[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of knowledge - 1

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 7 09:53:02 CST 2008

                     Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge-1

As I was studying and trying to understand Vedanta Paribhaasha (VP) of Dharmaraja
Advarindra (DA) that Micheal constantly refers to, Dennisji brought to my attention the
book, “Methods of Knowledge” by Swami Satprakashanda, and in my discussions on Saaskhii
swaruupam, Shree Devanathanji also brought to my attention about the Chapter on
KuuTastadiipaH in Panchadasi by Shree Vidyaranya.  I feel I am blessed from different
directions to make me understand how the knowledge takes place as per advaita Vedanta. 
As usual, I tend to put my understanding in writing for my own benefit, and (as usual) I
am posting it as well.  The writing helps me to crystallize my understanding and also for
others to see.  I request those who are interested to feel free to comment on my
understanding. Of course as usual, I try to be stubborn in defending my rational
ignorance!  These series may be considered as add-on to the Analysis of the Mind series
since mind is obviously involved in gaining the knowledge - whether objective knowledge
or knowledge of the subject. I will be following closely Vedanta Paribhaasha but
explaining in the way I understand and interpret. I will try to point out where I may
deviate from the concepts presented in VP.  DA was around 1600AD. There were several
others before him who formulated the epistemological issues in Advaita Vedanta. Swami
Satprakashananda notes that there are some differences in the interpretations of how
Knowledge takes place in VP and in other texts. Epistemological issues are at
vyavahaarika level and therefore any of these differences do not compromise the advaitic
truths in Vedanta. 

The purpose of the inquiry into the Epistemological issues, as DA emphasizes in this
introduction to VP, is to gain the knowledge of Brahman, knowing which there is no return
back to the transitory world. Hence understanding of the process of how knowledge takes
place in the mind is essential to separate what is transitory and what is permanent –
essentially nitha-anitya vastu viveka essential for Vedantins.  This will help in
meditation to shift from that which is transitory to that which is permanent, when we try
to ‘visualize’ that because of which we have the capacity to visualize. 

Everyone has some understanding of what knowledge means. When we come to know things that
we did not know before, we say that we now have the knowledge of them.  To put this more
technically, ignorance that is covering the knowledge of those objects is now removed and
we have now dis-covered the existence of those objects.  Implication of this is that
knowledge is eternal and self-evident, but gets revealed when the ignorance that appears
to cover the object of knowledge is removed.  That is the discovery of the truth about
those objects. Scientists only ‘discover’ the laws and do not invent them. Essentially
they are removing the covering of ignorance of the objects or laws.  It is not that
‘ignorance’ is some kind of shield coving the knowledge, but it is more like a pitch
darkness covering the knowledge of all the objects in that dark room.  When I turn the
light switch on, assuming that electric power is behind the switch, instantaneously
knowledge of all objects that are illumined by that light takes place. Until the light is
turned on, the knowledge of objects is ‘as though’ covered by the darkness in that room. 
This analogy is used extensively to appreciate how knowledge takes place. We will follow
this through out our discussion. Interestingly, I say there is no light and it is too
dark for me to see anything. I need a light to illumine the objects that I want to see.
Without turning the light switch on, I could not see any objects since darkness is
enveloping all objects. This is our normal experience. 

