Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

flower picture

Part XVIII - Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 1)

Here VP provides the basis for the ‘immediate and direct’ nature of perception. It defines the ‘perceptuality’ of an object or an object's immediate perception as “not being different from the consciousness associated with the subject”. Essentially the statement says that, for a subject (knower or pramAta or pramAtRRi) to be conscious of an object (prameya), the consciousness associated with the subject cannot be different from the object that is being perceived. It is a statement that baffles the intellect at first because we have learned all along that the subject is different from the object and can never become an object, and an object can never become a subject. The subject is a conscious entity and the object is an unconscious entity.

The statement of VP is carefully worded so as not to deny the superficial differences while not accepting any substantial difference between the two. In addition, the statement actually relates the object perceived to the subject that perceives it. It says that the consciousness underlying the subject is not different from the object, for a perceived object . This understanding comes from the fundamentals of Advaita. In dRRik dRRishya viveka, vidyAraNya says:

antardRRgdRRisyayorbhedaM bahischa brahmasargayoH|
AvRRiNotyaparA shaktissA saMsArasya kAraNam|| …. v.15

The difference between the seer (subject) and the seen (object) in the mind, and the difference between Brahman and the creation (world) outside, is due to the veiling power of mAyA. It is this perceived difference, which is the root cause for all human suffering. mAyA is that which appears to be there, but is not really there when one starts inquiring into its nature. Hence, the difference between the seer and the seen arises due to mAyA and is therefore only apparent and not real.

The important point here is that VP states this to be the criterion for perceptuality of an object. The requirement for perceptuality is going one step beyond the simple statement that consciousness is the underlying substantive for everything in the universe, including the perceiving subject and the perceived object. The requirement for perceptuality of an object is that the subject consciousness not be different from the object perceived. If it is different, the object is non-perceptual. Now are there any cases where this requirement is not met? This will be elucidated by VP, in order to justify the statement, through questions and answers.

Q. When I see a jar, I say, 'I see a jar'. I am the subject, the seer, and the jar is an object, the seen. I am different from the jar, in order for me to see. In fact, whatever I see, I am not that. If that is the case, how can a jar or any object that I see be the same as the consciousness that I am, or more accurately, be one with the limiting reflected consciousness, the perceiver that I am? The objection is that this equation of the subject with the object contradicts our experience.

A. Stating that the consciousness of the subject not be different from the perceived object is not the same as saying that the subject is identical with the object. It only means that the perceptual object has no independent existence apart from the existence of the knower, 'pramAtRRisattA atirikta sattAkatva abhAvaH, (other than the existence of the knower, there is no other existence for perceptual objects)'. I can stretch this statement to relate to the one I have been making, namely that the existence of an object is established by the knowledge of its existence. Here, VP puts it in a slightly different form: that the perceptuality of an object has no independent existence apart from the existence of the subject. This becomes a criterion for all perceptions being immediate and direct. [If it is not perceptible, does it have independent existence? - This question is not raised. But. if it is not perceived by anyone at any time, it is meaningless to speak of its existing.]

Let us illustrate this with the example of the perception of a jar. We have discussed this aspect before. It was stated that Brahman, pure consciousness, is the material cause for the universe. Existence-consciousness-limitless is its intrinsic nature. Since Vedanta says that Brahman is one without a second, there cannot be anything other than Brahman. From this it follows that all objects in this universe, without exception, are nothing but Brahman alone but with different names and forms - just as all golden ornaments are nothing but gold alone with different names and forms. Gold remains as gold but appears as varieties of ornaments, each with its own attributes that are different from the others. Hence, all the ornaments are just gold with superimposed, differing attributes.

As VP clarifies, superimposition (adhyAsa) does not mean one on top of the other. It is like the ring's attributes are superimposed on gold to be named as ring and these attributes differ from those of the bangle that are superimposed on another piece of gold. Similarly, Brahman being the substantive of all objects, the differences between object A and object B are only due to differences in the superimposed attributes of A and B. Hence, objects A and B differ only in terms of their attributes and not in their substantive. Ring differs from bangle only in terms of the attributes while the substantive for both remains the same, namely gold. Knowledge of A should involve discriminative knowledge of A from the other objects in the universe. Similarly with respect to knowledge of B. Hence, knowledge of any object (since all objects have the same substantive) involves only knowledge of its attributes. The substantive of all objects being Brahman, it is expressed as existence itself. Hence, every object is (existence + its attributes). Perception involves grasping the attributes of the object by the senses. Existence being all pervading, everything is in existence only. As discussed before, existence is not an attribute to be grasped by senses.

So far we have been examining perception from the point of view of objects. We need to raise the question now of who is the subject, since the statement of VP is that the perceptuality of an object involves consciousness of the subject not being different from that of the object. When I see the object, I say I am the seer and the object is seen. But who is this 'I am', the seer or the knower of the object? Obviously when I say I am the knower, unlike the object, I have to be a conscious entity since an unconscious entity cannot see or know. An object cannot know itself nor establish its existence by itself. I have to be there to say 'the object is'.

On the other hand, the object does not have to be there in order to establish my existence. This implies that my existence, or to be more general the existence of a conscious entity, is independent of the existence of the inert object. On the other hand, the inert object's existence cannot be established independently of the existence of a knower, a conscious entity. (This logic is called anvaya-vyatireka and is used to establish dependent and independent relationships between two entities, the two entities here being the object and the knower of the object).

The existence of an object is therefore established by knowledge of its existence by a knower. Hence, the VP statement follows: “The perceptuality of an object depends on its having no independent existence apart from the existence of the knower of the object.” Based on our recent discussions, we caution here that the statement only applies to the perceptuality of the object and not its independent existence on its own. Whether it has independent existence or not can never be known if there is no knower or pramAta to establish its existence by perception. Can one establish its existence by inference? By inference one can only establish the possibility of its existence and not its actual existence. For validation of an object's existence, inference also rests on perception though cause-effect relationships or vyApti. If there is no knower then the existence of the object becomes indeterminate or anirvachanIya.

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).

Return to list of topics in Discourses by Teachers and Writers.
See the list sorted by Topic.
See the list sorted by Author.

Page last updated: 08-Jul-2012