Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 7

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
ISBN: 978-81-7276-457-9
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Pages: 324
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I - The various means of knowledge

Knowledge of anything is gained by accessing what we want to know through the appropriate means of knowledge, which are called pramäëa in Sanskrit. That is, we can know only through a means of knowledge. But, we may think that the self is the only exception, since the self is self-evident and we know that we exist without having to use any means of knowledge. Our existence is self-established. That we are a conscious being is also self-evident. Now arises the big question as to why we require a means of knowledge for gaining self-knowledge. It becomes necessary, as our problem is not that we do not know that the self exists, but that we are born with self-ignorance, which makes all of us know it incorrectly. We think that the self, which is equated by us with the conscious being, is subject to limitations. Therefore, we require a means of knowledge to know the self in its true nature as the limitless whole.


Now, we have to see whether the means of knowledge that we normally use would serve the purpose for knowing the self as it really is. Our knowledge is essentially gathered through our sense organs with the support of our mind. Our eyes see everything before them, our ears hear all the sounds, our nose picks up all the smells, our skin feels and our tongue tastes whatever is in contact with them. When the sense organs contact their respective object, there is immediate direct cognition [21]. Thus, we gain knowledge of form and color through the eyes, smell through the nose, taste through the tongue, sound through the ears and touch through the skin. This is direct perception [22], which is the basic means of knowledge. Here, the knowledge is gained of an object by the respective sense organ through direct sensory contact with the object. This means of knowledge is naturally restricted to those objects which are within the reach of the sense organs.


Like perception, non-perception is also a means of knowledge for knowing “negative fact” [23] through its non-perception. This is for gaining knowledge of the absence of a particular thing like “this flower has no fragrance” and “this chair is empty”.


From the direct knowledge gained from perception, we derive indirect knowledge through inference. For example, we infer fire on the hill based on the presence of smoke there. We perceive the hill, as also the smoke on the hill. We also know through our earlier perceptions that smoke is never seen without a fire [24], as in the kitchen using firewood for cooking. These facts, when considered together, lead to the knowledge that the hill is on fire. Thus perception, together with knowledge of invariable connection between what is now perceived (smoke) and what was earlier perceived (fire), gives inferred knowledge of the presence of the now non-perceived thing (fire). Thus, proper linking of knowledge gained through perception yields further knowledge through inference [25].


We also get indirect knowledge through postulation, when we encounter situations wherein the known fact cannot be accounted for without the existence of another fact, which is not known. In such circumstances, we are obliged to assume or postulate the unknown fact. The traditional example is: Devadatta is on fast for a number of days and is seen to be fasting during the waking hours. It is also observed that he is not losing weight. These two facts, namely being continuously on fast and not losing weight are mutually contradictory. The inescapable assumption to account for the apparent discrepancy between the two well-attested facts is that Devadatta eats without the knowledge of others. No other deduction is normally possible. This is called “otherwise it is not possible logic” [26] and is of great use in inquiry.


Another means of knowing is comparison, which is to know A’s similarity to ‘B’ through ‘B’s similarity to ‘A’. For example, when we, who have seen the buffalo, go to a forest and see bison, we gain the knowledge that the bison is similar to the buffalo. Based on this knowledge, we come to know that the buffalo is like the bison. We use comparison to communicate the knowledge of an unknown thing through a known thing that is similar to it. If a person does not know what a bison looks like, then we liken it to a buffalo, which he knows.

II – We cannot know the self through the usual means of knowledge

Our present concern is about the means of knowledge that we can use for correctly knowing the self. In the case of knowing, there is always the knower-I who is called the subject . What I know by perception is what is different from me. What is so known is called the object. Perception thus yields knowledge only of objects to the subject. It does not provide any knowledge about the subject. As regards inference, postulation and comparison, all of them make use of the knowledge of objects obtained through perception. Therefore, they can also provide knowledge only about objects and not about the subject. As for the subject, all these means of knowledge can provide knowledge about it only if the subject becomes available for them as an object so that it may be cognized. That is, the subject has to become an object for it to be perceived. But it is not possible to convert the subject into an object. Therefore, the subject, who can never become the object, cannot be known through perception and the other means of knowledge based on perception, namely, inference, postulation and comparison. As for non-perception, it is not relevant for gaining knowledge about the subject, which exists. Therefore, we cannot know the self through any of the means of knowledge that we normally use.


21. Cognition, apprehension and knowledge mean the same..
22. Perception, inference, postulation, comparison, non-perception are known respectively as pratyakña, anumäna, arthäpatti, upamäna and anupalabdhi.
23. This is called abhäva.
24. The knowledge of invariable concomitance is called vyäpti-jñänam.
25. The components of inference are: pakña (locus i.e., mountain), hetu (reason i.e., smoke), sädhya (conclusion i.e., fire) and dåñöänta (example of invariable co-existence of smoke with fire in the kitchen).
26. anyathä anupapatti.

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Page last updated: 08-May-2014