Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XIX - Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 2)

Then the next question is who is that 'I am', the knower, the pramAta? This aspect will be addressed in detail again so that it is sufficient here to realize that the ever present witnessing consciousness, sAkShi, cannot be a pramAta. Knowing involves a modification or vikAra. According to Advaita, the ever present witnessing consciousness, sAkShi, is the all pervading infinite Brahman who does not and cannot undergo any modification. However, in his presence, one can say that pramAta, prameya and pramANa (the tripuTI or three fold division of knower, known and means of knowledge) can exist.

If the sAkShi is not a pramAta, can the mind be the pramAta? The mind is also an inert entity and, by itself, cannot be a knower. A knower has to be a conscious entity. Then who is the knower? According to Advaita Vedanta, the pramAta, subject or knower, is the ever present consciousness, sAkshI chaitanya, but reflected in the mind. This is called the reflected consciousness or chidAbhAsa and is more commonly known as the ego or ahaMkAra, which has the notion of 'I am the doer', 'I am the knower' or 'I am the enjoyer' etc - the hero of everyone's autobiography.

As discussed before, the mind, being subtle matter, has the capacity to reflect the light of consciousness of sAkshI and the degree of its reflection depends on its purity. It is analogous to a mirror, whose degree of reflection of light depends on its cleanliness. To eliminate any misunderstanding that might arise to the effect that the mind is separate from sAkshI, the pure consciousness, we need to recognize that like all other objects, the mind is also a superimposition on the all-pervading consciousness, like ring on gold. The substantive of the mind is sAkshI chaitanya or the witnessing consciousness only. In contrast to inert objects which are grosser forms, the mind being subtle can express Brahman not only as existence but also as 'reflected consciousness'. Hence pramAta, the knower, is the reflected consciousness in the mind.

Now we can bring all three factors - pramAta, prameya and pramANa - together to complete the perception. When the pramANa operates through the senses, forming a vRRitti or mental state in the mind, it is also reflected in the light of consciousness. Now we have two reflected consciousnesses - one directly in the mind as the pramAta or knower, and the other a reflection of the vRRitti. Since consciousness is all pervading, it pervades the mind too. In contrast to the grosser (bhautika) elements superimposed on consciousness, the mind corresponds to the subtler element (bhUta). Being subtle, the mind can 'reflect' the all illuminating consciousness and that reflected limiting consciousness is called chidAbhAsa, ahaMkAra or Ego. In the case of the mental states or vRRitti-s that corresponds to external or internal perceptions, its illumination occurs when it forms in the mind. Thus, when an object is perceived, its mental state is formed and illumined. When the next object is seen, the next mental state is formed and illumined. vRRitti-s are formed sequentially and the associated thoughts are also sequential in the mind. However, in forming ego or chidAbhAsa, the mind itself is an object of illumination with its attributes. Hence the illumination and reflection occur as long as mind and its attributes are there; i.e. all the time that the mind is operating. This includes both the waking state and dream state. Hence chidAbhAsa, ahaMkAra or Ego is formed all the time that the mind is present.

We are using the words ‘superimposed’ or ‘reflection like a mirror’ etc only for the purpose of illustration. The mind is a superimposition on Brahman just as a ring is on gold, while consciousness is the adhiShThAna or substratum for the mind. Hence, the mind is consciousness alone but appears as an inert but subtle object. Since it is subtle, it can reflect the light of consciousness much better than gross elements. The illumination and reflection occurs all the time that the mind is there. Thus, the ego will also be there all the time that the mind is there. This is true even for a j~nAnI, except that the j~nAnI is the one who realizes that I am not the ego and knows that ego is just a superimposed entity (adhyAsa) like ring on gold and that I am the substantive, adhiShThAna – the absolute eternal consciousness.

Hence, the mind of a j~nAnI is free from the egotistical notions that I am this or that etc. He will use the ego as he uses the mind and the body for transactional purposes. Life itself pulsates through the mind as a subtle body. The reflected light of consciousness (chidAbhAsa) in turn illumines the gross body, the five prANa-s or physiological functions, the five sense organs and five organs of action. It is like the sun illuminating the moon and moon in turn illuminating other objects. The reflected consciousness, chidAbhAsa, for all practical purposes (transactional purposes or vyAvahArika) acts as the conscious entity, although it is borrowed consciousness from the original sAkshI chaitanya. The mind is there during waking and dream states and in potential form in the deep sleep state, while the sAkshI is there as the adhiShThAna or substratum all the time. Hence, chidAbhAsa or ego is there in the waking and dream states and in potential form in the deep sleep state.

