Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

flower picture

Part XXXXVII - Conclusion of silver-nacre analysis

Objection: Even so, the object identified as ‘this is silver’ is cognized only when the perception is directly connected with the witnessing consciousness, which is nothing but pure ‘I am’, the consciousness-existence. The vRRitti has to be abiding in that illuminating consciousness before we can have knowledge of that vRRitti. That being so, why assume a state of nescience involving an ‘apparent knowledge’ or ‘mithyA silver’ as the object of perception and thereby complicate the issue?

Reply: The perception of an object requires not only the existence of an object but also consciousness of the existence of the object. The existence of an object cannot be established without consciousness of its existence. Hence, the perception of an object consists in not only having an existent object but also having that existence united with the consciousness of the subject (expressing this in the form of the perceptuality requirement). Hence, any cognition requires both consciousness and existence as the unifying principle. But this is precisely the nature of Brahman as its svarUpa lakshaNam. Yet we do not gain knowledge of Brahman by the perception of ‘idam’ or ‘this object’, even though the scripture says that all ‘idam-s’ are Brahman only. Hence, even though the ‘idam’ or ‘this’ abides in the consciousness-existence during the perceptual process, the nescience persists in the perception. Hence, this nescience is not an assumption but a statement of fact.

Objection: Nevertheless, the mental state or impression in the form of ‘this’, and the state of ignorance of ‘Brahman’ due to nescience are two distinct entities. According to prabhAkara (who was a student of kumArila bhatta, but formed his own school of pUrva mImAMsA different from his teacher), one should treat the perception of the object as ‘this’ and the recognition of the object as ‘silver’, as two separate processes. I.e. cognition and recognition are two distinct processes and should not be combined. However, in the perception of illusory silver, the perception of ‘this’ is getting mixed up with the recognition of real silver perceived elsewhere so that we have a mixed-up perception of ‘this is (that) silver’. Hence, the illusory silver, according to prabhAkara, is not an error in perception but an error in recognition. A qualified perception such as ‘erroneous perception’ is therefore not permitted and your above analysis violates this.

Reply: Not true. We do not accept prabhAkara’s analysis of error. In our view, error is taking something other than what it is – atasmin tat buddhi. Nescience also involves taking the substantive Brahman as other than what it is; as an object this or object that. This is fundamental in all erroneous perceptions. In the example being discussed, I am taking the object that I am perceiving as ‘this’ as silver instead of what it actually is – nacre. This error is at the vyAvahArika level. There is an error at the pAramArthika level too. But the cause for both errors is the same. One and the same consciousness is reflected in two states involving real (the existence as object) and unreal (the experiential ‘this’ as a form with quality). When the real is not recognized due to nescience, the unreal is taken to be a real object. This is admitted as an error in perception. The illuminating consciousness, sAkshI, illumines the real and the unreal components – ‘this is’ and ‘silver’. One is the substantive of ‘is-ness’, and the other the attributive content of the vRRitti in the form of silveriness. Thus, an error arises in every perception and is accepted by advaita vedAnta where the real is ignored, and the Adheya, or superimposed attributive knowledge forms the basis for the substantive knowledge.

Objection: According to the tenets of vedAnta, the real silver that is elsewhere (at a different place and time), yet is observed or experienced, is also the effect of nescience. In that perception also there is the same superimposition, or Adheya knowledge of name and form, on the substantive Brahman. There also the substantive is not recognized as Brahman and the knowledge is only based on the attributes such as silveriness. How does the perception of real silver elsewhere differ from the false silver perceived here, where we mistake nacre as silver?

Reply: According to NyAya, all are equally real. However, both experientially as well as according to advaita vedAnta, even in vyavahAra there are degrees of reality, even though from the absolute reference point, things are only transactionally real or vyavahAra satyam. Take, for example, gold and ring. What should we call ‘real’ and what ‘false’, when the so-called real is also false from the absolute point of view? That which remains the same or unchanging during a transformation is more real than that which is changed. Hence, of the two – ring and gold – the gold is more real than the ring.

Transformation of the ring into a bangle will be pariNAma, in which the cause is destroyed in becoming the effect but, from the standpoint of the gold, it remains the same in both cause and effect. Hence, the ontological status of the gold, as opposed to the ring or bangle, is different. Similarly, the ontological status of the silver that was perceived at some other place and time through a pramANa is real, since it remains as silver unless a contradictory experience occurs that negates that knowledge.

In the current example, the object that is first recognized as silver is subsequently negated by a contradictory experience. in which the knowledge of the object nacre occurs. Hence, we have more ‘permanent’ objects when compared to others, thus establishing a range of permanence or impermanence and thus defining a degree of reality of objects. Some objects only have fleeting presence, while others are more permanent. In the case of perception of silver where there is nacre, the lighting conditions may not be adequate for the eyes to see the complete and full set of attributes that define the object as nacre. Since silveriness of the object is dominant and is visible without any doubt, our judgment is based upon the sense input of the silveriness alone and silver is immediately perceived. But this perception is subsequently negated when one gets clear vision or if one is able to pick up the object. Then one discovers that it is not silver but nacre.

We need all the necessary attributes in order to be able to define or identify an object without any ambiguity. If, for one reason or another, we get only partial but dominant attributes, then an error in perception is possible. If there is insufficient light or a defect in the eye (such as color-blindness), then one can perceive an object as different from what it is. Thus, the criterion for errors in perception or for seeing illusory objects in perception is the perception of an incomplete set or of incorrect attributes. It is because of this that the conclusion is made that ‘the object is silver’. Sleep, for example, can form an adventitious defect for cognition of the objects in a dream state. Thus, the objects such as chariot etc experienced in a dream are illusory since the perception is covered by the adventitious defect called sleep. They are real as long as the dream lasts, but become unreal when one wakes up – sa kale satyavat bhAti, prabhode satyasat bhavati, says Shankara in Atmabodha.

The ontological status of objects seen in dream will be discussed 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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