[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge-4

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 12 23:14:31 CST 2008

                     4. What you perceive is Brahman!

(We are presenting the series in the order that Vedanta ParibhASha addreses the
epistemological issues in Advaita Vedanta. The contents are based on my understanding.)

Six means of Knowledge: Advaita accepts six means of knowledge or pramaaNas. They are 1)
direct perception (Pratyaksha), 2) Inference (anumaana), 3) comparison (upamaana), 4)
verbal testimony (generally trust worthy word, but DP uses aagama meaning scriptures, as
our interest is in spiritual knowledge), 5) presumption (arthaapatti) 6) non-apprehension
(anupalabdhi). These will be described in turn.  

Concerning the direct perceptual knowledge, DA says: ‘Pratyaksha pramaayaaH karaNam
Pratyaksha pramaaNam’ - the instrument for knowing the objects directly is direct
perception. Next, DA makes a revealing statement that baffles the intellect. ‘Pratyaksha
pramaa ca atra caitanyam eva’ – atra, meaning in the direct perceptual knowledge, what is
really revealed as the knowledge is the pure consciousness itself (He used he word ‘eva’,
meaning consciousness alone).  We may need to meditate on the statement to understand the
significance, but what the statement says is direct and immediate perceptual knowledge is
the Brahman- no need to meditate since meditation is mediate and not immediate.  This is
a daring statement since Brahman cannot be perceived, yet he says what is perceived is
Brahman. He provides the reference to Br. Up. III-4-1 that states that Brahman is
directly and immediately revealed.   Let us look at this little carefully. The Upanishad
mantras contain the conversation between UShasta and Yajnavalkya. Their conversation ends

UShasta: ‘You are providing me some indirect descriptions of Brahman like cow is such and
such, or horse is such and such, etc. Explain to me the Brahman that is immediate and
direct not through indirect descriptions – Explain to me the Brahman, the self that is
with in all’.

Yagnavalkya: ‘You can not witness that which is witnessing self, you cannot hear that
which is hearer of hearing, you cannot think that which is thinker of thinking, you
cannot know that which is knower of knowledge – that is yourself that is with in all; and
everything else except this is perishable’ – with that answer, UShasta had no further

Upanishad says that which is directly and immediately known without any medium is
Brahman, that is your self, which is the pure consciousness because of which we are
conscious of everything else. We cannot be conscious of consciousness since that will
lead to infinite regress since we need to bring in series of consciousness(es) to be
conscious of the preceding  one. Other than the consciousness which is the knower of all
knowledge, Upanishad says everything else is ultimately perishable, meaning negatable. 
Real is that which is not negatable and Upanishad declares that 1) consciousness is never
negatable, 2) you are that consciousness and 3) you are that Brahman and 4) That alone is
real. Pure advaitic truth.  How is this related to perceptual knowledge? 

Knowledge can be thought of as two types – (a) direct and immediate called in Sanskrit
‘aparoksha jnaanam’ (Shankara wrote a book “aparokshaanubhuuti”) and (b) mediate
knowledge (paroksha jnaanam) which is not immediate. Pratyaska pramaaNa comes under
direct and immediate knowledge because as soon as I open my eyes I cannot but see the
object right in front of me. The knowledge of the object is not purusha tantra that is to
see or not to see does not depend on my will to see. It is vastu tantra that is it
depends on the nature of the object – it is assumed that my sense of sight is functioning
properly and all other secondary causes (light etc) are operating properly. Hence all
perceptual knowledge is direct and immediate – immediate in the sense that I do not have
to do any analysis, thinking, meditation etc for me to grasp the knowledge of the object
right in front of me. In contrast the knowledge gained by other pramaaNas such as
anumaana etc is not direct. It is called mediate knowledge, since one has to sort it out
the knowledge through vyaapti or cause-effect reasoning. Shabda pramANa is based on
words. Words normally give only indirect knowledge, similar to learning about how Indra
loka or Niagara Falls looks like by reading books.  However, when it comes to Vedanta,
the words CAN give immediate and direct knowledge if what is pointed out is right there
directly and immediately, like the story of missing 10th man. You are that -Tat tvam asi
– Yagnavalkya in his answer says the direct and immediate knowledge is yourself since
that is the most direct and immediate. In Yagnavalkya’s answer, when he says you cannot
witness that which is witness of everything or hear that which is hearer of hearing – he
is implying that no Pratyaksha pramANa can reveal Brahman. In fact none of the pramAnAs
can give the knowledge of Brahman or about of myself.  Hence Brahman is called aprameyam,
unknowable. Similar statements are made in Kenopanishad. Yet Yagnyavalkya says Brahman is
yourself as the self in all and knowledge of that which is direct and immediate. The
statement that Brahman is yourself that is the self in all – is shaastra pramANa – this
we cannot know without the help of shaastra. Also the statement of both Yagnavalkya and
UShasta is knowledge of that is direct and immediate; similar to perceptual knowledge. To
understand this let us go back to our dark room. 

