Part XXXXI -
Analysis of error - Part 2: vedAnta paribhAshA analysis
We are examining the analysis of error, taking the
example of the perception of silver where there is actually
only nacre. As noted in Part 40, according to naiyAyika-s
the error is called anyathA khyAti - knowledge of silver
existing in the memory that was perceived in the past
being recognized here in the present object, nacre.
Thus, both the nacre and silver are real but the real
silver that was seen at some other place and time is
now seen in the wrong place, where it is not present,
and that constitutes an error. The advaitin, on the other hand,
states that the error is anirvachanIya, inexplicable. When
I perceive the silvery shininess of an object, based on the
attributive content of the vRRitti formed, the perception is
that ‘I see Silver and it is out there now’. The
perception of the silver out there is direct and immediate,
as my eyes fall on the shining object. This direct and immediate
perception occurs like any other perception, since all the
perceptuality conditions are met. Hence, the advaitin rejects
the nyAya’s theory of anyathA khyAti, saying that the
perception of silver is right now and right here, and not the
memory of silver, perceived at some other time and place. The
direct and immediate perception of silver is based on the current
sense input, resulting in a vRRitti with the content of the
When I bend down and pick up the silvery object, I discover that
it is nacre and not silver. As a result of that subsequent transactional
experience, the knowledge of ‘this is silver’ is
negated by the knowledge ‘this is nacre’. The ‘this
is silver’ knowledge existed as definite knowledge until
it was contradicted by the transactional experience involving
perception of nacre. Thus, this subsequent transactional experience
resulted in the knowledge that the silver I saw was not real.
Even though the knowledge of the silver is negated,
the experience of seeing silver is not negated. This
is because experience is different from knowledge. One can have
an experience without having knowledge.
From the Vedantic standpoint, we are experiencing Brahman
all the time since everything is Brahman, but we have
no knowledge that what we are experiencing is Brahman
alone. Since the silver was experienced as existing
out there, the silver is not unreal. The unreal cannot
be experienced. Thus, we have a situation, wherein silver
is not unreal since it is experienced and yet it is
not real since it is negated by the subsequent knowledge
that is nacre. Hence, it comes under a new category
called mithyA or false, which is neither real nor unreal,
i.e. neither sat nor asat.
MadhusUdana Saraswati, in Advaita Siddhi, discusses
five definitions of falsity. The first definition of
falsity or mithyA comes from the pa~nchapAdikA of PadmapAda
as ‘sat asat vilakShaNam, mithyAtvam’. The
nature of mithyA is that it is different from existence,
sat, and non-existence, asat. It is ‘sat asat
anadhikaraNatvarUpam anirvachanIyatvam’ – its
inexplicability arises since it is based on neither
existence nor non-existence.
Many philosophers, including Vedantins such as Ramanuja
and Madhva, reject this category saying that sat and
asat are mutually exclusive sets. I.e. what is not sat
has to be asat, and what is not asat has to be sat.
There is no set that is exclusive or inclusive of both.
I.e. there cannot be anything is both ‘not sat’ or ‘not
asat’, or which falls under the category of ‘both
sat and asat’. Advaita does not subscribe to these
demarcations. There is no set that is inclusive of both
but there is one that is exclusive of both. The reason
is simple - they define real or sat as that which remains
the same all the time, trikAla abhAditam satyam.
Unreal or asat is defined as that which has no locus
of existence at any time. The classical example for
asat is vandhyA putraH or the son of a barren women – there
is no locus for existence of such an entity at any time
for us to have any experience. Hence, the unreal cannot
be experienced. Therefore, one cannot have both sat
and asat at the same time. But there can be a third
category, which is experienced but which does not remain
the same all the time. It undergoes change with time,
hence it cannot be real, since the definition of real
is restrictive and does not allow any change. Since
it is experienced, at least momentarily, it cannot be
called unreal, like the son of a barren woman. In fact,
the whole world comes under this category, as per advaita
vedAnta, since the whole world is continuously changing
without ever remaining the same, yet it is experienced.
Scripture supports this view, saying that creation of
the universe of names and forms involves transformation
(vivarta); i.e. the material cause remains the same
during transformation, while the products (vikAra) are
continuously changing. It is like gold transforming
into varieties of ornaments, while remaining as gold.
In the case of gold and its ornaments, scripture says
that gold alone is real (loham iti eva satyam), while
ontologically the ornaments have only a temporal existence.
Since an ornament is not permanent like gold, it does
not fulfill the definition of real, yet it has transactional
utility (one can decorate oneself with a ring, bangle,
etc) so that it is not unreal. Hence, the advaitic stand – that
there is a category ‘mithyA’, that is sat
asat vilakShaNa – is supported by scriptural statement.
In the silver/nacre example, the realities are relative. For
example, the silver that I saw does not come under the category
of asat or unreal since it is experienced. When it is negated
by the knowledge that it is nacre, the ‘silver that I
saw’ is recognized as not real. Therefore, it is mithyA
in relation to nacre. Of course, nacre itself is mithyA in
relation to the absolute, since it is part of the world created
by Ishvara – hence there was time when it was not there.
But nacre is not created by me or by my individual mind. Hence,
nacre is called vyAvahArika satyam or ‘real within the
realm of transactional experience’.
There is no need for the metaphysical relation that the nyAya
philosopher invokes to explain the error (as due to confusion
in the mind between the silver seen somewhere else with the
nacre that is present here and now). What was seen in front
was initially recognized as silver, since nobody attempts to
go after false silver. The silver that was seen was recognized
as false only after the object was picked up and carefully
examined. This also makes the point that, when I do not have
complete knowledge of the object that I see, the partial ignorance
can contribute to bringing about an error in cognition.
Proceed to the next