types of experiences – taking body as an example – we have ‘this is the body’ and also ‘I am the body’. This two level experience is due to the nescience of ‘Brahman’ as well as nescience of ‘myself as brahman’. VP gives several examples to illustrate what Vedanta calls it as adhyaasa arising from nescience.  Some
 examples are: This is eye and I am blind, this is ear, I am deaf. Similarly, ‘I am happy’ is due to the identification with the latent impression in the mind due to attributive knowledge of happiness similar to I am angry, I am depressed, etc.  We have already discussed the internal perceptions of these emotions where the contents of the vRitti’s are the emotions directly. These emotions are perceived immediately as they rise the in the mind. 

Coming back to the example of perception of silver, even though the effect of nescience abiding in the consciousness that is limited by ‘this’ which is not different from the consciousness associated with the subject, the experience and the latent impression of that experience is in the form of ‘this’ as ‘this is silver’ and not ‘I am silver’.  In essence there is no identification of ‘this is silver’ with ‘I am silver’, since I am identification does not extend to the object out side the body, mind and intellect.  I can say – this silver is mine and not this silver is me.  In contrast I do say – this body is mine and this body is me. If the object has no organic relation with the body, the latent impression will be ‘this is an object’ and not ‘I am the object’.  My hand, for example, is integral part of my body, the latent impression extend to the hand as ‘as I am the hand’ as in ‘I am the rest of the body’. 
 Hence when you touch my hand, or hurt my hand, you are touching me or hurting me.  If for some reason my hand is amputated and left on the table, then the same hand becomes ‘this is hand’ and no more identification as ‘I am the hand’.  Hence when you cut that amputated hand on the table, I have no sense that you are hurting me. Hence based on the latent impression, ‘this’ is the object or ‘I am the object’ occur due to two layer (or aspects of) nescience. One is world of objects is nothing but Brahman and the other is I am none other than Brahman. Hence advaita Vedanta declares that Brahma satyam, jagat mithyaa, and jiivo brahmaiva naaparaH. The first statement establishes the nature of Brahman, the second eliminates the ignorance of the world of objects and third eliminates ignorance of myself.  The second and third are stated clearly to eliminate this two-layer nescience.  It is also important to recognize that, contrary to the claims,
 ‘who am I?, who am I?’ inquiry itself does not eliminate completely this two-fold nescience, unless it is also supported by ‘what is this world that appears to be separate from me?’. Hence the purpose of inquiry into the perceptual process by VP, as stated in the introduction to this series, is recognize that when the world is perceived, the existence of the world is united with the consciousness-existence of the witnessing consciousness. 

Objection: Even so, the object, ‘this is silver’ is cognized only when the perception is directly connected with the witnessing consciousness, which is nothing but pure ‘I am’ – the consciousness-existence. The vRitti has to be abiding in that illuminating consciousness to have the knowledge of that vRitti. If that is so, why assume a state of nescience involving an ‘apparent knowledge’ or ‘mityaa silver’ as its object of perception and complicate the issue? 

Reply: The perception of an object requires not only the existence of an object but consciousness of the existence of the object.  Existence of an object cannot be established without the consciousness of its existence. Hence perception of an object consists in not only having an existence of the object but that existence of the object has to be united with the consciousness of the subject, expressed in the form of perceptuality requirement. Hence any cognition requires consciousness and existence as unifying principle.  But that is the nature of Brahman as its swaruupa lakshaNam. Yet we do not gain the knowledge of Brahman by the perception of ‘idam’ or this object even though scripture says all idams are Brahman only.  Hence even though the ‘idam’ or ‘this’ abides in the consciousness-existence during the perceptual process, the nescience persists in the perception.  Hence it is not an assumption but a statement of fact. 

Objection: However, the mental state or impression in the form of ‘this’, and the state of ignorance of the ‘Brahman’, due to nescience – these two are two distinct entities. According to PrabhAkara (who was a student of KumArila Bhatta, but formed his own school of puurva mImAmsa different from his teacher), one should treat the perception of the object as ‘this’ and recognition of the object as ‘silver’, as two separate process. That is, cognition and recognition are two distinct processes and should not be combined.  However, in the perception of illusory silver – the perception ‘this’ is getting mixed up with the recognition of real silver perceived elsewhere to have a mixed-up perception that ‘this is (that) silver’.  Hence the illusory silver, as per PrabhAkara, is not an error in perception but an error in recognition. A qualified perception as ‘erroneous perception’ is therefore not permitted and your above
 analysis violates that. 

