Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXII - Mind as Subject

Regarding perceptuality of objects we stated that, once perceptuality criteria are met, the objects are known directly and immediately. We can ask the question: “'who is that 'I', the subject or the knower, who comes to know the objects, this and that?” It is the experience of everyone that I, the individual, am the knower. 'I am a knower' - pramAta - also appears to be a mental state that arises when knowledge of 'this' takes place. It involves a vRRitti that tries to ‘own’ the knowledge that has taken place (called pramANa phalam or fruit of the knowing process). Thus we have two mental states: 'this is a pot' followed by 'I know the pot'. They are called idam vRRitti and aham vRRitti, 'this thought’ and ‘I thought'. Thus, the mind itself seems to act as though it is both a subject and an object. But we know that mind is matter and cannot be the subject knower, since the knower has to be a conscious entity. The consciousness-existence that is all pervading and ever present is the SAkshI or witnessing-consciousness. In advaita Vedanta, witnessing consciousness does not play any active role, even the witnessing that includes witnessing of vRRitti-s that arise in the mind. It is a self-shining, ever present entity yet in whose light all things get illumined or witnessed or become known. Hence, it does not do any witnessing action but, in its light, objects are witnessed. Thus, mind and its attributes are known because of the light of consciousness from sAkshI that illumines them. When the illuminated consciousness gets reflected by mind and its attributes, these become known. Hence, Krishna says: “under my presidentship, prakRRiti manifests itself as the whole creation. I am not the doer but things are done in my presence”. It is in this sense that witnessing is implied for sAkshI, as witnessing consciousness.

Therefore, when I say 'I know this', I am the knower. The knower 'I am' is not the sAkshI, the witnessing consciousness, since ‘knowing’ is a process that involves modification and sAkshI does not or cannot (being infinite) undergo any transformation. Before the knowledge took place, I was ignorant of 'this'; and now I know 'this'. The ignorant individual has been transformed into a knowledgeable individual (with reference to 'this'). That constitutes a modification or vikAra. Hence, the subject or knower 'I am' cannot be the sAkshI, since sAkshI cannot undergo any modification. At the same time, the knower has to be a conscious entity, since an unconscious entity cannot know anything. Then who is the knower? A short answer is that it is the jIva or ego who is the knower, since it is that which claims that 'I am the knower', 'I am a doer' and 'I am an enjoyer' etc. Then the next question is: who is this jIva or ego, in relation to the mind and its moods? According to Advaita Vedanta, the jIva or ego is also a mental state that arises constantly, particularly in the waking and dream states. It is the consciousness-existence that I am, identified with the reflected limiting consciousness in the mind called chidAbhAsa. Generally, when any mental mood arises, it is immediately illumined, and the reflected illumination constitutes the consciousness of the mood or knowledge of the mood (We are using mental mood and metal state interchangeably). The content of the mental mood is 'this'. That is, 'this' can be variable depending on the mental mood that arises at that time - it could be the intellect, mind or the body.

The reflected consciousness, together with the identification of the mental mood as 'I am this', constitutes chidAbhAsa, ahaMkAra or Ego – the one who takes the role of the subject in relation to an object. Thus, the ego always manifests in relationships. Otherwise, it is pure reflecting consciousness in the mind, as the knower ‘I am’. This is called 'aham vRRitti', a mental modification of 'I am'. It is a vRRitti (mental mood) but, when it rises in the mind, it is illumined directly and immediately by sAkshI as the knowledge of the object vRRitti takes place. Here the whole mind is considered as a mental state, in contrast to object-generated mental states. Illumination of the whole mind by sAkshI is like general light falling in the room everywhere or stage lights illuminating the whole stage. As long as the mind is functioning, mind as mental mood is continuously present and is illumined by witnessing consciousness.

The reflected consciousness (same as knowledge) of the mind as a mental state takes the form of 'I am', as existence-consciousness, since that is the substantive for everything in the universe. The subject 'I am' cannot just remain without having a tangible object that it can identify with; i.e. mind cannot remain without thinking. Other mental states that arise in the mind are like actors coming onto and leaving the stage, who also get illumined by the stage lights as well as the reflected light from the stage. When other vRRitti-s become associated with the intellect, or with subjective emotions or with the physical body along with physiological functions etc, the general reflecting consciousness in the mind as 'I am' now identifies with 'this', this being related to vRRitti-s that are locussed on objects related to intellect, emotions, memory, and to the gross physical body. These translate as 'I am this', 'I am this', 'I am this', etc where 'this' keeps changing, or 'this is mine', etc, since perceptuality criteria involve unity of the existence-consciousness of the subject with that of the object.

This constitutes the formation of ego, where 'I am' is the general reflecting consciousness in the mind (which can also be considered as a vRRitti itself as an object) now identifying with particular vRRitti-s associated with the BMI (body, mind and intellect). In the language of VP, the reflected consciousness of the vRRitti is the knowledge of myself as 'I am this'. That 'this' can be related to the intellect, the emotional mind or physical body; to all that is contained in the pages and pages of one's autobiography or bio-data. Thus, when mind and its attributes are directly illumined by sAkshI chaitanyam, the chidAbhAsa or reflected limiting consciousness that is formed is called ahaMkAra, jIva or the ego. The reflected light of illumination can illumine subsequent objects just as the reflected light from the moon can itself illumine objects. Because of its capacity to illumine further, ahaMkAra or Ego also assumes that it is the knower or subject, although it is actually only 'borrowing’ the light of consciousness from the sAkshI.

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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