Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XVI - Relation between an attribute and its substantive

At this juncture VP addresses another philosophical aspect that concerns the relation between attribute and its substantive. Here I am providing some background, although this will be discussed in detail later.

Suppose we say: this is a blue lotus. The general understanding is that ‘blue’ is an attribute or visheShaNa and lotus is the ‘substantive’ or visheShya. A question is posed in philosophy: how is the attribute, blue, related to its substantive, lotus? The first assertion is that they are inseparable. I cannot remove ‘blue’ from the lotus. In the case of two separate objects, the relation between the attribute and the substantive is called saMyoga - that is temporarily joining together things which are separable. For example, consider a 'book on the table'. ‘Table’ qualifies the book since the book on the table is different from the book on the floor. In this case, ‘book’ qualifies the table too, since the table with a book on it may be compared to another table without a book on it. Book and table are said to have samAna adhikaraNa - each equally qualifies the other and they are therefore separable. saMyoga brings two dravya-s or substantives together. These are called incidental qualifications or taTastha lakShaNa.

However, when we talk about the blue lotus, I cannot remove the blue color from the lotus. In addition, blue cannot exist without a locus for its existence, while lotus can exist without being blue (although we couldn’t then call it a blue lotus). Hence, in order for a blue lotus to be a blue lotus, the two have to be inseparable. Also, blue is not the same as lotus and lotus is not the same as blueness. Although they are mutually exclusive, one depends on the other and they remain inseparable. How are the two related? I.e. how is blue connected to the lotus, since they are two distinct entities? (We are using the term 'entity' loosely, since blue cannot be a substantive of its own and always needs a locus. That is blue color cannot exist separately without being associated with some noun or substantive like blue powder, blue pencil, blue car, blue sky, etc. One is a dependent entity while the other is independent entity.)

According to nyAya vaisheShika or tArkika-s (Indian logicians), the two (the inseparable but distinct attribute and substantive) are related by what they call samavAya, meaning ‘inherence’. The blue color is inherent in the blue lotus since they are inseparable. Like jAti that we discussed above, this 'inherence' or samavAya is considered by logicians as a fundamental, eternal relation relating visheShaNa and visheShya or attribute and its locus. Other philosophers criticize this concept heavily using dialectic arguments. The normal objection is that bringing a separate relation to relate attribute and substantive would result in infinite regress, since we would need to bring in another samavAya to relate this samavAya relation, and so on, while the naiyAyika-s claim that we do not need another samavAya to relate samavAya.

Then how do the other philosophies address this relation between attribute and its noun or substantive? VishiShTAdvaita contends that there is no need to have a separate relation to relate the two, since they are inseparable – and that is how they are related. They call it apRRithak siddhi, which essentially means ‘inseparable relationship’. Actually this is not saying much other than stating the fact. But the problem comes if we ask a more pertinent question: what is a lotus or how does one define a lotus? A ‘blue lotus’ can be defined a lotus with a blue color. However, the term ‘blue’ becomes relevant only if there are other lotuses that are not blue. If there is no other lotus that has a color different from blue, then calling it ‘blue’ lotus is unnecessary, like calling my daughter my ‘first daughter’ when I have only one daughter. The definition of any object should be such that it distinguishes it uniquely from all other objects in the world. All definitions are only attributive in the sense we define an object using its attributes. This implies that, without those distinguishing attributes, one cannot define an object uniquely in such a way as to separate it from others.

Here we arrive at attributes that are svAbhAvika or ‘inherent’; i.e. attributes that are inherent with the object in contrast to taTastha lakShaNa-s, which are incidental attributes, like ‘book on the table’ etc. These inherent attributes cannot be separated from the object that they define. Even in these inherent attributes, svAbhAvika, we can make further distinctions: those that are necessary and those that are necessary and sufficient. This can be illustrated by taking the example of sugar. We know that sugar is sweet; the ‘sweetness’ is its attribute. Hence sweetness is its inherent qualification or svAbhAvika lakShaNa. It is also a necessary qualification since, if it is not sweet, it cannot be sugar even if it looks like sugar. Yet sweetness is a necessary but not sufficient qualification to define sugar, since many other things are also sweet.

To qualify it as both a necessary and sufficient qualification, it has to satisfy a converse statement. The converse of 'sugar is sweet' is 'sweet is sugar'. The converse statement states that if something is sweet, it has to be sugar. If that is applicable at all times, then sweetness becomes both a necessary and sufficient qualification to define sugar. The necessary and sufficient qualification is called svarUpa lakShaNa. svarUpa lakShaNa forms a very rigorous definition for any object to differentiate that object uniquely from the rest of the objects in the universe. We find that sweetness is not a svarUpa lakShaNa for sugar, since if something is sweet it could be many other things as well, besides sugar - like glucose, fructose, aspartame, etc. Hence sweetness is not a svarUpa lakShaNa although it is svAbhAvika lakShaNa.

Then what is the svarUpa lakShaNa of sugar? According to Chemistry, the unique definition of sugar or sucrose is C 12H 22O 11 - the chemical structure, perhaps to be written in correct format to distinguish it from its isomers. Sugar is C 12H 22O 11 and C 12H 22O 11 is sugar, and there are no two ways about it. It is the necessary and sufficient condition to qualify as svarUpa lakShaNa of sugar. svarUpa also means its intrinsic structure and, in the case of sugar, its chemical structure rightly defines it as svarUpa. In fact in any chemical analysis, if an unknown compound is given, chemists arrive its chemical structure or svarUpa lakShaNa by evaluating all its physical and chemical properties along with its molecular weight. Once the structure is determined, all its intrinsic qualities are known. To recapitulate again, the svarUpa lakShaNa is determined by applying a converse statement - In the case of the sugar example the direct statement is 'sugar is C 12H 22O 11’ and the converse statement is ‘C 12H 22O 11 is sugar'. Similarly, H 2O is water, NH 3 is ammonia, etc.

Looking at svarUpa lakShaNa or intrinsic structure, it is also clear now that every object is made up of components arranged in a particular order. In the case of sugar, the components are Hydrogen, Carbon, and Oxygen. Further examination reveals that each one of them is again made up of smaller components but arranged again in some fixed order. For example, the constituents of sugar, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are electrons, protons and neutrons, but organized in a particular order. This is true for any object. Since each object is divisible into finer components and each component has its own svarUpa lakShaNa - it implies that every object is only relevant with its intrinsic structure until further divided into its constituent objects. Hence no object is final or, in philosophical terms, ‘absolutely real’. They only have validity in their sphere of application or transaction. The relative realities are called vyAvahArika satyam or transactional reality.

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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