Satadusani –Pramanas and Their Validity – Part-6


The SatadUshaNi is an important classic of Visishtadvaita Vedantha composed by Swami Desikan, in which as the title suggests, one hundred philosophical issues have been chosen for systematic criticism directed against the school of Advaita. Previous parts of this article can be read from:


Considering the nature of the cause and effect, an illusory object cannot have the status of being a’ cause. A cause is a prior .state of the effect. To be a cause is to be invariably an antecedent factor (niyata-pUrva-bhaavitva). Purva-bhaavitva means an existence prior to the effect (pUrvakaala-sattvam). Neither that which belongs to the future nor that which does not exist at all can be considered as a cause. An illusory object has no real existence in a spatio-temporal order and as such it cannot be regarded as a cause.”
The foregoing criticisms against the Advaittn have been levelled by accepting the view of the opponent that the objects of illusion such as shell-silver, rope-snake etc., are not real and that they are the qualifications per accidens (upalakshana) of the respective cognitions. From the standpoint of’ a Vishistadvaitin an object is not even an upalakshana of the cognition. An upalakshana is that which is not syntactically related to the
upalakshya and yet causes the cognition of the latter. According to the Visistadvaitic theory of knowledge, a discussion of which is taken up later,” knowledge which is always related to an object manifests either by itself or through another knowledge that cognises it. An object, therefore, cannot be considered as an upalaksana of the cognition in the strict sense of the term

Even if it be admitted that an object is an upalakshana of the cognition, it is not illusory for the Visistadvaitin. The object of illusion is not wholly non-real (sarvatha mithyaa) because it exists in some other place and at some other time. On this view, if the shell-silver be an upalkshana of the cognition, then the real object only would be the cause of the real effect. Vedanta Desika, therefore, comes to the conclusion
that what is not real can never reveal what is real. Even granting that it is possible as it is supposed to be found in some cases of our ordinary experience, it does not necessarily follow that the real Brahman is made known by a pramaana that is not absolutely real because it is neither seen nor established by concomitance (adarshanaatanvaya-vyatirkaa-siddheh).
So far, the criticism has been directed against the analogies put forth by the Advaitin in support of his theory. There is yet another argument in favour of his theory which is more significant than the earlier one. The scripture, the Advaitin argues, is not absolutely unreal like the sky-flower. Prior to the onset of the knowledge of the Brahman, it is viewed as something real. It is only after the dawn of the Brahman
knowledge that it is understood to be illusory, when only it ceases to be a means to the knowledge of Brahman. As long as Brahman-knowledge has not arisen the sacred texts are real for all practical purposes and as such they are capable of generating knowledge of Reality.

The above argument does not hold good, contends Vedanta Desika. Although scripture which is illusory in character may be capable of’ generating the knowledge of Brahman, it cannot establish that the content of that knowledge is real. If the knowledge based on scripture is itself illusory, the content of that knowledge would equally be illusory. This is explained by an illustration. A person mistakes the mist for smoke and
on that basis infers the presence of fire. Here the inferential cognition of the fire, which is based on the false probans, is erroneous and consequently the content of that cognition viz., fire too becomes false. In the same way if the knowledge of Brahman were to be derived from illusory scripture, the content of that knowledge viz., Brahman would also be illusory.

It may be argued that the content of Brahman-knowledge is real, although the knowledge itself is illusory in as much as it is never sublated by anything else. This argument is untenable, contends Vedanta Desika. There is the teaching of the Madhyamikas for whom Reality is void and it denies even the existence of Brahman. It cannot be said that the sacred texts of the Madhyamikas are non-authoritative as they are based on a defective source. For the Vedanta texts are equally non-authoritative as they have been held by the Advaitin himself to be the product of nescience, which is a defect (dosha). It may however be possible to account for the authoritativeness of the Vedas on the basis of the empirical reality (vyaavahaarika vyavasthaa); but as it will be Shown presently this will not go far to establish the superiority of the Vedanta texts to that of the Madhyarnikas. Vedanta Desika, therefore, concludes that the real Brahman is ascertained only through the scripture that is absolutely real and not otherwise.

