[Advaita-l] Some thoughts on qualifiers - upAdhi, upalakshaNa, visheShaNa
agnimile at gmail.com
Wed Apr 18 09:36:10 EDT 2018
Throughout the veda, Brahman has been described both in association with
attributes (for example, in 8.1.5 of the ChAndogya upaniShad as सत्यकामः
सत्यसङ्कल्प:, etc.), and as attribute-less (e.g., in 3.8.8 of the
as अस्थूलमनणु, etc.). The challenge to advaita has been to justify its
position that Brahman unconditioned by attributes is the ultimate reality
propounded by the upaniShads, because the automatic response to this
proposition is a counter-question - is the lack of attributes itself an
attribute? That is, is nirguNatva an attribute of brahman?
Before this challenge can be addressed, we need to take a grammatical
The long tradition of vedAnta has developed the concepts of visheShaNa,
upAdhi and upalakshaNa, which serve as useful tools in this endeavour. How
can a language uniquely refer to an object amongst a collection of many?
Typically, this is by means of adjectives, distinguishing characteristics.
This concept has been developed quite extensively in sanskrit into broadly
1) विशेषणम् - In the vedAnta paribhASha of dharmarAja adhvarIndra,
visheShaNas are defined as विशेषणञ्च कार्यान्वयि वर्तमानं व्यावर्तकम्
(visheShananca kAryAnvayi vartamAnam vyAvartakam). That is, a qualifying
attribute (visheShaNa) is a distinguishing characteristic of an object that
is present and is associated with the object in respect to the predicate.
There are two aspects to this definition - kArya anvaya and vartamAnam.
To explain, let us consider the sentence - "I saw the man with the blue
shirt". In this sentence, the qualifier is 'blue-shirted' and the qualified
is the man. Here the qualifer is a visheShaNa because a) it serves to
clarify that it is the man with the blue shirt that is seen, and not a man
wearing some other colour shirt (vyAvartakam) b) the blue-shirt is present
along with the man (vartamAnam) and c) when the man is seen, it is both the
man and his blue shirt that is seen, that is, the qualifier,
'blue-shirted', is associated with the qualified (man), in respect to the
activity of seeing (kArya anvayi). Thus the visheShaNa not only present
with the visheShya, the subject, it also is associated with the vidheya,
2) उपाधि: - However, all distinguishing features need not necessarily be
visheShaNas. The paribhASha defines upAdhi as उपाधिश्च कार्यानन्वयी
व्यावर्तको वर्तमानश्च (upAdhishca kAryAnanvayI vyAvartako vartamAnashca) -
That is, a limiting adjunct (upAdhi) is a distinguishing characteristic of
an object that is present and is not associated with the object in respect
to the predicate. Thus the upAdhi is not associated with the vidheya, but
is present along with the visheShya.
For example, let us consider the sentence "The man with the blue shirt
spoke". In this sentence too, the qualifier is 'blue-shirted' and the
qualified is the man. Here, the same qualifier 'blue-shirted' is an upAdhi
because, while it identifies the speaker uniquely from other people
(vyAvartakam), and is present along with the speaker (vartamAnam), it is
not associated with the action of speaking (kArya ananvayitvam) - that is,
when the man spoke, it is only he that spoke, not his blue shirt.
3) उपलक्षणम् - The idea of upAdhi has been further refined in vedAnta to
cover the case of upalakshaNa. The vedAnta paribhASha does not directly
define an upalakshaNa, but the identifier vartamAna present in both the
definitions of visheShaNa and upAdhi allows us to define upalakshaNa as
उपलक्षणञ्च कार्यानन्वयी अवर्तमानं व्यावर्तकम्. That is, the upalakshaNa is
a circumstantial identifier that is not present at the time of
identification and not associated with the object in respect to the
predicate. Thus the upalakshaNa is not associated with the vidheya, and is
not present along with the visheShya.
For example, let us consider the sentence "The house which had the crows on
it is Devadatta's". Here, a house is spotted with some crows on its
rooftop. Later, the speaker uses this is a basis to identify that house as
Devadatta's house. Thus the crows serve as a unique identifier
(vyAvartakam) for the house, they are only accidentally in association with
the house's existence (kArya ananvayitvam), nor are they necessarily
present at the time of identification (avartamAnam).
This three-fold classification has applications across advaita vedAnta. For
example, in postulating the ultimate reality of the attributeless brahman. This
idea was hinted by Sri Mani Dravid Sastrigal at a vAkyArtha sadas held last
The same idea is invoked in several places in the advaita siddhi - e.g. the
nyAyAmritakAra says that the akhaNDAkAra vritti, which reveals only the
svarUpa of Brahman, and no other attributes in association with it, cannot
sublate the world. His rationale is that any sublating cognition must
reveal a previously unknown attribute in the object. For example, when a
person mistakes shell for silver, he does not know that the object in front
is a shell. The sublating cognition to this erroneous notion is "this is a
shell". That is, the previously unknown shell-ness is revealed in the
sublating cognition, leading to the sublation of silver.
The advaitin argues that the world is sublated on the cognition of Brahman,
through the akhaNDAkAra vritti. This knowledge, by definition, reveals only
the svarUpa of Brahman, and no attribute of Brahman, including brahmatva -
brahman-hood. Thus, the cognition contains no unknown attribute of Brahman
either. That being so, how can it sublate the world? If the world continues
to be unsublated even with brahmajnAna, to argue that the world is mithyA
is incorrect - this in summary, is an argument that he makes.
The siddhikAra, in reply, says that it is not necessary for a sublating
cognition to reveal a hitherto unknown attribute of the mistaken object.
For example, if a cognition reveals the price of shell in the marketplace
which the seer did not know until then, that is not going to help sublate
the silver. All that is required is that the sublating cognition reveal
that the object in front is shell.
Therefore, one must refine the requirement for sublating cognition to say -
if a cognition reveals a thing, the ignorance of which led to the erroneous
cognition, then it is sufficient to sublate the error. The ignorance of
Brahman led to the cognition of the world. akhaNDAkAra vritti reveals the
svarUpa of Brahman, and not Brahman endowed with attribute-lessness (that
is, the akhaNDAkAra vritti does not reveal that Brahma is attributeless, it
reveals Brahman, that's all). Thus vedic sentences such as 'neti, neti'
which negate any duality in Brahman, use the absence of duality as an
upalakshaNa to point to Brahman, without revealing that Brahman is endowed
with attribute-lessness - exactly like the sentence "the house which had
the crows is Devadatta's" uses the presence of crows to identify the house,
without indicating that the house is endowed with the presence of crows.
Therefore, knowing that it is Brahman that is present everywhere, is both
necessary and sufficient to sublate the world.
This idea was hinted at in the vAkyArtha sadas.
We had recently discussed another application of the qualifier concept in
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