[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge-5

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 17 04:52:21 CST 2008

(We are discussing the Vedanta ParibhASha(VP) by Dharmaraja Adhvarindra (DA)in the order
it is presented but based on my understanding. )

                               5-More on Perception

We now go into more detailed aspect of perceptual knowledge noting that VP provides some
general aspects but not in so much detail; Details are mostly based on my understanding,
one can take it with a grain of salt!  Knowledge of an object occurs when the perception
by the senses is projected in the mind as vRitti – VRitti is a thought and the contents
of the thought are sense-data of the object to the degree perceived by the senses. Senses
gather the attributes as they see, not necessarily what they are.  What they are and what
they see could be matching, if all the conditions for the senses to work are met.  For
example if the light illuminating the object is dim, or if the sense organs are defective
(like the absence of 20:20 vision) the attributes that the sense gather could deviate
from what it is.  This could contribute to possibility for error in perception.  The
point I would like emphasize is that the senses can only gather the attributes of the
object – colors, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, etc. and not substantives. Although VP
discusses later in terms of the all pervading consciousness Brahman being the substantive
for all since according to Vedanta, Brahman is the material cause for the universe
including - for the objects to be known (prameya) – for the means of knowledge (pramANa)
and for the knower (pramAta). We need to have clear understanding of the processes of
perception, since we do not ‘see’ Brahman when we see the objects.  In fact what we see
is only inert things, since Brahman, pure consciousness cannot be an object of
perception; in fact cannot be an object of any pramANa.  Considering that consciousness
is indivisible what we see as a finite object is consciousness ‘as though’ constrained by
the finitization as an object.  We use the word ‘as though’ throughout our discussions,
since that which is indivisible and part-less appears to be divided just as indivisible
space is ‘as though’ divided into many compartments by bounding walls. 

Let us pose the question – what do we really see when we see an object? We need the
senses to see – eyes can only see the forms and colors, ears the sounds if the object
emanates some, nose the smell, etc. Each has its field of operation without overlapping
each other. But all are attributes of the object. Hence senses can only measure the
attributes of the object.  Senses do not create the attributes but only measures them as
they ‘grasp’ the object.  Looking from the object point, object is defined only by its
attributes. All definitions are attributive. The more precisely the attributes are
specified the more concisely the object is defined.  All the attributes differentiate one
object from the rest of the objects in the universe. Attributes are not the substantive.
Substantive in that form and a name (with all its attributes) is the object – like
bangle, ring, necklace, bracelet etc.  All are names for different forms, each with its
own attributes – the ID, the OD, the length, the thickness, etc. If we examine the
attributes of each object, say ring, bangle, necklace and bracelet, they make us
distinguish one from the other as well as from other forms in the universe. But none of
them really belong to the substantive Gold. In fact, attributes of Gold are its atomic
mass, atomic structure, luster, non-corrosablility, ductility, density, or any other
physical and chemical attributes (which chemists use to identify gold from say, silver or
copper, etc), which are nothing to do with any of the forms in which gold can exist.
These attributes of the gold are not helpful in differentiating ring, bangle, necklace
and bracelet, etc., although the substantive of all these forms and names is the same,
namely gold.  Hence when we see the ring, bangle, necklace and bracelet, we see two types
of attributes.  First the attributes of the superficial forms associated with their names
for their forms i.e. ring, bangle, etc, and second some of the attributes of the
substantive gold that can be immediately grasped by the senses, such as metallic lustier,
etc . Without going into too much in details, since some of these were discussed
elsewhere (see introduction to Vedanta), we can state in general that:

1. Senses grasp only the attributes, of those superficial names and forms, as well as
those of the substantive that can perceive directly by the senses. Senses have no
capacity to gather substantive itself. Let us thank God for that, since if I see a gold
ring, not only the attributes of ring and the gold, if the substantive gold also has to
enter in my mind and there won’t be any gold ring left on the table for others to use!  

2. If attributes of the substantive are non-graspable by the senses then senses can only
gather the attributes of only the superficial name and forms.  This is the case if we say
Brahman is the material cause or substantive which does not have attributes of its own,
then senses can only gather the attributes of those superimposed names and forms on
Brahman.  Knowledge of the substantive can only be gained by Shastra pramANa. By
statements like sarvam khalu idam Brahmna and neha nAnAsti kincana – all that this is
Brahman and there is nothing or no thing other than Brahman. 

