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The Philosophy of Life



Chapter 5: The Theory of Perception

The Perceptive Apparatus

Perception is a process of the consciousness of an object. It is one of the means of valid knowledge in the world and consists in an inseparable relation of the perceptive consciousness with its content. The objects that are seen in the world are considered by the common man to be existing outside his body and the senses, and he feels that the objects are reflected, as it were, in his mind in perception. The object itself does not enter the eye, for example, in the act of seeing, but there is a transmission of vibration from the object, with which his consciousness comes in contact, which becomes a content of his consciousness, and on account of which he is said to know the existence of the external object. This perception is caused by the operations of a mind whose existence as a mediator between the Atman within and the object outside is evident from the fact of the synthesis of sensations and of the possibility of the absence of perception at certain times. “Sense-knowledge is the product of the connection between the mind and the sensory organs. That is why there is no simultaneity of the knowledge of the impressions received through the various sensory organs. People say: ‘My mind was elsewhere, I did not see that.’ The impossibility of this simultaneity of knowledge through various sensory organs is an indication of the existence of the mind.” “Between the Atman and the organs of sense a connecting link is necessary. If we do not admit the internal organ, there would result either perpetual perception or perpetual non-perception, the former when there is a conjunction of the Atman, the senses and the object, the three constituting the causes of perception, and the latter when, even on the conjunction of these three causes, the effect did not follow. But neither is the truth. We have, therefore, to acknowledge the existence of an internal organ on whose attention and non-attention perception and non-perception take place” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 188). “The mind is with parts and can move in space. It is a changing and differentiating thing. It is capable of moving from place to place and assuming the forms of the objects of perception. This going out to an object and taking its shape is actual. There is nothing static in Nature. Every modification of the root Natural Principle is active and moving. The mind, in particular, is always undergoing conscious and unconscious modifications. The mind is a radiant, transparent and light substance and can travel like a ray of light outside through a sense-organ. The mind is thus an active force, a form of the general active Power or Sakti. As the brain, the organ of the mind, is enclosed in an organic envelope, solid and in appearance closed, the imagination has a tendency to picture it as being isolated from the exterior world, though in truth it is in constant contact with it through a subtle and constant exchange of secret activities. The mind is not something static, passive and merely receptive. It takes an active part in perception both by reason of its activity and the nature of that activity as caused by its latent tendencies (Samskaras). The following well-known illustration from the Vedanta-paribhasha gives an account of the nature of perception: ‘As water from a tank may flow through a channel into a plot of land and assume its shape (square, triangular or any other form), so the radiant mind (Taijasa-Antahkarana) goes out through the eye or any other sense-organ to the place where an object is, and gets transformed into the shape of that object. This modification of the mind-stuff is called a Vritti’” (Practice of Yoga: Vol. I, pp. 107-108).

In his Sure Ways of Success in Life (pp. 94-99) Swami Sivananda gives an analysis of the apparatus of perception in the following manner:

The senses are the gatekeepers of the wonderful factory of the mind. They bring into the mental factory matter for manufacture. Light vibrations, sound vibrations, and the like, are brought inside through these avenues. The sensations are first converted into percepts by the mind, which then presents these percepts to the intellect. The intellect converts these percepts into concepts or ideas. Just as raw sugarcane juice is treated with so many chemicals and passes through various settling tanks, and is packed as pure crystals; just as ordinary clay mixed and treated with plaster of Paris, etc. passes through settling tanks and is made into jugs, jars, plates, cups, etc.; just as crude sand is turned into beautiful glassware of various sorts in a glass factory; so mere light vibrations, sound vibrations, etc. are turned into powerful ideas or concepts of various descriptions in the factory of the mind.

The external senses are only instruments in the process of perception. The real auditory, tactile, visual, gustatory and olfactory centres are in the brain and in the astral body. These centres are the real senses which make perception possible. The intellect (Buddhi) receives material from the mind and presents them to the Purusha or the Atman which is behind the screen. The intellect is like the prime minister; it is closer to the Purusha than the mind is. As soon as facts are placed by the intellect before the Purusha, there flashes out egoism (Ahamkara). The intellect receives back the message from the Purusha, decides and determines, and transmits it to the mind for the execution of orders. The external organs of action carry out the orders of the master.

The Antahkarana (inner psychical instrument) is a broad term which includes the intellect, the ego, the memory, the subconscious and the conscious mind. The one Antahkarana assumes all these names due to its different functions, just as a person is called a judge when he dispenses justice in a law court, a president when he presides over a society or an association, a chairman when he superintends over a meeting, and a storekeeper when he is in charge of goods. If one can clairvoyantly visualise the inner working of this mental factory one will be dumbfounded. Just as in the telephone exchange of a big city various messages come from diverse houses and firms to the central station, and the central operator plugs, connects and disconnects the various switches, so does the mind plug, connect and disconnect sensory messages. When one wants to see an object the mind puts a plug into the other four centres, viz. hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. When one wants to hear something the mind plugs similarly the remaining four centres. The mind works with a speed which is unimaginable.

In ordinary persons the mental images are distracted and undefined. Every thought has an image, a form or a shape. A table is a mental image plus an external something. Whatever one sees outside has its counterpart in one’s mind. The pupil of the eye is a small round construction. The retina is limited in its structure. How is it that the image of a huge mountain seen through such a small aperture is cast in the mind? How does this colossal form enter the tiny hole in the eye? The fact is that the image of the mountain already exists in the mind. Here Swami Sivananda brings out the significant truth that the limited sense-organs are able to cast the image of an extensive scene on the limited mind working in a body on account of the essentially omnipresent and all-comprehensive character of the consciousness that is reflected through the mind. All perception suggests the marvellous working of this immanent consciousness through the instrumentality of the mind, and later through the senses. The real seer and the senser of things is this consciousness which is at the background of the perceiving subject as its existence and essence. The ultimate knower of the world is an absolute being whose presence is established by the nature of knowledge itself. “In order to know the world fully, the knower must be independent of the laws governing the world; else, knowledge complete would be impossible. One whose knowledge is controlled by external phenomena can never have real knowledge of them. The impulse for absolute knowledge guarantees the possibility of such a knowledge. This shows that the knower is superior to the known to such an extent that the known loses its value as being, in the light of the absoluteness of the knower” (Gita Meditations: p. ix).

Perception According to the Sankhya and the Vedanta

According to the Sankhya system the stimulus for perception is provided by the existence of a real object outside. In right perception a real object which is outside is presented to the perceptive consciousness. The object of right perception is not an illusion, but real, and has practical value. The senses give a direct apprehension of truly existent objects of which one becomes aware in right perception. The senses afford only an indeterminate perception of the object, a mere immediacy of objectivity, in the form of ‘This is an object.’ This can be said to be bare abstract perception. Concrete and determinate perception of the nature of ‘I know the object’ takes place further inside in the Antahkarana. The mind contemplates on the material supplied by the senses and gives it order and definiteness by the act of synthesis and deliberation on its part. Here arises the definite perception of the object as being of this or not this kind. Even here the process of perception does not come to an end. The Ahamkara or the individual ego arrogates to itself this resultant function of the mind and transforms the impersonal perception of the mind into a personal knowledge. This empirical principle of individuality with its natural character of the unity of apperception makes the perception refer to a particular individual. The Buddhi or the intellect decides on the nature of the perception of the ego and determines the course of action to be taken in regard to it. The understanding of the Buddhi is followed by a will or a determination to act. The seeds of one’s reaction to the perceived object are sown in the consciousness of the Buddhi. Finally the Sankhya holds that this perception and volition are experienced by the Purusha which is in relation to the Buddhi. It is the Purusha that gives to the Buddhi the intelligence to understand and decide. The ultimate possibility and validity of perception is thus based on the consciousness of the Purusha.

