Re-examination of the Perceptual Process (based upon some questions
raised on the previous material) – Part 4
6. Objection: According advaita there
is a tAdAtmya sambandha [relationship of identity] between
object and the attributes. Hence advaita does not say
that one can only perceive the attributes and not the
object. VP says clearly that the object is perceived;
it never says that only the attributes are perceived
and the object is real within vyavahAra.
Response: tAdAtmya sambandha has to be understood
correctly. The attributive locus is an object that is perceived.
For example, the material gold remains out there when I perceive
the object ring. ‘Ring’ is only notional – a
pada [word] with no padArtha [thing corresponding to the meaning
of the word] of its own, even at vyavahAra level. The attributes
of the ring that are perceived by the senses are ‘as
though’ now locussed onto the vRRitti to form the object
ring that is perceived. It could be semantics here. The tAdAtmya
sambandha between the locus and its attributes remains during
the perceptual process since the notional ring outside is now
a notional ring inside. The only difference is that the ring
outside has its attributes while the ring inside the mind has
to be based on the attributive knowledge gathered by the senses.
Defects in the senses or in the associated signal processing
can impact on the ring object seen in the mind, even though
the outside ring is perfect. Neither the ring outside nor the
ring inside has matter
of its own, since objects are notional. The ‘ring matter’ outside
is gold whereas the ‘ring matter’ inside is existence
itself as part of the vRRitti, i.e. subtle matter. tAdAtmya sambandha
remains for both ring outside and ring inside since the attributes
perceived and the object seen have an avinAbhAva sambandha [necessary
connection] or a non-separability relationship of the object
outside and object inside. This is accomplished without any matter
or substance transfer because the objects are notional. This
is not pAramArthika; it is vyAvahArika only.
7. Objection: This is an important objection
that was not clearly addressed before. If we do not perceive
the substance, how do we ever know that there is such
a thing as substance? In fact, how do we ever know that there
are two things – substance and attributes – if all
objective knowledge is attributive?
Response: Here, we need to differentiate between
knowledge and experience in order to understand clearly. Knowledge
involves mental processes, which are subtle. This includes
perception. If there is a ring on the table, I perceive the
ring through the process described above. Now when I pick up
the ring and put it on my finger, the transaction that is involved
is not just a perceptual transaction. For others who are witnessing
it, it may be but not for the one who is transacting. There
is an experience of wearing the ring that goes with the transaction.
sambandha is now established between what is perceived and
what is transacted. If the object cannot be transacted but
only perceived, it will remain only as a perceived object.
VP defines the pramANa clearly as ‘anadhigata, abAdhita,
arthavishAyaka jnAnatvam’ – that which is not known
before, that which is not contradicted and that which has a
meaning in the sense that it has transactional reality.
This transactional reality is established by the transaction.
Bhagavan Ramanuja describes it as ‘utility’ or ‘usage’. ‘Transactability’ establishes
the reality of what is perceived and what is transacted.
Hence, the error or bhrama in advaita vedAnta is clearly
related to negatability by contradictory experience.
For example, if I see a snake and later discover that
it is a rope via a transaction (say by beating it with
a stick), what was perceived before is now recognized
as an error. If there is no contradictory transaction
involved (i.e. a transaction that contradicts the perception
of a snake), then the perception of what is actually
a rope remains as a snake in the mind of the perceiver.
Whoever comes to our house feels like touching the
flowers displayed on our coffee-table to find out if
they are real or if they are those that are made in
Japan. By feeling the texture, they are able to discriminate
real vs. Japanese flowers. From the perceptual process
alone. i.e. just by looking at the flowers, the attributes
are not sufficiently discriminative to be able to differentiate.
If one could make the texture identical as well, then
one would need to do further tests in order to differentiate
them. This example further proves that attributive knowledge
is not substantial knowledge. Advaita Vedanta is self-consistent,
logical in its analysis and also is in tune with the
current state of understanding of science.
As a child gains knowledge of the world, appropriate transactions
establish the validity of their perceptions. Both are within
vyavahAra or transactional reality. We are not concerned with
paramArtha here although, in the perceptuality requirement,
VP does address the pAramArthika aspect too. There is no other
vyApti [general example] required to establish the concomitant
relation between the vRRitti in the mind and the object out
there, since perception is immediate and direct. We are also
not violating any epistemological issues either. To suppose
that the subtle mind perceived a gross substantive along with
the subtle attributes would indeed be both unscientific and
illogical. Also, we would not want our minds clogged by all
the substantives that we perceive!
8. Objection: If there are two things A and
B, and if A is perceived and not B, two things are sure:
1. either B is known to exist a priori but is not perceived
in this specific instance. Or
2. B is totally unknown a priori and is not perceived in this
specific instance either.
So, which of the above is true when perception of substance
is denied? If it is former, then what is the source of our
knowledge about ‘substance’? If memory is not a
pramANa, such a priori knowledge of the substance cannot be
assumed in the current denial of perception of the substance.
