Satadusani –The Nature and Content of Preception – Part-7


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:


The discussion on the relative validity of perception and scripture leads to the consideration of an important epistemological issue regarding the nature and content of perception. If perception cognised a world of plurality and difference, it would no doubt conflict with the scripture in so far as its purport is non-dualism. Does perception really cognise difference? Such a question has been raised by some Advaitins and an answer is given in the negative. Perception, it is 
contended, does not cognise difference; on the contrary it
apprehends an undifferentiated and indeterminate Being (nirvisesa-sanmaatra-graahi) and as such there is no conflict at all between perception and scripture since both have the same content. Perception is of the one real, difference being superimposed thereon. The arguments adduced in favour of the above theory are two-fold. First, it is held that difference is not established by any of the pramanas (pramaanaa-nupapattih); secondly, it is pointed out that the concept of difference is not logically
intelligible and as such it is illusory and cannot be regarded as the content of true perception (prameyaa-nupapattih). Both these arguments have been developed on an elaborate dialectic. Quite naturally Vedanta Desika discusses them in great detail and attempts to prove that difference is real and is also the content of perception.
The prima facie view that comes up for criticism in the Satadusani is as follows. We say that the pot is real and the cloth is real, and so on; the reality that is constant in all these
is the true content of perception. When the true content of perception is thus one, there is no room for difference. Let us assume that difference too is perceived. Then perception would have two functions, positive and negative, the former relating to the proper nature of what is perceived (svarUpa) and the latter to its difference from others (bheda). Does perception apprehend both svarupa and bheda or only one of them? If it apprehends both, it should do so either simultaneously or in succession. It cannot apprehend them simultaneously.
For the apprehension of mere svarupa is immediate since it
depends on no other factor, while the apprehension of bheda is not so, as it depends on the knowledge of what is different (aasraya) and that from which it is different (pratiyogi). Nor is it possible to apprehend them in succession, as there
is no sequence in a single act of cognition. Perception which is momentary apprehends what is in sense-contact, say the svarupa and subsidies with it; it does not continue for
another moment to grasp difference. If perception cannot apprehend both svarupa and difference, it should cognise only one of them. Difference cannot be cognised through perception, because it is apprehended along with the counter-correlates which are remote in space and time. Hence it follows that perception apprehends the mere svarupa and nothing else (svarupa maatra graahi pratyaksham).

If perception cannot establish difference much less can the other pramaanaas prove it since they all depend on perception. Regarding the nature of difference the Advaitin puts forth
the following dialectical arguments.” What is difference? Is it the nature of a thing or is it an attribute of it? If it were the nature of the thing, the illusion of shell-silver would not arise. The shell is mistaken for silver because the difference
between the two is not cognised. If according to the present position the cognition of shell itself makes known the difference of it from silver, how can there be the apprehension of silver in the shell? Again, if difference were the nature of the thing, it would follow that the object and the so-called difference are synonymous. Consequently, such usage as ‘ the pot is different’ etc., would be redundant as it would amount to saying that the pot is qualified by pot. Difference, therefore, cannot be the nature of the thing.
Nor can it be an attribute of the object. If it were an attribute, then is this attribute different from its substrate or not? If it were not different, then the attribute and the substrate would become identical and in the absence of any attribute whatsoever there cannot be a difference of attributes. If the attribute be different from the substrate, then is that difference between substrate and the attribute the very nature of the substrate or an attribute of it? If it be the
latter, we are launched on an infinite regress (anavasthaa). Further, our knowledge of  difference is bound up necessarily with that of the differents. That is, the cognition of
differents would not arise if there were no prior knowledge of the differents as differents; and this cognition of differents would not arise as such without the apprehension of the differ
ence. We are thus involved in a vicious circle (anyonyaashraya). The concept of difference is thus unintelligible and it is reasonable, therefore, to hold that difference is only an appearance and not a reality. In the words of Bradley, “ It is a makeshift, it is a device, a mere practical compromise most necessary but in the end most indefensible”.

