Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXX - Summary so far

We are still dealing with pratyakSha pramANa or the direct perceptual means of knowledge. Here I am going to summarize the essence of what we have learned so far.

The fundamental statement of VP is that perceptual knowledge is nothing but pure consciousness. Immediacy follows from the condition of perceptuality which is stated as ‘oneness of the consciousness of the subject that perceives the object with the conditioned consciousness expressed through a vRRitti of the object in the mind’. This was explained as follows: The object that is perceived manifests as a vRRitti, or thought, in the mind of perceiver. Brahman, the all-pervading consciousness, is the material cause for the object and therefore manifests (as though) as limiting consciousness in the form and name of the object, where the form includes all the associated attributes that are perceived relating to that particular object (shabda, sparsha, rUpa, rasa, gandha - sound, touch, form, taste and smell).

Perception through the senses involves perception of only the attributes of the object since Brahman, the substantive, cannot be perceived as separate from the perceiver. The attributive sense input forms a vRRitti, which is reflected by the sAkshI chaitanya or witnessing consciousness. The knowledge is complete when the light of consciousness reflected by the mind as the subject who is perceiving the object, and the reflected consciousness of the vRRitti, the contents of the objects in terms of sense input, become one – expressed as the identity of subject consciousness and object consciousness. The sense input provides the qualifying attributes of the object perceived – as in ‘this a pot’. Similarly, the reflected consciousness of the mind (chidAbhAsa) with its own attributes forms the subject, the knower of the object as ‘I am the knower’. The perceptual knowledge is said to be complete when the reflected consciousness of the subject and the reflected consciousness of the object become one. (Note that we are only dealing with reflected consciousness, since absolute consciousness is all pervading and has no differences of any kind – no sajAti, vijAti and svagata bheda-s, no distinctions of similar, dissimilar or unique nature.) The statement of VP then follows that: perceptual knowledge is the same as pure consciousness and this forms the basis for the perceptuality condition. Immediacy of the perception of the object follows since the associated vRRitti of that object that is reflecting the light of consciousness has the attributes of the object perceived as its contents.

The process of perception can be understood if we look at the process objectively. The mind that is perceiving the object through the senses is also an object in the sense that it is jaDa or inert. According to Vedanta it is nothing but matter only – ‘annamayam hi manaH – mind is made up of matter’, Ch. Up 6-5-4. Mind becomes dynamic due to the reflection of consciousness in it or by it. Any object becomes known only as a result of the reflection of light. Similarly the mind becomes known by the consciousness reflected by it and the quality of the reflection depends on the purity of the reflecting medium. When the attributes of the external object (external to the mind) are brought in by the senses, they form a vRRitti – a perturbation or a thought in the mind. The vRRitti, as it forms in the mind, also get reflected in the light of consciousness that is ever present.

We have now two reflections: one, the mind itself as an object that constitutes the subject (since it has the capacity to learn and store the information), and the vRRitti of the object, which is a local perturbation of the mind. These two reflections constitute the subject and the object in relation to the perception. Both reflections are arising from the same source: the witnessing consciousness that I am. The connection between the two is established via perceptual knowledge and that is stated to be the perceptuality condition, in which the consciousness of the subject is united with the consciousness of the object.

An interesting point is that the knowledge is complete when the reflected consciousness as the subject unites with the reflected consciousness as the object. There is no specific ‘matter’ here, other than the fact that the quality of the reflection depends on the purity of the reflecting medium. When I say ‘I see a pot there’, what is seen therefore is the reflecting consciousness of the vRRitti that is formed in the mind, which contains the attributes of the object brought in by the senses, and it is seen by the reflecting consciousness of the mind.

So, ‘is there really a ‘pot’ out there?’ If one asks this, then we can say that, at the transactional level, yes there is pot out there. But if one wants the truth behind that statement, what is seen is only the vRRitti in the mind. The ‘pot’ is there only when the vRRitti is there and the vRRitti is there only when the mind is there or awake. Hence, without the mind and the vRRitti that is formed (and note that the vRRitti of the object will not form if the relevant senses do not bring in the attributive knowledge), the presence of a pot cannot be established out there. Whether it is there or not therefore becomes an indeterminate problem just as, in the deep sleep when the mind is not there to reflect consciousness, the world itself including the pot cannot be established. The pot is there only because I see it. If I do not see it, is it there? I do not know and therefore I cannot tell if it is there or not. Others may tell me that it is, when they see it, but I need to have faith in their statements and that report becomes a separate means of knowledge – shabda pramANa. This is indirect knowledge or even ‘hearsay’ and not direct knowledge.

When I do see the pot through direct sense input, the attributes that I apprehend are dependent upon my senses. Hence, if I speak of a ‘real’ pot out there, the pot is as real as the mind that sees it. But neither the pot nor the mind can see each other to establish their existence. Seeing takes place when the consciousness reflected in the mind unites with the consciousness reflected by the vRRitti of the object in the mind. Thus both subject and the object of perception are reflected consciousness of that witnessing consciousness. Pure consciousness cannot be seen since that would involves duality of seer and seen. Hence, at the level of perception, perceptual knowledge has to be understood as pure consciousness alone but perceived as the subject-perceiver and object-perceived.

In the case of internal perceptions (i.e. where the perceived objects are not external but are internal to the mind, such as emotions like fear, pleasure, anger, desire, etc or conceptualized objects), the attributes are there along with their corresponding vRRitti-s. The only difference between them and external objects is that their attributive content does not arise from external sources via the senses. These internal perceptions also come under the category of direct perceptions, since we experience them directly and immediately and these are the characteristics of perceptual knowledge. They fulfill the criteria of perceptuality established earlier by VP.

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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