[Advaita-l] Knowledge and the Means of Knowledge - 34

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Wed Oct 28 23:54:21 CDT 2009

Upamaana PramANa – Its Application to Spirituality

We have discussed that there are two aspects involved in Upamaana pramANa.  One is use of upamaana based on similarities and the other based on dissimilarities.  It involves the comparison of two entities one that is known or whose attributes are familiar and the other is unknown which I am directly perceiving now or being informed about it through other pramANas. By comparing the unknown with the known based on similarities in attributes one can gain the knowledge of the unknown. At times, it is also possible to know the unknown by comparing the dissimilarities to the known object. The statements will be this new unknown object is dissimilar or opposite to the object that we know.  

All the examples we use to illustrate the unknown fall under upamaana only. The two objects that we are comparing are not identical but they are certain similarities which help to understand the unknown object. Vedanta is full of these examples. Atma bodha text of Adi Shankara contains in every sloka an illustrative example or upamaana that exemplifies one or more aspects of Brahman.  All analogies or examples involve some kind of comparison involving saadRisyam or similarities to establish a fact. Since analogies are not identities, every upamaana will have limited application in understanding the unknown. Extending the example beyond the limited application will lead only to confusion. Hence one has to be very clear of the limitations of these examples in trying to know the unknown. 

Advaita involves transcending the dvaita concepts. All the examples given being in the realm of dvaita, they have to be understood within their limited range of applications. Some of the critics of advaita (puurvapakshiies) apply the examples beyond the intended application and extract the unintended meanings to dismiss the philosophy. At most care, therefore, is required to understand the examples and their limitations in trying to realize what is to be known.

We mentioned that advaita does not dissent with the Nayyayika’s view that upamaana can also be used in comparing the dissimilar features between unknown and the known. In both cases, as we emphasized,  the attributes of the new object that is being investigated are neither hundred percent similar or hundred percent dissimilar to other example provided. If all the attributes are hundred percent similar then it will reduce to pure cognition and recognition as pratyaksha pramaaNa only. In our classical exmaple, if I am perceiving cow only in the forest in stead of a wild animal,  then to say that this cow is similar to the cow I have in town, although valid is not necessary.  I will just say this is a cow.  On the other hand, if the attributes are hundred percent dissimilar, the mind has no inclination to compare the known and the unknown. We do not have to compare the wild animal that I am seeing with river that I crossed saying that it is not like the
 river. Hence the unknown object that I am trying to know the known object that I am comparing should have partially similar attributes and partially dissimilar attributes. Depending on the relative importance, the knowledge of the unknown is gained from the knowledge of the known by compare and contrast. In the traditional examinations knowledge of students were tested by asking them to compare and contrast two objects that they have learned, implication that such a comparative analysis provides a clear way of knowing the facts. 

We now examine the role of upamaana as very important tool in gaining the spiritual knowledge. It is recognized at the outset that Brahman being one without a second, there cannot be any compare and/or contrast with any other, since there is no other, by definition. However we apply many analogies in Vedanta to make us understand Brahman which cannot be known as an object. All analogies are upamaana only with some similarities and dissimilarities where emphasis is placed on one or the other to make us understand Brahman. Unless one is clear what aspect of the analogy (similarities or dissimilarities) is being emphasized in relation to Brahman, the teaching can become a source of confusion rather than clarification. This shows the importance of a proper teacher in whose hands the analogies become greatest vehicles to know Brahman. We take few examples here to illustrate the power of upamaana in gaining the knowledge of Brahman. 

Akaasha or Space is Brahman:  In Tai. Up. a meditation or upaasana wherein Space is taken as upaasana for Brahman. {Just as a side note, upaasana is different from knowledge. Upaasana involves  invoking something higher on to the lower which is called aalambanam or idol. Jnaanam on the other hand involves knowing what it is. Thus seeing the Lord Vishnu in a stone or Ganesha in the turmeric piece is upaasana while seeing the stone as stone, turmeric as turmeric or Brahman as Brahman is knowledge.} Coming back in taking Akaasha as Brahman is upaasana. Akaasha, in many respects, is very close to Brahman. In the sequence of creation, space is the first subtle element that is born says the Upanishad. tasmaat va etasmaat atmanaH aakaaShaH sambhuutaH … and from space grosser elements are born. During the pralayam or final dissolution, the process reverses itself with all the elements merging back into space and space ultimately into Brahman. Krishna himself
 uses the space upamaana to explain how all pervading Brahman, similar to the infinite space, is unaffected by the activities within the creation – yathaa sarvagatam soukshmyaat aakaasham nopalipyate .. B.G. 13:32. The similarities between space and Brahman are used to indicate the nature of Brahman. Space by itself cannot be conceived as it is infinite and so is Brahman. Conditioned space – pot space, room space, etc., where conditioning is done by the upaadhis (walls in the case of space) can be conceived and similarly Brahman as conditioned consciousness within the upaadhis of the mind and intellect. Pot-space can realize I am total space while still remaining as pot-space by knowing that space is indivisible. Space is very subtle and all pervading and so is Brahman. Space accommodates everything in it without getting affected. All the things mentioned about aatma or Brahman such as .. nainam chindanti shastraaNi nainam dahati paavakaH.. etc.,
 that is,  it cannot be cut, it cannot be burned, it cannot be wet or dried etc – all apply to space too. For the purpose of meditation, Tai Up says - yo veda nihitam guhaaayaam parame vyoman – Brahmna is in the very core of the inner SPACE of one’s own heart -  says the Upanishad – Brahman being subtle like space is in the very core of one’s own personality (heart of ones individuality), which cannot be objectified like space. Hence the analogy of space is very much used extensively to take the mind beyond all tangible or material entities that one is familiar. In Chidambaram Temple, the Lord is symbolized as space, where a chit itself forms an ambaram or clothing for the Lord – where space itself is idolized as God by garlanding the space (chidambara rahasyam). Hence for purpose of upaasana or worship, space analogy or upamaana is extensively used in Vedanta. That does not mean space is Brahman. Space is Brahman, since it is a product of
 Brahman; at the same time Brahman is beyond space too. The dissimilarity that makes Brahman beyond space is Brahmna is a conscious entity while space is not. Space is inert or jadam. As mentioned that in upamaana pramaaNa, there has to be dissimilarities to differentiate one from the other. Chaitanyatvam or being a conscious entity, Brahman differs from space, in spite of several similarities. In addition, Brahman is never a product but cause-less cause, unlike space.

