Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

Part I - Introduction Part 1

This presentation explains my understanding of the vedAnta paribhAshA (VP), written by dharmarAja adhvarindra (DA) c. 17 th A.D. This series may be considered as an add-on to the Analysis of the Mind section of the Introduction to Vedanta, since the mind is obviously involved in gaining knowledge, whether objective knowledge or knowledge of the subject. I will be following the VP closely but explaining in the way that I understand and interpret this. I will try to point out where I may deviate from the concepts presented in VP. Several others before DA formulated the epistemological issues in Advaita Vedanta. Swami Satprakashananda (in his ‘Methods of Knowledge’) notes that there are some differences in the interpretations of how Knowledge takes place in VP and in other texts. But epistemological issues are at vyAvahArika level and therefore any of these differences do not compromise the advaitic truths of Vedanta.

The purpose of the inquiry into Epistemological issues, as DA emphasizes in this introduction to VP, is to gain knowledge of Brahman, knowing which there is no return to the transitory world. Hence, understanding of the process by which knowledge takes place in the mind is essential to separate what is transitory from what is permanent. This discrimination is called nitya-anitya vastu viveka and is essential for Vedantins. This helps in meditation by shifting from that which is transitory to that which is permanent, as when we try to 'visualize' that because of which we have the capacity to visualize.

Everyone has some understanding of what is meant by knowledge. When we come to know things that we did not know before, we say that we now have knowledge of them. To put this more technically: the ignorance that was covering the knowledge of those objects is now removed and we have now discovered the existence of those objects. The implication of this is that knowledge is eternal and self-evident, but gets revealed when the ignorance that appears to cover the object of knowledge is removed. That is the discovery of the truth about those objects. Scientists only 'discover' the laws and do not invent them. Essentially, what they are doing is removing the covering of ignorance from the objects or laws. It is not that 'ignorance' is some kind of shield coving the knowledge, but it is more like a pitch darkness covering the knowledge of all the objects in that dark room. When I turn the light switch on, assuming that electric power is behind the switch, we instantaneously gain knowledge of all objects that are illumined by that light. Until the light is turned on, the knowledge of those objects is 'as though' covered by the darkness in that room. This analogy is used extensively to appreciate how knowledge takes place. We will follow this throughout our discussion. Interestingly, I say there is no light and it is too dark for me to see anything. I need a light to illumine the objects that I want to see. Until I turned the light switch on, I could not see any objects since darkness was enveloping all objects. This is our normal experience.

Yet in spite of the pitch darkness, I could still 'see' two 'things' in that room! For one thing, I could see the darkness, because of which I could not see anything else. The second is that I could see myself since I am aware of my own existence, wherever I am. Darkness is an object of my awareness. With what light do I see the darkness? In fact, I cannot turn the light switch on in order to see the darkness, can I? The darkness disappears as soon as I turn the light switch on. The darkness and external light are opposite to each other. Since I need light to see anything, by what light do I see darkness? Since I know it is dark, this implies that I can see the darkness or that I am aware of the darkness. That light because of which I can see even the darkness is not opposite itself to darkness. In fact, it is the light of consciousness that illumines the darkness so that I am aware of the darkness in the room. That it is dark in the room is also an object of knowledge.

It will be interesting to enquire later how the object of knowledge of darkness takes place in the mind. Besides the darkness, in the same light of consciousness, I can see myself in order that I am able to say that I am there in that dark room, where I cannot see 'anything' else. Darkness can cover everything else but I can never be covered. I am a self-effulgent, self-existent entity. I do not need light in order to be aware of myself. I am always aware of myself except in the deep sleep state. What covers the knowledge of myself in the deep sleep state is also an interesting question to be explored. I am the light of consciousness that not only illumines myself (since I am aware of myself all the time), but also illumines the darkness as well as the light in that room, since I see that the room that was dark is now lighted. That light, in whose brilliance I can see the darkness as well as the light in the room, is called the 'light of all lights' (jyotir jyotiH), the light of consciousness. The understanding of this forms the basis of all knowledge.

We arrive some important conclusions from the above analysis:

1) Knowledge is eternal.

2) Ignorance appears to cover the knowledge of objects.

3) knowledge of objects takes place by a discovery process or by removing the ignorance covering the knowledge of the object.

4) To know the object, we need a means or instrument, such as eyes to see, etc.

5) Knowledge can be gained only by a conscious entity – essentially the light of consciousness has to illumine the thought related to the object in order for knowledge of the object to take place.

6) I am that self-existing, self-effulgent being in whose light all things get revealed or illuminated.

7) I am a self-effulgent, self-revealing and self-conscious being. I know myself immediately and directly (without any medium required) by myself. I do not need to think or meditate or contemplate in order to know that I am a conscious-existent being. (Vedanta says that neither the sun nor moon nor the stars nor electricity is needed to illumine me in order for me to see myself. In fact, the light of my consciousness illumines everything that is known by me). Some of these aspects will become clearer as we analyze further the mechanics of how knowledge takes place.

8) Self-knowledge is direct and immediate (aparokSha j~nAnam) with subject and object merging into one. Knowledge without any specific object (where subject-object merges into one) is then self-knowledge or self-awareness or objectless awareness, which is direct and immediate.

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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Page last updated: 08-Jul-2012