Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXXXV - Ontological Status of ‘This’

In the last part, we introduced some fundamental concepts of advaita based on vedAnta pramANa. We will now discuss the relationship between perceptual knowledge and absolute knowledge.

The truth is that Brahman is absolute, undifferentiable, infinite existence-consciousness. From the standpoint of Brahman, or the absolute reference point, there is nothing other than Brahman. This is called pAramArthika satyam. When we consider the creation consisting of various objects and beings, we are coming down to vyAvahArika satyam or transactional reality. Here creation, creator, yoga, yogi, self-realization, sAdhanA, j~nAnI and aj~nAnI, as well as perception of plurality along with the mistaken notion that what is perceived is real, including the Vedas, all appear to exist. Since scripture says that Brahman alone is real, the vyAvahArika satyam is mithyA; i.e. it is neither real nor unreal. It is apparently real but not really real.

Hence, the scriptures say that there is nothing apart from Brahman - neha nAnAsti ki~nchana. Therefore, all the objects that I see, as well as the seer that I am, are nothing but Brahman – sarvaM khalvidam brahma. Note that the word ‘idam’ means ‘this’, which refers to an object that is perceived and which, by the above declarative statement of the scripture, is nothing other than Brahman. Note that ‘idam’ has a reference only when there is an ‘idam’ that is separate from ‘aham’. But ‘idam’ by definition is inert and, if we say ‘this is’, it implies that it is existing. Brahman is consciousness and, by having ‘is-ness’ associated with it (as ‘Brahman is’), it is also existence. Since everything is Brahman, as the statement ‘sarvaM khalvidam brahma’ asserts, and since idam is inert, we conclude that Brahman expresses in the ‘idam’ as existence only. Thus Brahman, whose intrinsic nature is existence-consciousness, expresses in everything fundamentally as ‘existence’ but it only expresses as both existence and consciousness in conscious beings.

In addition, idam’s existence or existence of ‘this’ can only be recognized by a conscious entity. In the very recognition, involving knowledge of ‘this’, the perceptuality condition is met, wherein the limiting existence in the form of ‘this’ becomes one with the subject’s limiting ‘existence-consciousness’ in the form of ‘I am’. This results in the knowledge of a) ‘this is an object’ and b) ‘I am a knower of this object’. This is true for all objects that are perceived via the mind and the senses. Hence, in the perception of ‘this’, the ‘existence’ expressed as the limiting adjunct in ‘this’ is linked with consciousness ‘I am’ in order to establish the knowledge of ‘this object is’, and cognition of that knowledge in ‘I know this object is’.

In essence, consciousness-existence of the subject-object expressed as in the limiting adjuncts of ‘I am’ and ‘this is’ are involved in the perceptual knowledge of perceiver and perceived. Knowledge of every object therefore involves unity of the existence-consciousness, which is of the nature of Brahman, in the form of this subject-object relation. Hence, Yagnyavalkya says to Gargi in Br. Up. 3-8-11, ‘nAnyadatosti draShTRRi, nAnyadatosti shrotRRi, nAnyadastosti mantRRi, nAnyadatosti vij~nAtre – ’ Without consciousness-existence present, there is nothing other to see, there is nothing other to hear, there is nothing other to think and there is nothing other to know.

Hence, Brahman is the substantive for everything including ‘this’ that is seen and ‘I am’ that is the seer. Creation is only apparent or mithyA. Seer-seen duality is also part of that mithyA. mithyA is defined as sat-asat vilakShaNam – that which is neither sat nor asat; neither real nor unreal. ‘Real’ is that which does not undergo any transformation and ‘unreal’ is that which has no locus for existence at any time. Since the world of objects continuously undergoes mutation, it cannot be absolutely real; but since the objects are there to experience, they are not unreal. Hence they are classed as mithyA – apparent.

From the standpoint of Ishvara, the power by which one can become many is defined as mAyA. It forms the basis for creation. Creation being apparent and mAyA being apparent, they have the same degree of reality. Thus, the apparent cause and the apparent effects are of the same degree of reality – and this type of transformation is called ‘pariNAma’ in VP. From the standpoint of substantive Brahman, the existence-consciousness, there is no transformation or it is only apparent transformation, appearing as many yet remaining as Brahman only. This apparent transformation is called vivarta. Having defined both, VP now addresses the ontological status of the silver that we see in the nacre; in fact, the status of any object that we see.

Since we seem to see an object ‘out there’, it is apparent that there is something ‘out there’, which appears to be there for us to see. (Here, ‘seeing’ includes all sense perceptions.) When we see an object, the associated vRRitti forms in the mind and is then seen in the reflected light of illuminating consciousness, sAkshI. Nothing can appear in this universe without having a substantive to support that appearance. Hence, any appearance must have a substantive, which in-turn cannot be another apparent thing, since any further apparent thing would again have to have its own substantive that was not apparent. The only substantive that is non-sublatable is Brahman – existence-consciousness. Existence itself cannot undergo any transformation or pariNAma. Hence, VP says that, when I perceive silver as ‘this is silver’, there are two types of transformations involved in that perception. There is an object, prameya, as ‘this’; and there is a subject, pramAta, the knower ‘I am’. This results in the knowledge of the object and cognition of that knowledge.

The perceptuality requirement therefore involves two transformations: one at the level of prameya (the known) and the other at level of pramAta (the knower). The perception of silver which is mithyA, by sense input of its silvery-ness, is transformed into a vRRitti as ‘this’, which is also mithyA. The object ‘out there’, and the vRRitti of the object that is formed in the mind associated with that object, are both ontologically in par since both are mithyA. Existence in the form of the limiting adjunct in the object ‘out there’, is now existence as the liming adjunct in the object ‘this’ in the form of the vRRitti. Since both are neither real nor unreal, both are of the nature of ignorance or nescience only, and in neither case is the substantive revealed. This is called mAyA at the level of Ishvara and avidyA at the level of the jIva, since Ishvara knows but jIva does not know. From both perspectives it is mithyA only. (Krishna says it is difficult to unlock His mAyA ‘daiviim eshA guNamayI mama mAyA duratyayA…’ – this mAyA of mine is of divine origin and cannot be easily overcome. The only way to overcome it is through complete surrender and that surrender occurs only with the knowledge of the substantive, Brahman.)

