Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

flower picture

Part XXVIII - Perception at the Individual Level

At the individual level, we differentiate two things - one is the individual (jIva), and the other is the witnessing consciousness of the individual (jIva-sAkShin). These two can be referred as two aspects of jIva, one from the transactional level and the other from the transcendental level. Ontologically they are not the same. JIva or individual is defined as consciousness limited by the mind and through the mind, body, etc. (the BMI). When the jIva does not know his transcendental nature, we say that he is covered by ignorance about his true nature. Since knowledge is eternal, it gets revealed only when the veil of ignorance is removed through the appropriate pramANa. Ignorance is beginningless (anAdi) but ends when the veil of ignorance is removed and knowledge takes place.

Self-ignorance can be removed by self-knowledge alone, since they are opposite to each other, just as chemistry ignorance is removed by chemistry knowledge. Chemistry knowledge cannot remove physics ignorance. By the same token, no amount of scientific, objective investigation and reasoning can remove ignorance of the subject, the self. Objective investigation reveals only objective knowledge. Only the pramANa that can remove the ignorance of one's own self can reveal self-knowledge. In the state of ignorance, consciousness as though (a) reflected in the mind and (b) identified with it constitutes the empirical self or transactional self, the jIva. Any reflected consciousness, in general, constitutes the knowledge of the thing that is reflecting, since we now become conscious of the thing that is reflecting, just as the reflected light from an object reveals the object that is reflecting the light. The jIva involves two aspects. The first aspect is the formation of the reflected consciousness in the mind (actually, it is the intellect part of the mind which is the locus for knowledge), and the second aspect is the identification with the reflected consciousness as 'I am this'.

Vedanta discusses how the all pervading Brahman became a jIva. After the creation of both subtle and gross bodies, the Upanishads declare that Brahman entered into them (the statements are referred to as 'anupravesha' shruti statements, meaning ‘entered into’). Since Brahman is all pervading consciousness, it cannot enter into anything other than itself since there is nothing other than itself; nor can one say that it entered into itself, since this makes no sense. Hence, Advaita Vedanta explains the so-called 'entering' as meaning that, when the gross and subtle bodies that are formed become conducive to express life, then Brahman itself manifests as jIva.

Anupravesha shruti declares that Brahman himself became multiple jIva-s by identifying with the local upAdhi-s, thus establishing the identity of Brahman with jIva-s, as illustrated later by the mahAvAkya-s. Here, the formation of the reflected consciousness in the intellect constitutes the entering of Brahman – this is also called formation of 'pratibimba' (reflected image) or chidAbhAsa (reflection of consciousness, ego). The reflecting medium (purity of the intellect) determines the quality of the reflection. Formation of the reflected, limiting consciousness is only one part. The second part involves identification with the upAdhi-s as 'I am this'. This identification involves ownership, as 'I am this' and 'this is mine' etc. With the identification, 'I am' 'as though' gets qualified by 'this', 'this' being intellect, mind (the emotional part) or the gross body as well as all physiological functions associated with it. Hence VP says 'jIva' is a qualifying attributive limiting reflected consciousness of the mind along with the notion of ownership of those qualifications as mine.

All the above verbiage really means that the upAdhi-s (BMI) are limited and therefore the reflection is limited, even though Brahman is limitless. All-pervading consciousness gets reflected in the mind, and hence the reflected or formed pratibimba is limited. It is like the Sun being reflected in mirrors or pools of water. This is termed ‘limiting reflected consciousness in the mind’. When it identifies with the attributive mind (mind includes BMI, since identification is a thought in the mind as 'I am this'), it becomes the owner of the BMI attributes as ‘my attributes’. Hence, I think that, since my body is short, ‘I am short’; if the body is weak, ‘I am weak’; intellect is dull, ‘I am dull’; and mind is depressed, ‘I am depressed’, etc. The ownership crystallizes the jIva notion. Looking back at VP statement now, JIva constitutes the qualifying, attributive, limiting, reflected consciousness in the mind along with the ownership of these attributes.

The original consciousness that gets conditioned in the BMI is called sAkshI or witnessing consciousness. Even though Brahman is limitless or unbounded, the condition of the BMI makes it appear as though sAkshI is bounded. To illustrate this, let us consider clay forming into pot. When a pot is formed, we now have pot space. When we move the pot from place A to place B, we might be tempted to think that the space relative to the pot also moves. But space is immovable, all pervading and limitless. The pot, together with the air inside it and any contents moves within that space, which itself remains unaffected. The pot space might appear to be constrained by the walls of the pot, but the attributes of the pot do not belong to the pot space.

