Author Topic: Objections to inference that the universe is mithyA  (Read 1725 times)

Dr. Sadananda

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Objections to inference that the universe is mithyA
« on: February 17, 2010, 11:01:11 PM »
Objections to inference that the universe is mithyA

In the last discussion, it was shown that, by using inference we can arrive at the knowledge that the universe is mithyA; i.e.  that it is neither absolutely real nor absolutely unreal. Two vyApti-s or concomitant relations were used to arrive at this conclusion:

1. Objects in the universe are mithyA if they are counter positive to absolute non-existence (i.e. although they are not non-existent in the absolute sense, they are non-existent at the locus in which they are observed) and abide in their substantive, which is different from them (examples are silver in nacre or snake in the rope).

2. All objects in the universe are made of parts that form substantives for the object. The example that was used was cloth being made up of threads.

The first vyApti is based on an error in perception – we are seeing an object whose substantive we do not perceive or know. When we see the silver, we are unaware of the nacre. Thus the silver in the nacre or the snake in the rope are mithyA or unreal. They are not absolutely unreal since they are experienced. But they are not real, since they are subsequently sublated, once their substantives become known. Therefore, they are never present at the locus in which they are seen. Hence, they are called mithyA, nether real nor unreal - sat asat vilakShaNam. Similarly, the universe is mithyA, since it is being seen on a substantive that is different from it, namely Brahman, whose nature is pure existence-consciousness-limitlessness. It is not unreal since it is experienced. It is not real, since it gets sublated once the substantive of the universe is known.

In the second vyApti, the assertion is: ‘whatever has parts is mithyA’, since it can be disassembled into parts, which form its substantive. The parts themselves can also be parted, since they, in turn, are made of finer parts. The parts are different from the object and constitute its substantive. Taking the example of cloth, the cloth is not ‘really’ real, since it is made up of threads which form its substantive. The threads, in turn, are not really real, since they are made of molecules, which in turn are not really real since they are made up some other finer particles, etc. Hence, the universe is counter positive to absolute non-existence, since it exists as an assemblage of separate entities. I.e. the universe is not non-existent but at the same time does not have absolute existence, since it is made of parts. On the other hand, Brahman which is the substantive for the entire universe is real, since it is not made up of parts; it cannot be disassembled into finer units.

Thus inference, using examples such as silver and nacre, and cloth and thread, to establish the error in perception through vyApti, can be extended to perception of the universe, taking the scriptural statement that the attribute-less Brahman is one without a second.

Objection: Saying that objects are not real would contradict perception. No one perceives a non-existent jar, etc. The knowledge obtained through the perceptual process is that ‘jar is’; i.e. jar is existent. Therefore, the jar has to be real in order for it to be perceived. No one perceives an unreal jar.

Response: True, when we say ‘jar is’, the existence of a jar is implied. However, in order for the jar to be existent, it must borrow the existence from Brahman which is its substantive. When we say ‘cloth is’,  the cloth is existent but the existence of the cloth is borrowed from the existence of its substantive, the threads. If there were no threads, then the cloth would not exist. When I perceive a jar, it is the substratum of the jar, Brahman, that is actually the ‘object’ of perception, since ‘jar’ is only a name for that particular form. In the same way, the perception of cloth is due to the perception of the threads and their assemblage in that particular form. ‘Cloth’ is just a name for a form of assemblage of the threads.

This is true in a relative sense. However, in the absolute sense, Brahman alone is the substantive for the entire universe of objects. Every object ‘is’ or ‘exists’, only because of Brahman, which is of the nature of existence itself. What is real in the perception of a jar, etc. is its substantive, which is of the nature of Brahman. The reality of jar, on its own, is otherwise unfounded.

Objection: When I perceive a jar, etc., how can I say that I perceive Brahman, or that the existence of the jar is due to the existence of Brahman, since Brahman cannot be perceived by the senses? The arguments imply that, when one says that a jar exists, this amounts to saying that the jar’s existence comes from the existence Brahman. This is like saying that ‘color’ comes from ‘color’ or color has to have color in order for it be a colorful. This is against the nyAya theory, since they do not admit a quality to be its own substantive, i.e. a quality cannot be made of a quality. Therefore, a jar’s existence cannot be ‘made of existence’ in order for the jar to exist.

In addition, Brahman has no qualities, and yet ‘qualities’ are what are perceived by the senses. The senses cannot perceive that which has no qualities. If I say, ‘jar is’ and argue that I am perceiving the existence of the jar due to the existence of its substantive Brahman, this amounts to saying that my senses are perceiving quality-less Brahman which seems to be saying that the senses are perceiving something that is not accessible to the senses.

