advaita-siddhi - 17 - The third definition of mithyAtva

Having seen the first two definitions of mithyAtva (unreality), we will now study the third definition of mithyAtva that MadhusUdana deals with in the advaita-siddhi. Previous articles on the advaita-siddhi may be retrieved from the archives by searching for the key word "siddhi." These articles also include the background in nyAya that is useful in making sense out of MadhusUdana's work which is certainly one of the finest polemical treatises in the whole of Indian philosophy.

Recall that the first definition of mithyAtva said that what is mithyA is characterized by "sadasadanadhikaraNatva", not being the substratum of either sat (Existence) or asat (nonexistence). And the second definition of mithyAtva said that what is mithyA (unreal) is characterized as being the counterpositive (pratiyogin) of an absolute negation in the very substratum where it (the thing that is mithyA) is cognized.

The third definition that is now taken up in the advaita-siddhi simply says:

GYAnanivartyatvaM vA mithyAtvam.h |

Alternatively, unreality is the property of being sublated by knowledge or cognition.

This is an extremely pithy definition which must only be understood by careful analysis, not just brushed off as something obvious and trivial. The definition comes from the VivaraNAchArya, PrakAshAtman.

First of all, let us do a simple analysis. We know that GYAna and aGYAna are like light and darkness. aGYAna, ignorance is sublated, negated by GYAna. Further, what is aGYAna, ignorance, is also unreal. If I am ignorant of something, I have erroneous information about that thing. This erroneous information does not represent any true state of affairs. So it is false. When do I eliminate the erroneous information? Only when I have the correct information, GYAna of the thing in question.

Next, let us try to analyse the definition in a deeper and technical manner using nyAya. In any philosophical debate, any definitions that you make must be unambiguous and must withstand close scrutiny by the opponent. This is especially true in the advaita-siddhi context because the opponents here happen to be led by the mAdhva exponent VyAsa-tIrtha, who in the words of contemporary mAdhva scholar BNK Sharma (if my memory  serves me right), subjects all theories to "microscopic scrutiny." We'd better make sure the definition is "air-tight" with no holes whatsoever.

A significant difficulty with the definition, when we take a closer look, is this. The definition should apply to ordinary cases of illusion such as the silver-in-nacre and snake-on-rope as well as the quite extra-ordinary and fantastic illusion of the world on Brahman. The cognition of the rope as rope (or nacre as nacre) ends the ordinary illusion. Now what ends the illusion of the world? Surely, Brahman cannot be cognized in the same objective way that a piece of rope or nacre is cognized. The cognition of an object, such as a rope, of the form of "this is a rope" is fundamentally different from the GYAna of Brahman or BrahmasAxAtkAra, the direct realization of Brahman. What is it that is so fundamentally different between the two types of GYAna? Let us investigate further with the help of nyAya, more specifially the tarka-saMgraha of aNNaMbhaTTa.

tatra niShprakArakaM GYAnaM nirvikalpakam.h|
saprakArakaM GYAna savikalpakam.h |

An indeterminate cognition (nirvikalpaka-GYAna) is one with no attribute (prakAra). A determinate cognition (savikalpaka-GYAna) is one with an attribute (prakAra).

Any savikalpaka-GYAna can be broken down into three components, as per nyAya. Or more precisely, any savikalpaka-GYAna has an objective content (viShaya) consisting of 1) a visheShya or qualificand, 2) a visheShaNa (also prakAra), ie. a qualifier, and 3) a saMsarga or relation between the qualificand and qualifier. This also corresponds roughly to the subject-predicate form of a sentence in natural language.

Consider the Sanskrit sentence "nIlo ghaTaH" (the pot is blue.) Here the visheShya is "pot", the visheShaNa is "nIla" and the relation between them is that of inherence of blue color in the pot. Such a relation is called "samavAya" in nyAya.

In the language of navya-nyAya, the cognition corresponding to the sentence (nIlo ghaTaH) is analysed as follows:

nirUpita-viShayitAshAli-GYAnam.h |

An awkward English translation is:

It is a cognition whose subjectness is described by the qualificandness delimited by potness, described by the qualifierness delimited by blue-ness, and described by the relation-ness delimited by inherence-ness.

The naiyAyikas say that in a nirvikalpaka cognition, it is not possible to identify the visheShya, the visheShaNa, and the saMsarga, even though they may be present. This is where the advaitins part company with the naiyAyikas. The advaitins hold that in a nirvikalpaka-GYAna, only Existence (Brahman) is presented. There is no visheShya, no visheShaNa, no saMsarga.

Finally now, we can be satisified that the definition of mithyAtva as "GYAnanivartyatvaM vA mithyAtvam.h" applies to ordinary illusions as well as the world-on-Brahman illusion. When an ordinary illusion such as a snake-on-rope is negated in an ordinary fashion, the cognition which negates the illusion is the savikalpaka type, "this is a rope." When the world-illusion is negated by Brahma-GYAna, this GYAna is of the nirvikalpaka type.

In the next part, we will see how the opponent launches a new line of attack on the definition.