An Interesting article - any response?

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Thu Dec 5 15:13:38 CST 1996

In the recent past, I have been trying to keep away from dvaita vs.
advaita debates on any forum, including the newsgroups, srv and srh. The
main reason is that these debates are endless. We do not agree on
fundamentals, and I see little point in constantly debating peripheral
issues. I do not think this is the right forum for such a debate. Nor do I
think that the dvaita list is a forum for the debate, and so I've
refrained from even subscribing to it.

However, Shrisha does have a point in that we were the first to discuss
amongst ourselves what was said on the other list. So he is entitled to be
heard, but I do not want to have this discussion continue beyond a point,
so this is going to be my first and last response to Shrisha. So, here

On Wed, 4 Dec 1996, Shrisha Rao wrote:

> Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:
> > I would have expected somebody in a Mathematics department to be able to
> > appreciate subtle points in philosophy, but I was sorely disappointed with
> > Sri Guruprasad's analysis.
> It may be that skill in math is different from, or unrelated to, skill
> in philosophical reasoning, perhaps?  I'm sure he will do better in
> his next effort.  Don't be too harsh on him yet.  And besides, the
> Unabomber was a mathematician -- don't speak ill of anyone who does
> math, 'cause you never know when you'll see your mistake blow up in
> your face.

I admit I did say something not very charitable about Mr. Guruprasad. But
then, I am entitled to my expectations of the philosophical capabilities
of mathematicians. None of the mathematicians I know have given me reason
to think otherwise. Shrisha's comparison of all mathematicians to the
Unabomber is, on the other hand, insulting to mathematicians in general,
and Mr. Guruprasad in particular. I hope you didn't mean the implied
threat seriously, Shrisha. However, I find it interesting that you think
what blew up in the face of the Unabomber's victims was somehow the
victims' mistake.


> >
> > On the one hand, these dvaitins find fault with Gaduapada for equating the
> > waking state with the dream state, i.e. dream objects are as real as or
> > as illusory as objects in the waking state. On the other hand, they
> > attribute to advaita, a false notion that dream objects are unreal.
> >
> > Nobody within advaita says that the dream objects are unreal.
> In which case, Sri M K Turumella isn't an Advaitin, 'cause he said
> they are "nothing but illusion," and even justified the illusory
> nature of the universe itself on that basis. It's there in the
> archive.  But perhaps he was wrong --

Here we go again. Confounding peripheral issues without agreeing on
fundamentals. In advaita, the unreal and the illusory are two
different categories. Within the framework of advaita, however faulty you
think it is, you cannot find fault with an advaitin saying that a dream
object is "illusory". He does *not* mean unreal. Find fault with the
framework of the advaitic criteria of reality, but please do not impute
unreality (the way you understand it) to an object that the advaitin says
is illusory.

Of course, I am assuming here that Madhava did keep the category of the
asat and the mithyA separate in his discussion. But please do remember
that neither what Madhava says, nor what I say, is final, as far as
advaita is concerned. Go back to the original bhAshyas and vyAkhyas of the
acknowledged masters, if you feel we are misrepresenting advaita.

> > They seem to be real as long as the dream persists. For the dreamer,
> > they are real enough. What is pointed out in advaita is that the
> > dream objects have no reality *independent of the dreamer*. Your
> > dream objects have no meaning for me, they are forever inaccessible
> > to me. I cannot even claim to know them, much less talk about their
> > reality or otherwise.
> If that is the case, then why are you talking of their reality or
> otherwise, by saying they are not unreal, that they are real enough to
> the dreamer, and that they seem to be real as long as the dream
> persists?

svata: pramANa, parata: apramANa, my dear Shrisha. We advaitins do not
like to leave the perceiver out of the analysis of perception. When I say
something about dream objects, I am saying something about the dreamer
also. Certainly I can talk about dreamers and about dream objects, because
I myself do have dreams! I am only admitting that I have no access to your
dreams. But I do not doubt that you dream too, and that your dreams
presumably have objects in them.