There is a striking similarity between the Sankhya theory of perception and the epistemological analysis made by Kant. According to Kant the manifold of sensations is transformed into perceptions and conceptions by the mind by means of the perceptual categories and the conceptual categories with their judgments. The perception is referred to the unity of the ego and converted into personal knowledge. The intellect classes the perception under its categories together with those of space and time. The transcendental unity of the ego to which all experience is referred is responsible for the synthesis of knowledge which is made available to the perceiver. In Kant, however, the order is brought about in the sensations directly by the mind or the understanding, while in the Sankhya the manifold of sensations undergoes the process of synthesis gradually through the mind, the ego and the intellect. To Kant space and time are perceptual categories, but to the Sankhya they are conceptual categories. Both Kant and the Sankhya hold that knowledge is caused by the joint action of the senses and the internal organ presided over by the intellect. Paraphrasing the analysis of the Sankhya, Swami Sivananda observes: “The fleshy eyes are only the external instruments of perception. They are not the organ of vision. The organ of vision is a centre situated in the brain. So is the case with all the senses. The mind is connected with the senses, the senses with the corresponding centres in the brain and these centres with the physical organs in the direction of the external object. The mind presents the sensation to the ego and the intellect (Buddhi); the intellect takes it to the Self (Purusha) which is pure Spirit and is immaterial. Now real perception takes place. The Purusha gives orders back to the motor centres or organs of action for execution through the intellect, ego and the mind” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 248).

According to the Sankhya theory of knowledge, the validity or the invalidity of knowledge is self-evident and does not stand in need of any external conditions. These characters are inherent in the nature of knowledge itself. The Buddhists hold that knowledge is invalid intrinsically, but enjoys the nature of validity due to conjunction with external conditions. The Nyaya affirms that the validity and the invalidity of knowledge are both determined by external conditions and have nothing of the intrinsic in them. The Mimamsa recognises, however, with the Vedanta system, that knowledge is intrinsically valid, that it cannot be validated by any other factor external to it, and that the invalidity of certain forms of knowledge is due to conditions external to knowledge. Knowledge knows its own validity, and this is made possible by the essential nature of its cause which is not tainted by imperfection of any kind, while the determining factor in the ascertainment of invalid knowledge is the knowledge of a contradicting element or defect in the cause of the rise of knowledge. In perception there is first the illumination of the mind by the Consciousness, then the activation of the senses by the mind, and thirdly the contact of the senses with the external object. In order that perception may be right and not erroneous, there should be no defect either in the operation of the mind, the activity of the senses or the manner of the location of the object. The presence of the current of an unceasing consciousness linking up these different elements contributing to perception makes perception possible.

The Vedanta theory of perception is explained by the existence of a universal consciousness in which appears the empirical distinction of subject and object, mediated by a process of knowledge. According to the Vedanta the only reality is the Atman or Brahman, which is supreme consciousness, and hence neither the subject nor the object nor their relation can exist outside it. They are all apparent modes superimposed on its transcendent being. This universal consciousness is modalised in empirical perception in three ways: Vishayachaitanya or the consciousness appearing under the mode of the external object, which may be termed object-consciousness; Pramanachaitanya or the consciousness appearing with the modes of the mental psychosis acting as the cognitive consciousness; and Pramatrichaitanya or the consciousness appearing through the mode of the Antahkarana, and existing as the cognising consciousness. All these three modes are really the one universal consciousness of the Atman appearing to be conditioned by the object, the psychosis and the internal organ itself. When the one consciousness passes through these three relative modes valid for empirical existence, it goes by the names and the forms put on by these modes. The indeterminable Absolute gets determined, as it were, by the three terms of the process, all which rise simultaneously in the act of perception. According to Vasubandhu, the Buddhist teacher, consciousness which is the ultimate reality undergoes a threefold transformation: an inner indeterminate change (Vipaka), the inner psychological change causing the operations of the mind (Manana), and the objective change of consciousness of sense-objects (Vishaya-Vijnapti). The first potential change corresponds to the original creative will giving rise to the latter two forms of modification into subject and object. It is this threefold transformation of cause that is responsible for the distinction that is ordinarily made between subject and object. The principle of consciousness which seems to put on these changes is the Alayavijnana, the repository-consciousness, the ground of the appearances of all knowers and known objects, which, in its pure unmodified state, is identified with Sarvajnata or omniscience and Vijnaptimatrata or mere awareness. The Alayavijnana is the Dharmakaya of the Buddha, the primeval condition in which Dharmas or appearances transcend their limitations.

“According to Western medical science, light vibrations from outside strike the retina and an inverted image is formed there. These vibrations are carried through the optic tract and optic thalamus to the centre of vision in the occipital lobe of the brain in the hind part of the head. There a positive image is formed. Only then we see the object in front of us. The Vedanta theory of perception is that the mind comes out through the eye and assumes the shape of the object outside” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 70). For all perception a Vritti or a psychosis of the Antahkarana (the internal organ) is necessary, since perception is possible only when the universal consciousness is individualised by a limiting adjunct. A Vritti is a function of the Antahkarana and is really indistinguishable from the latter. The Pramatrichaitanya or the consciousness conditioned by the Antahkarana is said to flow like a ray of light to the object outside and take the form of the object by pervading it. As a molten metal cast in a mould takes the shape of the mould, or the water that flows into a field takes the shape of the field, or as the space enclosed in a vessel in the house is unified with that enclosed within the house, the mind takes the form of the object which it pervades. This pervasion of the object by the mental Vritti is called Vritti-vyapti. “The Antahkarana-vritti (mode of the internal organ) enters through the opening of the eye, removes Vishaya-ajnana (ignorance in regard to the objects), assumes Vishaya-akara (the shape and form of the objects it envelops), and presents the objects to our view. The function of the Vritti is to cause Avaranabhanga (removal of the veil or layer of ignorance that envelops all objects)” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 69). “Vritti-vyapti is the pervasion of the psychosis or the mental modification over an object in the process of the perception of something external. Phalavyapti is the pervasion of the effect or the consciousness of the Self which follows the Vritti in the process of perception” (Questions And Answers: p. 87). In Vritti-vyapti or the pervasion of the psychosis over an object the Tula-avidya or the derivative ignorance covering the objects is lifted by perceptive knowledge. The range of the Vritti, however, is limited like that of a ray of light, and is not infinite. The Vritti that pervades the object determines thus the perception of the empirical mode of the object, but does not illumine it, for the Vritti by itself is insentient. The knowledge which illuminates the perception is not a part of the mental Vritti, the function of Vritti-vyapti being merely to pervade the form of the object and cast that form in the mental mould. The Vritti-vyapti has to be illuminated by the consciousness determined by the reflection of the Atman in the mind, in order that there may be knowledge in the act of perception. It is the consciousness of the Atman that illumines the Vritti, and it is the transparency of the Vritti and its proximity to the Atman that makes perception possible, e.g. in the form of ‘I perceive the object.’ This resultant pervasion of the object by consciousness through the Vritti is called Phala-vyapti. The Pramatri-chaitanya (cognising consciousness) moving out as Pramana-chaitanya (cognitive consciousness) thus gets identified with the Vishayachaitanya (object-consciousness) on which the object is superimposed. This identification is possible, because the essential consciousness that underlies the Pramatri, Pramana and Vishaya, as their reality, is one and the same. The three modes are only phenomena in the universal consciousness. The consciousness determined by the individuality of the object is appropriated to the consciousness determined by the Vritti which takes the form the object by pervading it. This consciousness conditioned by the Vritti is again unified with the consciousness defined by the mind or the Antahkarana. Thus the subject knows the object through a relational consciousness. The rise of the cognitive psychosis illumined by the consciousness is accounted for by the physical vibrations which are transmitted to the sense-organs by means of auxiliary causes such as light rays, the proximity of the sense organs to the objects, etc. Swami Sivananda sums up the principal elements of this process in the following statement:

“The mind assumes the shape of any object it intensely thinks upon.” “When you pass through a mango garden, a ray of the mind comes out through the eye and envelops the mango. It assumes the shape of the mango. The ray is termed a Vritti. The enveloping process is called Vritti-vyapti. The function of a Vritti is to remove the Avarana (veil) that envelops the object and the Upahita-chaitanya (consciousness defined by an adjunct). The veil that envelops the mango is removed by the Vritti or the mental ray. There is Chaitanya (consciousness) associated with the Vritti. This Chaitanya illuminates the object ‘mango.’ This result is termed Phala-vyapti. Just as a torch-light illuminates an object in a flash, this Vritti-chaitanya (consciousness conditioned by the mental mode) illumines the object. Only then does perception of the mango take place” (Mind and Its Mysteries: P. 194). “According to the Advaita theory of perception, it is the Chaitanya within us that makes perception possible. The Chetana (intelligence) within us unites with the Chetana (intelligence) in the object, and the result is perception. It does not follow from this that the mind and the senses are useless,…..for they serve the purpose of determining the special object of each sense” (Ibid, p. 205).

