[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge - 16
kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sun Aug 17 12:17:55 CDT 2008
Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge – 16
In the following we will present some general analysis of error in perception before we take up the VP’s presentation of the subject in terms of objections, puurvapaksha and responses, siddhanta.
If one considers valid knowledge (pramaa) that is affirmative knowledge that is not contradicted by any subsequent experience, there can be two forms of knowledge that are not affirmative knowledge (apramaa). One is doubt and the other is error. Seeing a tree or stamp of a tree out there in semidarkness and the seer is not sure whether it is a man standing there or a tree, then it is called as doubtful knowledge – samshaya. The doubt could propel the seer to investigate further to determine the validity of his knowledge; that is to find out whether it is the tree that he is seeing or a man, standing to get him! He may get the knowledge from a bystander who can confirm (by aapta vaakyam) whether it is a tree or a man standing. He must have faith in the words of his bystander. Doubts are eliminated by further inquiry. When he sees the tree as the tree, of course, all the doubts about the truth are eliminated. When a jnaani knows the absolute truth as
clearly as he knows that fruit in his hands, shruti says all his doubts get dispelled – chidyante sarva samsamshayaaH. Mu. Up II-2-8. Hence doubts are the result of ajnaanam or ignorance about the truth of the object.
If the seer is definite that it is a tree and not a man, then his knowledge is pramaa or valid since subsequent transactions, if there is any, will not negate the knowledge he has gained. On the other hand, if a seer is also definite that it is man that is standing there, and then the knowledge is in error (viparyaya or bhrama), since subsequent transaction would prove that it is not a man but a tree. Since he is definite about his knowledge that it is a man that is standing there and he has no doubt about it and therefore makes no attempt to investigate further about the truth behind his perceptual knowledge. If he happens to try to transact with that knowledge and find to his surprise that he was mistaken then he would recognize that his earlier cognition was mistake. We do operate with many mistaken notions without knowing that they are mistakes – the biggest mistake we do is taking the world as we see is real. We are so convinced since it is
transactionally real, it is very difficult to get rid of this notion even when the scripture says all this that you see is Brahman, which cannot be seen. Hence the error is called vipariita bhaavana and requires constant contemplation (nidhidhyaasana) to affirm or firmly abide in the scriptural knowledge.
In defining an object, a tree, a rope, a snake or a man, there are inherent or intrinsic attributes (swaabhaavika laxanaas) that differentiate each object from the other objects in the world. Thus tree is different from man and snake is different from a rope. We have two words in Sanskrit – one is visheShaNa and the other is lakshaNa. Both are normally translated as attribute, although they are somewhat different. Broadly, visheShaNas are those attributes that distinguish objects in their own genus or family, as in white cow is different from a brown cow or big cow is different from a short cow, etc. Both cows have some generic or inherent attributes that make them cows and not horses or donkeys. Those generic qualities that define a cow from a horse or tree from a man are called lakshaNas. They are also called asaadhaaraNa lakshaNas or differentiating attributes of the object. If one asks; Is there one specific and unique lakshaNa that
differentiate one object of the other? The answer is a definite NO. If there is one, then we call that as necessary and sufficient qualification for the object – called simply swaruupa lakshana. Tarkikaas or logicians tried to come up with a swaruupa lakshNa, that is necessary and sufficient qualification, say for a cow, by stating that cow is that which has cow-ness (gotvam) and tree is that which has tree-ness and rope is that which has rope-ness and snake is that which has snake-ness. Obviously rope-ness is different from snake-ness, and tree-ness is different from man-ness. They appear to be necessary and sufficient qualifications or swaruupa lakshNas. However there is an inherent problem in these definitions, because one is trying to define a swaruupa lakshana for an object that it does not have. If we ask what is the cow-ness that cow has, then one can only restate the definition as cow-ness is that which cow has, since cow is that object
which has cow-ness that is different from horse-ness that horse has. We have not become any wiser. Inherently the problem lies in the fact that there is no specific lakshaNa that I can identify as its necessary and sufficient qualification or swaruupa lakshaNa of any object in this universe. All definitions including cow-ness of the cow etc become circular definitions (cakraka dosha), only operational for transactional purposes. In addition, none of the five senses can gather that cow-ness of the cow and horse-ness of the horse. Cow is recognized as a cow with all its inherent attributes of the cow that the senses can gather together. Cow may have a specific distinguishing organ that distinguishes it from a horse or a donkey, but that distinguishing organ is only part of the cow and not cow itself to qualify as swaruupa lakshaNa.
Because of lack of any specific attributes that distinguishes an object from the rest of the objects in the universe, doubts and errors are possible in the perceptual processes. Basis for the error lies in the fact that some of the attributes are somewhat similar for the error to arise. This is called saadRisyam. Rope is taken for a snake only because there are some common attributes between the two. Rope is not mistaken for an elephant or mountain but mistaken for a snake since the senses are gathering only those attributes that are common for both. Similarly man is taken for a stump for the tree, due to limited or incomplete attributes of the object gathered by the sense due to semidarkness. Tree is immovable (acara) while man can move (cara), but in the time span the observation is made man can remain without movement. Therefore doubts and errors can arise during perception, since knowledge of the objects are based purely on the attributes that
the senses gather during the observation.