We understand from this analysis that, as long as the mind is operating, it is getting illumined by sAkshI chaitanya and therefore ego is there as the background, reflecting, limiting consciousness for all transactions with the mind. It is this Ego that acts as the knower or pramAta during perception. The reflection is the reflection of the light of illumination of consciousness that is all pervading; it is existence-consciousness. There cannot be any divisions in consciousness, just as there are no divisions in space. Any supposed divisions in space or in consciousness are therefore only for transactional purposes. Since perception is a transaction, it is said to be complete when the consciousness reflected as knower, pramAta, unites with the consciousness reflected in the vRRitti formed as a result of the operation of pramANa, i.e. the sense input.

Thus existence-consciousness, the all-pervading Brahman, remains as the substantive for all: the knower, knowledge and the means of knowledge. Consciousness expresses itself by its reflection as both the knower or the subject and the known or vRRitti that is formed in the mind via the sense input. Both reflected consciousnesses as the knower and the known are in the mind only. The former can be considered as a general reflection in the mind as the knower (ego or ahaMkAra) while the other can be considered as a particular reflection in the vRRitti as the known. I.e. both the subject and the object are in the mind. The substantive for both is expressed as consciousness or existence.

Perception is said to be complete when the reflected limiting consciousness of the subject is united with the reflected limiting consciousness of the object. This is stated in two ways by VP in terms of consciousness and existence. The perceptuality of the object is when the consciousness of the subject is not different from the substantiality of the object.

'pramAtRRi chaitanyaH eva ghaTa adhiShThAnam ..' – 'the consciousness of the subject alone forms the substantive of the pot etc.'

Here, VP uses the word 'substantive' or adhiShThAna, instead of 'consciousness' of the pot, since the pot is inert. For perception, we are uniting the reflected consciousness of subject and object. VP also states this in terms of existence as: 'a perceptual object has no independent existence apart from the existence of the subject', 'pramAtRRi satta eva ghaTAdhi satta, na anyaH' (VP makes an emphatic statement here that existence of the knower alone is expressed as the existence of the pots, etc). Hence the above two criteria forms the basis of the immediate and direct perception of an object by a subject.

The above conditions are expressed in terms of the subject, since the subject is independent while the object has only dependent existence, as discussed above. Hence, the perceptuality of objects such as pots etc is established by direct and immediate means of knowledge- 'siddham ghaTAdeH aparokshatvam'. VP says the definition of perceptuality of an object is vindicated. Hence, the perceptuality of an object is defined as being the same as consciousness or existence of the subject, the knower. Alternatively, this can be stated as: the subject's consciousness forms the substantive of the object perceived or the subject's existence forms the basis for the existence of the object perceived. Since I am there, the whole universe is perceived and, since I am there, the existence of the whole universe is established. Without my presence, who can establish the existence of the universe or its awareness? Ultimately, I alone form the truth of the Universe - where ‘I am’ stands for pure existence-consciousness, the Brahman that I am. That is Advaita Vedanta.

In the case of inference - as in 'the distanct hill is on fire because I see the smoke'- VP says that, since the mind does not go to the location affected by the fire etc., the limiting consciousness of the fire is not united with the limiting consciousness of the knower and therefore the existence of the fire is not directly established. It is distinct from the existence of the subject. Hence, the definition of perceptuality in terms of immediate and direct knowledge of the object is not violated. In terms of our understanding, it is the same as saying that the vRRitti of the fire that is formed has no attributive knowledge from the sense input to establish the existence of the object ‘fire’. Hence, fire is only a mental deduction. Whether there is really fire in the distant hill or not depends on the efficacy of the deductive logic; hence it is mediate and indirect.

Before we discuss the structure of the mind, VP presents some discussion in terms of questions and answers, which we will take up next.

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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