Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXV - Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 1)

Components of the mind

The mind itself, if considered as a mental state with attributes, has four components. These can be considered as four separate states: (a) a doubting mind, (b) a determinate mind, (c) egoism, and (d) memory. Because of the diversity of their functions, mind, although one, is considered as having four components, collectively referred as just ‘the mind’. These are designated as 1) manas, or ‘emotional’ mind, 2) the intellect or buddhi, 3) the ego or ahaMkAra and 4) memory or chitta. Since we can think of them as mental states or vRRitti-s, the corresponding objects of the vRRitti-s, respectively, are (a) doubts and emotions (b) concepts, knowledge or certitude (c) egoism and (d) memory or smRRiti.

Determinate and indeterminate perceptions

Direct perception is of two types: (a) determinate or savikalpaka and (b) indeterminate or nirvikalpaka. In the case of determinate perception, the knowledge gained is directly relatable in terms of the substantive and its attributes. The knowledge of the object perceived has determinism associated with it. Consider perception of 'this jar'. When knowledge occurs through perception, we have the determinate knowledge 'I know the jar' – i.e. a relationship between the subject and the object is immediately established. This is determinate knowledge, as defined by Advaita.

In the case of indeterminate perception, the knowledge gained is not directly relatable to the subject, i.e. the determinism 'I know this' is not discretely present. Let us take a classic example:- 'This is that Devadatta (soyam devadattaH)'. Here we have two components: 'this is Devadatta' and 'that was Devadatta' but they are combined into a unitary statement 'this is that Devadatta'. The 'this' refers to the present and here, while 'that' refers to the past and there. Therefore, the knowledge of 'that Devadatta' has to come from memory. 'This Devadatta' is directly perceived, since the object is right in front of us available for pratyakSha pramANa, where the criteria for perceptuality are directly fulfilled.

There is no problem in just perceiving this Devadatta in front of me, since that is ‘determinate perception’. But the statement 'this is that Devadatta' involves an equation of this mental state corresponding to the present with the recollection of that Devadatta from the memory. The attributes of this Devadatta and that Devadatta are different, since they belong to different times and space. Hence, the equation gives only indeterminate knowledge. (Technically it is called bhAga tyAga lakShaNa, wherein the contradictory attributes of this Devadatta and that Devadatta are to be discarded, equating only the essentials that are common to both). Similarly, in the case of the Upanishadic statement 'That Thou art' or 'tat tvam asi', the 'Thou (tvam)' part of the statement is directly perceivable but the 'That (tat)' part which designates the absolute reality is not deterministic, since it is not finite. One has to discard the dissimilar attributes of both 'That, tat' and 'Thou, tvam' to arrive at the knowledge. Hence, in these cases, the knowledge is called indeterminate.

Further clarification of this aspect is provided through questions and answers

Q. In the statement 'This is that Devadatta'- the knowledge is based on verbal comprehension and should not be considered as perception, since it is not something obtained through the sense organs.

A. It is not so. We have already established that, for a thing to be perceived, its sense data are not the criteria. The criterion stated is that the consciousness associated with the subject is not different from the object when the object is present and perceivable. The object should have attributes, but these need not necessarily be gathered by the senses. In the case of internal perceptions there are no tangible objects 'out there' and therefore no sense-data. For example, in the case of internal perceptions like anger etc, the attributes of the vRRitti are not obtained by sense-input.

In the case of 'this Devadatta' who is right in front of me and is perceivable through senses, the knowledge gained from the sentence 'this is that Devadatta' has for its object something connected with the sense organs. The associated mental state which is formed has a limiting consciousness of the object, Devadatta. In addition to the perceptual knowledge of this Devadatta, the prior knowledge of 'that Devadatta' is also brought in for the purpose of recognition of 'this Devadatta'. The cognition process involving 'this Devadatta', and the recognition process involving 'that Devadatta' are both involved in the realization that 'this is that Devadatta'. The perceptual limiting consciousness of this Devadatta, where all the conditions of perceptuality are met, is identified with the information from memory for the purpose of recognition. It is the recognition part that makes the perception indeterminate.

Here, we need to recognize the relative roles that cognition and recognition play. When I say ‘this is a jar’, looking at the jar in front of me, two aspects are involved. One is the cognition where perceptuality condition is being met and I perceive the object-jar with its attributes as immediate and direct. The knowledge that ‘this is a jar’ and not a vase comes by the association with the knowledge in the memory. The memory includes the names and forms of both jar and vase. Recognition that the cognized object is a jar and not a vase comes by a process of matching the attributive content of the present vRRitti with the past knowledge of both jar and vase to conclude that this is a jar and not a vase.