Reply: Not true.  We do not accept PrabhAkaras analysis of error. In our view, error is taking something other than what it is – atasmin tat buddhi – nescience also involves taking the substantive Brahman other than what it is – as object this or object that.  This is the fundamental in all erroneous perceptions.  The object that I am perceiving as ‘this’, I am taking it as silver in stead of what it is – nacre.  This error is at vyavahaara level. There is an error in not recognizing the paaramaarthika satyam too.  But the causes for both errors are the same.   One and the same consciousness is reflected in two states involving real (the existence as object) and unreal (experiential ‘this’ as a form with quality). When real is not recognized due to nescience, the unreal is taken to be real object out there.  This is admitted as error in perception.  The illuminating consciousness, saakshii, illumines the real and the unreal components
 ‘this is’ and ‘silver’; one is the substantive of is-ness, and the other the attributive content of vRitti in the form of silvery-ness. Thus error arises in every perception and is accepted by advaita Vedanta where the real is ignored, and adheya, or superimposed attributive knowledge (based on the silvery-ness of the object observed), forms the basis for its substantive knowledge that ‘this is silver’. 

Objection: According to the tenants of Vedanta, the silver that is elsewhere (at different place and time) observed or experienced is also the effect of nescience.  In that perception also there is the same superimposition, or adheya knowledge of name and form, on the substantive Brahman.  There also the substantive is not recognized as Brahman and the knowledge is only based on the attributes – as silver. How does the perception of real silver elsewhere differ from the false silver perceived here, when we mistake nacre as silver? 

Reply: According to Nyaaya, all are equally real.  However both experientially as well as according to advaita Vedanta, even in vyavahaara there are degrees of reality, even though from the absolute reference, all only transactionally real or vyavahaara satyam.  Take for example gold and the ring.  Which is real and which is false, even though the so- called real is false from the absolute point? That which remains the same or unchanging during a transformation is more real than the one that changed.  Hence of the two- ring and gold, gold is more real than the ring. Transformation of ring into bangle will be pariNAma where the cause is destroyed in becoming the effect, but from the point of gold, it remains the same in the cause and the effect.  Hence ontological status of gold and ring or bangle is different.  Similarly the ontological status of the silver that was perceived at some other place and time through a pramaaNa is real since it remains as
 silver unless a contradictory experience occurs that negates the knowledge of that silver that was seen before.  In the current example the object that recognized as silver as this is silver, is subsequently negated by a contradictory experience where the real knowledge of the object nacre occurs. Hence we have more permanent objects compared to others, establishing a range of permanency or impermanence and thus degree of reality of objects. Some objects only have fleeting presence, while others are more permanent.  In the perception of the silver where there is nacre, the lighting conditions may not be ideal for the eyes to see the complete and full set of attributes that define that object as nacre.  Since silvery-ness of the object is dominant and is visible without any doubt, the object based on the sense input of the silvery-ness of the object, silver is immediately perceived. But this perception is negated when one have a clear vision or if one
 can pick up the object and observe to discover that it is  not silver but nacre. We need all the necessary attributes to define or identify the object without any ambiguity.  If for some reason or the other, we get only partial, but dominant attributes, the error in perception is possible.  The reason could be lack of light or even due to the defective eye (such as color-blindness) one can perceive an object as different from what it is.  Thus the criterion for errors in perception or seeing illusory objects in perception is perception of incomplete set or even incorrect attributes based on which the conclusion that ‘the object is silver’ is made.  Sleep, for example, can form an adventitious defect for cognition of the objects in a dream state.  Thus the objects such as chariot etc experienced in a dream are illusory since the perception is covered by the adventitious defect called sleep.  They are real as long as the dream lasts, but become unreal
 when one gets up – sa kale satyavat bhaati, prabhode satyasat bhavati – says Shankara in Atma bhoda. 

The discussion now takes to ontological status of objects seen in the dream, and this we will take in the next post.

Hari Om!

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