In abstract and indeterminate perception there is said to be only an identification of the Pramanachaitanya with the Vishayachaitanya, whereas in concrete and determinate perception there is, in addition to this fact, the identification of the Pramanachaitanya with the Pramatrichaitanya. When this latter identification takes place, the egoistic individual appropriates the perception to himself and thus distinguishes it from the perception of the object by others. Though the object and the subject are spatially divided and so cannot have ordinarily any relation to each other, the consciousness underlying the universe which is made manifest through the transparent Antahkarana brings about a consciousness of objective perception. The existence of the object in essence is the same as the existence of the subject in essence. There is one existence-consciousness in the whole universe, which knows itself through itself in all perceptual processes; but this truth is not explicit to the individual in bondage, due to his being overpowered by Avidya and Kama. In fact, the essential consciousness in the object is not different from that in the cognitive Vritti, which, again, is not different from that which is implicit in the subjective mode. The knowledge of the object is given to the subject on account of its essential identity with the object. As the consciousness of the Atman is not in union with the real consciousness in the object, there is no intuitive perception of the identity of the essence of the object with the universal knowing subject. There is only the psychical consciousness, reflected and limited through the phenomenal mode of the Antahkarana, which gets identified with the objective mode of the Vishayachaitanya. Hence there is only objective consciousness and not unity-consciousness. “Knowledge comes through contact of the senses with objects. The objects come in contact with the senses. The senses are linked to the mind. The mind is connected to the Atman. The Atman illumines these” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 246). “The mind is formed out of the Sattvika portion of the five Tanmatras (subtle rudimentary principles out of which the gross elements are formed). There is light outside. The sun also emits light. The eye is made up of Agni-Tattva (fire-principle). That portion of the mind which perceives (through the eyes) is also made up of this fire-principle. So fire sees fire. Only that portion of the mind which is made up of Sabda-Tanmatra (the subtle principle of sound) can hear. Sound comes from Akasa (ether) outside. So the Akasa in the mind hears the Akasa from outside. But the Atman can see, hear, taste and feel everything. The Atman alone can be seen by the Atman. Therefore, whatever we see outside is only the Atman” (Ibid, p. 72). The consciousness of the oneness of the object and the subject can arise only in the realisation of the Atman.

Consciousness Behind Relation

The relation between the knower and the known in perception must be a conscious one, as any element of unconsciousness could not bring about knowledge of an object. And further, objects with dissimilar characters cannot commingle with each other and become one. Hence the cause of the relation of the subject and the object in perception ought to be a consciousness lying as the common ground of the subject, the object and their relation. Unless there is a spiritual background supporting the object, which, at the same time, is also the background of the subject and its union with the object, there can be no possibility of knowledge. If there were no consciousness behind the existence of the object, there could be no contact of a conscious subject with it, for consciousness does not mix with unconscious entities. Either the subject and the object are both phases of consciousness or they are mere physical bodies. In the former case there can be perceptive knowledge by relation, while in the latter the whole world would be blind darkness. But it is seen that the world is not shrouded in darkness, there is intelligence and perception, which proves that there ought to be an independent consciousness appearing as the knower, the knowledge and the known, all at once, in the process of perception. Reality is neither the subject nor the object, but a consciousness immanent in and yet transcending both.

This analysis of the perception gives us a clue to the understanding of the world as a whole. The world consists of experiencers and objects that are experienced, or capable of being experienced, and nothing but these exist anywhere in it. If the relation between the experiencer and the experienced is, as it has been shown, a spiritual consciousness, there can only be a spiritual relation existing everywhere in the world. The world is aglow with consciousness and is inseparable from it (Vide, Essence of Vedanta: pp. xxi-xxv).

In external perception the object is not created by the cognitive consciousness of the subject, but is only known by it as revealed through the senses. The object is a mode not of the Pramatrichaitanya but of Brahmachaitanya, which is the substratum of even the modal appearance of the subject. The subject, thus, is on par with the object in the degree of reality enjoyed by it. The existence of the object is rooted in the existence of the universal consciousness on which the objectness of the object is superimposed, and the existence of the subject, too, is the same consciousness on which the subjectness of the subject is superimposed. The subject and the object are, therefore, one in essence. This metaphysical identity of the ultimate realities of the subject and the object is empirically construed in ordinary sense-perception, and so it becomes in the state of individuality the cause of attachment or aversion on the part of the subject in relation to the object by way of transferring the empirical appearance of the object to the empirical appearance of the subject. Sense-perception is thus the consciousness of an identity in difference, a perception of the object as different from the subject, together with the consciousness of its relation to the subject by way of a mysterious uniting link. This identity-consciousness owes its existence to the universal Self, and the difference-consciousness is caused by its being modalised, restricted and reflected in the Vritti of the Antahkarana. As there are many Antahkaranas qualifying different individuals and limiting their existences, the empirical perception of one individual is different from that of another, though one and the same object may become the content of the experiences of several individuals.

“Perception through the finite mind or cognition or experience takes place serially and not simultaneously. Simultaneous knowledge can be had only in Nirvikalpa Samadhi where past and future merge in the present. Only a Yogi will have simultaneous knowledge. A man of the world with a finite mind can have only a knowledge in succession. Though several objects may come in contact simultaneously with the different sense-organs, yet the mind acts like a gate-keeper who can admit only one person at a time through the gate. The mind can send only one kind of sensation at a time into the mental factory for the manufacture of a decent percept and a nice concept” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 167). The Antahkarana cannot by its very nature apply itself to all things at once, for its operation is limited to particular objects and to certain definite given conditions. When these conditions are not fulfilled, and also when the range of the objects extends beyond the field of the operation of the Antahkarana functioning through the senses, there can be no real or correct perception, definite and concrete. The perceiver is not really identical with the object perceived, as the two are cut off from each other by the space-time mode which causes the natural and observable division between empirical objects. On account of this division the individual finds it impossible to know all things simultaneously and in their true essence. Individualistic knowledge is confined to the functions of the Vrittis of the Antahkarana defining and limiting it. The objects that are perceived are not revealed in their essential constitution and reality. What we call correct perception is no doubt valid for all practical purposes in life, as it corresponds to facts that can be verified by observation, coheres with the perceptions of the different senses and with the experiences of other people, and also as it is seen to lead one to successful activity and therefore to possess the character of practical efficiency. But the objects known in empirical perception are not revealed in their true nature, for even correct perception in this sense is liable to sublation in a transcendent state. What does not allow empirical knowledge to be ultimately valid for all times is the defect in its supposed immediateness and the sensory separability of the subject and the object. The knower, in this kind of knowledge, is a reflection of the Atman through the Antahkarana-Vritti, and so it does not correspond to the non-mediate knowledge of the Atman which is its unaffected original. The object of empirical knowledge is, likewise, a physical mode of the universal consciousness and so does not correspond to its eternal reality which is the same as the Atman. Only when knowledge takes the form of an infinite self-illumination as one with the Atman, including the subject and all the objects, and transcending the relation of mediacy which infects all perception in the world can there be unsublatable knowledge of the true nature of things. Isvara has an instantaneous knowledge of all things in their eternal nature, for His defining adjunct, being universal in its nature, and being the material cause of everything, contains non-mediately the roots of all things in itself. And Isvara’s consciousness which is inseparably related to His power is at once the existence and knowledge of all things. Isvara has an original knowledge of the universe, for the medium of His knowledge is the primary cause of all things, while the medium of the individual’s knowledge is a secondary offshoot of the universal material cause, and so it has only a secondary and mediate knowledge of the externally existing objects contained in the original immediately and primarily. Isvara is omniscient and omnipotent due to His omnipresence and non-individualised existence, while the knowledge and power of the individual are faint and distorted due to its localised appearance. Isvara’s knowledge of the universe is intuitive, direct and eternal, while the individual’s knowledge is perceptual, externalised and temporal. The Atman is Brahman, and so it is the explanation of the knowledge of both Jiva and Isvara.

