Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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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 silver attributes.

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 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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