Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXXXIX - Negating false perception

In the example of the perception of silver where there is only nacre, the error arose due to adventitious defects or auxiliary causes such as insufficient light, because of which only the dominant attribute of silveriness was grasped by the senses. Based on that limited attributive data, the knowledge of the object that arose was ‘this is silver’. When that adventitious defect (such as poor illumination) is removed, the senses are able to gather more accurate attributive content of the object so that the mind is now able to perceive it as nacre and not silver. Therefore, in the knowledge of the true nature of the object as nacre, the previous knowledge that ‘this is silver’ is recognized as having been an error. VP says the object can be seen as it is, when the adventitious defects during perception are removed.

Hence, VP ascertains that the silver seen in nacre is the result of ignorance of the true nature of the object. Expressed differently, the ignorance of the substantive contributes to the error in perception, and we have one thing being incorrectly taken for another – atasmin tat buddhiH. In Vedantic terminology, this is called adhyAsa.

Thus, there are two levels of ignorance in the case of ignorance of substantives:

1) Ignorance of Brahman, which is the substantive of all objects. This might be called ‘general ignorance’, sAmAnya avidyA, or mUla avidyA, and is fundamental in all perceptions of objects. Here, both the objects that are perceived and the mind that perceives them with the help of consciousness are in the same order of reality.

2) Ignorance of the substantive only. Perception of silver in place of nacre is due to this second order ignorance. Here, the substantive in this relative frame is not Brahman directly but Brahman in the form of nacre. This ignorance is called visheSha avidyA or ‘specific ignorance’, as in this example where we do not know that the object is nacre and mistake it as silver. When the adventitious defect is removed, the knowledge that it is silver is sublated with the rise of knowledge of the relative substantive, nacre.

However, the new perception that it is nacre is also due to ignorance and that false or mithyA knowledge can be eliminated only when the substantive of nacre is known as nothing but Brahman, since at absolute level there is nothing other than Brahman or pure consciousness. Nacre is nothing but consciousness limited by the form of nacre (together with all the other attributes), since the scripture says there is nothing other than Brahman, neha nAnAsti kiMchana. At the relative level, the silver seen in the nacre is due to the secondary ignorance that is abiding in consciousness limited by nacre. This means that, at the relative level, the ignorance that it is ‘nacrey-consciousness’ (i.e. consciousness in the form of a nacre as in ‘ringly-gold’ or gold in the form of a ring) contributes to the perception of ‘silvery-consciousness’ (consciousness in the form of silver). The relative knowledge will only eliminate the relative ignorance and not the absolute ignorance, i.e. the ignorance of Brahman, or ignorance that the
‘existence-consciousness that I am’ is Brahman).

When I see nacre as nacre, the silver that was seen is nullified, along with the ignorance of nacre, by the knowledge that the silver that was seen before is, in fact, only nacre. This knowledge manifests as ‘there is no silver there’ and ‘the silver that I saw was indeed nacre only’. The ignorance of the first kind, that everything is nothing but Brahman, will only get nullified when knowledge of the substantive Brahman is gained. Here, the ignorance of the second kind that ‘it is silver’ gets nullified when the relative knowledge that ‘it is nacre’ takes place. As was pointed out above, it is the removal of the adventitious defects which bring about the knowledge of the relative truth of the object.

It was noted before that the erroneous knowledge that ‘this is silver’ was formed due to the perception via sense input of the silveriness of the object. The implication is that the substantive for the silver
perception in the mind is nothing but limiting consciousness-existence as sAkshI. However, in the perception of the silver as ‘this is silver’, there is only knowledge of the mental impression of ‘this’ and no knowledge of the substantive (consciousness-existence, sAkshI) of the vRRitti in the mind. The knowledge of the substantive limiting-existence-consciousness is absent in the perception of silver where nacre is (i.e. the fundamental avidyA related to all objects). And the knowledge of the relative substantive nacre arises only by elimination of the adventitious defect, such as poor illumination.

We will now address some of the objections raised.

Objection: (This objection is again from the naiyAyika-s, who consider that the misperception of silver is due to recollection of real silver existent somewhere and not perception of non-existent silver here. Hence the following question is framed from their perspective.)

If we admit the illusory existence of silver during the time that nacre appears as silver, there could never be a subsequent knowledge at any time (past, present or future) that would entirely negate the illusory silver appearance in the form ‘this is not silver’ but only in the form, ‘Now, it is not silver’. It is like saying: ‘Now, after baking, the jar is not black any more’. I.e. the blackness of the jar, which existed before, has been removed due to baking. The blackness of the jar is real until it is removed. Hence, the existence of ‘black’ before, and its non-existence after, are of the same order of reality.

The objection is that the negation ‘it is not silver’ can be made only if the silver that was perceived previously was real; and now we can dismiss that perception by the statement that ‘there is no real silver’. The argument is simple: that there is no silver (or that there is the non-existence of silver now) can only be counter-positive or opposite to the statement ‘there was real silver before’. The non-existence of silver now is real, since it is nacre and not silver. The objector says that ‘the non-existence of silver which is real’ can only be counter positive to or opposite to ‘the existence of real silver before’. It cannot be counter positive to ‘the existence of imaginary or illusory silver before’. ‘Illusory existence’ can be counter positive only to ‘illusory non-existence’. Similarly ‘real non-existence’ can only be counter positive to ‘real existence’ and not to ‘illusory -existence’. The statement ‘it is not silver’
negates only real existence not illusory existence.

Reply: That is not so. Here, when we say ‘it is not silver’ (when nacre is perceived as nacre), we are not negating real (at the relative, transactional level of reality) silver, but only something that was characterized by the attribute ‘silveriness’. Therefore, non-existence that is denied by ‘it is not silver’ does not refer to real (within vyavahAra) silver anywhere, but only to the false silver that was seen in the object. Thus, false silver is falsified by the statement ‘this is not silver’ not real silver, although both have associated silveriness. Technically, the counterpositive (pratiyogin) or opposite, of this non-existent ‘real-illusory’ silver, can never exist. If we could say that it exists, this would imply that ‘illusory silver’ exists, and that would lead to illusory silver not being illusory!

It is like saying that ‘there is no cloth existing as a jar’. Here, the ‘jar-hood’ property is different from ‘cloth-hood’ property. What is being denied is the false attribute of ‘jar-hood’ in the cloth. Jar-hood is a distinguishing quality that is specific to a jar and not to a cloth. Hence, negation of a false ‘jar-hood’ is always satisfied by any cloth, since there is never a jar-hood property in any cloth. Similarly, the negation of silveriness can always be fulfilled in any nacre. It may look like silver from a distance but it is never silver even when I am mistaking it as silver. Hence, it is not denial of silver in the nacre when I say that it is not silver after recognizing that it is nacre, but denial of the false silver that is attributed to the nacre due to an adventitious defect. Hence, once I know that it is nacre, even if I see shining attributive silveriness in the nacre, it will never be mistaken for silver since there is no ‘silver-hood’ in the nacre at any time.

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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