Part XXXXVI -
Two layers of ignorance
We have been addressing the situation in which silver
is perceived where there is actually nacre, because
of the ‘silveriness’ observed by the senses.
VP says there are two types of transformations that
occur in the perception of any object by a subject knower.
One transformation is at the level of the object or
prameya, and the other is at the level of the subject
or pramAta. That there is an object ‘out there’ is
mithyA, since the substantive of any object according
to vedAnta is Brahman (sarvaM khalvidam brahma). Brahman
is formless and attribute-less, while the object has
a form with other attributes. What is perceived, then,
is only a form with a name, and is mithyA.
The vRRitti that is formed is known as a result of
being illumined by the witnessing consciousness when
the perceptuality conditions are met; i.e. when the
subject-consciousness is united with the object-existence
in the form of the vRRitti. By this process, not just
existence but consciousness-existence forms the substantive
of the vRRitti. Since consciousness is the basis for
knowledge, the ‘this’ that is related to
the object-vRRitti now (as though) abides in the consciousness-existence
of sAkshI. A further identification of the object as ‘this
is silver’ occurs due to the attributive content
of silveriness in the vRRitti that is formed. The cognition
of that knowledge, in the form ‘I know this is
silver’, also follows.
Effectively, a mithyA object out there is transformed
by the perceptual process into a mithyA object in the
limiting consciousness. Hence ontologically, the object ‘silver’ out
there is now in tandem with the object ‘silver-awareness’ in
the mind, since in both cases the substantives are not
known. The transformation that preserves the ontological
status of cause and the effect is called pariNAma. The
substantive for the outside silver is Brahman as per
vedAnta, and the substantive for the object ‘this’ inside
the mind is the limiting consciousness due to the perceptuality
requirement. In essence, ‘this’ must be
in my consciousness in order for me to be conscious
of ‘this’. Since ‘this’ can
be any object, and ‘all-this’ constitutes
the world, I become conscious of the world when the
world in my consciousness.
Instruments, mind and the senses, form the basis for
this transformation process of the world of objects
outside into the consciousness of the objects inside,
while preserving their ontological status. Thus, mind
and the senses become the ‘pramANa’ or the
means of knowledge in this transformation process. Thus
it is clear that, in the perceptual process, we are
bringing together the Ishvara sRRiShTi in the form of
the world of objects and the jIva sRRiShTi in the form
of vRRitti-s, in order to establish the perception of
the world ‘out there’. We are using the
phrase ‘our consciousness’ in the sense
of limiting consciousness of the witness.
We will now address some more objections raised by
Objection: In meeting the perceptuality
condition, if ‘this’ were an object that
is superimposed on the limiting consciousness (which
is called the witness or upahita chaitanya), the cognition
would have been ‘I am silver’ or ‘I
have silver’, similar to the cognition ‘I
am happy’. But the cognition is not like that.
It is ‘I know that is silver’ or ‘I
know that object over there is silver’.
Reply: In response to this objection, VP
illustrates a universal rule relating to an experience and
the knowledge of that experience. In every experience, there
is an experiencer, an experienced thing and the action of
experiencing. This is analogous to knower, known and knowing,
pramAta, prameya and pramANa. Thus in every experience, there
is an object of experience, which is localized in a particular
form. Here, we are using the word ‘form’ in the
generic sense and not necessarily related to physical dimensions.
The experience takes the form of a latent impression that
is left by that experience. This is what is also sometimes
called ‘saMskAra’. Actions, for example, leave
subtle impressions called vAsanA-s. Hence, all experiences
leave a latent impression.
When I see an object ‘jar’ out there, this
seeing constitutes an experience. It leaves a latent
impression in the form of ‘this’. VP says
that the impression ‘this’ is the result
of nescience, which covers the true or
substantive knowledge of the object associated with ‘this’,
which is Brahman. Because of the nescience, the impression
left is ‘this, existent-jar’ rather than ‘Existence,
as this-jar’, since existence as such is formless.
As a universal rule, the experience of all objects
is always ‘this’ or ‘that’,
with latent impressions separating themselves from each
other as well as from other impressions that are left
behind, such as the experience of body, mind or intellect.