Furthermore, in our view, saying that ‘Brahman is the substance for the universe of objects’ is unfounded. Advaitins claim that a substance is a locus for qualities, and that those qualities inhere with the locus, i.e. are inseparable from their locus. This means that Brahman, which is devoid of qualities, cannot be the substratum of qualities. It cannot be the locus for inherence (samavAya) either, since samavAya is meaningful only to relate a quality to its substantive. (It was discussed earlier that, according to the nyAya-s, ‘quality’ and ‘substantive’ are different and are related through what is known as samavAya. There is no need of samavAya when there are no qualities involved.). If Brahman is the cause, the objects become quality-less and therefore they are not sensible, since senses can only sense the qualities and not the object itself.

The naiyAyika-s put forth several objections to dismiss the arguments of Advaitins that Brahman, which is devoid of qualities, is the substratum for the universe: whatever qualities of the substratum might persist in the products, the Universe of objects could not be perceived, since the substratum, Brahman, cannot be perceived by the senses. One might try to suggest that Brahman is like time, which though quality-less can still be ‘perceived’. We then  have a situation where the object is perceived along with the perception of Brahman, similar to the way that an object is perceived along with the perception of time. But we would then have then a situation involving perception of an object plus the perception of Brahman, even though Brahman is quality-less like time.

(This ‘perception’ of time comes from the mImAMsaka-s view. According to this, when I say, ‘the object is’, the perception of ‘the object is’ involves perception of time ‘now’. We dismissed these arguments at the beginning of this discussion, saying that there is no time in ‘now’. In order to define time, we need ‘now’ and ‘then’, since time is the gap between two sequential events or more precisely two sequential experiences. ‘Now’ is only a single event. To define time we need ‘now’ together with a ‘then’ taken from memory. Perception occurs through the mind and ‘psychological time’ is different from ‘biological time’, as has been noted earlier.)

Here the arguments of the naiyAyika-s are that, even if one admits that the perception of Brahman is like the perception of time and is not a quality measured by the senses, we still have a duality – the perception of an object plus the perception of the quality-less Brahman. We have a jar that exists and Brahman, which is of the nature of existence, although Brahman cannot be sensed since it is quality-less.

Response: The above objections stem from failing to appreciate the difference between relative and absolute. Hence, VP clarifies the Advaitic position on this topic in order to remove the confusion arising from taking the quality-less Brahman as the substantive for the qualified universe of objects.

There are three levels of existence: absolute (pAramArthika), conventional (vyAvahArika) and subjective (prAtibhAsika). (I am translating prAtibhAsika as ‘subjective’ instead of ‘illusory’). Absolute existence is Brahman. Conventional existence is at the level of transactions, similar to the existence of space, etc. Subjective existence is analogous to the perceptual existence of silver where there is nacre, etc. Hence, VP says that ‘Jar is existent’ is a valid knowledge, since it is expressed in conventional or transactional existence. The negation of this knowledge – that there is really no pot since there is nothing other than Brahman – refers to the absolute level,  not the transactional. One can have knowledge ‘as if’ at the absolute level – that ‘only Brahman is’ and ‘there is really no pot there’ – while still transacting with the pot at the relative or conventional level.

In addition, from this view point in the definition of mithyA, the term ‘absolute non-existence’ has to be understood with proper qualification in order to gain the correct meaning. Its ‘non-existence’ is from the point of view of absolute existence, i.e. from the point of pAramArthika satyam. Hence, negation of the object as ‘there is no jar’ is not at the conventional level but at the absolute level. It is like saying ‘there is no pot, it is only clay’. Clay, being the substantive for the pot, is of a higher degree of reality than the pot. Hence, when we say ‘there is no pot there’, while still transacting with the pot, or ‘what I see is only clay in a pot-form’, this negation has to be understood as being from the point of view of the substantive and not from the relative standpoint. Similarly, when I say that ‘there is no universe other than Brahman’, this negation is from the absolute standpoint and not from the relative. However, as long as I do not have knowledge of the substantive, the relative is taken to be absolutely real, just as silver and snake are taken to be real at the transactional level, when the substantives of nacre and rope are not seen. The knowledge of the snake or silver is invalidated only when we gain knowledge of the substantive. Similarly, the knowledge of the universe as real subsists until the substantive Brahman is known. The knowledge of Brahman is non-sublatable since it is absolutely real or pAramArthika satyam. I can have knowledge of the pAramArthika satyam while still transacting in the world of plurality. This is like knowing that a pot is nothing but its substantive clay, while still transacting with the pot. Thus, each level of understanding should be clear. The confusion arises only when we mix the pAramArthika satyam with vyAvahArika satyam.

Before completing this section on anumAna pramANa or knowledge through inference, it is necessary to revisit the discussion on ‘counterpositive’. to clarify the precise meaning in the navya-nyAya logic that is used in vedAnta paribhAshA [the word ‘navya’ means ‘new’, indicating that it came later than the original exposition of the logic]. This is a particularly abstruse topic and the reader may prefer to jump ahead to the next main subject of upamAna pramANa.