Response: Firstly, the above statements
are confusing. The objector starts with a statement: ‘if
there are two things A and B…’ In that very
statement, there is an inherent assumption of the conditional
existence of two things, A and B, and also the existence
of a difference between A and B (based, obviously, on the
differences in the attributive knowledge of A and B). The
subsequent discussion involving vikalpa-s (choices) only
denies what has already been assumed. ( I am just having
some fun with dialectics, since the objector enjoys using
Let us examine the objection more seriously:
1. If B is known to exist a priori but is not perceived
now in this specific instance, this only implies that
object B was perceived through the vRRitti and is now
stored in memory. Whatever objects B, C, D etc were
perceived before are all stored in memory. Any substantive
knowledge of B is established only through transaction
with B. If perception of B is brahma, like the snake
perception, but was not negated as bhrama by a contradictory
transaction, then it will remain as an erroneous perception
in the memory. There is no problem in that either, since
the perceptual process is only attributive.
2. ‘Or B is totally unknown a priori and is not
perceived in this specific instance either.’ This
statement denies the first conditional statement that
there are A and B. ‘B is’ means that B exists,
and existence of B cannot be established without the
knowledge of its existence. That would mean that its
existence is known but not perceived now (it can be
known by other pramANa-s). Since there is no object
now with its attributes that the mind can perceive through
the senses, one has no cognition of B now, even if it
is known to exist in the memory because of the assumption
The objector asks: ‘So which case of the above is true,
when perception of substance is denied?’ The current
absence of the existence of object B is true since it is not
perceived now, even though existence of B and its attributive
knowledge is there in the memory. If I do not see a cow in
my office right now, although I know that cows exist in the
world along with their characteristic attributes, then ‘non-existence
of cow now in my office’ is true. Attributes do need
a locus. The vRRitti that is formed is the locus for the attributes
when an object is perceived and this vRRitti is subsequently
stored in the memory. I do not see a cow now because the attributes
of the cow that are locussed in the cow are not currently perceived
through senses in any object that I can see in my office. In
this case there is no source for the substance or its attributes.
Cow is only a vRRitti stored in the memory.
The objector then says: ‘if memory is not a pramANa,
such a priori knowledge of the substance cannot be assumed
in the current denial of perception of the substance’.
This statement of the objector is somewhat confusing.
Suppose that I recall that I saw a snake yesterday based
on the attributive knowledge that the senses gathered,
and now I say that I do not see a snake here in my office.
The substantial snake does not have to be there in order
for me to deny its existence now. It is not there now
because I do not see any attributes of the snake in
my office. I can now recall the snake that I saw yesterday
sitting in my office, since the attributes that I gathered
at that time are available as a vRRitti in my memory
. There is no confusion in understanding the perception
described above. Therefore, this objection has no relevance.
Memory as a pramANa is accounted for by the VP as ‘abhAdita
arthavishayaka jnAnatvam ‘ [not contradicted and
meaningful] where the criterion of ‘anadhigata’ [not
previously known] is removed, since one knows based
on past perception. Non-negatability and transactability
remain as means of knowledge. Recall the example of
trying to meet Mr. GAgAbUbu in the station for the first
time, based on the attributive knowledge that I have
gathered in the past. Since I now know what he looks
like based on the hear-say knowledge (Apta vAkya), I
can look for Mr. GAgAbUbu and find him there. I will
find that the attributive GAgAbUbu in my mind matches
with the attributes of the Mr. GAgAbUbu out there in
the station. If I do not find any one that matches the
description of GAgAbUbu in the station, all it means
is that the attributes of all the people that I see
in the station do not match with the attributes of GAgAbUbu
that I have stored as a vRRitti in my mind When I shake
hands with the real Mr. GAgAbUbu, he becomes a transactable
entity – vyAvahArika satyam. If the knowledge
remains attributive only, he may remain as prAtibhAsika
like our good old snake.
Therefore, none of the objections raised above contradicts
the perceptual process described.
9. Objection: If the very notion called `substance'
is forever unknown a priori, how can one say that the substance
of all things is Brahman? Brahman is never perceived to be
the substance of anything in any act of perception.
Response: It is through transactions
that one knows that the ring that I see is real at the
transactional level. Also, the snake that I saw is realized
not to have been real when my subsequent transaction
proves that it is rope. Brahman is known as the substantive,
not by any perceptual process but by Shruti statements
such as ‘sadeva saumyedamagra AsIt...’ (Ch.
U. 6.ii.1 'In the beginning, dear boy, this was Being
alone, one only, without a second...') and ‘Atmaivedam
agra AsIt...’ (Br. U. 1.iv.1 'The supreme Self
alone was...) and is further confirmed by ‘neha
nAnAsti kiMchana’ (Br. U. 4.iv.19 'there is no
diversity here') and ‘sarvaM khalvidaM
brahma’ (CH. U.
3. xiv.1 'all this is verily brahman'), etc.
Proceed to the next