> > The analogy of dreams is given just to point out the meaning of the
> > Sruti statements that the universe has no reality *independent of
> > brahman*. However, everybody perceives the universe to be
> > independent of any higher reality. This is the essential paradox,
> > which advaita vedAnta seeks to describe as avidyA or ignorance about
> > the true nature of reality.
> Now see.  Not too long ago it seemed like you were saying that Anand Hudli
> was right in criticizing Guruprasad for saying that the relationship
> between dreams and waking is not of a piece with that between waking and
> the absolute.  Yet, you are saying the same above?

No, because there is no proper analogy to brahman. We do not insist that
analogies have some given number of points of congruence, because the
exact number of congruences I want to use in an analogy is up to me. You
cannot insist that an analogy has to have, say, nine points of congruence,
and find fault with my analogy because it has only eight. In your
opinion, I might be rather poor at coming up with analogies, but then,
hey, I am no Kalidasa.

> If you are not saying the same, then the "Brahman" referred to must be the
> Ishvara or the saguNa-Brahman, and saying that the universe has no reality
> apart from Him, is a dualistic truth that describes something other than
> the highest.  Was this your intention?

So long as the universe exists, yes, vide "yatra tu dvaitamiva bhavati".
We advaitins do not deny that duality appears in the perceived universe,
do we?

> > > unreal and will vanish once we wake up to the state of being one with
> > > Brahman. Avidya is responsible for lack of realisation of Jeeva's
> > > identity with Brahman.
> >
> > Here, it might be well to point out the advaitic conception of the
> > validity of cognition. Any cognition is held to be "svata: pramANa,
> > parata: apramANa." i.e. a cognition is valid by itself, it is only
> > invalidated by another cognition, which in turn is self-valid, and so on.
> > This is nothing more than a statement of what all human beings take for
> > granted all through their life.
> That's not quite right.  David Hilbert would never have formulated the
> famous Hilbert's Program, an idea to automate all theorem-proving
> completely, had he known and understood prAmANya-svatastva.  And
> besides, the meaning of prAmANya-svatastva is not that all cognition
> (all pramANa, actually) is valid by itself -- if it were so, then

What David Hilbert did has no relevance to a discussion on dvaita and
advaita. Scientific theorem solving assumes that any statement is in need
of proof by other statements of known truth value. The vedAntic assumption
is radically different.

Furthermore, I would like to point out that we advaitins never leave the
experiencer out of any analysis of experience. When we say, "valid by
itself", we always mean that "valid by itself for the perceiver". It gets
tiresome to repeat "for the perceiver" everytime, so we leave it out. I
was after all writing the above on an advaita list, where everybody knew
my assumptions, presumably. I honestly did not know that you were a list
member too. I will be more careful in my choice of words the next time

> there would be no incorrect cognition at all, and/or any conflicts
> that arose would be eternally unresolved.  It is that the prAmANya of
> any cognition is perceived by the same agent as responsible for the
> cognition itself, as part of the same knowledge.  This keeps the door
> open to possible aprAmANya, whose paratastva again means that the
> aprAmANya is perceived via a different source than the original
> cognition.  This is quite non-trivial, and I submit any human being
> who can think up all this by himself is very much out of the
> ordinary.

This does not follow, because we see that men are constantly correcting
their own errors. However, so long as they are under error, they never
know it. They assume that they are right. Quite obviously, you and I mean
very different things by pramANa svatastva. I would appreciate it if you
kept *my* meaning in mind when you respond to a statement *I* make. Do
not impose your meanings on my statements.

> > However, a little reflection on this will
> > reveal that there is really no basis for attributing a higher reality to
> > the waking state than to the dream state. As long as one dreams, the dream
> > objects are real. Their reality is doubted only upon waking up. But then,
> > this doubt about the reality of the dream arises from an assumption that
> > the waking state is more real than the dream state. True, the objects of
> > the waking state might be accessible to all perceivers, whereas the
> > objects of the dream state are accessible only to one perceiver, the
> > dreamer.
> Well, but there certainly is a basis for attributing a higher reality
> to the waking than to the dreaming.  For the theory of Advaita, the
> fact of Shruti, etc., exist only in the waking state!
> > But this is hardly the real point of adviata vedAnta. Instead of
> > assuming that there are in reality multiple perceivers, advaita asks you
> > to analyze the ultimate reality of the perceiver himself.
> -- or, in other words, it asks you to assume that in ultimate reality
> there is but one perceiver?  How is that any different from assuming
> that there are many?  At least, there is cognition (your style of
> svataH pramANa, even) for there being many perceivers; what cognition
> exists to show that there is only one?

