Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXXXII - Analysis of error - Part 3: naiyAyika objection

So, what is the ontological status of the silver that I saw instead of the nacre? It seems that we actually experienced the silver and therefore it cannot be totally unreal, and yet we later discovered that it was not really there. It is similar to experiencing a snake instead of the real rope. If the snake and the silver that we experienced came under the category of vyAvahArika satyam, then they should be transactionally experiencable (vyavahAra effectively means transaction). What happed to the silver when I picked up the object and discovered that it was nacre? Should I say that it disappeared?

It is like the snake ‘disappearing’ when I find that it is a rope. Where did the snake go, when I found out that it was a rope? Of course, we know that the snake was never there other than in the mind of the perceiver. However, the experience of the perceiver is not like that. He would not say that the snake or silver was only in his mind (at the time that he seemingly perceives them). For him, the perceptions (though subsequently found to be mistaken) seem perfectly real. One can say it is like prAtibhAsika, a mental projection of an object. But that word – prAtibhAsika – is normally reserved for those objects created by mental projection, as in the dream state. Since we see the silver ‘out there’ where the nacre is, it is not like the inner mental projection of dream objects. In the case of dream objects, which we call purely prAtibhAsika, both the seer and the seen are in the mind only. But here, when I say there is a snake or there is silver, the object is perceived as external to the mind through perceptual knowledge.

Because of that reason only, I was motivated to go and try to pick up the object, since silver is of value to me. If it is external, then it cannot disappear into thin air. This is the fundamental problem with all mithyA objects, which are neither real nor unreal. Hence advaita vedAnta uses the term anirvachanIya, inexplicable, since characterization of the silver or snake as either prAtibhAsika or vyAvahArika causes a problem. Ontologically, the status of silver is different from nacre, since the latter is considered to be real (or at least more real than the silver). The silver cannot ‘disappear’ because there is no silver substantive there. But even without the substantive silver, I could still perceive silver because the perception is based on the attributive content. The senses picked up the silvery-ness of the object by virtue of its shining and, based on this attributive content of the vRRitti, it was concluded that the object was silver. Then, when I later picked up the object, the other attributes corresponding to nacre were grasped by the senses and I was able to negate the prior perception of silver as error.

Now we address some of the issues that were raised and answered in the form of objections in VP.

Objection (by tArkika-s): Yes. As a result of bending down, picking up the object and observing it, one recognizes that it is nacre and not silver. Thus, the knowledge that was gained before (that it was silver) is falsified. Up to this point, we also agree. However, how can one prove that the silver that was seen before falsification was not due to a real silver object seen in the past at some other time and place? How can you see silver now, if you have not seen silver before at some other time? The silver that you saw before must have been real silver, not false. When you are actually looking at the nacre, you are seeing that real silver which existed before at some other place and time. Hence, the error is in the mistaken identity of that real silver perceived somewhere else and now being perceiving here instead of the nacre. Therefore the error is anyathA khyAti (see Part 40).

As we can easily explain the error, there is nothing inexplicable or anirvachanIya about it. Both the nacre, and the silver that we saw before, are real. The error arose only because of the confusion in the mind caused by associating the past real silver with the present real nacre. We believe that this association occurs because of some extraordinary relationship at knowledge level (j~nAna-lakShaNa-sannikarSha) between the nacre-knowledge and the silver-knowledge. It is similar to seeing sandal wood in the distance and concluding that it is fragrant sandal wood, although one is only seeing the sandal wood and not able to smell anything from a distance. The association of fragrance with the sandal wood comes about as a result of the memory of the previous knowledge that sandal wood is usually fragrant.

Response: Not so. One cannot postulate a silver from the past for perception in the present, unassociated with current sense input. Perception is direct and immediate because it involves sensory input from the object that is directly in front of one, not remote in the memory. The attribute of silvery-ness is seen directly here and now, as one sees the object. This is direct sense input. When the vRRitti is formed, based upon the attributive content, the perception that the object is silver is based upon the silvery-ness noted by the organ of vision. Only when we tried to pick up the object, did we discover that a substantive silver was not found in the object, negating the validity of the silver-perception. Silvery-ness is still noted in the object nacre but, along with that silvery-ness which is superficial and insubstantial, other attributes belonging to nacre are also perceived, and these give new direct and immediate knowledge that the object is nacre and not silver.

When the perception that ‘this is silver’ occurred, because of the direct sense-input of the silvery-ness of the object, the perception was direct and immediate. We do not agree with the naiyAyika position that the attributes of the silver seen in the current object are based on the perception of silver at some other time and place. If, without direct sense input in the present, one can perceive the silver object based upon knowledge from some other time and place then, by extension of this logic, we could perceive fire directly and immediately just by seeing smoke, without having any sense input of fire attributes. That makes inference as well as other means of knowledge redundant as separate pramANa-s.
The naiyAyika now questions the validity of direct perception of silver claimed by the advaitin. The question again boils down to substantive vs. attributive knowledge.

Objection: In the absence of any substantive parts of the silver in nacre, how is it possible for one to say ‘this is silver’ and that the perception of silver is direct and immediate? How is silver produced in the nacre, where there is no silver whatsoever? How can one say that silver is directly and immediately perceived without any silver being present in the object? Silver has to come from the past knowledge only.

Response: Normally, for complete perceptual knowledge of an object, all the asAdhAraNa or specific attributes are required. This will then uniquely identify an object as ‘this’ and ‘not that’. Some objects may have one or two unique or specific outstanding attributes that make it stand out for identification. The shining aspect of silvery-ness is a striking identification for all silver objects to the extent that anything that is shining like silver is immediately taken as silver, unless it is proved to be otherwise by subsequent observation. Similarly, a striking yellow gold color is a dominant attribute to cognize an object as gold and not silver. It could be a silver-plated object with very little substantiality of silver or a gold-plated object with very little substantiality of gold. But, based upon the dominant attributes that the sense of vision perceives, the vRRitti that is formed contains that attribute for immediate
identification of an object as silver or gold, etc. These errors are therefore possible since knowledge is attributive and not substantive. Existence of parts of silver is not necessary as long as the objects shines like silver for one to perceive it as silvery object. Artificial diamonds may be perceived as real ones, except by a trained eye.

Thus, when the silvery shining of nacre is seen from a distance, due to the presence of that dominant attribute and our lack of observation of any specific attributes of nacre, the vRRitti that is formed immediately has the dominant attribute of the ‘silvery shining’ aspect of the object perceived and, when the knowledge of the vRRitti arises due to the usual process discussed before, cognition of the object silver and knowledge of that cognition occur.

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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