Satadusani – Transcendental Consciousness– Part-9

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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: http://anudinam.org/tag/satadushani/

II Transcendental Consciousness:

The question whether any such consciousness devoid of all characteristics (nirvisesa) exists is taken up for consideration. Vedanta Desika at the very outset points out that such a consciousness does not exist at all. All that we know of is a consciousness which manifests itself as related to a subject on the one hand and an object on the other. A consciousness other than this is as unreal as the horns of the hare. Granting that there is such an unqualified consciousness, what is the proof for its existence, asks Vedanta Desika. If it is said that consciousness itself is a proof (siddhih) and as such there is no need for any other proof; then it is asked, proof of what and to whom? The term ‘proof’ is a relative notion like that of ‘son’ and therefore these two questions arise. The Advaitin may say that consciousness is the proof of itself and for itself. If it is further questioned as to what the self is, the Advaitin would reply that it is consciousness, as the two are regarded identical by him. The argument thus involves a vicious circle. Vedanta Desika, therefore, urges that on the basis of self-proof it is impossible to prove the existence of an undifferentiated consciousness.

Vedanta Desika further proceeds to show that neither the different states of experience in general nor any of the pramanas prove the existence of an indeterminate consciousness. In the waking state consciousness always manifests itself as related to a subject and an object. All states of experience, as Ramanuja points out, have for their object something that is marked by some characteristics as is evident from the following judgment: ‘I saw this ’. Nor in the other states does consciousness manifest itself as indeterminate. Taking into consideration the state of deep sleep, Vedanta Desika asks whether or not there is any experience in that state? If there be any experience, it will present itself as qualified by attributes; if there be no experience, what is it that manifests itself as in determinate? A more detailed study of the state of deep sleep will make the point clear.

It is an admitted fact that there is no experience of any object in the state of deep sleep. If there were an experience of it, one should have had the recollection of it soon after waking from sleep. Nor is there any experience to the effect that consciousness exists as devoid of objects and its substrate because it would conflict with the experience that follows after sleep in the form: ‘I was not aware of any thing all this, time’. This judgment clearly indicates that knowledge or consciousness was not present during deep sleep. If knowledge existed then, it would have been recollected soon after sleep. What was experienced should have been remembered unless there be some factors that obliterate all traces of experience (samskaras) as for instance, the dissolution of the body or the death-pain.

The very fact that there is no recollection of it goes to show that knowledge does not exist during the state of deep sleep. The Advaitin argues that the judgment, ‘I was .not aware of anything all this time’ refers_ to the manifestation of the consciousness as a witness of ajnana or ignorance. This is untenable, contends Vedanta Desika. The negation of knowledge (jnana-pratisedha) as implied in the judgment in question cannot testify to its existence.’ On the basis of the judgment in question will is not possible to prove the presence of consciousness during deep sleep as the witness of ajnana . All that we can say is that the entity denoted by the concept ‘I’ persisted during deep sleep and it did not experience anything in that state except a good sleep (sukha svapa). What is denoted by the notion of “I’ is itself the very self” Knowledge which is a dharma or attribute of the self does not function during deep sleep but is present in a quiescent form. If this were not admitted the recollection that follows soon after sleep cannot be accounted for satisfactorily. Recollection is possible only when there is the trace of what has been experienced. If during deep sleep, ajnana and consciousness alone were present, as the Advaitin says, the question would arise as to where does the samskara inhere? ‘Pure consciousness cannot be the repository of the samskara since that would conflict with the view that it is immutable and indeterminate. Besides, consciousness cannot be a. witness. As it will be shown in the next chapter, only the subject or the self as a knower can be a witness. Thus it is difficult to prove that in the state of deep sleep consciousness manifests itself as devoid of all characteristics.” The same explanation holds good for other states of experience such as swoon, trance and release. Knowledge in general always and necessarily manifests itself as related to a subject and having reference to an object.

Vedanta Desika next proceeds to show that even the pramanas do not prove the existence of an indeterminate knowledge. Perception, as has been pointed out in an earlier chapter, reveals an object as qualified by some characteristics. Even the so-called indeterminate perception has for its content a qualified entity. Nor does inference establish it. Any inferential argument put forth to prove the indeterminate character of consciousness would render it determinate. Inferential argument proceeds on judgment. In a judgment the predicate always adds something to the subject and as such it makes it determinate. Verbal testimony also cannot prove it. Verbal testimony can have the denotative function either in the form of words or in the form of a sentence (vakya). In neither way does it point to an indeterminate consciousness. Words convey their senses not in isolation but in relation to other words and as such no word by itself conveys any meaning. Even granting that words by themselves convey their meaning, the situation does not improve. For a word (pada)is a combination of two elements – a root and a suffix and as these elements have different meanings, it necessarily follows that the word conveys only a sense affected with qualities. As regards verbal testimony in the form of a sentence, the position docs hardly improve. A sentence which is an aggregate of words expresses some special combination of senses (meanings of words) and hence has no power to denote anything devoid of all characteristics. Thus the author of Sri-bashya sums up the position in the following pithy statement: “As to verbal testimony, it is specially apparent that it possesses the power of denoting only such things as are characterized by qualities “.

