[Advaita-l] Self-Luminosity of Consciousness-2 by Vaibhavji

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 7 22:32:59 CST 2012


Sri Citsukha considers eleven definitions of self-luminosity before accepting
the eleventh one and rejecting the previous ten. He defines self-luminosity as
the capability for empirical usage without being an object of awareness.
Immediately an objection is raised. Is the so called capacity an attribute of
awareness or an indicator (an accidental property)? Either way the definition
would not apply to pure consciousness for it would violate the tenets of
Advaita as there is nothing apart from pure consciousness which is non-dual.
The definition may apply to substratum-consciousness when due to avidya,
consciousness is said to be the substratum of the world but considered in
itself, minus avidya must we then say that consciousness is not self-luminous?
Sri Citsukha replies that `capacity' here has to be interpreted in a technical
way. It means that this capacity never is a counterpositive of an absolute
absence in consciousness. Although in the non-dual state there is no empirical
usage of consciousness yet it is not absolutely devoid of such a capacity. From
the standpoint of avidya there shall always be in consciousness the said
fitness for empirical usage without being objectified. From the absolute
standpoint then we may say although the said fitness is not present, it is not
eternally absent too. This may still sound like consciousness possesses a
specific power or capacity. But this is not so for self-luminosity is the very
nature of consciousness although we express it in a subject-predicate form, as
if consciousness is the possessor of the property of self-luminosity, from the
standpoint of avidya. Sri Citsukha quotes Sri Padmapada's Panchapadika in his
support: "Joy, experience of objects and eternity are the characteristics
of Atman. Although they are not different they appear to be different from pure
consciousness". The import of this whole discussion is that consciousness
is such that it illumines all objects but in itself it is self-revealed, it
does not need anything over and above itself to reveal itself unlike a material
object. But when it is not illuminating objects can we still say that it is
self-luminous? Consider for a moment we define fire as that which has the
ability to burn. But it burns objects only when they come in contact with it.
But yet we may say that even when it is not burning something it still has the
capacity to burn and also that capacity to burn is identical with fire or the
very nature of fire. Same is the case here with consciousness, by its very
nature is self-luminous even when it is illuminating other objects and also
when all duality is absent. It should be noted here that pure consciousness is
self-luminous but not reflected consciousness or consciousness delimited by
mind or the vritti. When there is awareness, we know that we know and we do not
require another cognition to become aware of the fact that we are aware but
this is because Brahma-caitanya is self-luminous. Panchadasi 8.4 says:
"The consciousness reflected in the vritti coincident with the jar
manifests simply the jar. The fact that the jar is known is manifested by
Brahma Caitanya." 8.16 says: "The statement 'this is a jar' is due to
the favor of reflection. The statement 'The jar is known' is due to the favor
of Brahma Caitanya (underlying consciousness)". Buddhi appears to be
sentient and self-luminous because of pure consciousness. Pure consciousness
illumines both the object of knowledge and the knowledge that one knows the
object and thus reflected consciousness too is an object of consciousness. The
definition calls consciousness unknowable to exclude ordinary material objects
like pot etc. from the definition. They being the objects of empirical
cognitions are not self-luminous. But if such is the case then how is it that
we are able to talk about consciousness? To talk about something and say it is
unknown or unknowable is self-contradictory. How again can the Upanishads
inform us about Brahman? The reply is that pure consciousness is not absolutely
unknowable. We have an immediate intuition of consciousness in a manner that is
different from all knowledge we may have of any other object. Even in
perception our awareness of the sense object is mediated by various processes
of sense contact and removal of avidya through the antahkarana vritti. Sense
perception thus comes as the end result of a long causal process to reveal the
object to the subject. But the `intuition' of consciousness does not lie
anywhere at the end of a causal process, our awareness of its presence is
immediate in the full sense of the term. There is no gap between consciousness
and our consciousness of consciousness. This knowledge is not caused in us, we
just seem to have it all along. The only sense in which consciousness is an
object is that we can communicate about it though this nowhere implies that
consciousness then would indeed be captured by the mind in which a sense object
is. For whenever we think about consciousness we conceptualize it and
consciousness by its very nature lies beyond any conceptualization. It
transcends our thoughts for thoughts limit but consciousness knows no
limitations in which it is like space, all-pervading. Whenever consciousness
becomes associated with any cognitive process, any vritti, it becomes reflected
consciousness and not pure consciousness. We can conceptualize about pure
consciousness in order to communicate with it but any such conceptualization is
a superimposition on consciousness and hence we never capture consciousness in
it pure nature, though we never lose it too, for us to capture it in our mind,
later. Consciousness thus is speakable but not knowable. Our speech about a jar
is caused by our awareness of a jar but communicability of consciousness
depends only on its presence and not on a separate awareness about it.
Immediacy of consciousness is found in all our cognitive operations whether it
be thinking or perceiving or inferring, and we know it in a way we know no
other thing. We can think about it, perceive it, infer its presence, but only
remotely for when we think about it, it does not remain thought, when we infer
it, it does not remain the entity inferred. All these cognitive processes
depend on consciousness for their fulfillment but they cannot turn back on
consciousness to reveal it for it is self-revealed. Consequently we speak about
consciousness in negative terms, to say that it immediate is not to ascribe it
a positive property but to deny mediate-ness to it, to say that it is
self-luminous is to deny non-self-luminosity in it. The opponent conflates the
difference between unknowability and unknowability with capacity for
communicability. Thus the definition given is pure consciousness is capable of
empirical usage though unknowable. The capacity of empirical usage is
contingent on there being the domain of avidya yet consciousness is never
absolutely bereft of it. To sum up, "Consciousness is a union of
illumination and existence, illumination constitutes its very being and
nature." Hence the proof of consciousness in Advaita is apodictic. To deny
consciousness is self-contradictory and to affirm it is a tautology, for
consciousness is needed for the very act of denial or affirmation to be.

