Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXXX - khyAti vAda-s (Analysis of error, Part 1 - by different philosophical doctrines)

[khyAti means opinion, view, idea, assertion; vAda means proposition, discourse, argument, discussion, explanation or exposition (of scriptures etc.)]

The various theories about errors in perception from the point of view of different doctrines are called khyAti vAda-s. I will only provide a brief description for continuity. An excellent discussion of this topic is also provided in the book ‘Methods of Knowledge’ by Swami Satprakashananda. The following discussions are from the advaitic stand point. Analysis of error is fundamental to vedAnta and therefore has been addressed by all AchArya-s, each criticizing the other philosophical positions and establishing their own view point. The principal example which they use for analysis is that of perception of silver in the nacre of a shell. They address the question of how this error in perception occurs. The following are the prominent theories of error analysis:

1. Atma khyAti
2. asat khyAti
3. akhyAti
4. anyathA khyAti
5. sadasat khyAti
6. sat khyAti
7. anirvachanIya khyAti

1. Atma khyAti or Subjective Cognition - This is an idealistic theory that negates external objects, since perception involves a mental vRRitti as an internal subjective thought. Falsity is involved in the externalization of internal thoughts. Thus, the inner cognition is apprehended as an external object. This yogachAra (branch of Buddhism) theory is rejected on the basis that falsity cannot be separated from the truth, since in both cases the internal thoughts are projected as external objects, whether it is silver or nacre.

2. asat khyAti - This involves perception of non-existent entities. According to this theory, in the case of perception of silver for nacre, not only has the silver no existence in the place where it is seen, the nacre has no existence either. Thus, both are dismissed as false (although one may be more false than the other!). Non-existence or shunya [emptiness, void] forms the basis for all apparent perceptions as per the shunya vAda of mAdhyamika Buddhism. All Vedantic masters reject this mAdhyamika philosophy as baseless.

3. akhyAti – According to this theory of the prabhAkara school of mImAMsA, the error lies not in perception but in the lack of appropriate discrimination at the memory level. Thus, in the case of perception of silver for nacre, there is a lack of proper discrimination between the perceived input and the memory of silver. Thus neither of them is unreal, but the falsity arises in relating the remembered silver with the current nacre. Advaita dismisses this theory on the grounds that the silver is perceived here and now, not as a memory. That ‘this is silver’ is the nature of the perception.

4. anyathA khyAti – According to this nyAya theory, the silver and nacre are both real and the perception of the brightness of the nacre is interpreted as the silver that was actually perceived at some other place and time. This is said to occur through some supernormal connection in knowledge (alaukika sannikarSha) – the mind is somehow connected to the object via the memory. Falsity consists in relating silver with nacre where it does not exist, but neither of the two is ‘unreal’. Advaita dismisses these arguments on the grounds that perception of silver is taking place now and should be based upon the current sense input through the organ of vision. Without acknowledging the perception of silver in some form in the object in front, the knowledge that ‘this is silver’ cannot be occurring.

5. sadasat khyAti – this theory of sAMkhya is based upon ‘united’ perception of a real (sat) and unreal (asat) object. The silver, which is real in the silversmith’s shop, is perceived here as an unreal superimposition on the nacre. Hence, there is the cognition of real silver as unreal in the nacre. Thus, it is a conjoint perception of real and unreal objects as ‘this is silver’ where the nacre is. This is dismissed by advaita on the grounds that something that is non-existent cannot be perceived in front of one, just because it is existent somewhere in a silversmith's shop. The object perceived must be present in front in order for its perception to take place, since perception is immediate and direct.

6. sat khyAti – this is the theory of vishiShTAdvaita (Ramanuja) and argues that there must be real silver present in the nacre for one to see. Since all objects are fundamentally made of the same five elements, everything is present in everything else. Hence, perception of silver in the nacre is due to the presence of real silver there. This theory is dismissed, since it allows perception of anything in every object perceived, since everything is there in everything else. The discrimination of one object from another would be impossible.

7. anirvachanIya khyAti – This is the advaita theory of error. That ‘this is silver’ is an immediate and direct perception. Non-existent silver could not provide this. The silver is perceived as ‘here and now’. This knowledge comes from direct sense input in the observation of the ‘silveryness’ of the object perceived. This knowledge is not sublated until the perceiver goes out to pick up the supposed silver that he sees. I.e. the substantiality of the silver is negated when one tries to pick it up and observe it closely. The perception of silver is recognized as false only when he picks-up the object and discovers that it is nacre. Did the silver exist before? Yes, from the point of view of the perceiver. Hence, the silver is not unreal, as its existence was experienced during perception – after all, no one would knowingly go after false silver. Hence, in the perceivers mind, the silver is not unreal and is ‘out there’. He only subsequently discovers that the silver that he saw was not real and is only nacre. Hence, the silver was neither real nor unreal – it is called sat asat vilakShaNa, more commonly known as mithyA.

It is somewhat similar to prAtibhAsika satyam. The silver is perceived by the perceiver’s mind, but it is not a mental projection as in dream. The object silver is ‘out there’ for him to see and thus external to him like any other vyAvahArika satyam. It propelled him to act; to try to acquire the silver that he saw. VyAvahArika objects exist for vyavahAra, before and after perception, and are available for transactions during transmigratory existence, since they belong to Ishvara’s sRRiShTi. On the other hand, illusory objects exist only for as long as they are perceived. They do not disappear by themselves. Negation of them requires an experience that contradicts (sublates) their perception. They are not unreal, like the son of a barren woman, which can never be experienced. At the same time, they are not real for transactions; I cannot make a silver ornament out of the silver that I see where nacre is. Since it is neither real nor unreal, it is called anirvachanIya or inexplicable.

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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