II Authoritativeness of the Sacred Texts

If scripture be illusory can it be claimed as the final authority? This is the second question raised against the Advaitin’s theory of pramanas and their validity. It is an important issue for the Vedantins as scripture is the sole authority of knowing the nature of the ultimate Reality. Naturally Vedanta Desika discusses it in detail and attempts to show that the Advaitin cannot claim the Vedic texts as more authoritative than the Buddhist texts. Mimamsakas and the Vedantins alike recognise that scripture is authoritative whereas Buddhist texts are non-authoritative. This distinction is made on the ground of certain factors such as eternity, beginninglessness and defectlessness; Scripture is authoritative because it is eternal, beginningless and free from defects. The Buddhist texts, on the contrary, are held to be non-authoritative because they do not possess any of these qualities.” Vedanta Desika urges that such a distinction does not hold good in respect of’ the Advaitm. For him scripture cannot be eternal as it is regarded as tht!
product of ncscience. If it were eternal, then there would be eternal bondage.

Nor can it be claimed to be beginningless as it has its origin in avidya. If it be argued that the supposition is only as beginningless then on that very ground the Buddhist texts too would be beginningless since the Buddhists also claim that their teachings which have come down in succession from the stream of consciousness known as the Omniscient are beginningless. Nor is it possible for the Advaitin to hold that scripture is
free from defects since it is admitted to be the product of nescience. If it were admitted that scripture does not have a defective origin in nescience then the position would come nearer to that of the Visistadvaitin. Thus, the very fact that the source is defective would prove its non-authoritativeness. If scripture be kalpita, how then could it be relied on as the final authority?

The Advaitin may contend that scripture is real from the empirical standpoint and hence is authoritative. Even this will not improve the situation. For the Buddhists also acknowledge an empirical reality in respect of their sacred texts.  And the denial of these texts as non-authoritative would not find any justification. In other words, it is not possible for the Advaitin to claim on the ground of the mere acceptance of the empirical reality that the Vedic texts are authoritative and the Buddhist texts are non-authoritative. If this position is welcome to him in so far as non-authoritativeness itself is indeterminable (anirvacania) in his system,
then he cannot claim himself to be an aastika. It is then absurd, contends Vedanta Desika, to proceed with the investigation of truth and to strive for the attainment of release.

III Pramaanas and Metaphysical Discussion

If the pramanas are not admitted to be absolutely real it is impossible even to carry on any metaphysical discussion. The aim of a discussion is the establishment of truth and the repudiation of false theories. It is also meant to establish one’s own conclusions by refuting the position taken up by the opponents. This can be accomplished only when it is shown that one’s position is grounded on the pramaanas where-as the position held by the opponent does not find the support of the pramaanas. This again is possible only when the pramanas have real existence. The Advaitins do not acknowledge the reality of the pramaanas and in the absence ofthe real means to establish their theories they cannot carry on any metaphysical discussion. The Advaitin may, however, argue that the discussions may be carried on by the pramanas that have come into usage by the mere acceptance of their existence (sattaa-bhyupagama-maatrena). Thus, it has been said by the author of the Ista-siddhi-“ True, there is the usage, hence we make use of them, but we do not find their origin ”. This will not do, contends Vedanta Desika. For Buddhists also acknowledge such a kind of empirical reality in respect of their pramanas. Why then should their pramanas be regarded as non-authoritative?
Vedanta Desika, therefore, urges that unless the pramanas themselves are absolutely real, no metaphysical investigation can be carried on and consequently no truth can be established by them.

IV Scripture and Perception

In cases of conflict between scripture and perception, which is to be regarded as of greater validity? The Advaitin maintains that in cases of such a conflict, scripture is stronger than perception and as such the former is more authoritative than the latter. The reason for holding such a view is obvious; According to the Advaitin non-dualism is the purport of Scripture. Perception, on the contrary, apprehends a world of plurality and difference and as such there is a conflict between the two. How is this conflict to be overcome? Whenever there is a conflict between two cognitions based on two different sources of knowledge, either both of them or one of them should be considered as invalid. It is not possible to deny both. For there is no room for a third alternative other than the cognition being either real or non-real. Thus it follows that in cases of conflict between two cognitions one of them should be sublated. What is weak is sublated by that which is strong. How are the strength and weakness of the two conflicting cognitions to be determined? This is to be
decided on the basis of the principle which determines the relation of the sublated to the sublater. The sublated one is that which affords room for being non-authoritative and hence admits of being accounted for in another way (baadhyam); while that which affords no room for being held non-authoritative and cannot, therefore, be accounted for otherwise is the sublater (baadhakam). How are we to ascertain whether a particular cognition is authoritative or not? This is to be decided, says the Advaitin, from the nature of the source of the cognition. If the source of a particular cognition is defective then that cognition is to be held non- authoritative ; otherwise, it is authoritative. Now as for scriptural knowledge its source is absolutely free from defects. In the first place, scripture is not assigned to an authorship and as such there is not the least suspicion of its being the product of one’s delusion, deceit or negligence or of the in-capacity of the agent. Secondly, it is transmitted down from generation to generation in the same order without the possibility of any portion of it being either lost or added to.