II Nature of Difference:

Vedanta Desika examines in detail the dialectic on difference. The cognition of difference, he contends, can never be denied as that would amount to the denial of one’s own words. It
almost stands opposed to perception which, as it will be shown presently, establishes difference.
The  Advaitin  raises two alternatives to refute difference. Vedanta Desika asks whether these alternatives have been raised after accepting or rejecting in general the difference between the nature of the thing and its attribute ? If it be the former, it would be a futile attempt to refute difference. If it be the latter, there would be no room for the alternatives.
It may be said that difference is accepted as presented but denied as real. In other words, the alternatives are in respect of the difference that is spoken of in the empirical world, while the criticism of it refers to the difference that
is contended to be ultimately real. This will not do, since the difference in question (vimarsha-bheda) is not admitted by
the Advaitin to be ultimately real. If that were admitted, it would result in the contradiction of his own position.
It may be argued that the alternatives are raised in view of the difference admitted in the system of the opponent.

But even then the position will not improve, since difference is established in the system of the opponent. If difference were
not proved to be real even in the opponent’s system, then there
would be absolutely no room for the alternatives in respect
of difference. Vedanta Desika, therefore, urges that if the alternatives are raised, then it follows that difference is real;
if they are not raised, even then difference is real. In other
words, if difference is not refuted, it stands established as real,
since it is admitted to be real in the system of the opponent.
If it is refuted, then the refutation is possible only by raising
the alternatives, which consequently would lead to the acceptance of difference.
Further, the arguments advanced against difference may
be directed against the concept of non-difference and whatever difficulties present themselves in respect of the former
do occur in the case of the latter as well. Thus, it may be asked whether non-difference is the nature of the thing or
its attribute. If it be the very nature of the thing, nowhere would the illusion of difference arise. When the object is perceived, its svarupa is also known; since the svarupa of the object itself is non-difference, that being cognised, how can
there be the super-imposition of difference? If, on the other hand, non-difference be an attribute of the
thing, difference would become established since the concept of substrate and attribute necessarily involves difference. Again, is this non-difference between the nature of the thing and its
attribute the very nature of the substrate or an attribute of it? If it be the latter, it leads to an infinite regress. If it be the 
former, old difficulties follow.

Thus,  Vedanta Desika contends that it is possible to refute even the concept of non-difference by adopting the same dialectic put forth by the Advatin against difference. Coming now to the question whether difference is the
nature of the thing or its attribute, Vedanta Desika replies that in some cases it is the nature of` the thing and in some
cases it is an attribute of the object. Difference is defined as
that which gives rise to the empirical usage, viz.., that it is different (vyaavrtta vyavahaara hetuh). Such a usage is found sometimes in respect of the very nature of an object and
sometimes in respect of the attribute of an object.
We say ‘ x’ is different from ‘y ’. On what ground do We 
distinguish between ‘x’ and ‘y’? The answer is obvious.
We distinguish between the two on the basis of the attribute
which the one possesses and which the other does not. ‘In so
far as this attribute gives rise to the Judgment that ‘x’ is
different from ‘y’, it may be treated as difference of x
from ‘y’ .The question arises whether or not the attribute that stands
for the difference is different from the substrate. It should
be admitted that it is different; otherwise there is no meaning
in saying that attribute is the difference. If that be the
case, what is this difference again? Is it a quality of that
attribute or the very nature of it? Vedanta Desika answers
 that it is not a quality of it in which case it would lead to an
infinite regress. It is, on the contrary, the very nature of
the attribute. The attribute which stands for the difference
of two objects stands also for the difference of itself from its
substrate. There is no need to postulate another quality to
account for the difference of the attribute from its substrate.
If that were so, the fallacy of an infinite regress would become unavoidable.

There is absolutely no contradiction in admiting that one and the same thing accounts for others as
well as for itself Knowledge, for instance, reveals objects as difference. The judgment of difference in respect of cow is made only on the apprehension of the generic character of
the cow. Jaati which constitutes the difference of the object from others, is apprehended along with the svarupa, since both are capable of being perceived by the same sense organ; difference is, therefore, as much the content of perception as
the svarupa is.
How can that which does not require its counter-correlate
for its apprehension be called difference? Vedanta Desika replies that there is no need for the knowledge of the counter
correlate when jaati is known as such; on the contrary, when
the same is known in the capacity of its being the difference, the knowledge of the counter-correlate is required.
The knowledge of the counter-correlate is not required when the generic character of an object is apprehended.
Nevertheless, the apprehension of the generic character is
regarded as the perception of difference because the judgment that the object is different is made only on the basis
of the cognition of the generic character. The generic
character itself constitutes the difference of the object from others.

