Part II - Introduction Part
Before we proceed further let us review some basics.
First, we should realize that 'knowledge' itself cannot
be defined. Whenever we say we have knowledge, we only
refer to 'knowledge of things and beings' or to be more
accurately, objective knowledge; in simple terms knowledge
of 'this'. The knowledge with which we are familiar
is always ‘knowledge of’… all objective
knowledge. And all objective knowledge is qualified
knowledge – chemistry-knowledge, physics-knowledge,
knowledge of 'this' or 'that', etc. We do not know if
there is such a thing as pure 'unqualified knowledge'.
If I knew, I could not even say that I had the knowledge
of 'that', since the very 'that' would qualify the unqualifiable.
Therefore I would have to remain silent or communicate
in words that take one to that silence.
When we say that we have knowledge of something, what
we mean is that we are aware of that something or we
are conscious of it. Hence 'knowledge of' is the same
thing as being 'conscious of'. Pure knowledge, then,
is pure consciousness – and here we mean 'objectless
awareness', since any objective knowledge is a qualified
knowledge. In the pitch darkness example, we said that
I am aware of not only the darkness, but myself too.
I know myself as an existent and conscious entity. I
never need to search for myself at anytime, since I
have to be there even to search.
Since a subject is never an object, objectless awareness
is the same thing as self-awareness. Hence, pure knowledge,
self-awareness and self-consciousness all mean the same
thing. Pure Knowledge cannot be defined since it is
the same as the self-knowledge or consciousness that
I am. Besides, all definitions belong to the realm of
objects. Two things cannot be defined, since they are
not objects. First there is Braham since, being infinite,
it cannot be defined to differentiate it from the rest
of the objects in the world. There cannot be anything
other than Brahman if Brahman is still to be Brahman
(infiniteness). The second thing that cannot be defined
is the subject, myself. Since I am not an object, I
cannot be defined. We just mentioned that pure knowledge
also cannot be defined. In fact, we arrive at the fundamental
equation of Vedanta that advaita emphasizes: Brahman
and I am are identically the same, since the essential
nature of both is the same. In addition, that Brahman
that I am is also the same as unqualified pure knowledge.
'I am', therefore, is of the nature of pure knowledge
and knowledge of an object therefore involves illumination
of the object by the light of the consciousness that
In the above dark room example, we cannot have knowledge
of the objects in the room unless an external light
illumines them. According to Vedanta, that is not sufficient.
For me to gain knowledge of an object that is lighted
in the room, several other things are also needed. First
and foremost is that the sense organs should have adequate
capacity to 'grasp' the objects. (Or appropriate tools
, such as microscopes or telescopes, etc are required
to augment the capacity of the sense organs to 'grasp'
them.) This applies to objects that are ‘outside’ ,
i.e. outside the mind. We can know objects that are
'inside' the mind by a process of re-collection, since
we have 'collected' that knowledge already and it is
stored in the memory. Secondly, to know an object we
need an appropriate means to know. The ‘means
of knowledge’ or appropriate tool to know is called
'pramANa', where 'pramA' means ‘knowledge’ or
more accurately ‘valid knowledge’. The tool
to be used depends on the nature of the object that
is to be known. To see forms and colors, eyes are needed;
to hear sounds, ears, etc. Eyes cannot hear and ears
cannot see; each sense organ has its field of knowledge
specified. Thus each pramANa or means of knowledge is
very specific in its field of operation.
Besides the sense organs, we also need the mind to
collect the information from the senses. And the mind
is useless without consciousness to enliven it, making
the mind conscious of the world of objects. Thus consciousness
operates similar to the light that illumines objects
in order to reveal them. Thus it is called the ‘light
Thus, we have the sequence:- the senses grasp the object
which is lighted by the outside light; the mind collects
the sensory input and integrates this into an image
of the object in the mind; consciousness lights the
image in order for me to see. The object of knowledge
is called 'prameya' or known; the knowledge of the object
is called 'pramiti', and the means that is operating
for the knowledge to take place is 'pramANa'. Hence
in any knowledge that is involved we have these three
(tripuTI) operating. When the knowledge takes place,
there is obviously a subject who owns that knowledge
- he is called the knower or 'pramAtRRi'.
