Part 6 - mithyAtva of the Universe Part 1
Communication of Inferential Knowledge
Inferential knowledge is classified into two types: inference for one self and for others. We have discussed so far how the process occurs for oneself. We have vyApti that provides the concomitant relation between the hetu, the reason or indication, and sAdhya, the inferred knowledge. The invariable concomitant relationship was established by observation of co-existence of the hetu and sAdhya and non-observation of any violation of their co-existence. It involves both deductive and inductive logic in generalization as an ‘invariable concomitance’ based on particular observations. For example, an invariable concomitant relation between smoke and fire is established in saying that ‘wherever there is smoke there must be fire’ . This is a generalization of the particular observation that whenever there is smoke in the kitchen it is invariably associated with fire. The knowledge of this relation is stored in the memory as latent knowledge. When I see smoke on a distant hill, immediately I remember the concomitant relation between the smoke and fire and infer that there must be fire on the distant hill. This is the process defined as ‘vyApAra’, involving mental association between the smoke and the fire using the vyApti that has been established.
In communicating this inferential knowledge to others, and for them to reach the same inference, a logical procedural sequence is to be adopted and these sequential steps are referred to in western logic as a ‘syllogism’. According to the nyAya School, there are five steps involved in convincing others so that they also arrive at the same inferential knowledge. The steps involved are:
- The proposition to be proved – pratij~nA – e.g. the hill has fire.
- Reason (hetu) for this conclusion – e.g. because I see smoke on the hill.
- vyApti – concomitant relation with supporting example (udAharaNa) – e.g. wherever there is smoke there is fire, as in kitchen.
- Application of vyApti – e.g. the hill is smoky; smoke is always associated with fire.
- Conclusion reached (nigamana) – e.g. therefore the hill has fire.
According to advaita, all the five steps are not necessary. In principle, one can reach the same conclusion by following either the first three steps or the last three steps. The two additional components are therefore unnecessary, says VP.
Establishment of Unreality (mithyAtva) of the Universe through Inference Part 1
Advaita establishes the unreality of the universe using (a) shAstra pramANa, (b) inference or anumAna based on shAstra, called shAstrIya anumAna, and (c) inference based on laukika or worldly examples. In this last case, Advaita establishes a vyApti or concomitant relation based on worldly examples in order to arrive at the unreality of the Universe. [The discussion of the first two is postponed until later when we discuss verbal testimony.]
vedAnta as pramANa establishes that Brahman is the absolute truth. The word ‘Brahman’ itself means infiniteness, which by its very definition is advitIya or one without a second. If there were a second thing that was different from Brahman, it would limit Brahman, violating its infinite nature. Therefore, there cannot be anything other than Brahman. Hence, if one sees anything or things or universe of objects, these cannot be real but only apparent. Thus, whatever I see cannot be real. In addition, Brahman cannot be seen since Brahman is infinite or limitless, and seeing involves seer-seen duality. Being mutually exclusive, these conditions limit each other. If there is a universe that I see, it cannot be different from Brahman, since there cannot be anything other than Brahman. And it cannot be the same as Brahman either, since Brahman being infinite is part-less.
In addition, since I am seeing the universe, the substantive of the universe cannot be different from Brahman. vedAnta also says that Brahman is the material cause for the universe that I see. Hence, according to vedAnta, the substantive of the universe is nothing but Brahman. But my senses, which are limited, cannot perceive Brahman, the substantive. Since I do not see the substantive of the universe, whatever I see cannot be real. But, if the universe really does not exist then I cannot see the universe and transact with it. Since I am seeing and transacting with it, the universe cannot come under the category of non-existence either, like vandhyA putra or son of a barren woman. Hence, the Universe cannot come under the category of either ‘real existent’ or ‘non-existent’; it is called ‘apparently existent’ or mithyA.
After establishing the nature of inference in terms of the reason (hetu), sAdhya (conclusion) and vyApti (the concomitant relation between the hetu and sAdhya), one can use inference to establish the unreality of the universe. What is seen (e.g. smoke) forms the mark, hetu or reason for the inference. I see the smoke on the distant hill or I see the silver on nacre or I see the snake there on the path. These constitute perceptual knowledge, based on perceived attributes. Similarly, I see the universe of objects with attributive content. Perception of the universe is similar to perception of silver or snake, and forms the hetu or reason. In relation to perception of silver where there is nacre, I take the silver as real and, in relation to perception of snake where there is rope, I take the snake as real. The reason for the error as we discussed before, is that, due to some adventitious cause, I am unable to see the reality of the object there or the substantive of the object there.
In the worldly examples, the substantive of the silver is nacre and the substantive of the snake is the rope. Thus, errors in perception are recognized only when the reality of the substantive becomes known, i.e. when the adventitious defects have been removed. Here, we have inferential knowledge with hetu, sAdhya and vyApti, the hetu being what I see. The concomitant relation connecting the hetu with the sAdhya should be universal. Based on these worldly (laukika) examples, we establish a vyApti that is universally applicable that: ‘the object that we think we see is unreal, whenever we do not actually see or know the substantive, as in the case of silver seen in nacre or snake seen on rope’. Thus, we have a concomitant relation between ‘what is seen’ and ‘what is real’. Brahman is the absolutely real and is the substantive for the universe. But, since Brahman cannot be seen or known (as an object), whatever the object seen or known by perception, it cannot be real, using the vyApti, that has just been established.
Proceed to the next essay.