To indicate that the Brahman is both material cause and the intelligent cause, Upanishads give several examples, and each example has limited application. Mundaka Up. says creation is like spider putting forth its net, indicating the spider is both the intelligent cause as well as material cause for the net. The example is limited since the spider is a conscious entity, the net is not, and it becomes separate from the spider. Hence the example cannot be extended beyond. In the next example the scripture says just as the earth putting forth the vegetable life – here the product is living entity while the cause, earth is inert. Thus every example that is pointed out has limitations due to similarities and dissimilarities since Brahman is one without a second. No other example will be completely fulfilling. Hence in the aatma vichaara, these examples have to be correctly applied to gain the underlying knowledge of Brahman. 

Most quoted example of error or adhyaasa illustrated by advaita is the rope-snake example, where rope which is real is taken as snake due to ignorance of the rope or incomplete vision of the object, rope. But once light is shed on the rope, the knowledge of the rope is gained with complete dismissal of snake from the mind of the perceiver. The analogy is because of the ignorance of the truth, a false is projected and the projected false is taken as real. As a consequence of this error or adhyaasa, suffering follows, just as perceived snake due to the ignorance of the real (rope) causes the fear, rise in blood pressure, etc. However, once the truth is known there is no more false to cause fear. End of the analogy. Critics extend this analogy further to say that once one knows Brahman (brahma jnaana) there is no more world for him even to interact just as once one see the rope, there is no more snake to deal with. The argument implies that there is no more
 teacher to teach ajnaanis. Hence no body else can know Brahman since no teacher is available. Hence all the teaching is false since there is no teacher to validate the truth.  This is an clear illustration, where the application of the upamaana is done beyond its intended applicability. Perception of snake, where the rope is, is a subjective error and not an objective error. Hence realization of the truth removes all subject misconceptions only. Similarly knowing everything is Brahman removes the subjective misconceptions which is samasaara arising from one’s attachments and identifications.  

Vedanta also provides another error adhyaasa which is an objective error – like mirage waters or shell-silver. Here unlike the snake case, everybody perceives the mirage waters or shell-silver. Understanding the truth that there is no water there or there is no silver there does not eliminate the perception of apparent water in the mirage-water or apparent silver in the shell-silver. After knowing the truth, the jnaani still sees the world of plurality but takes the world of plurality not as absolutely real but apparently real or as mithyaa. The snake-rope upamaana is given to remove the subjective misconceptions and mirage water or shell-silver upamaana is given to remove objective errors to recognize the Vyaavahaarika satyam as just Vyaavahaarika only- just as knowing everything is gold and giving importance to names and forms, rings and bangles, not more than what they deserve. The point here with reference to upamaana is comparison is valid only up
 to some point and taking beyond the limited application can result in incorrect understanding of the unknown.  During the discussion of anumaana pramANa we have presented the errors in perception and inference. Here we are only highlighting the limitations of each analogy or upamaana in terms of understanding the unknown. 

There are also many upamaanas or analogies provided to emphasize the dissimilarities as means of knowledge. Negation of I am not this involves rejecting any ‘this’ is not Brahman based on dissimilarities.  This is an object, Brahman is not. This is limited,  Brahman is not. This has qualities that distinguish this from that. Brahman being infinite has no qualities. Hence in the analysis of each of the koshaas as not aatma the dissimilarities are emphasized to show that anaatma is not aatma because each kosha is a product (kaaryam), and therefore only a name and a form with no substantive of its own, hence depends on something other than itself for existence, and thus they are all mithyaa unlike Brahma which is not a kaaryam, being infinite has no form, it is substantive of the jiiva, jagat and Iswara, and hence exists by itself and supports everything else in the universe including the universe. Hence vilakshaNa or dissimilarities are emphasized to
 reject anything that is objectified or can be called as this, is not Brahman. Hence upamaana in terms of both similarities and dissimilarities are utilized in knowing what is unknown (Brahman) from what is known (jagat). 

Thus comparison, upamaana is considered as distinct means of knowledge different from pratyaksha, perception and anumaana, logical inference. 

With this we complete the analysis of upamaana and take up next the verbal testimony or shabda pramANa. 

Hari Om!

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