[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge - 14: Part I

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 24 11:24:32 CDT 2008

PraNAms to all.

This and the subsequent post are centered on addressing some of the issues raised in advaitin list following the post -13. Since much of the discussion is relavent in understanding the perceptual process I am taking the liberty to post here. I request the study of both parts before discussing the issues raised. 

Hari Om!
              Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge -14

In view of the recent stimulating discussions on the post 13, I am going to re-examine in detail the essence of the perceptual process, as I understand, taking some of the comments and objections that were raised during the discussion.  Beforehand, I want to thank particularly reverend Shree Sastriji and others who participated in the discussion starting from Shree -Michael, Srinivas, Putram, and Ananda Wood.  The comments span from paaramaarthika to vyaavahaarika and several epistemological issues that are related to substance, object and attributes, and perceptual process in the mind or by the mind.  Here I recognize the philosophical position on one side and understanding of the perceptual process from science on the other, as they get fused in, to arrive a self-consistent understanding.  As shree Ananda Wood put it gently, scientific thought only goes only up to  some point, and beyond that philosophical position has to take over in understanding the
 knower, known and knowing process – kshetra and kshetrajna – involving consciousness on one side and inert object on the other – resulting in subject-object relationships.  I request forgiveness beforehand if I differ from others, but I have to present what I clearly understand.  I am going to present in very detailed account since there seems to be lot of confusion of what exactly VP says, what exactly is understood as VP says, and what exactly the correct epistemological position of advaita Vedanta is. 

Coming from a science background, I strongly subscribe to the understanding that philosophical position cannot violate the objective science, but can go beyond it where objective science fails to provide a clear understanding of the mechanics of the process involving consciousness because of which one is conscious of the objects. Consciousness and mechanics of the cognitive process cannot be separated. Yet, we do have now clearer understanding of the mechanics of wave propagation and image formation as well as communication of the sense input via sense organs to the brain.  Jumping from the physical process of perception to metal cognition involves (using computer terminology) jumping from hardware to software where we know we need a programming language to interpret neural input into cognitive process.  This is currently a black box. Therefore, in understanding the perceptual process we take whatever physics or biophysics provides us and without
 violating these physical principles jump to philosophical principles. Shastra becomes pramaaNa only for the later part. As Shankara states clearly, Shaastra is valid only where pratyaksha and anumaana fail to reveal the facts.  With this as the basis we proceed addressing some of the comments and objections that were raised. The purpose of this post is not meant for continuing the same discussion further, but for clarification the extent of our understanding, or lack of it, of the perceptual process based on the current state of science on one side and philosophical position on the other, without, of course, compromising fundamental advaitic stand: brahma satyam, jagat mithyaa, jiivobrahmaiva naaparaH – the Brahman alone is the real or the truth and the world is mithyaa or apparent, and jiiva is none other than Brahman itself. 

1. Comments on the substance object and attributes:

Objection: In the example of a ring, which is an object that is made of gold, ring has its attributes; ‘object-ring’ is different from the substance gold that the ring is made up of.  Thus we have three things – object-ring, attributes of ring (ID, OD, width, ellipticity, etc), and material substance, that it is made of Gold.  When Vedanta ParibhaaSha says – object is perceived – it is the ring that is perceived, along with its attributes and not the attributes alone by the senses, since according to advaita the object and attributes have taadaatmya sambhandha. VP does not say that attributes alone are gathered by the senses. It says object is perceived. 

Response: The response comes from two sides – from objective scientific analysis and the other from philosophical side, since perception involves the role of consciousness which is beyond objectification. First, I recall the introductory statement I made in the first post - The purpose of the inquiry into the epistemological issues, as DA (Dharmaraja Adhvarindra), 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 nithya-anitya vastu viveka essential for Vedantins. Hence the text does not loose sight of paaramaarthika while discussing the knowledge and the means of knowledge.  VP follows closely vivarana school of advaita Vedanta.  