Hence, the transformation, as per the above definition, is pariNAma since ontologically the same degree of reality of existence in the form of limiting adjuncts is maintained. The substantive for the object ‘out there’ is Brahman, as existence in the limiting adjunct of the object ‘is’. This is expressed in the scriptures by the statement ‘sarvaM idam brahma’, all this is Brahman. Likewise, the substantive for the vRRitti in the mind, in the perception of the object as ‘this’, is also existence as the limiting adjunct of ‘this is’. Since neither the substantive knowledge of the object ‘out there’, nor the substantive of the object perceived as ‘this’, are known by the perceptual process, due to ignorance or nescience covering both, the knowledge remains as knowledge of the object as ‘this’, and not as the substantive existence-consciousness, Brahman. When the vRRitti is formed, the ignorance of the substantive knowledge of the object out there is transferred into ignorance of the substantive knowledge of ‘this’ .

All that this verbiage really means is that, although Brahman is the substantive of the object out there and of the vRRitti in the mind, neither fact is realized when the object is perceived via the mind. The substantive is ‘as though’ covered by ignorance or nescience and is not perceived, since objective knowledge is only attributive, never substantive. Perception as a pramANa cannot uncover that ignorance or nescience.

The important point to note is that, when we perceive an object out there we say that it is an ‘existent object’ not ‘existence as an object’ (it is like saying that we have a ‘golden ring’ rather than ‘ringly gold’). Existence as the substantive is not recognized in the object there. Similarly, when the object is perceived through the vRRitti, the knowledge is ‘this is an object’ , i.e. not ‘this object as existence’ but only ‘this existent object’. Since knowledge involves consciousness, the subject existence-consciousness is united with the existence vRRitti of the object as ‘this is’ in order for the perception to take place. Ignorance of the substantive pervades the object out there and the vRRitti of the object as ‘this’, even though the entire process occurs on the unifying substantive – consciousness-existence of the subject-object.

Objection: According to the description above, perception of the object involves formation of a vRRitti and, when this is identified with the consciousness of the subject, the knowledge that ‘this is silver’ takes place. How can the silver that abides in the consciousness of the subject be identified as an object that is ‘out there’, expressed as ‘this is silver’? Essentially, how can the silver in the conscious mind become silver ‘out there’? One is a subtle thought in the mind and the other is a gross object. How can a subtle thought in the consciousness form the basis of the conclusion that an object outside is silver?

Answer: Since the question is raised by naiyAyika-s, VP uses their own analysis of the perception of happiness to answer the question. He uses what is popular known as a proverb: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. First, VP differentiates the pure consciousness from the limiting consciousness. In the discussion of the jIva, we have stated earlier that the jIva is qualified limiting consciousness and jIva sAkshI is just the limiting consciousness (without qualification or identification) or upahita chaitanya, while pure consciousness is unbound and infinite. According to the nyAya philosopher, happiness abides in the soul, even though it is experienced as abiding in the body. Thus the substratum for happiness is different from where it is experienced. If naiyAyika-s have no problem in accepting this, they should not have any problem in perceiving the silver as abiding in the consciousness as an object silver ‘out there’. This answer is only to show that naiyAyika-s have no right to raise this objection.

VP next categorically states that unqualified pure consciousness is not the substratum of the silver but substratum only for the consciousness limited by the meaning of the word ‘this’ – that is for the limiting consciousness in the form ‘this’. ‘This’ is the vRRitti that is formed, which is illumined by the witnessing consciousness; and therefore one is conscious of ‘this’. Thus, ‘this’ is in the consciousness, in order for one to be conscious of ‘this’. The content of ‘this’ is the attributive content perceived through the sense input which, in this case, is the silvery-ness of the object. The substantive of ‘this’ is the limiting consciousness itself, established by the unity of the subject-consciousness with the object ‘this’ of the vRRitti. Thus, the cognition of ‘this is silver’ in the limiting consciousness is connected to some object out there, which has silvery-ness as its attribute.

Since the whole universe is nothing but Brahman, it is as a result of nescience or mAyA that the world appears to be out there for the senses to perceive. The substantive of the silvery object out there is Brahman, expressed as existence. As a result of the formation of the vRRitti, with the sense input attribute of silvery-ness, and its unity with the subject consciousness, the object is now one with the limiting consciousness that has the mind as its limiting instrument. The silver out there is now ‘as though’ superimposed on the limiting consciousness, which is just the illuminating consciousness of the sAkshI. Thus, in essence, Brahman as an object out there is now Brahman as an object in the mind.

The ignorance associated with the existence of the object ‘silver’ out there (since it is taken as silver rather than Brahman) now becomes the ignorance of the perception of silver abiding in the substantive consciousness. Neither the substantive of the object silver out there nor the substantive of the vRRitti of the object silver in the mind are recognized. But the truth remains that, without the substantive consciousness limited by the mind, one could not be conscious of the vRRitti in the mind and therefore conscious of the object silver out there. No other agency than limiting consciousness can cognize the silver out there. Limiting consciousness is nothing but witnessing consciousness. Hence Yagnyavalkya’s statement to Gargi in Br. Up. quoted above that, other than the consciousness, there is nothing else to see, to hear, to think and to know - ‘nAnyadatosti draShTRi…’.

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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