Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXXVIII - Erroneous Perceptions Part 1

As was discussed earlier, when the perception of an object arises through the formation of a vRRitti, there is immediate cognition of the object as in ‘this is a pot’: the vRRitti is reflected by the light of consciousness of the sAkshI, and the reflected ‘light’ is knowledge. Along with it, there is also knowledge of the cognition; i.e. that ‘I know that this is a pot’ also arises immediately. For this knowledge of the cognition, no further reflection is required since knowledge reveals itself (it is ‘self-revealing’). It is like saying that we do not need a light in order to see a light, since light is self revealing. Similarly the reflected illumination of the consciousness of the object-vRRitti becomes a self-revealing cognition of the knowledge of that vRRitti. Thus the two fold nature of the perceptual knowledge is understood: it involves perception of the object (‘this is a pot’) and perception of the cognition of the perception (‘I know that this is a pot’).

Thus we have a two-fold nature to perception: perception of the object and perception of the cognition of the object. With regards to the first, the perception of the object, we have discussed exhaustively the perceptuality condition and how a vRRitti forms in the mind based on attributive knowledge of the object as perceived by the senses. With regards to the second, perceptuality of the cognition, VP says it is just consciousness alone. This is because, when I say ‘I know this is a pot’, ‘pot’ is an object, which is inert, and ‘I’ am the knowing principle, the chaitanya vastu. An inert entity cannot know anything. Since I say ‘I am the knower of the pot’, the ‘knower I’, or the ‘subject I’ cannot be different from the conscious entity. Hence, VP declares that the perceptuality of the cognition is nothing but the pure consciousness that I am. When I cognize an object, say pot, ‘I’ am the knower and ‘this’ is known. The duality of subject-object sets in with reference to the object known. When there is no cognition of any object, I just remain as witnessing consciousness, without any qualification. Objectless-awareness is pure consciousness.

Question: Is the above statement true for direct and immediate perception or true for other means of knowledge such as inference? In the case of direct perception, such as ‘this is a pot’, the perception of the pot is immediate and direct. The resulting knowledge ’I know this is a pot’ is also cognized immediately. When there is indirect knowledge, as in the case of the fire on the distant hill, is the cognition that the distant hill is on fire immediate and due to the subject consciousness ‘I am’?

Answer: Yes, it applies to indirect perceptions too. When I say that the distant hill is on fire because I see the smoke, the cognition of the fire is not immediate. Only the cognition of the hill and the smoke are immediate. It is a logical inference that the hill is on fire, since we know from past experience that wherever there is smoke, there is a fire causing the smoke. Hence, when I conclude that the distant hill is on fire, the vRRitti that is formed has no attributive content of the fire. Hence, it is indirect and mediate, not immediate. But when the vRRitti that the hill is on fire is formed by inferential process, the knowledge of the vRRitti is immediate as it forms, since it gets illumined by the witnessing consciousness, sAkshI. Then the cognition of that knowledge is also immediate since knowledge is self-revealing. Whatever is self-revealing is pure consciousness. Hence the above statements are applicable even for indirect knowledge.

Question: Then the definition of perceptuality of the cognition is too broad, since it can be extended to illusory knowledge also; for example in the case of cognition of silver where there is actually only nacre.

Answer: It is not unduly broad, since it extends even to the case of erroneous cognitions. When I see silver erroneously, since it is nacre and not silver, cognition of the silver is immediate since the attributes of the silver alone are gathered by the senses and consequently a vRRitti with the silver attributive content is formed in the mind. The knowledge that it is silver is immediate. The cognition of that knowledge, that ‘I know it is silver’, is also immediate. Hence, the above definition is not unduly broad and applies even for erroneous perceptions.

We have defined the perception as pramANa if it is not negated by subsequent transmigratory experience or transactional experience. I.e. ‘it is silver’ is valid knowledge until it is contradicted by the subsequent transaction involving picking up the piece of silver and finding that is not silver but nacre. The knowledge that it is nacre is gained by sense input of the attributes of the nacre that are different from pure silver. The knowledge that it is nacre negates the previous knowledge that it is silver. In the perception of nacre, that it is nacre and not silver is cognized along with the cognition of that perception – I know that it is nacre and not silver. Thus, the definition applies to illusory knowledge as well, since the illusory knowledge (that it is silver) was valid knowledge based on the attributive content cognized at that time. It was negated only by subsequent perception.

In the final analysis, even the perceptual knowledge of the objects, and thus the perception of a world, are negated when we move from transmigratory experience to transcendental experience. Within transmigratory experience, the relative validity of perceptual knowledge of objects is assumed to be valid since there is no transcendental experience to invalidate it. Thus vyAvahArika satyam is satyam until pAramArthika satyam is recognized.

In the above example, VP brought the example of the error in cognition when we perceive silver where there is nacre. The reason that we are seeing silver and not nacre is that when I see the shining object on the floor, there is only the attributive knowledge of a ‘silvery-shining’ by the sense of sight. Therefore,based on the limited attributes of the object, the vRRitti that is formed contains only the limited attributes perceived by the sense. The cognition and the recognition based on the matching attributes of the silver are immediate, giving rise to the knowledge that it is a piece of silver out there. Only when I bend and pick up the piece, do I gather additional attributes by the senses based on which I am able to negate the silver (since the attributes are contradictory to silver attributes), and realize that it is nacre, since the attributes now match with those of nacre. It is intrinsic in the limitation of the attributive knowledge of objects that errors are possible even when I am seeing the object, since attributes that are gathered by the senses may be incomplete, if not erroneous.

Finally, because I am getting carried away with the attributive knowledge of the world and not substantive knowledge, I can never gain the knowledge of absolute reality by a perceptual process since the absolute has no attributive content – nirguNa or guNAtIta. Hence, negatability of the world as mithyA or erroneous perception cannot be accomplished by any pramANa other than shabda pramANa or shAstra pramANa.

We will discuss more about erroneous perceptions through further objections in the next post.

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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