The definition being given Sri Citsukha moves onto to prove pure consciousness
is self-luminous. The proof is presented syllogistically as follows: 

Consciousness is self-luminous because it is consciousness (awareness) unlike a

This is an only negative inference. All the positive instances are included in
the paksha and hence the inference has to be understood as whatever is not
consciousness is not self-luminous and vica versa. Hence here the udharana or
example is negative, it exhibits the concomitance of absence of sadhya (thing
to be proved) where there is absence of hetu (reason). The opponent here brings
out the charge of sadhyaprassidhi on the Advaitin. In Nyaya there is the
condition for inference that there must be an invariable concomitance between
the probans (hetu) and the probandum (probandum). This invariable relation
fails to be materialized if either the probans or the probandum be an
altogether unknown fact, for a relation between two unknown facts or an unknown
fact and a known fact is inconceivable. If the probans are unknown it
constitutes the fallacy of sadhanaprassidhi and if the probandum is unknown it
constitutes the fallacy of sadhyaprassidhi. The above fallacies also occur even
when either the probans or the probandum are known existent facts but are
qualified by unknown or non-existent predicates. Here the advaitin is trying to
prove that consciousness is self-luminous in a manner defined above. But we
cannot define things into existence. The property of self-luminosity is
completely unknown, what proof do we have for it. The Advaitins retort by a
counter syllogism, which runs as follows:

Knowability is a property and is thus subject to absolute negation in some

In this way unknowability in a particular substrate is established, it implies
the presence of such a property as self-luminosity. Unknowability is one of the
characteristic marks of self-luminosity and is thus established by inference.
Since Knowability is subject to negation in some substrate, there may be some
locus which possesses unknowability. The opponent counters this by an
inference: "If consciousness is not a content of awareness (unknowable),
then it cannot be a real entity." But it may be replied that consciousness
does not need to be a content of awareness to be real, it may be self-luminous.
The other mark of self-luminosity viz. immediate apprehension is established
through another inference thus:

That object is immediately apprehended which if it were not would lead to such
undesirable consequences like infinite regress etc.