In the case of error, there is vagueness in the attributive knowledge since the attributes gained by the senses are not discriminative enough to differentiate between man and the tree. It could be a man or it could be tree. When the seer makes a definitive judgment- call that it is a man, based on the attributes that his mind has gathered from his senses, it becomes a pramaa from his point. It is bhramaa from the point of the reality, defined from the point of a referee, or discovered by his own subsequent transaction.
In advaita Vedanta error is generally classified as adhyaasa or superimposition. Shankara provides an exhaustive analysis as adhyaasa bhaashya before he begins his bhaashya on Brahmasuutra. The adhyaasa bhaashya of Shankara has been exhaustively explained in the Notes on Brahmasuutra stored in the files section of advaitin list archives. Here we discuss some aspects of it with reference to the errors in perceptions. Shankara defines adhyaasa as ‘atasmin tatbuddhiH’ as ‘apprehension of something as something else’. In adhyaasa also, two types of errors could be possible: 1) perceiving something other than what it is. That involves a false assertion of one thing for another; ex: perception of snake where there is a rope. Here the attributes of the object perceived are incomplete, for whatever the reason. 2) Perceiving as something with attributes that do not belong to it, that is assigning falsely attribute of one thing to the other; Ex.
redness to a clear crystal because of its proximity to the red cloth. Here the attribute of the red cloth are falsely superimposed on the clear crystal. The mistaken false perception of ghost for the post, silver for nacre, mirage water, world of plurality for Brahman are of the first type of error wherein one is mistaken for the other. Movement of trees in opposite direction when the train is moving, sunrise and sunset, changeless self appearing as changing, crystal appearing red in the presence of red cloth are example of the second, wherein the attributes that do not belong to it are superimposed on it . In both cases the substantive is unaffected by the perceptual knowledge, fundamentally because the knowledge is attributive.
In adhyaasa involving superimposition, there is no physical or mental superimposition of objects, nor does it involve perception of some imaginary object such as hallucinations or mental projections as in dream state. Hence it is not praatibhaasika error. When one sees a snake out there where there is a rope, there is an object present out there. It is not an imagination or a dream that there is a snake there. Same is the case when one sees a man standing where there is only stem of a tree, standing. Hence Shankara defines adhyaasa also as – satyaanRita mithuniikaraNam adhyaasam – superimposition of true and false together to arrive at a unitary perception. That there is an object out there – vastu jnaanam – is there which is real at perceptual level. The vastu jnaanma is gained by perception via attributes only as attributes are inseparable from the objects. What exactly the substantive of the vastu or object is not known since attributive
knowledge cannot bring in substantive knowledge. The assertion that there is an object out there that is being seen comes with the knowledge that attributes that are being perceived cannot exist without a substantive. Hence that there is an object is ascertained by the perception only. But based on the attributes gathered, cognition of the object is different from what it is – thus a false object is perceived in place of a real object. A fellow may see stump of tree out there while the other fellow may see real man out there. Thus for the same substantive, one sees a tree and the other sees a man as standing. ‘Out there is an object’ is the knowledge from the point of both perceivers. From their individual points both are valid perceptions as per advaita. But the substantives that they associate for the object they perceive are different. Let us say there is an independent knowledgeable person, whom we can call as a referee, knows
experientially that it is indeed a tree and not a man. He would characterize one perception is real and the other as false. The referee’s knowledge is substantial since he has transactual knowledge with the tree in some form or the other. From the point of perceivers both have perceived the objects since their senses have brought attributes that they could see (measure) within the external constraints (dim light, etc) present, and know that there is an object out there and based on the information they have one says it is a man and the other says it is a tree. If they senses cannot gather any attributes because it is too dark or the person is blind– then there is no error since no object is perceived. There is an ignorance of the existence of the object out there. At the same token, if light is bright enough that the senses could gather all the attributes of the object, then the possibility for an error is reduced, since the attributive content
of the vRitti is sufficient to distinguish man from a stump of a tree or snake from a rope. Hence partial knowledge (or partial ignorance) contributes to a mixture of real (that there is an object out there) and unreal (that the object is a snake) giving rise to errors in perception. Hence Shankara defines adhyaasa as satyaanRita mithuniikaraNam adhyaasam – mixing of real and unreal parts to arrive at a unitary perception of snake out there or man out there, etc. Since from their perceivers their intellects have made definitive conclusions of the perceived objects, from their reference their knowledge is definitive and not doubtful errors. Even though the perceptions are unreal (from the point of a referee), the reactions that arise as a consequence of their definitive perceptions can be real – such as fear associated with the cognition of snake out there, and the reactions of the body such as increased blood pressure, sweating, etc are all real.
As a part of the background, we will address next some of khyaati vaadas – or analysis of errors from different philosophical doctrines.
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