Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

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

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Part XXVII - The position of vishiShTAdvaita

We present here some aspects of other philosophical positions related to determinate and indeterminate perceptions, for the purpose of comparison. It is also interesting to see how the advaitic position is viewed by a vishiShTadvaitin.

According to S.M. Sreenivasa Chari in ‘Fundamentals of vishiShTAdvaita vedAnta’, the’ tatva muktA kalApa, Vedanta Deshika’ (13th Century) states the Advaitic position from the standpoint of a pUrvapakSha (objector). According to Vedanta Deshika [deshika means a guide or spiritual teacher], the Advaitin's position is that the first contact of the sense organs with the object reveals the mere existence (sat) devoid of all attributes, while subsequent contact reveals the object with attributes. The former is indeterminate perception while the latter is determinate. According to this understanding, they criticize the Advaitin’s position.

Vedanta Deshika says that perception of an object devoid of attributes is a psychological myth. Ramanuja also points out that apprehension of mere 'being' or existence without any attributes does not takes place any time and such an experience is impossible, since all cognitions are in terms of 'this is such and such'. Nothing can be perceived without attributes. Hence, even indeterminate perception has to be attributive. If both determinate and indeterminate perceptions are attributive then where is the distinction between the two, asks the vishiShTAdvaitin? We can put the question the other way round: if both determinate and indeterminate perceptions are attributive, then what is the difference between the two? Ramanuja agrees that the first time perception of an object is indeterminate but his explanation differs. For example, when a child sees a cow and his mother says 'that is a cow', he grasps the object and the attributes and stores them in his memory – since this is the first time a cow has been seen, he simply stores the attributive knowledge. When he sees another cow and then a third cow, he slowly recognizes the generic features of ‘cow’ that makes a cow a cow and not a horse. Hence, according to the vishiShTAdvaita position, the first-time perception that involves no recognition process is an indeterminate perception, while the subsequent perceptions that involves not only cognition but also recognition based on memory is determinate perception. Although both cognitions are attributive, in the first case there is no recognition while in the subsequent perceptions there is. Therefore, cognition, recognition and generic attributes (jAti) (e.g. of ‘cow’ in contrast to that of ‘horse’, etc) all play a part according to the vishiShTaadvaitic position.

There is nothing wrong with the vishiShTAdvaitic position in classifying the first time vs the subsequent perceptions respectively as indeterminate and determinate, but clearly their criticism of the Advaitic position is unfounded. S.M.S. Chari says that, according to later advaitins as stated in vedAnta paribhAshA, indeterminate perception is non-relational knowledge of the perceived object and determinate perception is relational knowledge. As an example of the former, he quotes the verbal statement 'this is that Devadatta', where the indicated identity of the substantive is to be understood by discarding the differences in attributive knowledge of this and that Devadatta. S.M.S. Chari says this view is also rejected by vedAnta deshika on the grounds that memory involving prior perception (pratyabhij~nA) of that Devadatta is also determinate in character. Reference is given to Vedanata Deshika's 'Sarvartha Siddhi'. We note that Vedanta Deshika also has written satadhUshaNi, hundred defects in Advaita Vedanta, and one of them is related to indeterminate perceptions.

The criticism of Vedanta Deshika related to the indicative meaning implied in the statement 'this is that Devadatta' is also not justified. The indeterminacy is not from the pratyabhij~nA or deterministic aspect of prior cognition of 'that Devadatta'. The problem with the identity statement 'this is that Devadatta' is that the identity is not exact. Each cognition by itself (independently), i.e. 'that Devadatta' and 'this Devadatta', is deterministic. The problem arises in the identity of these two, which is implied by the statement 'this is that Devadatta'. The reason is that the Devadatta which was cognized a long time ago and who was such a cute and handsome-looking boy is claimed to be ‘this Devadatta’, who is an ugly-looking, fat individual. Hence, the attributes of the two do not match and therefore there is no identity in the attributive knowledge of the two Devadatta-s, even though the perception is determinate in itself. Hence the identity of the two is not obvious in order to have a deterministic cognition of the identity. When the teacher says 'this is that Devadatta', what is required is faith in the teacher who made the statement; that the teacher had knowledge that the statement is true and then to cognize the identity using bhAga tyAga lakShaNa (discarding the contradictory qualifications of this and that Devadatta and unifying only the essentials). For those who knew ‘that Devadatta’ and now see ‘this Devadatta’, the effect of the verbal statement ‘this is that Devadatta’ can be immediate and direct. The recognition process requires rejection of the contradictions in the attributive knowledge. This is normal experience and therefore criticism of the advaitic position is baseless.

The above criticism has a lot more bearing on the analysis of the Vedic statement 'That art Thou' , wherein the identity involves discarding the contradictory qualifications of 'Thou' and 'That' and unifying only the essentials. Before the statement was made, the Upanishad itself provides the justification for the rejection of the superimposed names and forms in order to see the identity by saying that an object is its cause itself in a different form – vAchArambhanam vikArO nAmadhEyam. The differences are only at the level of words or speech involving the attributes and not with regard to the substantives. It is similar to the statement 'All ornaments in essence are the same and therefore the ring is the necklace', when referring to a gold ring and gold necklace. The attributes of the ring and the necklace are different and therefore the implied identity is not at that level. Deterministically, the ring is different from the necklace. Therefore, the identity is only at the substantive level, since both are nothing but gold. As Chitsukha stated, in verbal statements involving identity relations, the identity is implied only at the substantial level and not at the attributive level. The indeterminacy is inherent due to differences in the attributive knowledge. Therefore this criticism of the Advaitic position by Vedanta Deshika is also baseless.

If one closely examines the vishiShTAdvaita doctrine involved in the analysis of 'That art Thou', it also uses some kind of bhAga tyAga to arrive at the identity relation (although they do not admit this), and there is indeterminacy involved in their understanding. They use the samAnAdhikarana [integration of perception and existing knowledge of the substantive] between the attribute and the substantive as indicative of the implied identity. The attributes of Thou (jIva), and those of 'That' (para brahman), are entirely different and distinct. Since, according to them, para brahman pervades the whole universe of movable and immovable as indweller or antaryAmin, in the implied identity statement one has to discard all the attributes of the 'thou' and only equate the essence in all 'thou' as the indweller that pervades all 'Thou-s', since 'Thou' is part of 'That'. According to vishiShTAdvaita, the indwelling part is only to be involved in the identity relation and 'Thou' itself constitutes an attribute of para brahman. Since the attribute is inseparable from the substantive, identity is to establish the oneness in terms of the substantive. Taking the blue lotus as an example and addressing the ‘blue’, one could say 'Thou art Lotus', since ‘blue’ is an inseparable attribute of ‘lotus’ and depends on ‘lotus’ for its existence. Then, referring to an attribute is the same as referring to its substantive. This is what they imply as samAnAdhikaraNa. Without going into the validity of their analysis and conclusion, we note that they are adopting a procedure somewhat similar to bhAga tyAga, i.e. discarding some parts to arrive at the implied identity relation. They are discarding the individual attributes of the jIva in identifying with para brahman, since jIva is part of brahman and depends on it, while being pervaded by it as indweller. They are in essence following Chitsukhi's guidelines while criticizing the Advaitic stance. Hence their criticism of the Advaitic position is unwarranted.

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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Page last updated: 08-Jul-2012