Internal Perception

The object of a Vritti or a mental mode may either be an external object or an internal content, something outside the mode or the mode itself. Perception is the unification of the Vishayachaitanya with the Pramatrichaitanya through the operation of the Vritti. In perception the functioning of the sense-organs is not absolutely necessary, it is not an unavoidable condition of perception. Whether there is the operation of the senses or not, when there is an identity brought about between the consciousness particularised by the object and that modified by the Vritti, there is admitted to be perception. Right perception is to be defined as the union of the Pramanachaitanya and the Vishayachaitanya in the case of a Vishaya or object which is fit to be known, or capable of being known, and wherein there is the spatial coexistence of the Pramanachaitanya and the Vishayachaitanya, together with the contemporaneity of the two. In internal perception, like that of pleasure and pain, for example, the limiting conditions of the object, i.e. pleasure or pain, and the mental mode experiencing it, get identified at one and the same place and the same time. The identity of the object and the subject in internal perception is, as far as this fact is concerned, the same as in the case of external perception. The substratum of the subject and the object in internal perception is one and the same, viz. the internal organs as modes in the universal consciousness. In the external perception of an object the mental mode flows out through the channels of the senses to the object outside, pervades it by Vritti-vyapti and causes the illumination of the object by lifting its Tula-avidya, by means of the Sakshichaitanya or the Witness-consciousness that is illuminating the mental mode, thus bringing about Phala-vyapti or conscious perception of the object. In internal perception the mental mode does not move towards any object, for here the object is the mode itself directly illumined by the Sakshichaitanya. Internal perception is caused by Vrittis or mental modes corresponding to the modes of these percepts. But the Vrittis themselves are self-luminous and do not require another Vritti to illumine or cognise them. The assumption or introduction of some other Vritti for the cognition of the internal modes may lead to an infinite regress of Vrittis behind Vrittis. The Vrittis should be admitted to be self-luminous, capable of being cognised directly by the Witness-consciousness defined by the Antahkarana. Pleasure and pain are known through the Vrittis, but the latter are known immediately by the Witness-consciousness through the mind. This immediate cognition of the Vrittis by the Witness is not without its being associated with the Antahkarana and its limitations. The cognition of the Vrittis by the Witness is immediate in the sense that here the senses are not needed as media of knowledge. Though there is no second Vritti by which the Witness may know the object of internal cognition, it is associated with the Vritti by which the objects are known. The Vritti of pleasure or pain, for instance, is an object as well as a subject. It perceives itself non-mediately. Empirical perception can occur only of individualised objects, and so such perception is not possible either of the universal Atman or of mere negation or non-existence. “In the case of internal cognition, i.e. awareness of the mental modifications, Vritti-vyapti takes the form of remembrance or inference, because here no perception of an external object is necessary. In Brahma-jnana, however, there is no Phala-vyapti, because Brahman does not require another light to illumine itself” (Questions And Answers: p. 87).

The Nature of Truth

An empirical perception is to be regarded as true when it stands the test of correspondence, coherence and practical efficiency, and is capable of satisfying the principle of non-contradiction. According to the correspondence theory, truth is a relation between an idea and its objective content. The idea of an object should correspond or agree with the content of perception. Realists hold that truth is independent of human cognition and remains unaffected by it. Reality does not depend upon our perception of it. Truth is here fidelity to reality, agreement with fact. According to the coherence theory of truth, truth is the relation of consistency or internal coherence between all parts of our experience. Truth depends upon the harmonious constitution of consistency of the different constituents of a proposition or judgment with the parts constituting truth. Logical coherence is the criterion of truth, and not mere agreement of idea with fact. The pragmatic theory of truth leans on practical efficiency, workability in experience, what leads to satisfactory consequences, what is useful in practice and life. Truth is valid. What works as truth or satisfies us as truth is to be considered as truth for all human purposes. It is true that there cannot be correct perception unless there is a real object outside, to which our knowledge may correspond. But correspondence is not the only criterion of truth, for there can be correspondence even in the case of partial truths or even errors. Correspondence has to be testified by the principle of coherence or the organic nature of knowledge, which satisfies consistently the perceptions of the different sense-organs and agrees with similar perceptions of the object by others. Truth also has the character of practical efficiency or workability in actual life. Though the workable need not necessarily be true, the true is always workable. Though utility is not the test of truth, truth has always the utility that is unique to its nature. All these tests, however, are based on the fact of the self-evident and perfectly valid nature of one’s self-consciousness. Consciousness is its own test and proof, and it exists as the basis of all proofs. The reality of the silver seen in nacre is nacre, and the reality of nacre is the universal consciousness. The reality of dream perception is rooted in the waking consciousness of the individual, and the reality of this latter is the Turiya or the Atman. The truth of an object should correspond with its essential nature. But no human idea or concept can correspond to the reality of the Atman or Brahman, for here no relational category can be introduced into knowledge. Empirical tests of truth cannot be applied to it, for all these tests are based on the notion of duality, while the Atman is non-dual, is its own proof and validity, and the test of its experience is its self-evident nature. This is the only experience which is ultimately non-contradicted and so the ultimate truth. In this highest being of consciousness the knower and the known are one, and in it all logical tests lose their significance.

For all purposes of life, an object of correct perception by the Pramatrichaitanya is real and has an existence of its own leading to successful activity, corresponding to empirical facts and cohering with the perceptions of others in regard to it. But it has to be added here that what satisfies these tests of truth need not be absolutely real. The world of experience, to the Vedanta, is, in the last resort, subject to sublation in the knowledge of the Atman, to which the objects of the world cannot correspond, and in which it loses all practical efficiency, and also proves to be incoherent with the structure of the hidden and real nature of the universe. Metaphysically, and apart from what is revealed in temporal perception, all things exist in a system in which they are interrelated and mutually determined as elements ultimately contained in a supersensible completeness. Everything in this universal system implies and is implied by everything else, so that in essence everything is everywhere to be found. Consequently, it would mean that to know anything in the world perfectly one would have to know the whole world at one stroke, and intuit pure being in non-temporal immediacy, for the search of the ultimate reality of any object leads one to other objects, the nature and mode of whose existence determines it, so that the search can end only on reaching and realising indivisible being. Empirical judgments have only a pragmatic value, are relatively valid and sufficient for all practical purposes in one’s day-to-day life. But such judgments are not ultimately valid, for all sense-knowledge has to be classed under appearances, since it proceeds from the reflection of the Atman in the Antahkarana and catches only aspects of reality in the forms of discrete objects in space and time. Everything in the world points beyond itself to a boundless existence, and this fact is demonstrated in the constant change that things undergo, and their tendency to overcome barriers and obstructions at every step. Everything embraces all other things, for everything is a mirror reflecting the whole universe. Judgments which presuppose the isolated existences of things cannot be ultimately true, for all things exist in and for the whole. The knowledge of the true essence of things is given not in relational perception of externalised conditions or objects, but in the intuitional revelation of the Absolute.