No cognition, but Sruti. "yatra tvasya sarvam AtmaivAbhUt ...", "neha
nAnAsti kincana", etc. We cannot present evidence for absence of anything,
and you well know it. But you are mistaken if you think that this is a
flaw in our system. Sruti denies multiplicity in ultimate reality,
including multiplicity of perceivers, and we advaitins see no reason to
doubt it, or to explain away the explicit Sruti.

> > The blind logic of the dvaitin might claim that the assumption that the
> > waking state is really real cannot be doubted.
> Well, no.  The "blind logic of the dvaitin" will merely say that you
> cannot define what you mean by "real" without reference to the waking
> state, and that thus, its reality is a matter of definition rather
> than assumption.  If you can show differently, I'll be glad to learn.

Apparently, for centuries, the advaitins have been defining real quite
independent of waking state realities - "trikAla-abAdhitam". This computer
I am using right now, did not exist before 1994. It will one day be thrown
away and salvaged for parts. There is no more computer then, but for the
purposes of sending you this mail, I assume that the computer exists. I do
not wish to attribute any greater reality to this computer than necessary.

> > However, it is only by questioning the validity of one's assumptions
> > that any real understanding develops.
> That's good.  Let's start, then, by questioning the validity of the
> assumption that there is one ultimate reality of *the* perceiver
> himself.

It is not an assumption, Shrisha. It is given to us from Sruti. So long as
we accept Sruti as a pramANa, and a superior one to other pramANas, the
advaitins are perfectly justified. Note that what we say about the
paramArtha reality of even this pramANa does not affect a statement made
from the basis of this pramANa for the purposes of vyavahAra. If you think
this is being "pracanna bauddha", so be it. You are after all entitled to
your own opinions, however misguided they be.

> > Unlike the dvaitin who twists Sruti to conform to his assumption
> > that the waking state is ultimately real, advaita vedAnta holds to the
> > tenet that where ordinary perception seems to be opposed to the knowledge
> > of the Atman gained from Sruti, the latter is true.
> But isn't it the case that the "knowledge of the Atman gained from Sruti"
> is itself channelled through the knowledge of the waking state?  And
> that if the latter is opposed by the former, and the former is true,
> then we have a logical error?

You have no reason to assume that the mantra-drashTas gave us the Sruti
only from the waking state. You also have no reason to assume that I
understand Sruti only in the waking state. Many times I remember on waking
up, that I was thinking of some Sruti statement while asleep. Sometimes I
even get the impression that I understood it better while asleep than ever
before. I do not see any reason to assert that the knowledge gained from
Sruti is channelled only through the waking state. At least for me, it is
channelled through waking, dreaming and sleeping states.

> > Sruti asserts that
> > there is a higher reality than that of the waking state. In this higher
> > state, the Atman is "na anta: pragna:, na bahishpragna:". The logic of the
> > waking state vanishes here. However, I hardly expect any dvaitin to really
> > understand the meaning of the mANDUkya upanishad.
> Be careful saying such things when you're around mathematicians who
> happen to be Dvaitins.  Don't say I didn't warn you...

A reiteration of the threat, eh? Anyway, since you cannot even add two
numbers, by your own admission, I am not very afraid. If Mr. Guruprasad is
going to read this sometime, I hope he takes my comments in good humor.
After all, you are the one imputing tendencies of the Unabomber to him,
not me.



ps. Note, this *is* my only response on this thread. To ensure that I
don't get sucked into further discussion, I promise not to say anything
bad (or for that matter, anything at all) about tattvavAda or tattvavAdins
till the 5th of January, 1997, i.e. for a whole month. I hope saying
something good about advaita/advaitins does not automatically mean
something bad about dvaita/dvaitins.

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list