In spite of pitch darkness I could still ‘see’ two ‘things’ in that room! For one thing,
I could see darkness because of which I could not see anything else. The second is I
could see myself since I am aware of my own existence, wherever I am. Darkness is an
object of my awareness. In what light I could see darkness? In fact, I cannot turn the
light switch on to see the darkness, can I? The darkness disappears as soon as I turn the
light switch on.  The darkness and external light are opposite to each other.  Since I
need light to see anything, in what light I could see darkness? Since I know it is dark
implies that I could see the darkness or I am aware of darkness. That light because of
which I can see even the darkness, that light is not opposite to darkness.  That is the
light of consciousness that illumines the darkness too so that I am aware of the darkness
in the room. That it is dark in the room is also an object of knowledge. It will be
interesting to enquire later how the object of knowledge of darkness takes place in the
mind.  Besides the darkness, in the same light of consciousness, I could see myself too
to say that I am there in that dark room, where I cannot see ‘anything’ else. Darkness
can cover everything but I can never be covered by the darkness outside. I am a
self-effulgent, self-existent entity. I do not need light also to be aware of myself.  I
am always aware of myself except in the deep sleep state.  What covers the knowledge of
myself in the deep sleep is also an interesting question to be explored.  I am the light
of consciousness not only that illumines myself since I am aware of myself all the time,
but also illumines the darkness as well as the light in that room, since I see that the
room that was dark is now lighted. That light, in whose brilliance I could see the
darkness as well as the light in  the room, is the called the ‘light of all lights’
(jyotir jyotiH), the light of consciousness. Understanding of this forms the basis of all
knowledge.  We arrive some important conclusions from the above analysis.  
1) Knowledge is eternal 
2) Ignorance appear to cover the knowledge of objects 
3) knowledge of objects takes place by dis-covery process or removing the ignorance
covering the knowledge of the object.
4) To know the object we need a means or instruments like eyes to see, etc.
5) Knowledge can be gained only by a conscious entity- essentially the light of
consciousness has to illumine the thought related to the object for knowledge of the
object to take place.
6) I am that self-existing self-effulgent being in whose light all things get revealed or
7). I am self-effulgent, self-revealing and self-conscious being. I know myself
immediately and directly (without any medium required) by myself.   I do not need to
think or meditate or contemplate to know that I am a conscious-existent being. (Vedanta
says neither sun or moon or the starts or the electricity is needed to illumine me for me
to see myself.  In fact the light of my consciousness illumine every thing that is known
by me).  Some of these aspects become clear as we analyze further the mechanics of how
the knowledge takes place. 
8)Therefore, the self-knowledge is direct and immediate (aparoksha jnaanam) where the
subject and object merge into one. Knowledge without any specific object (where
subject-object merges into one) is then self-knowledge or self-awareness or objectless
awareness – which is direct and immediate. 

Before we proceed further let us review some basics.  First, we should know that
‘knowledge’ itself cannot be defined.  Whenever we say we have knowledge, we only refer
to ‘knowledge of things and beings’ or to be more accurately, objective knowledge; in
simple terms knowledge of ‘this’.  Knowledge that we are familiar is always knowledge
. ; all objective knowledge.  All objective knowledge is qualified knowledge;
chemistry-knowledge, physics-knowledge, or knowledge of ‘this’ or ‘that’, etc. We do not
know if there is anything as pure ‘unqualified knowledge’.  If I knew, I cannot even say
I have the knowledge of ‘that’, since the very ‘that’ qualifies the unqualified. I remain
silent or communicate in the words that take one to that silence. 

When we say we have knowledge of something, what we mean is we are aware of that
something or we are conscious of it.  Hence ‘knowledge of..’ is same thing as being
‘conscious of..’.  Pure knowledge, then, is pure consciousness – and here we mean as
‘objectless awareness’ since any objective knowledge is a qualified knowledge.  In the
pitch darkness example, we mentioned that I am aware of not only the darkness, but myself
too.  I know myself that I am existent entity and conscious entity. I never search for
myself anytime since I have to be there even to search. Since subject is never an object,
objectless awareness is the same thing as self-awareness. Hence pure knowledge and
self-awareness or self-consciousness means the same.  Pure Knowledge cannot be defined
since it is the same as self-knowledge or consciousness that I am.  Besides, all
definitions belong to the realm of objects. Two things cannot be defined, since they are
not objects. One is Braham since being infinite it cannot be defined to differentiate it
from the rest of the objects in the world; as there cannot be anything other than Brahman
for Brahman to be Brahman (infiniteness). The second is the subject, myself. Since I am
not an object, I cannot be defined.  We just mentioned that pure knowledge also cannot be
defined.  In fact, we arrive at the fundamental equation of Vedanta that advaita
emphasizes.  Brahman and I am are identically the same, since essential nature of both is
the same. In addition that Brahman that I am is also the same as unqualified pure
knowledge.  ‘I am’, therefore, is of the nature of pure knowledge and knowledge of an
object therefore involves illumination of the object by the light of consciousness that I

In the above dark room example, we cannot have the knowledge of the objects in the room,
unless the external light illumines them. According to Vedanta, that is not sufficient.
For me to gain the knowledge of an object that is lighted in the room, several other
things are also needed.  First and foremost is that the sense organs should have adequate
capacity to ‘grasp’ the objects. Or appropriate tools (microscopes or telescopes, etc)
are required to augment the capacity of the sense organs to ‘grasp’ those objects for us
to perceive them.  This is about the objects out side – outside referring to outside the
mind.  We can know the objects ‘in side’ the mind by process of re-collection, since we
have ‘collected’ that knowledge already and is stored in the memory. To know an object we
need an appropriate means to know.  Means of knowledge or appropriate tool to know is
called ‘pramaaNa’, where ‘prama’ means knowledge or more accurately valid knowledge. The
tool to be used depends on the nature of the object that is to be known. To see forms and
colors, eyes are needed, to hear sounds ears, etc.  Eyes cannot hear and ear cannot see
–thus each sense organ has its field of knowledge specified.  Thus each pramaaNa or means
of knowledge is very specific in its field of operation. 

