Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Perception in Advaita Vedanta

Now as the water of a tank, issuing through a hole, enters in the form of a channel a number of fields, and just like them assumes a rectangular or any other shape, so also the luminous mind, issuing through the eye etc., goes to the space occupied by objects such as a jar, and is modified into the form of a jar or any other object. That very modification is called a state (vritti). But in the case of inference etc., the mind does not go to the space occupied by fire etc., for the latter are not in contacty with the eye etc. Thus in cases of perception such as, “This jar,” the jar etc. and the mental state in the form of these combine in the same space outside the body, and hence the Consciousness limited by both is one and the same, for the mental state and the objects such as a jar, although (usually) they are dividing factors, do not (here) produce any difference, since they occupy the same space. For this very reason the ether limited by a jar and that which is within a monastery is not different from the ether limited byh the monastery. Similarly, in the case of the perception of a jar as, “This jar,” the mental state in the form of the jar being in contact with the jar, the Consciousness limited by that mental state is not different from the Consciousness limited by the jar, and hence the knowledge of the jar there is a perception so far as the jar is concerned. Again, since the Consciousness limited by happiness etc. and the Consciousness limited by the mental state relating to them are invariably limited by the two limiting adjuncts that occupy the same space, the knowledge, “I am happy,” is invariably a perception.
(from Vedanta Paribhasa on Perception)

Professor Bina Gupta (in The Disinterested Witness pg.103ff.) is dubious about the claim of V.P. that the luminous mind goes out to take the shape of the object. The shape of the object is what is termed the vritti or mental modification in the usual translation. What Gupta offers is a separation of these two assertions (a) the going out (b) the vritti. Retaining the vritti as an internal event is a turn towards psychologism and representationalism. The well known vulnerability to the private language argument proposed by Wittgenstein is a salient feature of these views. The strength of the traditional advaitin view is in the radical externality of the object of perception and the securing of our knowledge of it as it really is. The basis of this perceptuality lies in the common substratum of pure consciousness of both the mind and the object.

Gupta claims that this going out is a primitive physiological theory also held by the Greeks and is suggested by the problem :

How is it that the object is there at a distance, yet I am able to see it from here. What bridges this distance? This is an important issue in the psychology of perception. Thus the Advaitins had a nice, though scientifically incorrect, answer - the mind itself goes out there, the form I perceive is not just in my brain but is also out there in the thing perceived.

Here we are at the confused borderland of Metaphysics and Psychology. In the Advaitin metaphysics subject and object meet in the extra-personal field of Pure Consciousness and the knowledge precipitate is superimposed on the mind of the individual perceiver.

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