So far, the analysis seems to be simple for us to understand.
However, we need to know how exactly this knowledge
takes place, and in particular, the role of consciousness
in acquiring the knowledge of an object. In this respect,
we will follow the understanding of advaitic masters
in terms of how the epistemological issues were treated
in the doctrine. Following VP, we provide a formal definition
of a 'pramANa'.
Definition of pramANa
pramA karaNam pramANam - that which is an instrument of knowledge
(pramA). There are many instruments that are helpful to enable
knowledge to occur. Hence 'pramANa' stands for that which
is the essential cause or means for the knowledge
to take place, all other causes being only secondary. If
we exclude 'recollection from memory’ (which is part
of stored knowledge from the past), the pramANa is defined
as 'anadhigata, abAdhitam, arthavishayaka j~nAnatvam - pramANam' – the
means of knowledge is that which is (a) not known before
(since recollection is excluded here); (b) non-negatable,
and (c) objectifiable (arthavishya implies also 'meaningful';
it may not mean 'useful', although Ramanuja in his definition
of pramANa includes 'vyavahAra anuguNam' or 'transactability'
as a qualifier for valid knowledge).
If recollection is included, then the pramANa is only
a (a) 'non-negatable' and (b) objectifiable entity.
According to the commentator (Swami Madhavananda), 'non-negatable'
means that it is not negated directly by a contradictory
experience. E.g. the rope knowledge is contradictory
to the previous snake knowledge of the same object at
same place where the rope is. The implication is that,
if the pramAtRRi (knower) does not have an experience
that is contradictory to the previous 'knowledge' gained
(for example that the rope is actually a snake), even
though that knowledge is erroneous from the point of
an independent referee, it is still considered as 'valid'
knowledge for that knower. (I.e. even though it is really
a rope, the knower nevertheless knows it as a snake
and that knowledge is valid.) It is important to recognize
that unlike other philosophers who believe that validation
is done by an independent 'sAkShi', the validation rests
with the knower only. If he does not encounter any experience
that is contradictory to the previous knowledge in his
life time, then that knowledge stays with him as valid
This non-negatability for valid knowledge brings us
interesting definitions, a foundation of advaitic doctrine:
absolute knowledge is defined as that which can never
be negated or contradicted at any time; advaita defines
this as ‘real’ (trikAlAbAdhitam satyam).
Only this can be pure knowledge without any qualifications.
All objects have qualifications and unqualified knowledge,
as discussed above, is knowledge of myself or knowledge
of Brahman. Hence the pure, unqualified, non-negatable,
absolute knowledge can only be self-knowledge which
should be the same as Brahman's knowledge, since Vedanta
defines Brahman as pure consciousness - praj~nAnaM brahma.
Non-negatability in the absolute sense corresponds
to pure knowledge. In the definition of pramANa, non-negatability
remains valid in the relative sense, even though it
is negated in the absolute sense. Hence, for example,
the knowledge 'this is a jar' remains valid within the
realm of transactional reality (vyAvahArika satyam).
However, even in the absolute sense, what is negated
is not the relative knowledge; absolute reality is assumed
for the relative knowledge. Just as knowledge of the
pot remains valid at the transactional level, even after
knowing its substantive is nothing but clay only, all
knowledge revealed by pramANa remains valid at the transactional
level, even when one realizes that 'all this is Brahman'
(sarvaM khalvidam brahma). Objective knowledge or arthaviShayika
pramANa, by definition, operates only at the transactional
level. Hence the definition of pramANa is not compromised.
Next we will deal with the cognition of time.
Proceed to the next