Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

Part IV - Knowledge is Continuous

Continuity of Knowledge: According to advaita vedAnta, knowledge of an object perceived via the senses is considered to be a 'vRRitti' or ‘mental state', which is illumined by consciousness. In just the same way as an external object is seen because of the reflection of light falling on the object, the mental state is also 'seen' , when it is illuminated by the light of consciousness. These statements are made intentionally in the passive voice, since consciousness while it is self-luminous, does not actively illumine anything. Instead, objects in its presence get illumined. It is like the moon being illumined by the Sun, although the self-shining Sun does not actively illumine anything.

Knowledge of the object 'out there' is complete when the associated 'mental state' gets illuminated. That constitutes ‘objective’ knowledge. When we are knowledgeable, we say, 'I am conscious of the object'. Hence, objective knowledge is defined as being when we are (a) conscious of the object's existence and (b) conscious of the attributes of the object that are perceived through sense input. Objective knowledge is only attributive knowledge since the senses can measure only the attributes of the object and not the substantive. The substantive for all objects, according to Vedanta, is Brahman only.

Objects are only nAma and rUpa – name and form – (rUpa includes all other sense perceptions) projected on Brahman. In fact, it is important to recognize that the existence of an object is also confirmed by the knowledge of its existence. Until a conscious entity establishes the existence of an object, the object's existence is not established. An object is not a self-existent entity, since it is not self-conscious. Does the object exist if I am not conscious of it or if I have no knowledge of it? Who is going to establish its existence if there is no conscious entity who is conscious of it? Hence we can say that the existence of such an object is anirvachanIya (cannot be established) or mathematically an indeterminate problem. The reason is simple. We have already defined that knowledge of an object involves removal of the ignorance that is coving it. Until the ignorance is removed, the knowledge of its existence is also not established. Ignorance is removed only when it is illumined by the light of consciousness. Hence, a conscious entity has to be there to recognize its existence and have its knowledge. Ignorance is anirvachanIya or indeterminate. It is like the pitch dark room – existence of any object in a dark room is an indeterminate problem until one turns the light on to see and establish its existence.

Hence, the perception of an object external to the mind is the same as the illumination of the resulting 'mental state or vRRitti'. The illumination of an object continues until another object is perceived or its 'mental state' is known. Perception of the next object brings its associated 'mental state' into the light of consciousness. Thus, the light of consciousness illumines the sequential objects or more correctly the sequential mental states, that come into its purview. It is similar to a light shining on a stage continuously as the scenes continue to change. The objects are in sequence but the illuminating consciousness is continuous.

Knowledge and consciousness are considered to be identical in Advaita. Knowledge is therefore continuous and hence eternal too. If it became discontinuous, its absence, for it to be known, would still have to be illumined by consciousness. That is I have knowledge of the absence of objects too. The last statement will have a bearing when we examine the deep sleep state. When there are no objects to be perceived, either darkness is perceived (as in the case of the pitch dark room) or the ignorance that covers the knowledge of the objects is perceived, since we have already stated that knowledge of every object is covered by ignorance. Knowledge continues as knowledge of objects or knowledge of darkness or knowledge of ignorance. Even when the objects change, and the vRRitti-s associated with them change, the knowledge remains the same and continuous. As discussed before continuity is not a concept of time, it is beyond the time concept. It is ever present, eternally 'NOW'. Knowledge is ever existent Now.

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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