Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

flower picture

Part XXXV- 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 dialectics!)

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 made.

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 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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