For Sri Citsukha self-luminosity of consciousness forms the very basis for any
activity, cognitive or conative. In apprehending an object we also apprehend
our apprehension of the object. If this was not the case and we needed another
awareness to become aware of the presence of awareness in us, then to be aware
of this awareness we would require another awareness and then a still another
one and so on ad infinitum. Consequently we may never know that we know and we
would ever be in doubt whether awareness has occurred in us or not. This doubt
would lead to a complete failure of our cognitive and conative systems. We act
not just on the basis of our knowledge of an object but also on the knowledge
that we know the object. If this feature is left out, we can never say or
believe that we have experience. We never have a doubt in the form: has the
knowledge of the pot arisen in me or not? We speak, think and act because of
the light of consciousness illuminates all. Thus it is reasonable to conclude
that we are immediately aware of our awareness of an object. To quote Sri
Citsukha: "If at the time of cognizing a content, the experience were also
not cognized, then in the instant following the awareness of the content the
person desiring knowledge of this object will doubt his experience (have I had
this awareness or not), or else may have a contrary experience (I have had the
awareness of non-existence of this object), or have a directly opposite
experience (I did not have that experience). But when the individual is asked
in the instant following his experience he neither expresses doubt nor admits
of a contrary experience nor of one directly opposite, but he firmly says, `I
have seen this thing'. Therefore it is reasonable that consciousness being
self-luminous produces practical activity concerning the content."
Considering the possibility of awareness being the content of another awareness
Sri Citsukha says: "Just as the eye etc. are not self-luminous (but are
illumined by something other than themselves), so too will awareness be
produced by an awareness which is other than itself and consequently awareness
will not be the cause of practical activity with respect to an object.
Furthermore since insentient objects are neither self-luminous nor illumine
each other, they cannot be luminous. On this model awareness too will be
non-luminous. And if awareness is non-luminous the entire world will remain in
darkness". This refutes the Nyaya theory of anuvyavasaya which says that
cognition is not self-apprehended but is cognized by another cognition. Just as
the existence of ordinary objects are established on the basis of our cognitions
of them similarly the existence of cognition is established by cognizing the
same. To defend this thesis Nyaya brings out an inference: "Cognition is
knowable because it is an actual object like a jar". This would refute
both the unknowability of awareness and also their immediacy. Sri Citsukha
retorts that for the inference to succeed there will have to be an awareness of
pervasion between Knowability and being an actual object, but it may be asked
is this awareness which is aware of the said pervasion is itself self-illumined
or not, if it is then the opponent would have conceded the point to the
proponent, if not then the inference would fail since one is not aware of an
awareness of the pervasion and if there is no awareness of the pervasion then how
will the inference succeed. The point is that self-luminosity is the very basis
for pramanas to work. The Advaitin by putting forward a syllogism is not
literally establishing self-luminosity of consciousness for it is self-proved
except ofcourse for its opponents, but for the Advaitin it is nothing but a
reinforcement of an intuition. The Pramanas have their very being; owe their
very function due to the self-luminosity of consciousness; consciousness is the
transcendental condition for the pramanas to be, for otherwise the world would
be nothing but darkness. This establishes the second mark of self-luminosity
and the fallacy of sadhya-prasiddhi is averted. 

The opponent says that the Advaitin's argument is something like this: "A
Jar is self-luminous, because it is a jar. That, which is not like this, is not
a jar." But as a matter of fact a jar is illumined by sense-perception and
hence we are directly aware of the absence of self-luminosity in a jar and
consequently the case is not analogous.