Appearance of name and form from subtle to gross is creation.  In accounting how Brahman
appears to become many names and forms, Upanishads describe appearance of subtle elements
(tanmAtras) first, which subsequently undergo transformationless transformation involving
divisions and recombinations to form the apparent grosser objects that we can qualify.
Vedanta indicates that every object that we see is nothing but assemblage of finer or
subtler elements and they have no substantive of their own. Just as there is no ringly
substance or bangly substance, every object in this universe has no substantive of its
own and is an assemblage of finer parts which can be further and further divided until
all the grossness of the material object disappears.  Ultimately only the conscious
entity that is doing the division remains. This appears to be where the current science
is also heading, but slowly. They do not end up with consciousness since it is never
considered as a factor in the appearance of objects. 

Thus what we see when we see objects is only their superficial attributes since the
ultimate substantive is nothing but Brahman whose nature is existence-consciousness and
limitless. Since consciousness and limitless cannot be seen, what we see in the object
are its attributes plus existence as perceived as limiting adjunct of the object – that
is as ‘object is’ –or actually existence as an object or existent object, since
non-existent object cannot be perceived. We can formally write an equation for an object:
         Object = Brahman + superimposed names and forms
Names and forms cannot be counted as separate, just as we cannot count gold one, two
ring, three bangle, etc. Since ring, bangle, necklace, are just superimposition on gold. 
Knowledge of a ring involves two aspects – knowledge of name and form (ring) and
knowledge of substantive (gold). Since gold knowledge is more substantial knowledge, what
counts is that knowledge.  Similarly when we know Brahman, it is not that we will know
each name and form, but what we know is more substantial than any other knowledge, since
Brahman is the material cause for the Universe.  Hence scripture declare – eka vijnaanena
sarva vijnAnam bhavati – knowing that ONE (substantive or cause), knowledge of every
product (effect) is ‘as though’ gained. Since senses do not grasp the substantive, the
shAstra alone becomes the source of that knowledge of the material cause from all objects
in the universe.   
Let us look more closely the mechanics of perception as we understand now. Although
according to tradition, the senses along with the mind go out and ‘grasp’ the attributes
of the object, we now know that the reflected light from the objects that contain the
information of forms and colors, the sound and the smells etc reach the respective sense
organs in the body. They are evaluated by the senses (depending on their capability) and
the corresponding information is fed in on a first come first serve basis to the mind. 
Since light travels faster than sound, the colors and forms are recognized before sounds,
etc.  For the sense of touch, the physical contact with the object is required. Mind
integrates all the information that comes in and forms an image on its ‘mental screen’
with all the attributes gathered up to that point. Thus we have an image with composite
attributes which gets updated as more information is fed in by the senses. This
corresponds to vRitti or thought of the object.  The moment thought forms, it gets
illumined by the consciousness that is ever present. Ever present consciousness is called
sAkshii chaitanyam or witnessing consciousness and what gets illumined in its brilliance
is sAkshyam or witnessed.  In this case, the sAkshyam is the vRitti or the thought whose
contents are the attributes of the object. The illuminated consciousness forms ‘as
though’ reflection in or by the VRitti or thought. Formation of vRitti in the mind is
indicated as if the mind enveloping the object presented to it by senses. Hence it is
representative of the object outside. Its truthfulness to the object depends actually on
the truthfulness of the attributes that the senses have gathered.  

As the vRitti forms it is immediately illuminated by the witnessing consciousness.  It is
like as soon as an actor enters onto the stage the actor is seen by the ever present
illumination of the stage lights.  When the lights shed on the object, the object is
illumined and the reflected illumination by the object is seen by the eyes. Same way the
vRitti gets illumined in the presence of ever brilliant saakshii or witnessing
consciousness and the illuminated light gets reflected by the vRitti and that is seen by
subject (we will address who that subject is slowly). The consciousness that is reflected
from the vRitti is the knowledge itself since I become conscious of the vRitti. That
reflected limiting consciousness (limited by the VRitti which in turn is limited by the
attributes of the object outside) is the knowledge of the object perceived. Just as the
reflected light (sun light or room light) by an object makes me to see the object, the
reflected consciousness of the vRitti makes me conscious of the vRitti which is the same
as knowledge of the vRitti. Just as the sun light is as though ‘lend’ to the object for
the object to become visible, the consciousness from the sAkshi or witnessing
consciousness is as though ‘lend’ to the vRitti for it to become witnessed or to be
known. Up to this is the process of cognition. The information up to this point is –
there is an object out there with the gathered attributes. We have knowledge of the
existence of the object and also its attributes, since object is defined only through its
attributes. Up to this is immediate and direct as all this process takes faster than the
speed of communication by the nervous system.  Some times we see before we hear as in the
case of lightening and thunder. Once the object is cognized, it is stored in the memory

