Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Critical analysis of vedAnta paribhAShA Part VI
Dr. K. Sadananda

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Part VI - Attributes and Substantive

We now go into some more detailed aspect of perceptual knowledge, noting that VP provides general aspects but not so much detail. These details are mostly based on my understanding, so you can take it with a grain of salt!

Knowledge of an object occurs when the perception by the senses is projected in the mind as a vRRitti. A vRRitti is a thought and the contents of the thought are the sense-data of the object to the degree that this is perceived by the senses. The senses gather the attributes as they perceive them, not necessarily as they really are. What the objects are and how they are seen may match, if all the conditions for the senses to operate are met. For example, if the light illuminating an object is dim, or if the sense organs are defective (like the absence of 20:20 vision), the attributes that the senses gather could deviate from the actual. This could bring about an error in perception. The point I would like emphasize is that the senses can only gather the attributes of the object - colors, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, etc. and not substantives. [VP discusses later how the all pervading consciousness (brahman) is the substantive for everything. According to Vedanta, brahman is the material cause for the universe and thus for the objects to be known (prameya), for the means of knowledge (pramANa) and for the knower (pramAtRRi).] We need to have a clear understanding of the processes of perception, since we do not 'see' Brahman when we see the objects. In fact what we see is only inert things, since Brahman being pure consciousness cannot be an object of perception; in fact cannot be an object of any pramANa. Considering that consciousness is indivisible, what we see as a finite object is consciousness 'as though' constrained by the ‘finitization’ as an object.[ We use the word 'as though' throughout our discussions, since that which is indivisible and part-less appears to be divided, just as indivisible space is 'as though' divided into many compartments by bounding walls.]

Let us pose the question: what do we really perceive when we perceive an object? We need the senses in order to perceive – the eyes can only see form and color; the ears the sounds, if the object emanates some; the nose the smell, etc. Each sense has its field of operation without overlapping any other. But all are attributes of the object. Hence, the senses can only measure the attributes of the object. Senses do not create the attributes but only measure them as they 'grasp' the object. Looking from the point of view of the object, the object is defined only by its attributes. All definitions are attributive. The more precisely the attributes are specified, the more concisely the object is defined. All the attributes serve to differentiate one object from the rest of the objects in the universe.

The attributes are not the substantive. Consider objects such as bangle, ring, necklace, bracelet etc. All are names for different forms, each having its own attributes such as ID, OD, length, thickness, etc. If we examine the attributes of each object, say ring, bangle, necklace and bracelet, they enable us to distinguish one from the other as well as from other forms in the universe. But none of them really belong to the substantive, which is Gold. In fact, the attributes of Gold are its atomic mass, atomic structure, luster, non-corrosion, ductility, density, or any of the other physical and chemical attributes which chemists use to differentiate gold from say, silver or copper, etc. All these have nothing to do with any of the forms in which gold can exist. These attributes of gold itself are not helpful in differentiating ring, bangle, necklace and bracelet, etc., although the substantive of all these forms and names is the same, namely gold. Hence, when we see the ring, bangle, necklace and bracelet, we see two types of attributes. First the attributes of the superficial aspects associated with the names for their forms i.e. ring, bangle, etc, and second some of the attributes of the substantive gold that can be immediately grasped by the senses, such as metallic luster, etc . Without going into too much in details, since some of these were discussed elsewhere (see ‘Introduction to Vedanta’), we can state in general that:

1. The senses grasp only the attributes of those superficial names and forms, as well as those of the substantive that can be perceived directly by the senses. The senses have no capacity to gather the substantive itself. (I.e. only the attributes enter the mind and not the gold itself. If this were not the case, only one person would ever be able to see anything since, subsequently, there would be nothing left for anyone else to see!)

2. If the attributes of the substantive are non-graspable by the senses, then the senses can only gather the attributes of the superficial name and forms. This is the case if we say that Brahman is the material cause or substantive, since this does not have attributes of its own, in which case the senses can only gather the attributes of those names and forms that are superimposed on Brahman. Knowledge of the substantive can only be gained by shastra pramANa, e.g. by statements such as ‘sarvaM khalvidam brahma’ and ‘neha nAnAsti ki~nchana’ – ‘all this is Brahman’ and ‘there is nothing or no thing other than Brahman’.