Now - Let us ask first the question - What is an object? There are two aspects that are involved in defining an object. Just from epistemological point, object can only be defined in terms of attributes.  In chemistry, we learn to identify a chemical substance by stating its physical and chemical properties – which are all attributes. The more precise the definitions are the more discriminative the object becomes from the rest of the objects in the world. Only through properties we identify the chemical compound.  Hence objective science relays heavily on the precise definition of any objectifiable entity only through its attributes. That is the only way to communicate knowledge for transactional purposes or vyavahaara. This is the first fundamental aspect of the object that cannot be violated. For example, if I want to meet Mr. Gaagaabuubu in the station, whom I have never met, I need to have his precise definition or description in terms of his
 attributes; the attributes that differentiate him from rest of the masses in the station. The object, Mr. Gaagaabuubu, therefore, is the one who is the locus of all the attributes, collectively.  Each one of the attribute may not be precise enough to locate him but all attributes collectively will define who Mr. Gaagaabuubu is. Is Mr. Gaagaabuubu just a bunch of attributes?  No. Attributes cannot exist without a locus and the locus of the attributes we call it as an object. Do the senses perceive the locus or the attributes? Senses can only perceive the form, the color and other attributes that can be measurable by the senses – that includes – roopa, shabda, sparsha, rasa and gandha – form, sound, touch, taste and smell – all collectively referred to as roopa, since visual perception is most direct and immediate, since light travels fast.  Hence from the point of our discussion, when we say roopa or form and color, in principle, it stands for
 all the five sense input, if the object has attributes that all the senses can gather.  

The second aspect that we need to understand clearly is there is no particular attribute that an object has that can uniquely characterize it. This was stated before in the discussions that no object has swaruupa lakshaNa that can define the object singly and uniquely (in mathematics we call the swaruupa lakshaNa as necessary and sufficient qualification).  The fundamental reason for this is all objects in the universe are made up parts or assemblage of parts.  This, in fact, forms a basis for an error, as we will discuss later. Since no single attribute can uniquely define the object, perception of incomplete set can result in errors in recognition of the object due to inherent ambiguity.  Only Brahman has swaruupa lakshaNa, since he being infinite is part-less. Satyam, jnaanam, anantam Brahma, as Shankara clearly describes, are swaruupa lakshaNas of Brahman. There are not really three, are only one, but expressed from three different perspectives. 
 Implication of this is that objects are distinguishable not by one attributes but sum total of all essential attributes (swaabhaavika lakshaNas) put together.  That implies collective attributes together makes the object distinguishable from others in the universe, provided they are asaadhaaraNa, that is the combination of all attributes together make the object uniquely and precisely distinguishable.  In summary, since 1) senses can only measure attributes and not substantive (substantive, say gold material, is too gross for the senses to carry), 2) there is no single attribute that can uniquely define an object, 3) all essential (asaadhaaraNa) attributes are needed for object knowledge to be complete, 4) errors in perception can occur since objective knowledge is only attributive knowledge and not substantive knowledge.  If one argues that VP says (although VP does not say this) senses can also bring in the object, then question arises which sense
 input brings in the object, as there is no one unique attribute or single sense input that defines the object precisely.  If so, then any sense input about the object should give us precise knowledge of the object and there is no possibility for any errors in perception. We will examine this aspect further.  What VP says is the object is perceived by the mind riding on the senses. That does not mean senses bring in the object or mind grasps the object independent of the sense input. The rest is interpretation, and should be based on the laws of physics where they apply.  

Coming back to the object, let us find out that besides attributes what else is there that defines the object? Attributes should have a locus and what is that locus? Is locus an attribute?  No, it is not. Is form a locus, no it is an attribute along with color that the sense of sight can see.  Only the other thing that the object has besides the attributes is its contents or substance that provides the locus for the attributes.  Matter, locussed as an object, has attributes. Gold locussed as an object is a ring with its attributes. Without mater, there cannot be attributes. If I say water is colorless, odorless and tasteless, there has to be some matter contents which are nothing but assemblage of water molecules that form the locus for the colorless, odorless and tasteless attributes – besides other physical and chemical properties like specific gravity, viscosity and ability to decompose into hydrogen and oxygen etc, which may not be directly
 perceived by senses. Vidyaaranya calls the knowledge of any object as adhaara and adheya jnaanam – substantive and superimposed attributive knowledge. Hence when I say it is a ring object – there is no ring object per sec, it is gold in the form of a ring, where form constitutes its attribute. Ring is a name or naama or ‘padam’ or word with no ‘padaartham’ or a noun or a substantive associated with it.  That is why it is called mithyaa. There is no ringly material to substantiate it and differentiate it from bangly material.  Is ring an object separate from bangle? Yes, they are separate because the attributes of the ring are not the same as that of bangle. Yet there are no substance ring and substance bangle to separate them apart at substantive level.  Both are made of up the same substance – gold.  Ring with its attributes cannot be thought of without having adhaara or a support just as we said attributes cannot be thought of without a
 locus.  Ring is only a name for a form and so is bangle or bracelet; naama for a ruupa.  Hence the statement ‘vaachaarambhanam vikaaro naamadheyam’ – name for a product; and product is not different from the material (cause) in different form.  
Hence Gold forms the adheya or substantive support for the existence of ring’s attributes as well as bangle attributes. Gold with the attributes of a ring is a ring, and gold with the attributes of a bangle is a bangle. There is no other ring or bangle otherwise – they are only names for forms. Form is an attribute perceived by the senses.  It is gold alone in the ring form or ring attributes since form, as we said before is representative of all associated attributes. Thus gold is the locus or substantive for the ring and gold is the locus or the substantive for the bangle too; and there are no ring and bangle separate from gold.  
Objection: Perceptual knowledge pertains to vyavahaara. The above discussion transgresses to paaramaarthika. In vyavahaara the objects are real. Hence ring, as an object, is real. When VP says when we perceive an object ring, we perceive both the object ring with its attributes. That it is made up of gold is not important here in the perception of the ring as an object.  For paaramaarthika, shabda is pramaaNa and it is discussed separately in VP. 

