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
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
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