Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXVI - Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 2)

Q. 'Thou art That' is a verbal instructional statement. In any verbal communication, in order for knowledge to take place, one has to understand the relationship between the words, and this is implied by the sentence structure. In Sanskrit, the declensions of the words provide immediate relationships. The subject together with its qualifications, and the object together with its qualifications, are related by the action verb. When the relationships between the words are obvious, how can the verbal communication be indeterminate?

A. VP says that, in order to understand the intended meaning of a sentence, the relationships between words alone is not sufficient. There are simple sentences, where the direct meaning is obvious and makes sense. In this case, the verbal communication, together with the word relationships, provide the direct meaning. Take, for example, the sentence: 'Rama is Dhasaratha's son'. Here, the meaning is straightforward and can be obtained from the word relationship. In the statements 'This is that Devadatta' or 'That Thou art', however, the direct meaning obtained by using the relationship between the words does not make sense. One has to look elsewhere for the intended meaning. In such cases, if one only considers the relationships between the words without understanding the proper context in which the statement is made, there is every possibility that the meaning will not be reached. Take for example a cricketer saying to his friend, 'please bring me a bat'. Looking at the sentence and observing the word meaning and the relationship between the words, if his friend brings him a winged, nocturnal mammal, he may have obeyed the request correctly but he will have missed the intended meaning.

Contextual understanding is very important in verbal communication. In the statement 'this is that Devadatta', in order to understand the sentence, one has to have prior knowledge of ‘that Devadatta’; otherwise the intended identity of ‘this Devadatta’ and ‘that Devadatta’ is not understood. If one has no prior knowledge of ‘that Devadatta’, 'this is that Devadatta' would not make any sense.

In the case of the sentence 'Thou art That', the verbal instructional statement by a teacher to his student comes after many passages starting with the preposition that 'by knowing one thing, everything else is as though known – eka vij~nAnena sarva vij~nAnam bhavati'. In particular, by knowing the material cause, all the effects produced by that cause are known. This is similar to saying that, by knowing gold, all the ornaments made of gold are 'as though' known, since all those ornaments are nothing but gold alone with different names and forms. In extending this application, the teacher first establishes that the material cause for the entire universe is existence (Brahman), alone. Hence the teacher says: 'this universe, my dear, was but existence alone in the beginning'. Thus, existence is the material cause for the universe in the same way that gold is the material cause for ornaments. The whole world is nothing but existence alone but with the different names and forms being perceived as objects. Hence, if we know that 'Existence', then everything in the universe is as good as known.

Now the question arises, where is that ‘existence’ for us to know? The teaching terminates with the instructional statements: ‘that is the truth, that is real, and that is the self. Thou art That O Svetaketu.’ Hence the intended purport of 'That' in the sentence is Brahman, the material cause for the universe, and it is of the nature of pure consciousness-existence. 'That' Brahman you are.

This intended meaning relies on our correct understanding of the meaning of 'That'. In addition, the context of 'Thou' also has to be understood. If contextually 'That' includes the substantive of all this universe of names and forms, which includes the subtle as well as gross bodies as the teacher explains, then 'Thou' that stands for ‘self’ or ‘Atma’ which appears to be different from the universe of names and forms. The sentence 'Thou art That' equates these two apparently dissimilar entities. Hence to make sense of this equation, one has to drop all dissimilarities or contradictory qualifications of 'That' and 'Thou' and equate the essence of both. This process is known as bhAga tyAga lakShaNa - renouncing the unnecessary or superficial parts of both and equating only the substantial parts. Since the intended meaning of the sentence has to be understood rather than the direct meaning, it is called indeterminate knowledge.

VP quotes a shloka from tattva pradIpikA of chitsukhi AchArya, which states that, in the sentences that convey identity relations, one has to take the substantive meanings for the words rather than the superficial meanings in order to be able to recognize or realize the identity that is conveyed by those sentences. In the sentence 'this is that Devadatta', the identity of ‘this’ Devadatta and ‘that’ Devadatta is implied in the sentence. Based on chitsukhi's statement, we recognize that we need to equate the substantiality of this Devadatta and that Devadatta and not the superficial attributive qualities. The identity is therefore only with respect to the essence of this and that Devadatta and not to the external changing non-substantive qualities. Within vyavahAra, the essence of both this Devadatta and that Devadatta is the same and is changeless in spite of the changing BMI with age. Similarly, identity is implied in the relation 'Thou art That'. The substantiality of both 'Thou' as well as 'That' is 'existence-consciousness' and therefore the identity is only with respect to the substantives and not with respect to the changing attributes. Recognition of the identity is prevented until one can strip out the contradictory qualifications of 'Thou' and 'That'. In the case of 'this is that Devadatta', the stripping process is easier since Devadatta is an external object. In the case of 'Thou art That', the stripping out of the qualifications is difficult due to our deep-rooted and habitual association of the attributes with the locus. Hence, the indeterminacy in all verbal statements involving identity comes about as a result of the difficulties in overlooking the obvious differences in attributes so that we may recognize the identity in the substantives.

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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