Realistic Idealism

Empirical knowledge, according to Swami Sivananda, is the result of the action of the Antahkarana-Vritti illuminated by consciousness. This consciousness is finally to be discovered only in the Atman, and nowhere else. Ordinarily speaking, empirical knowledge is a relational product caused by the rise of consciousness in the subject due to the reception of external stimuli in the form of sensations. The sensations are tremendously influenced by the subtle impressions or Samskaras embedded in the mind of the knower, and hence in perceptive knowledge there is an element of the force of the personal constitution of the subject playing an important part and determining the nature of the experience that is given in perception. But the actual material content of sensations is not the product of the internal Samskaras or the cognitive consciousness, but bears relation to objects existing externally. Whether or not the objects, on ultimate analysis, prove to be indeterminable appearances which cannot be related in any way to an extra-mental reality, it is admitted by the very nature of the constitution of the subject and the nature of this experience that there ought to be an extra-mental basis for the appearance of objects. The theory of perception, then, leads to an epistemological realism, while at the same time implying a metaphysical idealism positing the existence of an absolute consciousness behind both the object and the subject. While it is accepted that the subject is in no way the cause of the existence of the object, and that the object is independent of the empirical existence of the subject,—for the universe of perception reveals itself as an organic completeness containing within itself the subject and the object as elements partaking of the same level of reality,—it is held that there is a higher reality of a spiritual nature, which comprehends and transcends the relativity of the subject and the object. The Pramatrichaitanya is not the transcendent Atman but the Jiva-chaitanya functioning in the world and subject to the laws of the world in which it works. It has therefore, no power over the existence of the object of perception, for the existence of this latter is not in any way inferior to that of the subject in the degree of its reality. It may be said neither that the object solely determines the character of perception nor that the subject fully determines the nature of the object, but there is a mutual interaction of the two sides in bringing about relational knowledge. Perceptual knowledge is individualistic, relational and so a process or an act, but knowledge in its essence, as the Atman, is non-relational and identical with simple being (Vide, Commentary on the Brahmasutras: Volume I, pp. 384-390).

Knowledge has to be considered to be an organic whole of the material of sensations and the perceiving consciousness. There are cases where the passions, ambitions and griefs of the subject are transferred to the object of perception, and the object is perceived to be beautiful, good or ugly or otherwise, in accordance with the nature of the mental condition of the perceiver. The perception of such objects produces an experience which is valid only to that private individual. Perception of this nature comes, in fact, under illusions and is not right knowledge. In right perception the object reveals to the subject a nature which is also in agreement with the perceptions of it by others. Anyway, there is a reciprocal determination of the knower and the known in perception. All objects appear to be real at the time of their being known, but prove to be indeterminable on a logical analysis of their nature, and reveal their unreal character when contradicted by a higher and more inclusive experience. The object and the subject are logically distinguishable but not really separable. They have an empirical duality, but a real unity. As long as we take the individual subject to be the real knower, we have to admit that objects are not determined by sensations but that sensations are referred to externally existing objects. But the identity of the subject and the object of knowledge is revealed on the recognition of the true subject which is the highest Atman in us (Vide, Secret of Self-realisation: Jnana-Yoga).

On ultimate analysis it is discovered that there is nothing either in the object or in the subject except mere name and form plus the universal consciousness on which the name and form appear. Even space, time, substantiality, extension, resistance and causation are but the schema of the universal knowing subject fastened on to a network of objectivity. On receiving sensations one must, truly speaking, not refer them to anything outside in space, but to the essential nature of the consciousness which is the real subject. If this is done, there will be an experience of the instantaneous illumination of the Atman as shining within and without, as subject as well as object. The rationalistic and the empiricistic attitudes to perception are reconciled in the acceptance of the Atman as the fundamental reality. It is the Atman that masquerades as the seer and the seen within space-time, and exists as the true substance behind the forms taken by the seer and the seen.

Theories of Error

An understanding of the characteristics of our judgments of truth and error forms an integral part of philosophical knowledge. This understanding is necessary for the discovery of the deeper implications of experience. Knowledge, ordinarily, presupposes a subject of knowledge and an object corresponding to it. The nature of this knowledge is dependent upon the mind and the cognitive organs of the subject, as well as upon the conditions in which the object is situated in relation to the subject. The knowledge of colour through eyes which are affected with jaundice may be incorrect, since there is every possibility of its being the perception of an apparently objective yellow colour, though what is really objective may be some other colour. In the same manner, a distant object may be mistaken for something different from what it is, though the organs of perception may be in a healthy condition, and this error may be caused by a peculiar relation obtaining between the percipient and the position of the object. Our perceptions of things greatly influence what we infer and decide, which means that our life is judged by us in accordance with the modes of our perception and the knowledge based on them. As every inference is based on previous perception, erroneous perception will nullify the value of the inferences built upon it.

Two kinds of erroneous perception may be distinguished from each other: the mistaken identification of an object really experienced at a given moment with another object which is at the same time in contact with the sense-organ, and the erroneous attribution of an object of memory to another object which is in contact with the sense-organ. The experience of bitter molasses on account of the affection of the tongue by bile and the perception of an yellow object on account of the yellowness of the bile affecting the eyes are instances of the first kind of error in perception. Molasses is sweet, and this is what is really experienced by the tongue, but the bitterness of the bile so influences the gustatory sense that the sweetness of the molasses is seriously affected by it. Similarly, the yellow colour of the bile affecting the eyes becomes a screen through which an external object is perceived, so that the object itself appears to partake of the character of yellowness. Here two things are known at one and the same time, both of which are real experiences, but due to the one being superimposed on the other, there is erroneous perception. In the case of the perception of silver in nacre or the perception of beauty in the object of one’s love, there is erroneous perception of a different kind, for here something which is not really existent in the object, becomes the content of one’s consciousness. In the first instance of error, that which is superimposed and that on which it is superimposed are both directly perceived objects. But in the perception of silver in nacre, the error is caused by the sense-organs working in association with a memory of the silver seen in the past and revived in the perception of glitter which is common both to nacre and silver. Both forms of error noted above, i.e. those in which only real objects are involved and those in which a real object and an object of memory are involved, are sensory in character, for these are erroneous perceptions through the sense-organs.

But there are also purely mental perceptions wherein the functions of the senses are not involved. Objects which are perceived in dream, and the beloved who is perceived near him by a lover who is overpowered by passion, while in fact she is far away from him, are instances of mental hallucinations in which the cognising mind projects its conditions outside into space and perceives them as real objects. In this form of error, memory is the one factor which brings about the perception. Erroneous perception, therefore, can be caused by the perception of similar objects, e.g. brightness common to silver and nacre, or length, softness, etc. common to snake and rope; characters common to quadrupeds, such as are perceived in a cow and a horse; by movement of objects like the firebrand or a boat in a river; by distance as in the case of the perception of the smallness of the moon; by lack of sufficient light; by defective sense-organs like the eye affected by cataract on account of which there is a splitting of light rays issuing from the eyes, causing the perception of two moons; by experience of passions like lust, anger, grief, etc.; by one’s being accustomed to perceive the same object frequently; by a half-sleepy state of the mind; by too much brooding over an object; by imbalance of bodily humours; and also by the result of actions of past birth. In mental erroneous perception, like dream-experience, the memory images are projected outside by being invested with spatiality and objectiveness. In sensory illusions like the perception of silver in nacre or beauty in an object of love, there is a superimposition of memory images and mental conditions on really existing external objects.

The different schools of philosophy have advanced different theories of error in accordance with their avowed theories of knowledge. These theories concerning the nature of erroneous perception are technically called Khyatis. There are six important Khyatis in Indian philosophy. They are: 1. Satkhyati, 2. Akhyati, 3. Anyathakhyati, 4. Atmakhyati, 5. Asatkhyati, and 6. Anirvachaniyakhyati.

The theory of Satkhyati is held by Ramanuja and his followers. According to this theory, there is no error in fact. What is experienced is real. Satkhyati, Akhyati and Anyathakhyati may be brought under the general head Satkhyati, which is in opposition to Asatkhyati. But the general theory of Satkhyati as advocated by Ramanuja’s system holds the view that in wrong knowledge there is cognition of some kind of reality or existence. In essence, even Atmakhyati may come under Satkhyati, for it admits the reality of cognition within. The theory of Asatkhyati is advanced by the Madhyamikas or Sunyavadins who hold that in wrong knowledge there is cognition of unreality or non-existence. The Anirvachaniyakhyati is the view of the Advaitin, that objects experienced are indeterminable, and that the object of erroneous cognition is neither real, nor unreal, nor real-unreal, i.e. it is Sadasadvilakshana. Atmakhyati is the theory of the Vijnanavadins, the Vaibhashikas and the Sautrantikas,—having different theories of perception,—that the internal concept appears as the external percept, in erroneous cognition. Akhyati is the theory of the Sankhya, Yoga and the Prabhakara school of Purva-Mimamsa, according to which there is, in error, non-distinction between a memory image and a percept. Anyathakhyati is the view of the Nyaya, Vaiseshika and Kumarila Bhatta’s school of Purva-Mimamsa, and this holds that the substratum and the percept of erroneous cognition are real independently.


