Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XVII - brahman is the changeless substantive

Every object in the universe is made of finer components. If so, what is the fundamental basis or material cause for the whole Universe? Science has yet to find the ultimate particles. According to Vedanta, consciousness alone is the ultimate and it is part-less; i.e. it is not made of any further components. That is defined as Brahman. Interestingly Vedanta defines Brahman using the converse statement: 'consciousness is Brahman' (praj~nAnaM brahma), instead of stating directly that Brahman is a conscious entity. This converse statement is a rigorous one and, as discussed above, it defines the intrinsic structure or svarUpa lakShaNa; i.e. it is both the necessary and sufficient qualification for the object defined. It means not only that ‘Brahman is consciousness’ but that ‘consciousness is Brahman’ and there are no two ways about it. The implication is that if there is consciousness anywhere, by definition it has to be Brahman. This is similar to the fact that if there is H 2O anywhere it has to be water. Vedanta defines Brahman using three statements: satyam, j~nAnam, anantam brahma -existence-consciousness, knowledge and limitless is Brahman. Since the definition is in this ‘converse’ form. it is a svarUpa lakShaNa for Brahman. Hence, wherever there is existence, that existence part is Brahman. Wherever there is knowledge, that knowledge part is Brahman (a statement that parallels the VP declarative statement that perceptual knowledge is pure consciousness). Finally, wherever there is limitlessness (which expresses as happiness), that is Brahman.

All this discussion is intended to arrive at the fundamental conclusion that the substantive for any object in this universe is nothing other than Brahman. If the substantive is Brahman and attributes belong to the object, then the question is how do the attributes relate to the substantive? According to Advaita Vedanta, there cannot be any valid relation. One can talk about ‘relation’ only for entities that are ontologically the same. But in the case of objects, where there is no fundamental substantive other than Brahman, there cannot be any valid relation between Brahman and the attributes of the objects that I perceive. Taking the example of the snake that is projected where there is a rope, what is the relation between the rope and the snake that I see? There cannot be any valid relation between the two - other than saying it is an error of superimposition or adhyAsa. When all pervading existence-consciousness Brahman is seen as varieties of objects just as gold is seen as varieties of objects, the relation between the forms and the names is only adhyAsa, an error of superimposition. What is the relation between ring and the gold? Gold has nothing to do with ring or bangle, since it exists just as gold all the time without undergoing any mutations. ‘Ring’ is just the name for a form; the relation is adhyAsa, a superimposed form on gold and a name for that form.

Coming back to the topic, nyAya vaisheShika-s consider the samavAya [constant conjunction] that relates an attribute to its substantive as a fundamental eternal entity. VP dismisses this as baseless. VP says the whole universe is transitory; that is, it keeps changing continuously. If something is changing continuously, then there has to be some substantive that remains changeless in the changing things. If ring changes into bangle, and bangle into necklace, there has to be a substantive that is different from a ring or necklace that remain as changeless in all these changes. In this case, it is the gold that remains changeless as the ring changes to bangle and bangle to necklace, etc. Hence if the world is continuously changing as we can see, then there has to be a changeless entity in the changing things. Hence Brahman alone can be the changeless substantive for the transient universe. Given the transitory nature of the universe, to talk about jAti [generic attribute] and samavAya as eternal and inherent entities is meaningless. To talk about the generic attributes like jarhood or cowness or horseness, etc., as eternal entities, when the whole universe itself is transient, also has little meaning.

Similarly all attributes and their knowledge are valid only at the vyAvahArika level and, other than Brahman, nothing else is fundamental and eternal. Hence, the objection that jAti is being compromised by admitting simultaneously both mediate and immediate knowledge has no relevance. In fact, if we examine closely it is not the same knowledge that is simultaneously categorized as mediate and immediate knowledge. If we make the statement 'that is fragrant piece of sandal wood' upon seeing the wood, the fact that it is fragrant comes from memory. Hence, the immediate part of knowledge and mediate part of knowledge are different. Hence both mediate and immediate knowledge do not corresponds to the same attributive knowledge, so there is no contradiction. They correspond to two different sense inputs which do not overlap.

In a statement 'the hill is on fire', the mental states or vRRitti-s are different for the hill and for the fire. The hill is directly and immediately perceived; the fire is not directly and immediately cognized. Fire is inferred since we can see smoke on the hill, since there cannot be smoke without a fire. We therefore conclude that the hill is on fire. Knowledge of fire is deduced based on the perceptual knowledge of both the hill and the smoke. The vRRitti-s associated with hill and smoke have their attributes grasped by the senses. Hence cognition of hill and smoke is direct and immediate. The mind has to go through the process of deductive reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that the hill is on fire. This vRRitti is different from that of hill or smoke. For the fire vRRitti, there are no corresponding attributes of fire, since there is no sense data for the fire on the hill. The knowledge that the hill is on fire is therefore only mediate and indirect.

Hence there is no contradiction involved with respect to mediate and immediate knowledge occurring simultaneously regarding the same limiting consciousness. In fact, knowledge of the fire could be debatable, since it is a deductive knowledge, which can be faulty if the vyApti (relation between cause and effect) is defective. That is, if the logic is not fool proof, the deduction (that hill is on fire) based on the observed perceived fact (hill and smoke) could be erroneous. There are many theories in science which were proved wrong by subsequent data. Hence, not only do we have valid knowledge about the presence of hill and smoke but also the possibility of invalid knowledge of fire if the vyApti (related to smoke and fire) is not fully established.

With this example, VP summarizes the criterion for perceptual knowledge:

Perceptual knowledge which is direct and immediate occurs when the vRRitti or mental mood arises in the form of an object. i.e. in the form containing all the attributes of the object, thus establishing one to one correspondence between the object and the vRRitti formed. This ensures that the limiting consciousness (existence) in the form of the object coincides with the limiting consciousness in the form of vRRitti in the mind. In both the object and the vRRitti - two things are the same. Firstly, the substantive that is the existence is the same in both vRRitti and object (it could manifest also as reflected consciousness in the vRRitti since the vRRitti is part of the mind which, as subtle matter, can reflect consciousness much better than the inert object outside). Secondly, the attributes are also the same in both the object and the vRRitti to the degree that the senses are able to measure. Hence, as long as the attributes are measurable by the appropriate senses and to the degree they are measured, the vRRitti of the object is formed. The vRRitti thus formed is immediately illumined as it forms and the reflected consciousness reveals the object to the subject, ensuring the direct and immediate perceptual knowledge of the object.

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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Page last updated: 08-Jul-2012