The opponent now brings the charge of svarupasiddhi and ashrayasiddhi. The
former fallacy arises when the middle term is absent from the minor term (when
fire is inferred on a hill the middle term smoke has to be perceived on that
hill) and the latter arises when the minor term is unreal. The argument is that
the middle term, consciousness (which is not pure consciousness but apparently
for the opponent is empirical cognition or reflected consciousness), does not
reside in pure consciousness, hence the fallacy of svarupasiddhi, and pure
consciousness which is the minor term is single and homogenous with no
plurality, consequently it lacks a distinguishing mark that separates it from
other things, but for the Advaitins pure consciousness has no other. Because pure
consciousness lacks a distinguishing mark the minor term should be regarded as
unreal or imaginary and thus unfit to be the minor term of an inference. To the
charge of svarupasiddhi the Advaitin replies that from the absolute point of
view pure consciousness is unempirical but considering from the domain of
avidya empirical cognitions exist. In the above inference we take the middle
term not as particular cognitions but from a general point of view of being a
cognition and hence attributable to pure consciousness, the minor term. All
particular cognitions, because they are nothing but pure consciousness, possess
the generic character of being consciousness though from an empirical point of
view we have to consider its difference from the original consciousness. Pure
consciousness possessed of such a generality would contradict Advaita from an
absolute standpoint but not from an empirical standpoint. To the charge of
ashrayasiddhi, Sri Citsukha replies that we can take pure consciousness to be
possessed of the distinguishing mark of `experience-ness' or the property of
`being a cognition', since again here as in the former objection we are making
considerations from the empirical point of view. But a distinguishing mark is
class property which resides in many different entities; experiences are varied
for the opponent but for the proponent there exists but the single pure
consciousness. Thus there is no validity of a class property like
`experience-ness'. To this the immediate retort is that just as moon-hood can
be considered as an appropriate class property when moon, though one is
reflected in many different mediums, similarly one pure consciousness is
reflected in many internal organs which act as their upadhis or limiting
adjuncts, consequently from the empirical point of view the class property of
experience-ness is valid and hence the distinguishing mark of pure
consciousness as mere `experience-ness', holds. Note here that moon-ness would
be a class property for the opponent too which in this case is Nyaya, the
reason this was necessary was because the middle term has to be acceptable to
both the disputing parties. The reader should here recollect the difference
between reflected consciousness and original consciousness made earlier. The
two objections considered above arised because the difference between the two
was obliterated even from an empirical standpoint, the opponent conflated
absolute and relative standpoints, a distinction central to the tenets of
Advaita. Also there was some ambiguity in the Advaitin's middle term which
needed to be removed. The whole argument thus comes to this that pure
consciousness is self-luminous because it is of the nature of `apprehension'
(which is not a particular experience or cognition but a general mark of any particular
cognition or experience), unlike any entity which does not possess this
distinguishing mark, which as it turns out are all material objects or objects
of pure consciousness, for anything different from pure consciousness is a
material object and hence insentient (even an empirical cognition). This is a
consideration purely from the empirical domain for we don't make inferential
arguments from a transcendental domain at all. Thus Sri Padmapada says in his
Panchapadika: "When consciousness appears in connection with other objects
and manifests them it is called experience (anubhava) and when it is by itself
it is called the self or the Atman (pure self-revealing consciousness)."
Consciousness reveals objects when they are illusorily superimposed on it which
happens in the realm of avidya.

Sri Citsukha next argues that the Self is self-luminous because it is of the
nature of awareness. We never doubt our own existence, to deny this is to
contradict oneself. The Self exists in all three states of waking, dream and
deep sleep and is immediately intuited. If the self would be nothing but a
succession of mental states or functions then in deep sleep when such mental
states have ceased there should be an end to the notion of the identity of the
self and a man waking up should have been different from the man who slept. Our
notion of Self is derived from the Atman though under the influence of avidya
we regard ourselves as psychophysical beings. Our sense of ego too is not
essential to us for it is absent in deep sleep. At such a time it is only
because of the self-luminosity of the Atman that acts as the substratum of our
sense of individuality which otherwise would have been lost. The identity of
the self is because of the identity of the Self.




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