Statement: According to Satkhyati, all objects exist independent of the knowledge which others have of them. The non-existent cannot be perceived. Truth is the correspondence between knowledge and an object which has independent existence. The erroneous cognition of silver in nacre is not really the cognition of something unreal, as such, for it refers to something which exists. The elements of silver that are contained in nacre are responsible for the perception of silver in nacre, though these elements require the aid of a peculiar constitution of the perceiving sense-organs. Though erroneous judgment may be due to defective sense-organs, the absolutely non-existent cannot be perceived at any time. As, by the process of quintuplication, every element contains parts of other elements, it is possible that anything can contain any other thing. Even the perception of yellow colour in things by a person affected with jaundice is not the perception of some colour which is really not in objects, but of what all objects possess in some degree, though this cannot be perceived by all eyes. The eye which is affected with jaundice, being favourably conditioned, can see it. Hence the distinction which is ordinarily made between truth and error does not really exist. But in order that truth may be practically useful in life, it should correspond not merely to some existent thing, in some degree, but to the element which is preponderating over others in that object which is perceived. Hence only those elements which, being commonly predominant in things, are equally perceived by all others also, can alone be really useful in life. When something is perceived only by one individual, privately, and not by others, it becomes the so-called unreal or the illusory. But even the content of this private perception by an individual has existence, though it cannot be seen by others. What is called correction of error is not the negation of what is existent, but only the cessation of effort in regard to the non-predominant element in the object.

Refutation: In quintuplication, the gross physical elements are not quintuplicated; only the subtle rudimentary principles of these elements are quintuplicated. Else, one would perceive silver in a pillar of stone. The constituents of nacre and silver are not mixed up in one object. If silver is really contained in nacre, the silver part of the nacre should melt when the nacre is thrown into fire. A snake is not present in the rope as one of the constituents of the latter.


Statement: The theory of Akhyati holds that the inability to discriminate (Aviveka) between cognitions of different kinds and between their corresponding objects is error. Error is not the perception of something existent, but the non-perception of difference between different cognitions of different characteristics and contents. The two cognitions are real, independently, without reference to each other. In the perception of silver in nacre, the perception of ‘Idamta’ or ‘thisness’ is true perception, but the vision of the silver is only a memory of what was previously perceived. The non-perception of the difference between the two real distincts is due to some defect in perception. Perception and memory, the object of perception and the object of memory, are different from one another. But this difference is not perceived in erroneous perception. Memory is mistaken for perception. As there is this inherent mistake in perception, it does not lead to successful activity corresponding to the perception. Correction of error is the subsequent consciousness of the distinction between what is perceived (e.g. nacre) and what is merely remembered (e.g. silver). But in correction there is no cancellation of either nacre or silver; only the distinction between them and that of perception from memory are recognised. In perception through a jaundiced eye the distinction between the yellowness of the bile and the real colour of the object perceived is not seen. Really speaking, there is no such thing as absolute error. The so-called error is only the absence of the recognition of the true relation between the two elements in knowledge. But the contents of knowledge are never unreal or false. Truth may not be known fully, but there cannot be, strictly speaking, knowledge of untruth or falsehood.

Refutation: The Purvapakshin admits that the perception of an object implies the perception of the difference of that object from another object. There is the negation of cloth in a pot, and vice versa, and without this negation being implied in the perception of a cloth or a pot, neither of these can be perceived. And the perception of distinction is the same as that of reciprocal relationship among objects. Distinction is the essential nature of every object. Without the perception of distinction, there is no perception at all. Hence it is not true that the distinction between nacre and silver is not cognised, though the two objects are cognised in perception and memory, respectively. As knowledge is accepted to be self-luminous, the moment it is manifest it should reveal difference. And when any object is known, its distinction from other objects should also be known simultaneously. Thus, the possibility of the non-cognition of difference does not arise.

Further, it is not true that the non-discrimination between percept and memory obtains in all forms of experience. In dream when, really, all experience is only a memory, except that of the self which alone is known directly, a distinction between this direct experience and memory is made; else, there would not be perception of dream objects. If the object seen in dream as a memory-image is non-distinguished from direct experience, one would have the knowledge ‘I am the object,’ and not ‘this is the object.’ It cannot also be said that two memory-images are non-distinguished in error, for, in that case, there would be no experience of error.


Statement: According to Anyathakhyati, error is not the non-distinction between a percept and a memory or between their contents. The silver that is seen in nacre is not a mere memory. A memory-image cannot be directly perceived. But it is true that the silver that is seen in nacre is not really where it is seen. If the silver seen in nacre were absolutely unreal, there would be no perception of silver at all. An absolutely non-existent entity cannot be perceived as existent. But it is also true that the silver in question is not actually present in the nacre. This is proved by the failure of this silver to conform to practical workability and utility. Error is the cognition of a composite situation brought about by a kind of subsistence of silverness in the ‘thisness’ (Idamta) in cognition.

The fact is that nacre, in erroneous perception, is not perceived as it is. It is not the character of nacre but the ‘thisness’ of nacre with a quality of glittering that is perceived in such error. A memory of silver arises in the mind of the perceiver when the character of glittering which is attributed to silver is perceived. Now, what is perceived wrongly is neither nacre fully nor silver really, but the ‘thisness’ of nacre with the quality of silverness attributed to the fact of glittering. So, what is known is not merely a memory of silver, but the silver existing somewhere else brought into relationship with the perceiving eye by the memory arisen in the mind. Really, it is a relation that is there, but it gets identifies with actual perception due to memory. Though the relation between the ‘thisness’ and the eye is ordinary, the relation between the silver and the eye is extraordinary, and not natural. But some kind of relation obtains between two things in erroneous cognition. Though nacre is not silver, it appears to the eye as silver, through the extraordinary relation mentioned above.

In erroneous cognition two factors are involved: One that is ‘there’ and the other that is ‘not there,’ observed by the eye through the natural and the non-natural relations of the contents with the eye. In the correction of error, what is negated is not silver itself, but the supposed relation between the ‘thisness’ and the silver. What is negated is not a non-existent silver, for the non-existent cannot be seen. The silver must exist somewhere. And it must be somewhere else, for its negation is experienced in the correction of error.

Refutation: In erroneous cognition silver does not appear as a distant object, but is identified with something which is existent before the eyes. The existence of silver somewhere else has no bearing on the silver that is perceived in nacre. The so-called actual perception of silver in erroneous judgment is only an appearance of silver, and for this a really existent silver is unnecessary. Moreover, when the error is corrected, one feels: ‘This is not silver,’ and not ‘there is no relation between the thisness of this nacre and the distant silver.’ What is cancelled in correction is the silver perceived there and not merely a relation of silver with ‘thisness.’ And a relation which is unreal cannot, according to the Anyathakhyativadin himself, be negated; and if it is real, it cannot, again, be negated. And further, the admission of extraordinary perception makes inference useless, for the process of extraordinary perception can be applied to inference, and vice versa.