When we gave an example of pitch dark room, not only I can perceive darkness in the room,
I can perceive myself as existent and conscious entity.  I do not need any means for me
to know that I am there and I am conscious.  In fact I have to be there even to validate
any pramANa.  Hence Yagnavalkya says what one knows directly and immediately (here
without any pramANa) at any time is oneself.  By equating that self that I am, which is,
as we discussed before is pure knowledge that I am, which I am constantly aware of as
myself as self-conscious entity, to Brahman, scripture says that Brahman is also known
immediately and directly as pure knowledge that is present all the time.  Brahman being
infinite cannot be known by any pramANa; it can be known by itself as it has to be
self-revealing or self-conscious entity.  Hence Yangavalkya’s declaration that it is your
own self which has to be direct and immediate.   Hence the knowledge of myself is same as
the knowledge of Brahman, which is direct and immediate. The immediate and direct implies
that I do not have to think or meditate for hours to realize that I am existent and
conscious entity.  I am there before I can even think or sometimes without even thinking.
According to Vedanta, Brahman is also defined as is pure consciousness – prajnaanam
Brahman and hence is known directly and immediately. Yagnavalkya’s statement is still a
pramANa since he is equating the two as mahaavakya – ‘I am’ is equated with Brahman,
since both are directly and immediately know.  To realize the scriptural identity
declaration that I am = Brahman requires Vedantic inquiry involving what is eternal and
what is ephemeral – nitya anitya vastu vicAra. This requires bhAgatyAga lakshaNa
discussed in advaita Vedanta texts. 

However, DP is making another equation with his statement, giving Br. Up reference that
does not fully justify his statement. He is equating the perceptual knowledge gained by
pratyaksha pramANa which is direct and immediate is nothing but pure knowledge that I am
which is also direct and immediate.  Thus, the total equation combining the Br. Up.
statement is:

Perceptual knowledge (of objects) = pure Knowledge that I am (consciousness that I am) =
Brahman, which is pure consciousness. 

The Br. Up quote only provides the justification of the second equation but not for the
first.  Justification for his first part of the equation is only the common factor and
that is direct and immediate perceptibility of both the objects through perception and
the conscious self that I am.  Pure consciousness that I am, the self in all and hence
Brahman, is known directly and immediately.  Similarly the perceptual knowledge is direct
and immediate. Prof. T.P. Mahadevan, a great advaitic scholar, makes the following
statement in his introduction to Methods of Knowledge: “The knowledge of the self that is
said to liberate the soul from bondage is direct knowledge which is unto perceptual
knowledge. Only, even perceptual knowledge not so immediate as self-knowledge.  In
sense-perception there is the intervention of a sense-organ between subject and object”.
In stating that knowledge that occurs in perception is direct and immediate and Brahman
knowledge based on the Br. Up statement is also direct and immediate, and equating both
on the basis of direct and immediate perceptibility of the two, DP makes the statement
that perceptual knowledge is nothing but pure consciousness.  How that equation is
possible had to be resolved by proper inquiry.  But if it is true, there is no need to
seek Brahman – since whatever we see, hear, touch, taste, etc is ‘pure consciousness’
only.  The implication of the statement is very profound.  We may have to meditate and
unravel the statement to recognize that there is no reason to meditate or unravel to see
Brahman, since Braham is directly and immediately visible! Personally, when I read that
statement I was baffled and lost in the beauty of that statement, since it actually
glorifies the scriptural statements – sarvam khalu idam brahma and neha naanaasti kincana
– all that this (this corresponds to objects) is nothing but Brahman and there is nothing
else other than Brahman, as well as Gita’s statement – brahmArpaNam brahma haviH ..
Everything is Brahman.  Further justification of the DP statement will occur in the
subsequent chapters.  But for me that was a million dollar statement – what you perceive
is nothing but Brahman – the more I see the truth of this statement the more I see the
beauty or vibhUti of Brahman spread all over in whatever I perceive! 

Hari Om!

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