In the case of the experience of the mind, intellect
or body, the impression is of a two-fold nature. One
is ‘this is mind’ and the other is ‘I
am the mind’ due to nescience occurring at two
levels. When I say ‘this is mind’, it is
similar to ‘this is a jar’ Here, the nescience
is ignorance of Brahman, since any ‘this’ according
to vedAnta is nothing but Brahman (sarvaM khalvidam
brahma). Hence, the mind is illumined by the witnessing
consciousness, as a result of which the knowledge of
the mind, as ‘this is mind’ can occur. (At
this level, ‘mind’ is part of Ishvara sRRiShTi.
This is one of the reasons why, when I become a j~nAnI,
only my notional mind which is jIva sRRiShTi gets destroyed,
but not the objective mind which is Ishvara sRRiShTi.)
The second level of nescience also expresses as ‘I
am the mind’, in contrast to ‘this is mind’.
This is due to the ignorance of myself as ‘I am
the consciousness-existence entity’. Hence, in
the cognition of the mind, ‘this is mind’ as
well as ‘I am the mind’ both happen due
to this two-fold ignorance. VP refers to this as two
types of experiences. Taking the body as an example,
we have ‘this is the body’ and also ‘I
am the body’. This two level experience is due
to the nescience of ‘Brahman’ as well as
nescience of ‘myself as brahman’.
VP gives several examples to illustrate what vedAnta
calls the ‘adhyAsa’ arising from nescience.
examples are: This is an eye and I am blind; this is an ear,
I am deaf. Similarly, ‘I am happy’ is due to the
identification with the latent impression in the mind due to
attributive knowledge of happiness. Similarly, I am angry,
I am depressed, etc. We have already discussed the internal
perceptions of these emotions where the contents of the vRRitti-s
are the emotions directly. These emotions are perceived immediately
as they rise in the mind.
Let us return briefly to the misperceived-silver example.
Consciousness is the all-pervading substantive of everything
but nescience prevents this realization. In the case of any
external object, there is a subject-object distinction or differentiation,
in spite of this oneness of the substantive. In the perceptual
experience of silver, knowledge of that perception manifests
as 'this is silver' and not 'I am silver', even though the
substantive of the subject ‘I am’ and object 'this
is' is the same consciousness.
However if the object is the BMI, even though there
is still the cognition 'this is...', because we have
an organic relation to the object, there is also the
identification 'I am this'. For example, in the case
of a pain in the leg, we easily convert the perception
of 'the leg has a pain' into ‘I have a pain',
since we feel that the leg and I am identical.
Thus, whether there is an organic relationship with
the object or not makes a difference in the perception
that we have of an object outside the body vs. the perception
we have of any part of the body, even though
consciousness is the substantive of the subject and
If the object has no organic relationship with the
body, the latent impression will be always be ‘this
is an object’ and not ‘I am the object’.
Taking the hand, for example, this is integral part
of my body so that the latent impression extends to
the hand as ‘ I am the hand’ as well as ‘I
am the rest of the body’. Hence, when you touch
my hand or hurt my hand, I feel that you are touching
me or hurting me. If for some reason my hand is amputated
and left on the table, then the same hand becomes ‘this
is a hand’ and there is no longer any identification
as ‘I am the hand’. If you then further
cut that amputated hand on the table, I have no sense
that you are hurting me.
Hence, based on the latent impression, ‘this’ is
the object or ‘I am the object’ occurs due
to a two-layer, or twin aspects of, nescience. Firstly,
I am ignorant of the fact that the world of objects
is nothing but Brahman and secondly that I am none other
than Brahman. Hence, advaita vedAnta declares: brahma
satyam, jagat mithyA, and jIvo brahmaiva nAparaH. The
first statement establishes the nature of Brahman, the
second eliminates the ignorance of the world of objects
and third eliminates ignorance of myself. The second
and third are stated clearly to eliminate this two-layer
nescience. It is also important to recognize that, regardless
of any claims to the contrary, the ‘who am I?’ inquiry
itself does not eliminate completely this two-fold nescience,
unless it is also supported by the enquiry ‘what
is this world that appears to be separate from me?’.
Hence, the purpose of inquiry into the perceptual process
according to VP, as stated in the introduction to this
series, is to understand that the world is recognized,
when the existence of the world is united with the consciousness-existence
of the witnessing consciousness.
Proceed to the next