The mind has the capacity for codifying the attributes that it sees and using these for recognition. Suppose that I do not have the knowledge of what a jar or a vase is, then when I see a jar for the first time, there is only cognition but not recognition. Since the memory is blank, as there is no prior knowledge of jar or vase, I have knowledge of only the cognized object. If I now learn that it is a jar, that information, together with its attributes, is stored in the memory. Hence, the next time I see the same or similar object, the cognition is followed almost immediately by the recognition. Here the cognition part is direct and immediate and the recognition part has to come from memory. It is a common experience that we see some people and even recognize them, but we do not remember their name. It is said that this is because the brain stores the information about names, words and language in one side and figures and pictures on the other. Hence, recognition of the form is immediate but the name has to come from a different location. It is also said that, in the case of language that is pictorial (such as Chinese and Japanese), the names and forms are stored in the same side of the brain, and therefore for speakers of such languages recognition is faster. This aspect is exploited in early childhood education, where language is taught with pictures – and ‘pictures speak a thousand words’.

In the statement 'this is that Devadatta', the cognition part is direct and immediate since the object perceived is right in front of me. But the recognition part becomes a problem, particularly if the attributive content of this Devadatta and that Devadatta are significantly different. The indeterminacy arises from the recognition process rather than from the cognitive process. Hence, VP says that cognition is perceptual. The same applies to 'Thou art That'. The perception of 'Thou' is direct and immediate, since the subject itself is the object for cognition. But then indeterminacy comes about from the recognition process where the attributive content of 'Thou' is much different from the attributive content of 'That', where 'That' stands for Brahman.

If one was closely familiar with 'that Devadatta', then when ‘this Devadatta’ is directly in front of one and the teacher says 'this is that Devadatta', if one has complete faith in the teacher's words, even though the attributive knowledge of this and that Devadatta are different, the student gains immediate and direct knowledge. He may wonder and say ' Oh! My God! What a change in Devadatta!'. But, in the recognition, the student is able to discard the contradictory qualifications of the present and the past Devadatta, and still equate the essence in order to arrive at the knowledge. With complete faith in the teacher's words, the contradictory qualifications in this and that Devadatta are stripped out in order to arrive at the unique knowledge. The knowledge occurs directly and immediately as one sees this Devadatta while hearing the statement by the teacher. The same is the case with 'tat tvam asi or That thou art' statement. Faith in the teacher's words (words of the scriptures expressed by a teacher who is trustworthy) as the student listens (shravaNam) forms the basis for direct and immediate knowledge (as Shankara says: 'like the perception of fruit in the hand' - indicating the knowledge is perceptual and immediate).

In contrast to 'this is that Devadatta', the difficulties here, however, are compounded and more so when there is lack of complete faith in the words of the teacher. The difficulties arise, since 'That' has no attributes and the only pointers come from the scriptures. The attributes are indicative (lakshaNas) rather than cognitive. But the knowledge is still considered as direct perception for two reasons. 'Thou' is the immediate and ever present subject and the perceptuality criteria (that the consciousness of the subject is the same as the object) are immediately satisfied, since here the subject himself is the object and the identity is established. 'That' is also direct in the sense that the same consciousness is the content of 'That', since 'that' stands for Brahman, which is pure consciousness and indivisible. Hence, 'tat tvam asi' or 'Thou art That' has to be direct and immediate. The reason that the knowledge does not take place directly and immediately is that erroneous and misconceived attributes are placed on both 'Thou' and 'That', making the knowledge of the identity impossible. Appropriate spiritual study and practice involves the mind in trying to get rid of these preconceived attributes assigned to both terms 'Thou' and 'That'. This ‘getting rid of preconceived notions’ is called 'chitta shuddhi' or purification of the mind, in which the wrong notions placed on both 'Thou' and That' are dropped. If one thinks that learning is difficult, then unlearning is even more difficult. All the spiritual practices are centered on the unlearning process so that the equation 'Thou art That' may be understood or realized.

Although tattvamasi involves immediate and direct knowledge, realization that ‘I am brahman’ does not occur for many. There are two obstacles that prevent one from the seeing the truth as the truth. They are called saMshaya and viparyaya. saMshaya refers to the doubt that can arise if there is no faith in the word of the scriptural statement ‘That art Thou’. To remove this, manana or reflection on the Vedantic truth is recommended. The second obstacle is viparyaya – the habitual, mistaken notions such as ‘I am this body, mind and intellect’. Our day to day transactions essentially endorse this notion. As a remedy, contemplation on the truth ‘That art Thou’ is recommended. Neither manana nor nididhyAsana produce new knowledge but they eliminate the obstacles that prevent the assimilation of the truth that I am. Hence, the statement 'That art Thou' is fundamentally indeterminate but comes under direct perception since the subject is also the object of knowledge.

Other philosophers view determinate and indeterminate perceptions differently and we will examine them to see clearly why the advaitic position is correct. This will be done when we address additional questions raised in relation to this topic.

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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