Recognition process: 
The process of recognition involves memory. This is not necessarily immediate.  All
though we now know that mind processes the information using the parallel processing
mode, it is not necessarily immediate. As the person ages, the cognition can occur
immediately but recognition takes its own time, sometimes for ever. When we are seeing
the object for the first time (such as when mother is teaching a child pointing to
various objects), the VRittis related to the objects are cognized and stored in the
memory along with a name tag – this is apple, that is a cow, etc. When the child sees the
same or similar objects, he cognizes them, mother may reinforce that stored knowledge as
the child re-cognizes the object. In the process of acquisition of knowledge, child’s
mind also sorts out the generic characters of similar objects as well as special
characteristics of particular objects.  A cow is re-cognized as a cow and not as a horse
based on the generic characteristics (called in Sanskrit as jAti) while still
differentiating its specific characteristics (vyakti) as red cow or small cow in contrast
to previous white, black, brown, big cows, etc. 

Error in cognition and Error in recognition: 
When the information that was fed in by the senses are not accurate due to various other
factors that are involved in the cognitive process, such as proper light to illumine the
object, etc, the cognized vRitti may or may not represent the object in question.  Based
on incomplete or inaccurate sense data, cognition as well as recognition could be
erroneous.  Hence we say there is an error in cognition occurred and the knowledge gained
is erroneous knowledge – bhramaa instead of pramaa. If the perceiver is aware of the
possibility of error that is there is a doubt about the cognition and further
experimentation may be required to establish the validity or invalidity of the previous
knowledge of the object. Thus if a perceiver sees a snake where there is a rope, if he
has a doubt about his perception, he would express the doubtful knowledge as ‘I do not
know if it is a rope or a snake’ or I see – it looks like a snake but I am not sure, etc.
 If the perceiver has no doubt in his perception, even though the perception is erroneous
from point of an independent referee, he would consider it as a valid knowledge and not
erroneous knowledge; until he encounters a contradictory experience related to the
object, which could cause a doubt in his prior cognition. Many have no doubt about their
knowledge, even though others see that there is a problem in their knowledge.
Philosophies based on Vedanta are no exceptions to this.  

With this background, we are now ready to address some specific objections and answers
provided in VP. Some of the questions and answers may appear to be irrelevant but we will
go through them for completeness. 

Q: Consciousness has no beginning. How can one say that knowledge, which has been equated
to consciousness alone, can have a beginning?  

A: It is not the consciousness but consciousness reflected in the VRitti has the
beginning, since the vRitti has a beginning and therefore its reflection too. The
limiting reflected consciousness is figuratively called knowledge as arising in the mind.

Without going into details about Vivarana vs Bhamati schools, in terms of who says what,
we note that all knowledge takes place in the mind only. Consciousness reflected in the
mind is called chidAbhAsa which is also called ego. Knowledge of an object is represented
by a thought or vRitti and thought is illumined by consciousness as it rises. Since
object is limited, the vRitti is also limited. Illumination and reflection of the vRitti
make me conscious of the vRitti and thus conscious of the object. This is figuratively
called knowledge – but it is knowledge of.. rather than pure knowledge itself.  Pure
knowledge has no beginning and therefore no end, as already been established by saying
that knowledge is continuous. We have also made the distinction between pure knowledge
and knowledge of an object in the beginning itself. 

Q: Mind is considered as having no parts. If vRitti or mental state, which is limited,
rises in the mind, mind will be considered as having parts. It violates the first

A: Yes, because the first statement that mind is having no parts is not correct, since it
is a substance and substance has a beginning according to sRiShTi prakaraNa. The
reflected consciousness is considered as attributive knowledge (knowledge of ..) which is
a mental state. There are other mental states like ‘desire, resolve, doubt, faith, want
of faith, steadiness, unsteadiness, shame, intelligence, and fear – all these constitute
the mind – says the Sruti (Br. I-5-3). All the above listed ones are called mental states
and are considered as attributes of the mind.  

