Part I - Introduction Part
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
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
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
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
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