The appearance of name and form, whether subtle or gross, is creation. In accounting for how Brahman appears to become many names and forms, the Upanishads describe the appearance of the subtle elements (tanmAtra-s) first, which subsequently undergo ‘transformationless’ transformation, involving divisions and recombinations, in order to form the apparent grosser objects that we can qualify. Vedanta indicates that every object that we see is nothing but an assemblage of finer or subtler elements and they have no substantive of their own. Just as there is no ‘ringly’ substance or ‘bangly’ substance but only gold, every object in this universe has no substantive of its own and is an assemblage of finer parts which can be further and further sub-divided until all the grossness of the material object disappears. Ultimately only the conscious entity that is doing the division remains. This appears to be where current science is also heading… but slowly. But they do not end up with ‘consciousness’ since that is never considered as a factor in the appearance of objects.

Thus, what we see when we see objects is only their superficial attributes since the ultimate substantive is nothing but Brahman, whose nature is existence-consciousness and limitlessness. Since consciousness and limitlessness cannot be seen, what we see in the object are its attributes plus ‘existence, i.e. 'object is' – or actually existence ‘as an object’, or ‘ an existent object’, since a non-existent object cannot be perceived.

We can formally write an equation for an object:

Object = Brahman + superimposed names and forms.

Names and forms cannot be counted as separate. We cannot count ‘ring one, bangle two, necklace three’, etc, since ring, bangle, necklace, are just superimpositions on gold. Knowledge of a ring involves two aspects - knowledge of name and form (ring) and knowledge of substantive (gold). Since gold knowledge is the more substantial knowledge, what counts is that knowledge. Similarly, when we know brahman, it is not that we will know each name and form, but what we know is more substantial than any other knowledge, since brahman is the material cause for the Universe. Hence, the scriptures declare: eka vijnaanena sarva vijnAnam bhavati – knowing that ONE (substantive or cause), knowledge of every product (effect) is 'as though' gained. Since the senses do not grasp the substantive, the shAstra alone becomes the source of that knowledge of the material cause of all objects in the universe.

Proceed to the next essay.

Other Essays in this Section (Perception):
01. Introduction Part 1. 28. Perception at the Individual Level.
02. Introduction Part 2. 29. Perception at the Cosmic Level.
03. Analysis of Time and Space. 30. Summary so far.
04. Knowledge is Continuous. 31. vAchArambhanaNaM.
05. Whatever you perceive is Brahman! 32. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.1.
06. Attributes and Substantive. 33. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.2.
07. Mechanics of Perception. 34. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.3.
08. Some Objections. 35. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.4.
09. Internal Perceptions. 36. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.5.
10. The Criteria for Cognition. 37. Nature of ‘ego’ and Self-realization.
11. Unity of limiting consciousness for perception. 38. Erroneous Perceptions Pt. 1.
12. Internal Perceptions (cont.) 39. Erroneous Perceptions Pt. 2.
13. Some Clarifications Regarding Internal Perception. 40. Analysis of Error - Part 1: khyAti vAda-s.
14. Some Clarifications Regarding Character. 41. Analysis of error - Part 2: vedAnta paribhAshA analysis.
15. Question related to jAti [species]. 42. Analysis of error - Part 3: naiyAyika objection.
16. Relation between an attribute and its substantive. 43. Creation as Transformation.
17. brahman is the changeless substantive. 44. Questions on ‘Creation as Transformation’.
18. Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 1). 45. Ontological Status of 'This'.
19. Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 2). 46. Two Layers of Ignorance.
20. Questions related to Perceptuality (part 1). 47. Conclusion of silver-nacre analysis.
21. Questions related to Perceptuality (part 2). 48. Perception in Dream.
22. Mind as Subject. 49. Negating false perception.
23. Self-realization. 50. Counterpositive.
24. Application to Illusions. 51. Summary of Mechanism of Perceptual Knowledge.
25. Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 1). 52. vyAvahArika vs. prAtibhAsika Pt. 1.
26. Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 2). 53. vyAvahArika vs. prAtibhAsika Pt. 2.
27. The position of vishiShTAdvaita.  
The next section in this series continues with the pramANa of anumAna (inference).

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