Statement: According to this theory, the silver perceived in nacre is not silver really existing somewhere outside. This silver is real as an object of internal cognition, but unreal as an object of external perception. It is not absolutely non-existent, for it is perceived. It has subjective existence and objective non-existence. This silver is an object of the mind and not of the senses. It is ideal and not real, psychological and not physical; and error is the projecting outward, as a material object, of the internal mental concept which is non-material. In error, the mental is mistaken for the material. In the correction of error, it is not the silver that is negated, but only its apparent externality of being. In correct perception (i.e. of nacre after the removal of error), the silver is recognised as an internal concept. The Vaibhashikas and the Sautrantikas accept that there is an externally real basis, the ‘this,’ the former holding that this basis is directly perceived, and the latter that it is only inferred. But both these admit that the silver perceived in nacre is projected from within on the external substratum, whether this substratum is perceived or inferred. The Vijnanavadins hold that there is nothing externally real, and that the cognised object is only cognition externalised by error. They hold that there is non-distinction, at the time of cognition, between cognition and the cognised, which proves that the cognised is cognition itself.

Refutation: That the cognised and cognition are non-distinct is not a fact. The cognition of the cognised and the existence of the cognised at the time of cognition naturally appear to be simultaneous; but simultaneity is not identity. The manifestation of light and the revelation of an object with its aid are simultaneous events; but light and the object are not identical with each other. The cognitive consciousness cannot be said to be the same as the cognised object. How can something appear outside when there is nothing outside? There cannot be an appearance without some reality underlying it. We can have changing cognitions of the same object, and also more than one object can be cognised by the same cognitive consciousness. This proves that objects outside are not mere internal cognitions. Objects exist prior to their perception; objects are in space outside, while the cognitive consciousness is within. There is thus a temporal and spatial distinction between cognition and its objects. Moreover, there would be no distinction between truth and error, if all objects were mental. Something independent of cognition has to be admitted if truth is to be distinguished from error. Without this independent existence, there cannot be common perception of things by all alike, and thus there would be no such thing as truth, other than private fancy. But common perception disproves the Vijnanavada position of the ideality of external things.


Statement: This theory holds that what is cognised in erroneous cognition is absolutely non-existent. If the silver perceived in nacre were real, it could not be sublated afterwards on correct perception. As silver seen in erroneous perception is not seen in correct perception, it is clear that the silver of the erroneous perception does not really exist. Due to the power of Avidya or ignorance, cognition manifests a non-existent silver. The impression of the previous perception of silver becomes responsible for the perception of an appearance of silver in erroneous judgment. As correction of error reveals the non-existence of silver in nacre, we have to conclude that Sunya or the non-existent is the object of erroneous cognition.

Refutation: Avidya cannot create the non-existent silver, for the non-existent cannot be created at any time. If the unreal does not even appear, it is not possible even to say that the unreal does not appear, as one cannot say: ‘My mother is barren.’ Further, cognition which is the substratum of Avidya cannot be caused by Avidya to manifest an unreal object. The cause cannot be directed or influenced by the effect. Hence, cognition possessing the power of Avidya cannot produce the non-existent silver in nacre. And, moreover, no kind of relation can be established between cognition and silver, for there can be no relation between the existent and the non-existent. Without a relation between the cognition and the object cognised, no cognition is possible. What is cognised in erroneous cognition is not the non-existent, and not also the truly existent, but only an appearance or Pratibhasikasatta which is devoid of Vyavaharikasatta or practical reality and value. The illusion of Vyavaharikata in Pratibhasikata is cancelled in correction of error, but it is not true that even Pratibhasikata is absent in erroneous cognition. The Pratibhasikasatta appears as an external object, and not merely as a notion or an idea within. Objective reality is of two kinds: Vyavaharika and Pratibhasika. The latter is called the unreal in practical life. Mistaking this latter for the former is error. Error is corrected when the objective basis (Vyavaharikasatta) of the appearance (Pratibhasikasatta) is discovered in one’s cognitive consciousness.


The Anirvachaniyakhyati, which is the theory of the Advaitin, is the logical conclusion arrived at through a criticism of the various other views on error. The silver seen in nacre is neither real, nor a memory, nor existent somewhere else, nor an internal idea, nor absolutely nonexistent like a human horn. This silver is not different from the real alone, not different from the unreal alone, and not different from both the real and the unreal alone. One cannot definitely describe the nature of the silver perceived in nacre. It is not real, for it is sublated. It is not unreal, for it is perceived. It is not both real and unreal, for this is self-contradictory. Hence the silver in nacre is Anirvachaniya, indeterminable. Objects which have Pratibhasikasatta have the characteristics of indeterminability mentioned above,—they are Anirvachaniya. The indeterminability of appearances like this, which do not conform to the laws of empirical action, is of one kind, and can be said to constitute empirical error; and the indeterminability of the objects of correct perception in waking life is of a different kind altogether, and can be said to constitute transcendental error. This latter can be understood only through reason, scripture and direct realisation. The indeterminability of the nature of the world of waking life is explained by the admission in life of a distinction between empirical reality (Vyavaharikasatta) and absolute Reality (Paramarthikasatta). With reference to Vyavaharikasatta, Pratibhasikasatta is Anirvachaniya; and with reference to Paramarthikasatta, Vyavaharikasatta is Anirvachaniya. It is quite obvious that anything which cannot be called either real or unreal or real-unreal must be called indeterminable.

The Anirvachaniya character of silver perceived in nacre can be established by the Arthapatti mode of proof (postulation). The silver in question, as it has been shown above, is not real. It is not unreal. And it is not also real-unreal. So it ought to be indeterminable. This is the process of Arthapatti. What other relation than Anirvachaniyatva can obtain between reality and appearance? Yet, this Anirvachaniyasatta has an objective basis. In the case of empirical erroneous cognition, e.g. the cognition of silver in nacre, this basis is nacre. In transcendental erroneous cognition, i.e. the cognition of the universe in Brahman, the basis is Brahman. The object in empirical error is cognised due to a psychological error; and the basis for this cognised object is a physical object which is empirically real. The object in transcendental error is cognised due to a metaphysical error; and the basis for this cognised object is Brahman which is absolutely real.

The unreality of silver in nacre is different from the unreality of such things as a man’s horn. The latter cannot be perceived, for it is never manifest in experience, while the former is perceived, and it has some sort of objective existence. It has Pratibhasikasatta which a man’s horn does not have. But this Pratibhasikasatta has no Vyavaharikasatta, and so it is negatived in correct perception, i.e. in the perception of nacre as such. Silver in nacre is an Anirvachaniya-vastu. Even the nacre as such does not have Paramarthikasatta, and so it, too, gets negatived in the knowledge of Brahman. Nacre as such, also, is an Anirvachaniya-vastu. The Anirvachaniya is not the absolutely non-existent, but the indefinable empirical and the apparent. The empirical belongs to Isvarasrishti and is the product of Maya, while the apparent belongs to Jivasrishti and is produced by Avidya.

The theories of Drishtisrishti (creation on perceiving) and Srishtidrishti (perception on creation) pertain to the Pratibhasika and Vyavaharika objects, in two different levels of perception. The silver perceived in nacre is Drishtisrishta (created on perception), for it exists only so long as it is seen, and it is created by perception caused by individual Avidya. But the nacre as such exists whether it is perceived by an individual or not. Hence it is independent of Drishtisrishti. As its perception is posterior to its existence, it is a case of Srishtidrishti. But this nacre is the product of the Drishti or perception of Isvara through the cosmic Maya. And nacre cannot exist when Isvaradrishti is withdrawn. It exists only so long as it is visualised by Isvara. Thus the Vyavaharikasatta is Drishtisrishta from the standpoint of Isvara, though it is the basis of Srishtidrishti from the standpoint of the Jiva. The Pratibhasikasatta is purely Drishtsrishta even from the point of view of the Jiva. When nacre is seen, the silver in it vanishes. When Brahman is realised, the universe in it is sublated. When Reality is known, the appearances superimposed on it disappear.

The fact that in the negation of error the silver perceived in nacre is found to be non-existent does not prove that the silver, at the time of its being perceived, was non-existent. As it has been already observed, the non-existent cannot manifest itself before the perceptive consciousness. The perceptions of dream are found to be non-existent during the waking state; but this does not prove that dream objects are absolutely non-existent, for they were experienced during dream. The Vedanta, therefore, makes a distinction between Pratibhasikasatta and Vyavaharikasatta. Silver in nacre and dream objects belong to the former category; nacre and all other objects of the universe belong to the latter.