The generic character of a cow, for instance, means just the exclusion of everything else; as soon as that character
is apprehended, all thought and speech referring to other
creatures belonging to the same wider genus which includes buffaloes and so on, ceases. It is through the apprehension of difference only that the cognition of oneness comes to an
end. In such usage as ‘this is different from that,’ where
there is a specific reference to the counter-correlate, the knowledge of the counter-correlate is required. In fact, the empirical usage that it is different takes place with
reference to the object that is different from the one we are
Vedanta Desika therefore concludes that through perception we do apprehend difference as marked by generic character etc. constituting the structure of the thing. When
we perceive an object we see it as characterized. In so far as
perception reveals a thing as characterized, it is maintained
that perception, even though it be momentary, cognise both difference and the svarupa of the thing.

IV  Indeterminate and Determinate Perception

Vedanta Desika next proceeds to show that even the perception produced by the first contact of the sense organs with the
object has for its content an object qualified by characteristics. The Advaitin generally recognizes two types of perception, the indeterminate perception (nirvikalpaka
pratyaksa) and determinate perception (savikalpaka pratyaksa).
The former, it is held, reveals the mere ‘Being’ devoid of all characteristics, while the latter reveals the object with
its characteristics. Against this, Vedanta Desika urges that even the indeterminate perception also has for its object only what is marked by characteristics, for it is on the basis of indeterminate perception that the object distinguished by generic character etc., is recognized in the act of determinate perception. In the determinate perception there is the
recognition of the generic character being common to all the objects of the same class. This is possible only when
the object with its generic character etc., is already apprehended in the state of indeterminate perception. Is it not a self-contradiction to assert that what is called nirvikalpaka pratyaksa apprehends an object qualified by characteristics? The Visistadvaitin replies in the negative.
The apprehension of a mere ‘Being’ without any characteristic whatsoever is in the first place not observed to take place (grahana adarsanaat) and secondly it is untenable (anupa-pattesca). It is never found to take place because all cognitions are in
terms of ‘This is such and such’.

Nothing can be apprehended apart from some particular form or structure of the object, as for instance, the triangularly shaped dewlap in the case of the cows. It is therefore, not possible even to postulate such a kind of apprehension on the basis of reasoning, as it is in direct conflict with experience. In view of this, it is necessary to restrict the import of the term nirvikalpaka. The term can be understood as devoid of some characteristics. As Sri Ramanuja points out “Indeterminate perception is the apprehension of an object devoid of some qualifications but not all qualifications.” The real distinction between indeterminate perception and determinate perception is that in the former there is the apprehension of the first individual among a number of objects belonging to the same class while in the latter there
is the apprehension of a second, third and other individuals. On the apprehension of the first individual, say a cow, one is not conscious of the fact that the special shape which constitutes the generic character of the class “cows” extends to the other individuals also, while the cognition of this arises in the case of the perception of the second and third cow. In the indeterminate perception there is only the apprehension of the generic character and there is no awareness that this character is common to the other 
individuals of the same class as there is no perception of the
other individuals. But in the perception of the second
individual and so on, the generic character is recognized as
common to the whole class.

Thus, what was indeterminate in the perception of the first individual is made determinate in the perception of the second and the subsequent individuals. It is on this basis that the distinction between the indeterminate and the determinate perception has to be maintained but not on what those terms may literally mean. In view of this, Vedanta Desika gives the following definitions: Savikalpaka perception is the apprehension involving
recognition because of its being produced by the sense organs influenced by samskara; nirvikalpaka perception, on the other hand, is the apprehension which is produced by the mere
sense organs without the association of samskaara. Thus, in perception of the first individual the cognition is of the form ‘this’ and in the perception of the subsequent individuals, because they belong to the same class, it is of the form ‘such it is’. Thus, perception, whether it be determinate or indeterminate, reveals an object qualified with some characteristic. In the words of Sri’ Ramanuja, “perception
never has for its content an object that is devoid of all characteristics.”

To be continued..

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