Vedanta Desika therefore, concludes that it is a false assumption to hold that the indeterminate consciousness is self-proved since there is neither a cognition of in nor the support of any other pramanas, either inference or verbal testimony.

III Consciousness and Self-Luminosity:

We now come _to the consideration of the second issue regarding the self-luminosity (svayamprakasatva) of consciousness. The function of knowledge is to reveal an object. When knowledge reveals an object, it does not require to be revealed by another knowledge. On the other hand, knowledge reveals itself as well as the object. In other words, it is self-luminous (svayam-prakasa). It means that consciousness does not require to be manifested by another knowledge at _the time of revealing an object (visaya prakasana velayam). This is the meaning of svayam-prakasathat is generally accepted by most of the thinkers including the Visistadvaitin. The Advaitin, however, does not accept the above meaning of self-luminosity. According to him consciousness is self-luminous in the sense that it can never at any time become the object of another knowledge. To put it in the words of Citsukhacarya, “Self-luminosity is the capability of being called _immediate in empirical usage, while remaining at the same time a non-object of knowledge”. This meaning of self-luminosity, Vedanta Desika contends, is in direct conflict with experience. Our experience shows that the knowledge of one person may become the content of the cognition of another. For instance, the experience of another individual is the object of the inferential knowledge based on the person’s friendly or unfriendly appearance. Even in the case of the same individual, his past states of experience become the object of his cognition as expressed in the judgment, ‘at one time I knew, etc.’. If knowledge were not admitted to be the object of another knowledge there would be an end to all empirical usage depending on speech. All empirical usage takes place through mutual understanding, that is, through the understanding of each other’s thoughts.

As Ramanuja points out, “Unless it were admitted that there is the inferential knowledge of thoughts of others, there would be no connection between the words and their meanings and this would imply the termination of all empirical usage depending on speech ”. The Advaitin contends that if consciousness were the object of knowledge, it would be no better than an object. Hence the essential nature of ‘consciousness should consist in its not being an object of knowledge. Vedanta Desika refutes this contention. The essential nature of consciousness does not consist in its not being an object of cognition; on the contrary, it consists in that it manifests its own object by its own being or that it manifests itself to its own substrate. The conception of self-luminosity, in other words, does not necessarily imply that consciousness is a pure subject without in any form being an object, but on the contrary it means that knowledge when it manifests an object does not require itself to be manifested by anything else; and when it manifests, it also manifests itself to its own substrate, the self. If consciousness possesses one of these characteristics, it does not cease to be consciousness even if it becomes an object of another consciousness. A pot is not regarded as consciousness not because it is the object of knowledge, but because it does not possess any of the characteristics of consciousness mentioned above. If consciousness were not the object of knowledge in any sense of the term, it would become a non-existent like the sky-flower.

A sky-flower is not an object of knowledge and it is not consciousness. It may be argued that the sky-flower is not knowledge because it is a non-existent and not for the reason that it is not an object of cognition. On the same ground, it is replied that a pot too is not knowledge not because it is the object of knowledge but because it is opposed to knowledge (ajnana avirodhitvat); Vedanta Desika thus comes to the conclusion that ananu-bhavayatva or not being an object of knowledge does not constitute the determinant of consciousness, as the Advaitin holds.” It is not possible to prove that consciousness is not an object of knowledge in the strict sense of the term. Thus, in the premise, ‘Consciousness is self-luminous ’ does the term anubhuti denote something or not? If it denotes something and if that be the Reality or Brahman, then that becomes manifested in so far as it is the object of knowledge, conveyed by that term.

If it be said that the nature of Brahman which is illuminating itself is only restated by the term, even then the manifestation of it is inevitable in as much as it is the object of that cognition conveyed, by the restatement. To avoid all these difficulties it cannot be said that the term denotes nothing, in which case it would have no meaning. Thus in some form or other consciousness should be admitted to be an object of knowledge even though it be self-luminous in character. Thus, the author of’ the Sri-bhashya sums up the position: “The contention that something which is an object of consciousness cannot be consciousness is unsound”.

To be continued…

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