Thirdly, the Upabrmhanas such as the Puraanas and Itihaasas are fully in support of scripture and as such it cannot be suspected of any bias by any one who studies it. These are the three possible kinds of error in respect of verbal testimony and as scripture is free from them, the knowledge that is derived from it is authoritative and is also superior in validity to perception. Perception on the contrary is capable of imperfection as it has for its source the impression of difference (bheda-vaasanaa) which is found to be a defect. Scripture is thus of greater force than perception and it is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the knowledge of non-dualism which arises from the defectless scripture sublates the cognition of difference which is the product of a defective source.

Against this theory Vedanta Desika points out that it is wrong to assume that the alleged conflict between perception and scripture cannot be overcome except by negating the former by the latter. The conflict could be overcome by interpreting the scriptural texts in such a way as is not opposed to perception. In fact, when scriptural texts are in direct conflict with perception, the former should be interpreted an
conformity with the perceptual experience and with due regard to their context.

Perception is considered to be non-authoritattve on the ground that it rests on a defective source, viz., the cognition of difference, while scripture which is free from defects is authoritative. This argument is untenable, contends Desika. In so far as scripture is also held by the Advaritin to be a product of nescience (avidhya) it is no better than perception.

How is it known that the impression of difference (bheda-vaasanaa) is a defect? Is it known by any other means that the impression of difference like that of defective sight is the cause of an altogether perverse view? If it be regarded as a defect because it is in direct conflict with the import of the scriptural text, then the argument would involve a vicious circle. The defectiveness of the cognition of difference is proved
by the fact that scripture has for its purport non-difference. The fact that scriptural import is non-difference is established only when it is known that the cognition of difference is a

Further, if in some cases the cognition of difference be a defect, it does not follow that it is always so in respect of everything. In that case such a contingency would arise even in respect of non-difference. For the knowledge of the sacred texts cannot arise except with the knowledge of the difference involved in the words, the sentences and their meaning etc. The knowledge of non-difference too is dependent upon the cognition of difference like perception and therefore the distinction made between perception and scripture as the sublated and the sublater respectively does not hold good. It may be argued that scripture although it is based on a defect yet sublates perception in so far as it generates the cognition which dispels all plurality apprehended through perception and is thus later than perception (param). According to the principle of the Mimamsa known as the apaccheda-nyaaya what comes later is stronger than the earlier. Against this it is pointed out that the defectiveness of the source of scripture having once been recognised the circumstance of its being later is of no avail. This is explained in the .Sri-bhaasya by an illustration. If a man is afraid of a rope which he mistakes for a snake, his fear does not cease because another man, whom he considers to be in error himself, tells him, ‘ This is no snake, do not be afraid’. That scripture is founded on something defective is known at the very time of studying the sacred texts (sravana) for the recollection (manana) which follows hearing consists in repeated attempts to cognise oneness of Brahman, a cognition which is destructive of all plurality apprehended through the hearing of the Veda.

Vedanta Desika, therefore, concludes that whenever scriptural texts conflict with perception, the former should be interpreted without opposition to the latter: Perception is the foundational and basic factor of all experience. It offers subsistence to inference and scripre (upajivya) and as such it is of greater force than scripture which depends on perception (upajivaka).

There is one objection to the above conclusion. It is argued that the fact that perception offers subsistence to inference and scripture (upajivya) does not make it stronger than the other sources of knowledge. For we find the sublation of the perceptual cognition of the flame of the lamp as one by the inferential cognition that proves that there is a succession of different flames jvaalaabhedaanumaana. The flame of the lamp, as long as it burns appears to the perception as one and the same ; but on the ground of the observation that the different particles of the wick and the oil are consumed in succession, it is inferred that there are many distinct flames succeeding one another. Thus the inferential cognition even though it is mediate sublates the immediate perceptual cognition. Hence what is an upajivya need not be stronger than what is an upajivaka.

Vedanta Desika controverts this argument. In the instance under consideration there is no opposition between the upajivya and upajivaka. The cognition of the oneness of the flame is not the upajivya of the inference referring to the difference of the flame of the lamp. On the contrary, it is the perception which cognises the concomitance between the particles of the wick and the oil and the flame of the lamp that actually constitutes the upajivya of the inference and this particular perception is not sublated by the inference proving difference of the flame. Thus the illustration in question does not prove the fact that the upajivaka is stronger than the upjivya. Vedanta Desika, therefore, concludes that in cases of conflict perception is definitely stronger than scripture.

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