Q: If desire, etc are attributes of the mind, it contradicts the statements that we
normally make; ‘I want, I know, I am afraid, etc about experiences that are attributed
not to the mind but to the self that I am. I do not say mind wants or mind knows or mind
is afraid but always say I want, etc. – How can these experiences of the self be
explained, if you argue that they are attributes of the mind? 

A: Looking at the red hot iron ball, we say that the iron ball is burning. But burning is
not the property of iron ball.  Iron ball just remains as black wrought iron ball (ayah
pinDaH).  The red hotness is not the property of the iron ball. When it is put in fire,
it becomes red hot. Iron ball provides a locus for the fire. Because of association,
properties of the fire are being superimposed on iron ball, and we falsely make a
statement that ‘iron ball is burning’. Similarly the self that I am is the substratum on
which mental moods are superimposed.  The moods belong to the mind not to the self. The
self is always free from these changing moods. We use the expressions; I am happy, I am
miserable, etc due to false identification of myself with the mind and its attributes. 

Hence, I am happy or I am miserable are only modifications of the mind and they do not
belong to the self that I am. Due to this false identification, I take myself as I am
happy or I am miserable, etc. The false identification arises since I do not know who I
am – Hence ignorance of myself is the root cause of the problem of this superimposition. 

Q: Since mind being a sense organ it is imperceptible?  However, you say the moods of the
minds are seen, how can mind see the mind, since it is a sense organ? 

Note: Here the question perhaps is raised from Bhamati point – where mind is also
considered as one of the sense organs. Sense organs cannot perceive themselves – like
eyes cannot see the eyes, tongue cannot taste itself – we need a mirror to see the eyes.
Question therefore has implied assumption that mind is also a sense organ. Interestingly
Kena says in pointing to the Self – it is the eye of the eye, ear of the ear, etc.  A
born blind man says – I cannot see, I am blind. To him a Vedantin will ask – Can you see
that you are blind? – Blind man has to say ‘Yes, I can see that I cannot see’ – with what
eye I can see that my eyes cannot see – that is the eye of the eye. 

A: There is nothing to prove that mind is one of the sense organs. Hence the question is
not valid.

Q: The proof comes from the B. Gita Ch.15-7. The second part of the sloka is: 
manaH ShaTAnIdriyANi prakRitishAni karShati|| - From prakRiti (the five) sense organs and
the sixth, the mind are gathered or attracted by jiiva. 

A: That is not a proof that mind is the sixth sense organ.  It only counts five indriyas
and the sixth one, the mind, together are attracted by jiiva. Mind is separated from the
indriyas and is not included with it. {VP provides several example where counting is done
in a group which includes other categories as well. Similarly, in the above sloka mind is
counted as the sixth but not as the sixth sense organ.  Hence mind does not belong to the
category of sense organs.  – Look at the following  statement ‘He taught Vedas and
Mahabharata as the fifth’ – where Mahabharata is also counted, not as part of the Vedas
since we know there are only four Vedas, but something significant that is countable in
list of things that were taught.}

It may be argued that if mind is not considered as one of the sense organs, then the
cognition of happiness will not be direct and immediate in the mind. If one makes such an
argument, then that argument is also not correct. Immediacy is not necessarily rest on
mind being considered as a sense organ or not. If mind is considered as sense organ, and
if that is the necessary and sufficient requirement for immediacy, then even inference
(logical deduction) which is mediate will become immediate (involving no deduction).
However, we know that it is not the case. Sometimes one has to think deeply perhaps for
several hours to arrive at the inferential knowledge. Hence requirement that the mind has
to be a sense organ for immediacy of mental moods of happiness, etc, is not necessary. In
addition, if we push this argument further and say that for God to know everything
instantaneously, we have to provide him also some sense organs to facilitate that
immediate knowledge. Hence mind is not considered as the sixth sense organ. Mind can have
a sixth sense (that is information not fed by the five sense organs) which could be
intuitive knowledge but here the discussion only pertains to about mind to be categorized
as one of the sense organs and not mind having a sixth sensibility. 
Next we will discuss about internal perceptions in contrast perceptions of objects

Hari Om!

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