Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

flower picture

Part L - Counterpositive

[The following notes are from S. N. Sastri (29th Oct 2008) :
As stated in the first paragraph of the Introduction to the English translation by Swami Madhavananda, this work has adopted the method and phraseology of Navya-Nyaya introduced by Gangesa Upadhyaya in the fourteenth century. The Sanskrit itself is difficult to understand unless one has studied the method of expression of Navya-Nyaya. The English translation of Swami Madhavananda follows the Sanskrit original and so it also is difficult to understand. The sentences relating to the term ‘counterpositive’ will be explained in simple language.

The first sentence is the following one on p. 77 :-- "Unreality consists in something being the counter-positive of the absolute non-existence that abides in whatever is supposed to be its substratum".

Now, if one makes a statement such as: "There is no pot on this floor" or "A pot does not exist on this floor", the pot is the counter-positive of its own non-existence and the floor is the substratum. A person sees a rope and thinks it is a snake. Afterwards he finds out that it is only a rope. Then he says, "There never was a snake here". Another way of saying this is, "There is absolute non-existence of a snake here". In this sentence the snake, whose non-existence is stated, is the counter-positive. The rope in front is the substratum. So we can say that the snake is the counter- positive of its own absolute non-existence in the rope which was the substratum on which it was seen, i.e. which was supposed to be its substratum. The expression "non-existence that abides in the substratum" means only "the non-existence in the substratum". Thus what the sentence on p.77 quoted above means is: That which appeared to exist at a particular place, but was found later to be non-existent there is mithyA. The snake appeared to exist where the rope was, but later on it was found that it did not exist. So the snake is mithyA.

The other sentence from P. 78 is: "The unreality of all things whatsoever consists in their being counter-positives of the absolute non-existence that abides in what is supposed to be their substratum".

The idea conveyed is the same that of the sentence on p.77. The difference is only that here `things' are spoken of in the plural, while in the earlier sentence only one thing was spoken of. The word `their' is correct and there is no typo. It means `of the things which are being described as mithyA'.

The expression: "non-existence abiding in the substratum" is based on Nyaya philosophy. According to Nyaya, abhAva or non-existence is also a category. So they say "there is non-existence", or "Non-existence abides here". Advaita does not accept non-existence as a category. So we say that it is self-contradictory to say that non-existence exists or that there is non-existence. We say only that the thing (snake, silver, etc.) does not exist at the place where it was seen due to earlier error . VP has used the language of Nyaya and that is why it speaks of "non- existence abiding in the substratum". What is meant is only that the counter-positive does not exist at all in the place where it appeared.]

VP says that the false attribute (of silveriness) abiding in a different substratum (nacre), where there is never an existence of the real object (silver, that always has silveriness as its real attribute), is permitted. When the silveriness is denied with the negation that ‘there is no silver here in the nacre that is seen’, the negation applies not to the real silver but to the false silver, which is illusory.

It is similar to saying that there is no ‘jar-hood’ in the cloth. The absence of silver in the nacre is always met in the past, present and future, and even when it is mistaken as silver. I can even enjoy the silvery-attribute of nacre, even after denying that there is no silver here but only nacre. Similarly, I can enjoy the attributive objects in the world, even after knowing that all objects are nothing but Brahman. It is a false world and not a real world that is falsified (even though we mistake the false world as a real one) in the awakening of the knowledge that everything is nothing but Brahman. In fact, only the false world can get falsified by knowledge and not any real world. If there were such a real world, it could never get falsified since it would be real. (That is the definition of a ‘real’ entity). Similarly, only the false silver can get falsified when the true nature of the substantive of the object, namely nacre, is known. We can say it is the vibhUti [glory] of the nacre to have a silvery shining-ness without being silver. Similarly, it is the vibhUti of Ishvara or the Lord, to have His attributes of the variety of the magnificent world of objects without substantially becoming those objects or while remaining as the attribute-less and part-less Brahman. That is the essence of vibhUti yoga as described in Bhagavad Gita (Ch.10).

Objection: The next objection is more technical. The objector gives two alternatives.

Firstly, the objector asks whether, when one perceives illusory silver in the nacre, the absolute existence as substratum of the illusory silver is known or unknown. As per vedAnta, when we say that an object ‘is’, Brahman, the absolute reality, expresses as existence in the ‘is-ness’ of the object, as its substantive. In the form of ‘is-ness’, the absolute reality (as though) lends its existence or relative reality to the object. Hence, the objector asks, in the perception of the illusory silver, does one have knowledge of its absolute existence? If the answer is no, then it means that the absolute existence of the illusory silver (that has silveriness as its attributive content) is not known (since the existence of an object is established by the knowledge of its existence). In this case, the absence of or non-existence of illusory silver cannot be
perceived either. This in turn means that, if the existence is not perceived, then its non-existence also cannot be perceived. Hence, one cannot make a statement that there is no illusory silver here. The objection is similar to saying that if the existence of gAgAbU is never known, then the statement that ‘there is no gAgAbU here’ also cannot be made, since the absence of a non-existent object can never be perceived.