Hence VP says that the difference between a jIva and jIva-sAkshI can be described simply as that the former is its transactional nature and the latter is its transcendental nature. In the former case, the mind that is limiting the consciousness becomes a qualifying attribute as when the jIva says 'I am this'. Hence, the jIva is called ‘qualifying, attributive, limiting, reflected consciousness’. In the case of sAkshI, the mind is a limiting adjunct but not a qualifying adjunct. sAkshI is a witnessing consciousness untainted by the witnessed mind. In the jIva's case, the mind with its attributes due to sAttvika, rAjasika and tAmasika guNa-s forms the attributive content of jIva because of its identification with the mind. This identification occurs, Vedanta says, because of not knowing my true nature which is transcendental. A conscious entity getting identified with the limiting inert entity, mind, is jIva as reflected consciousness. The conscious entity just witnessing the limiting mind (BMI) is sAkshI chaitanyam.

To illustrate the difference, VP gives two examples. For jIva, the example given is 'the colored jar is transitory'. Here the color is the qualifying attribute of the jar. The jar can identify itself as 'I am a colored jar' – identification with a limiting name and form, with the attribute of color, is the notion of 'jar-jIva' and it considers itself as transitory since the name, form and attributes are transitory. This, then, is the transactional view of the jar. Suppose now that the jar recognizes that ‘I am clay in the form of a jar with a color’. Now the jar has transcendental understanding. It has no identification or ownership with the form or color, and therefore does not feel it is transitory ether. It realizes that ‘now I am in the form jar; I can be in other forms; the forms are only for transactions and my nature is pure, formless, colorless clay’. VP gives another example of sAkshI – it is conditioned by the upAdhi-s but without identification, like space in the inner ear. Space has nothing to do with the ear but the constrained space within the walls of the inner ear constitutes part of the ear. In the same way, although witnessing consciousness is all pervading, the limiting constraints of the mind (BMI) constitutes the sAkshI chaitanya which illumines the particular mind that it is associated with it. It is like saying that the space in the jar is limited, although the space is all pervading and the pot-space is connected to outer space.

Shri VidyAraNya says (in AnubhutiprakaSha) that the jIva, jIva-sAkshI and Brahman can all be considered as consciousness but expressed in three different ways: (a) vishiShTa chaitanya (b) upahita chaitanya and (c) nirupAdhika chaitanya. Limiting, reflected consciousness identified with attributes (visheShaNa) of the upAdhi is jIva chaitanya or vishiShTa chaitanya. Limiting, illuminating consciousness (it is actually not doing the illumination) constrained by upAdhi-s (with no identification with the qualities of the upAdhi-s) is upahita chaitanya or sAkshI chaitanya [upahita means ‘depending upon’]. The last one is without any upAdhi-s [nirupAdhika means ‘without attributes or qualities]; i.e. when jIvanmukta drops his upAdhi-s during videha mukti [liberation through death of the body]. There is no difference in b) and c) other than the constraints of the upAdhi-s, just as there is no difference between pot-space and the outer-space other than the constraining pot walls.

Self-realization is the recognition by the jIva that ‘I am the illuminating consciousness, sAkshI’, rather than the reflected qualified or attributive conscious entity 'I am this'. sAkshI 'as though' constrained by the upAdhi-s, is called jIva-sAkshI, since it can witness or illumine the upAdhi-s by which it appears to be constrained, just as we say that the space in our house is limited, even though space is limitless. VP says that this jIva-sAkshI in each individual is different, because the limiting upAdhi-s are different, just as spaces in different pots are different due to the constraining walls of the pots. Hence for this reason, what one individual, Caitra, knows, another individual, Maitra, cannot recollect. Similarly, if one individual self-realizes, the other individual does not since, as we discussed before, realization involves recognition that the limiting reflected attributive consciousness is nothing but the original unqualified or attributeless conscious that is causing the illumination and reflection. I.e. vishiShTa chaitanya is the same as upahita chaitanya, in the language of shrI vidyAraNya.

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).

Return to list of topics in Discourses by Teachers and Writers.
See the list sorted by Topic.
See the list sorted by Author.

Page last updated: 08-Jul-2012