Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XIV - Some Clarifications Regarding Character

Q.What about merits and demerits, dharma or adharma, righteous and unrighteous? One’s basic character may be righteous or unrighteous but one may become consciously aware of it only as the result of another's verbal testimony or by the pleasant or unpleasant situations that result in one’s life as a consequence. In such cases, the verbal testimony of others occurs at times and places which are different from those of the acts of righteousness or unrighteousness themselves. Similarly, the good or bad consequences will be at different times and places. Thus, in respect of the mental moods of righteousness and unrighteousness and the verbal testimony or the good or bad consequences, there is a unity in the limiting consciousnesses of the past and present since one become conscious of the former only as a result of the latter. The requirement of perception is being fulfilled – i.e. the requirement for the unity in the limiting consciousnesses - yet there is no direct and immediate perception of righteousness or unrighteousness. Hence the objection is that the requirement for the unity of limiting consciousnesses is not sufficient for perceptual knowledge or is unduly extensive for perceptual knowledge.

Note: The question involves extending the concept of perception to abstract ideas or 'objects' whose attributes are not well defined, but are normally known through Agama pramANa or shabda pramANa or through established moral codes of conduct. They are not tangible, like objects, or experienced, like emotions. That righteousness or unrighteousness form mental moods needs to be established first before one inquires into the unity of limiting consciousness of these with that of verbal testimony or the good and bad consequences.

A. VP answers by defining perception more clearly. For perception, the object perceived must have attributes that qualify the object. We stated earlier that all objective knowledge is attributive knowledge and this is now formulated on firmer grounds. Those attributes must be perceptible either through the senses or through the mind. Even if one considers that ‘righteousness’ and ‘unrighteousness’ are attributes of the mind, they are not perceptible. They can be known only though their effects or by verbal testimony. VP says that some attributes are perceptible and some others are not and that this depends on the intrinsic nature of the object they qualify. For example, we learn in Chemistry that water is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, liquid. These are actually non-perceptible attributes that do not identify what water is but identify what is not water. Vedanta uses similar language in indicating Brahman, starting from imperceptible, infinite, non-dual, unthinkable, etc. The nyAya system of philosophy considers righteousness and unrighteousness to be attributes of the self, similar to happiness. In Advaita, Self has no attributes, and happiness is not an attribute of the self but is its intrinsic nature, which is limitless. Limitlessness is happiness: anantam eva anandam.

However, verbal testimony can lead to direct perceptual knowledge in certain cases, says VP, if the object that is being indicated is right here being experienced. For example, when one is happy and if another says, 'you are happy', the knowledge arising from the verbal statement coincides with the knowledge of the mental mood that is present. This becomes clearer in the example of the missing tenth man story, where the verbal testimony can lead to direct perceptual knowledge of the tenth man, who is experienced right there. Ten people crossed the river and, when they reached the other side, each one counted to make sure that everyone in the group has crossed safely. Each one came up with only nine when he counted, and concluded that one had been lost. A wise man came to their rescue and asked them to count again and when the counting stopped at nine, the wise man said - 'you are the tenth man' - Thus although all the ten were there, each one omitted to count himself and therefore came up one short. Here the verbal statement – ‘you are the tenth man’ - immediately and directly leads to perceptual knowledge, since the object that is pointed out is right there and immediately accessible ether to the senses or to the mind. Hence, verbal testimony can lead to direct and immediate perceptual knowledge if the object of perception is directly and immediately perceptible.

We discussed earlier the composite perceptual and inferential knowledge involved in knowledge such as ‘there is fire on the distant hill’. The hill and the smoke are directly perceived by the senses, while the fire is inferred using logic of the cause (hetu) and effect (sAdhya) relationship (vyApti j~nAnam). ‘The hill is on fire’ is an inferential knowledge while ‘the hill’ and ‘the smoke’ are direct perceptual knowledge. Thus there is a combination of mediate and immediate knowledge.

In many instances the inferential knowledge is based partly on perception. Take the example of a statement after seeing a piece of sandal wood from a distance: 'that is a fragrant piece of Sandal wood'. In this statement, what is perceived is only the sandal wood and based on prior experience one is making the statement that the sandal wood has fragrance, although the fragrance is currently not perceived by the nose. Here we have both immediate knowledge – the perception of the sandal wood – and mediate knowledge. That it is fragrant is based on previous memory involving experience of the connecting link - sandal wood and its fragrance. Thus, we know from past experiences that if it is sandal wood, then it must have fragrance; i.e. the concomitant relation between sandal wood and its fragrance has already been established by past experiences. If one never had that experience, then he cannot make the statement 'that is a fragrant piece of sandal wood'; all he can say is 'that is a piece of sandal wood'. If he does not know what sandal wood looks like, then all he can say is: 'that is a piece of wood'.

[Note that VP makes a distinction here of imperceptible attributes, which are different from the above case where the fragrance is not perceptible. In this case, the fragrance is not perceived not because it is imperceptible but because the object is too far away for the olfactory knowledge to take place. In contrast there are certain genuinely imperceptible attributes. This is the case when when they are beyond the capability of the instruments of perception. E.g. eyes can see only the visible spectrum; X-rays can never be seen by the eyes, they are truly imperceptible.]

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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