Secondly, the objector says that, if the absolute existence of the illusory silver is known through its attribute of silveriness, since the perception depends on the existence (perceptuality condition is met when the existence of the object is united with the subject consciousness), then it is not illusory silver any more, since it exists like nacre and is perceived by its silveriness. Therefore, the silver that has silveriness will have to exist in the nacre or with the nacre. Therefore, its existence cannot be denied by the statement ‘there is no silver here’, as it is perceived and its existence is already known.

Reply: The above arguments are not correct from the advaitic perspective. The pure existence manifests in the nacre as ‘nacre is’. The ‘is-ness’ or the absolute existence forms the substantive for the nacre. This possibility comes from the scriptural statement that every thing is Brahman and Brahman is pure existence without a second. If that possibility forms a basis for the existence of the apparent nacre (first order) within vyavahAra, which is not absolutely real, then the same possibility forms the basis for (the second order) appearance of the illusory silver. We do not admit the first order silver (the real silver) in the nacre since there is no silver-hood present in the nacre. Thus, the pure existence in the form of ‘silver-hood is’ in the nacre is not admitted, since it is not there. Here we need to differentiate between the vyavahAra silver (relative reality that ‘silver is’) and the illusory silver (prAtibhAsika ‘silver is’ as the
mental projection). Nacre forms the substantive for the prAtibhAsika and pure existence forms the substantive for the nacre. Hence indirectly, pure existence also forms the substantive for the illusory silver or prAtibhAsika silver. The above objection is due to not clearly appreciating the vyAvahArika and prAtibhAsika relative realities and their relative ontological status.

We do, however, admit that the ‘transfer’ of attributes from one thing to another (providing that both are of the same order of reality) constitutes an error, when the thing that is superimposed is not directly connected to the thing on which it is superimposed. That means they are relatively independent within the same order of reality. For example, we can perceive the redness associated with an hibiscus flower in the clear crystal, since the redness of the flower is related to the organ of vision. That is, I can see the redness of the hibiscus of the flower as it is getting refracted by the crystal nearby. I may mistakenly think that the crystal is red without realizing that the superimposed attribute of redness comes from the nearby hibiscus flower. There is no origin of some imaginary redness or unaccountable redness or illusory redness in the crystal.

Objection: Now the objector pushes the limit of the above example. The objector refers to the above example, where redness associated with the clear crystal is known to arise from the nearby hibiscus flower via the sense of vision. Here, the connection between the redness in the crystal and the redness due to nearby flower is established by the sense organ of vision. Henc,e redness in the crystal is not ‘created’. Now suppose that I cannot see the hibiscus flower due to some obstruction, and therefore do not know that the redness is coming from a nearby flower. If I can still perceive or cognize the redness in the crystal, then one has to admit that the redness in the crystal is not real but is illusory (since we are ignorant of the source of redness).

Reply: There is no problem. We can accept that explanation until the obstruction to perceiving the flower is removed. We accept that it is illusory when we gain the knowledge or have the knowledge that crystal is always clear and that the color that we see is due to superimposition of attributes arising from objects elsewhere. The bottom line is that the knowledge is taken as real until we have a contradictory experience to negate that knowledge. This forms the following general definitions for validity of all perceptions: Valid knowledge is that which is not contradicted by subsequent knowledge or experience. Absolute knowledge is that which remains absolutely real and is never contradicted. Any other knowledge is relatively real until it is negated.

vedAnta says that the knowledge of the relative world is only relative since, from the absolute point of view, there is nothing other than Brahman. Since the world is experienced, it is not unreal. Since it is neither real nor unreal, it is mithyA. The prAtibhAsika is also classed as mithyA, like the silver that is experienced in the nacre. The nacre silver not regarded as illusory until one goes and picks up the object, examines it and makes that discovery. No one goes after illusory silver, knowing that it is illusory. When silver is seen in the nacre, the silver seen is taken as real or valid until subsequent knowledge negates that assumed reality. Similarly, the world appears to be real but gets negated when we gain knowledge of Brahman, the substantive of the world. Then, the world becomes known to be apparent like the silver is apparent in the nacre. Hence, we have pAramArthika satyam, vyAvahArika satyam and prAtibhAsika satyam. Perceptions at these three levels have to be understood.

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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