Response: At the outset theses comments appear to be correct. But we need to go little deeper to unravel the truth- Even at empirical level or vyavahaara, there is no object ring other than form and color and other related attributes that can be perceived. This is precisely the reason why that Upanishad takes loukika or vyavahaara not aloukika examples to illustrate the fact that material cause itself is the products in verities of forms.  Here scripture is not pramaaNa for the illustration that product is cause itself in different form.  Scripture is using vyavahaara example to prove the point, which later it extends to paaramaarthika. It proves the point using three examples that there are no separate objects other than ruupa, form and naama, name – the first one constitute the attributive set and the later constituting the knowledge of its existence since name can be given only when there is knowledge – as we said before existence of an object is
 established by the knowledge of its existence.  Hence objects are nothing but material cause itself in different forms. By knowing material cause, one knows all the objects formed out of that material.  Hence ring, bangle, necklace, bracelet are ‘as well known’ since we have adhaara jnaanam. We will have adheya jnaanam, when we perceive through the sense the attributes of the object, ring which are different form the attributes of the bangle, etc.  Only after establishing the fact at transactional level, Upanishad goes into the discussion of paaramaarthika to apply the same logic – knowing the material cause for the whole universe, one knows essentially all the objects in the world. Hence from the perception point also there is no object or objects other than the material cause and the attributive aspects of the products which differentiate one object from the other, ex: ring from bangle.  
Question: In the gold ring example, do we perceive the substance at any time? How do we know that it is gold ring and not iron ring – if we do not perceive the substantive?  

Answer: In these vyavahaara examples, the substantives of the two rings are different in the sense that they have their own attributes that distinguishes them as separate.  Hence senses when gathering the attributes of the ring, also gather in the process the attributes of the substantive too, since the two substantives have their own attributes. Thus gold attributes are different from iron attributes and the locus of the attributes is the matter gold vs. matter iron – which are again assemblage of electron-proton-neutrons and as well as package of their atoms (gold is fcc and iron is bcc – for those who want to know). Senses again gather those attributes that they can measure. By using more sophisticated instruments such as electron microscope one can boost up the sensitivity of the senses.  Suppose iron is gold plated and the iron ring is indistinguishable from the pure gold ring.  Senses, if they measure external attributes such as luster,  etc,
 may not be able to distinguish the gold from gold plated iron, and conclude that both rings are golden-rings – one may be small and other large due to difference in their ringly attributes. This further proves again the point that senses can only bring in the attributes but not substantives. 

After discussing the worldly examples, scripture then goes into paaramaarthika or at absolute level to point out that the substantive for the whole world is only Sat or Brahman, which has no attributes that the senses can gather.  Hence we get only the attributes of the transactional realities not absolute reality making up the knowledge of the worldly objects – hence the scriptures says to learn about the substantive of the world ‘aachaaryavan purusho veda’ – learn from a teacher who teaches the scriptures. 

To complete the process, the sense input forms vRitti in the mind. VRitti can be thought of as image in the mental screen consisting of attributes of the object starting from ‘form’ which includes all the 3-D form since as we discussed before we have two eyes that are seven degrees apart to provide the stereographic projection.  The image is the electrical or neural signal which gets transformed into the subtler image or VRitti.  That it occurs is definite but how it occurs is anybody’s guess. The contents of the vRitti are the attributive knowledge about the object.  Recognition follows after cognition, by comparing the object perception with the stored information from the memory bank to see if the attributive knowledge matches with any other object in the memory.  If the memory is damaged, the recognition process can be affected even when cognitive process is complete. The witnessing consciousness illumines the vRitti as it forms in the mind and
 the reflected consciousness constitutes the attributive knowledge of the object ‘out there’. For perception to complete, VP has discussed the perceptuality requirements that need to be met. 

There are some epistemological issues that were raised which will be addressed now. I am paraphrasing some of the questions raised in relation to above description of attributive knowledge of an object.  Some of the objections have already been addressed before, but they are being emphasized to focus on the issues involved. 

Hari Om!

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