Besides the sense organs, we need the mind to collect the information from the senses. 
Hence we say, ‘out of mind is out of sight’. Besides the mind, there is consciousness
enlivening the mind, making the mind to be conscious of the world of objects.  Thus
consciousness operates similar to the light that illumines the objects to reveal the
objects.  It is called light of consciousness. We have in the sequence - senses grasping
the object lighted by the outside light, the mind that collects the sense input and
integrates into an image of the object in the mind, and consciousness that lights that
image, for me to see.  Object of knowledge is called ‘prameya’ or known, the knowledge of
the object is called ‘pramiti’, and the means that is operating for the knowledge to take
place is ‘pramaaNa’.  Hence in any knowledge that is involved we have these three
(tripuTi) operating. When the knowledge takes place, there is obviously a subject who
owns that knowledge – he is called knower or ‘pramaata’.  

So far, the analysis seems to be simple for us to understand.  However, we need to know
how exactly this knowledge takes place, and in particular, the role of consciousness in
acquiring the knowledge of an object.  In this respect, we will follow the understanding
of advaitic masters in terms of how the epistemological issues were treated in the
doctrine. Following VP, we provide a formal definition of a ‘pramaaNa’. 

Definition of PamaaNa: – pramaakaraNam pramaaNam – that which is an instrument of
knowledge (pramaa). There are many instruments that are helpful for the knowledge to take
place.  Hence ‘pramaaNa’ stands for that which is essential cause or means for the
knowledge to take place, all other causes being only secondary. If we exclude the
‘recollection’ from the memory (which is part of stored knowledge from the past), the
pramaaNa is defined as ‘anadhigata, abaadhitam, arthavishyayaka jnaanatvam – pramaaNam’ 
- means of knowledge is that which is (a) not known before (since recollection is
excluded here), (b) non-negatable, and (c) objectifiable (arthavishya implies also
‘meaningful’, may not mean ‘useful’, although Ramanuja in his definition of pramaaNa
includes ‘vyavahaara anuguNam’ or ‘transactability’ as a qualifier for valid knowledge).
If recollection is included, then pramaaNa is only (a) ‘non-negatable’ and (b)
objectifiable entity.   According to the commentator (Swami Madhavananda),
‘non-negatable’ means that it is not negated directly by a contradictory experience. Ex.
Rope experience is contradictory to the previous snake knowledge of the same object at
same place where the rope is. Implication is that if the pramaata (knower) does not have
an experience that is contradictory to the previous ‘knowledge’ gained (say, that it is a
snake where the rope is), even though that knowledge is erroneous from the point of an
independent referee, it is still considered as ‘valid’ knowledge for that knower. It is
important to recognize that unlike other philosophers who believe that validation is done
by an independent ‘saakshii’, the validation rests with the knower only. If he does not
encounter any experience that is contradictory to the previous knowledge in his life
time, then that knowledge stays with him as valid knowledge.  

This non-negatability for valid knowledge brings us interesting definitions, a foundation
of advaitic doctrine – absolute knowledge is defined is that which can never be negated
or contradicted at any time and that advaita defines as real (trikaala abaadhitam
satyam). That can only be the pure knowledge with out any qualifications.  Since all
objects have qualifications and unqualified knowledge, as discussed above is knowledge of
myself or knowledge of Brahman. Hence the pure unqualified non-negatable absolute
knowledge can only be self-knowledge which should be the same as Brahman’s knowledge,
since Vedanta defines Brahman as pure consciousness – prajnaanam brahma. 

Non-negatability in the absolute sense corresponds to pure knowledge.  In the definition
of pramaaNa, non-negatability remains valid in the relative sense, even though it is
negated in the absolute sense. Hence, for example, the knowledge ‘this is a jar’ remains
valid with in the realm of transactional reality (vyavahaara satyam).  However, even in
the absolute sense, what is negated is not the relative knowledge, but absolute reality
assumed for the relative knowledge. Just as knowledge of the pot remains valid at
transactional level, even after knowing its substantive is nothing but clay only, all
knowledge revealed by pramaaNa remains valid at the transactional level, even when one
realizes that ‘all this is Brahman’ (sarvam khulu idam brahma). Objective knowledge or
arthaviShayaka pramaaNa, by definition, operates only at the transactional level.  Hence
the definition of pramaaNa is not compromised.
Next we will deal with the cognition of time. 

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