Thus it is established that the silver appearing in nacre is Anirvachaniya. Otherwise, the perception and sublation of one and the same thing cannot be explained. In the same way, it is to be understood that the universe superimposed on Brahman is Anirvachaniya. Maya and Avidya are both Anirvachaniya; and what they manifest, also, should be regarded as Anirvachaniya (Essence of Vedanta: pp. 213-229).

The Nature of Intuition

Intuition is the direct apprehending act of consciousness. It is that power in the higher reaches of the mind which perceives the truth of things immediately, independent of sensation, reasoning, induction and deduction. Intuition may be the non-mediate apprehension by a subject of its own essence, of the reality of its conscious states, of other minds, of other objects in the world, or of abstract universals. Intuition is supersensory. It transcends sense, intellect and reason and constitutes the full blossoming of these lower faculties into perfection. Intuition is different from inspiration. The former is knowledge by entering into the very existence of the object that is known, however remote it may be, while the latter is a mental experience caused by the transmission of the qualities of a higher consciousness to the mind.

“Intuition is an active inner awareness of the immortal and blissful Self within. It is the eye of wisdom through which the sage senses in everything the unseen presence. It is the Divya-chakshus, Prajna-chakshus or the Jnana-chakshus through which the Yogi or the sage experiences the supreme vision of the all-pervading Atman or Brahman” (Precepts for Practice, p. 138). “Intuition, intuitive discernment, in fact, is the only touchstone of philosophy. The method of intuition is the only one of discerning the truth ultimately. Intuition is the method. Realisation or the Self is the goal. Without developing intuition the intellectual man remains imperfect and blind to the truth behind appearance” (Ibid. p. 141). Intuition is the ultimate source of all proofs of knowledge. Other ways of knowing, like sense-perception, inference and verbal testimony give us only an indirect knowledge. The highest revelation comes to the self by itself alone, independent of external instruments and other accessories needed in empirical knowledge. The highest truth can be given only in intuition. The deepest secrets of Nature are not matters of sensory or intellectual perception. Truths which are related to the innermost being of the universe can be known only in intuition in which there is no process of knowledge, but the being of the object known becomes the existence-content of consciousness. The immediacy of intuitive perception is different from the apparent non-mediacy of sense-perception. Knowledge in the waking and the dreaming states is knowledge by process, requiring a relation between the knower and the known. But in intuition the object of knowledge does not stand outside as something alien to it. It gets assimilated into the constitution of knowledge itself. By intuition we are assured of the inner meaning and significance of things, of a supernatural import in the structure of the universe. The highest form of intuition is the recognition of the Self by itself in all things. It is, in the words of Plato, a conversation of the soul with itself. The object of knowledge in intuition does not present itself as a not-self which requires to be known by any process of perceptive knowledge, but is in sympathy with the permanent nature of knowledge itself. Certain experiences are often called intuition, though they are rather inspirations than true intuition. The creative power of the unconscious mind is such that sometimes the rational activity of the mind goes on below the subliminal level. It can continue far below the threshold of consciousness, in sleep and dream, very often. The mind yields ready forms of ratiocination and solutions. This activity of the higher mind is an unconscious functioning of the expression of the soul at the background of every mental function. The workings of the mind do not permit conscious willing except in the limited form in which they manifest, and they brook no encroachment by reason. But intuition as developed in the spiritual field widens the scope of reason and makes conscious willing possible in the highest degree, and in every direction (Vide, Jnana-Yoga: pp. 54-62). In the lower forms of intuition a supersensory process of perception may make a superficial distinction between the knower and the known. But this distinction is without much difference, for this knowledge-distinction is really something like the difference observed between the different parts or stages of a current of flowing water. There is a flow of knowledge and a practical distinction between the knower and the known, but the fact of the assimilation of the existence of the object into knowledge abolishes in intuition all real distinction, in kind or characteristic. In the higher forms of intuition even this flow of knowledge towards an object ceases, for here the object is known in its true nature, as ultimately one with the consciousness. This is what happens in the intuition of the Absolute.

Intellect and Intuition

In intellectual analysis truth is distorted and falsified to some extent, for here existence gets separated into the subject and the object. Without duality there is no intellectual function, and with duality there is no knowledge of reality. The intellect breaks up the unity of being into a system of isolated terms and relations. The predicate is differentiated from the subject and then dovetailed into the subject itself by being made an adjective of the latter. The unitary existence is thus divided into a primary and a secondary aspect, which occasions false perception. Whatever be the extent of the predicate of a logical proposition, it cannot be more than empirical knowledge, for it is knowledge by division and not union of the subject and the object. An aggregate of an infinite number of particulars cannot give us the Absolute. Sense, feeling, thought and understanding, together with volition, are below the level of intuition. In all physical processes knowledge takes the form of an artificial relation of the predicate to the subject. In intuition there is no adjectival predicate required to qualify the subject, for it is knowledge of existence in essence. Logical knowledge takes one away from insight into the truth of things; it gives us a superficial glimpse of the manner in which objects appear to us in the world. Man’s powers of knowledge are not adapted to comprehend reality. “His consciousness has adapted itself to understanding the world in terms of time and space. If it were freed from keeping busy with the perception of the outer world and focussed upon a world of ‘noumenon,’ it would transcend time and space and adapt itself to perceiving the noumenon in a special way” (Precepts for Practice, p. 139). It is intuition alone that is capable of bringing the various particulars together to form a harmonious whole and enable the self to enter the portals of Reality.

Intellect and intuition are not really opposed to each other. Intellect is lifted up and universalised in the purified state of intuition. Intuition does not negative intellectual perception but transfigures it in a higher perception. The purpose of the intellect is fulfilled in the illumination of intuition. While intellect gives us a shadow, intuition takes us to the substance. Intellect functions on the belief in the partiteness of things, but intuition enters directly into the whole object, right up to the essence. What intellect achieves is understanding, while that which is gained in intuition is practical wisdom. The intellect functions on the wrong basis of the assumption that the results achieved by the process of the distinction of the knower and the known are fully trustworthy. Without belief in this difference there is no logic, and with this difference there is no truth. The complete synthesis of knowledge would be a union of principles where the intellect is overcome, where reason rises above itself and where differences are obliterated. This achievement is not possible as long as the seeker rests contented in the human consciousness. The moral urge within him to reach perfection points to the existence of a knowledge which is unlimited in every way. There can be a fulfilment of this aspiration only in Aparoksha-Anubhava (non-mediate experience).

In matters transcendental, such as the existence of God, the unity of the world and the immortality of the soul, the pronouncements of the intellect can never be free from the defects of wrong notion and doubt. Reason in its search after truth has always to be guided by the deliverances of intuition. Unaided reason often moves along the edge of a dangerous precipice through which it may easily fall into an error which would prove its own ruin. Intuition does not contradict the pure reason, and since reason has nothing better to say, it has to accept the trustworthy character of what is heard from those who have a direct insight into truth. Logic may scrutinise, reason may verify the validity of the facts of intuition, but as they are found to be agreeable to logic as well as reason, and as also they ratify the moral urge within man, they have to be taken as a guiding torch in one’s quest after truth. Reason always bases itself on sense-perception. The test of truth is not verifiability by sense, but non-contradiction and agreement with the revelations of the deepest source of knowledge.

Discursive reason concerns itself only with objects that remain outside the self and are externally related to knowledge. Intuition in its highest reaches is not knowledge of being but knowledge as being. Self-knowledge is the summit of intuitive perception, and it is inseparable from self-existence. It is the only true and direct knowledge. All else is relational, mediate, inferential and presupposes the characteristics of knowledge as attained in intuition. It is the light of the Self that flashes forth and overshadows all knowledge which man is acquainted with in the world. The possibility of an intuitive knowledge is demonstrated in the metaphysical acceptance of the absoluteness of the Self. There is, ultimately, only one ‘I,’ the universal Self asserting itself everywhere in creation. This Self is at the back of all thought-processes, all rational knowledge, all psychical operations. Strictly speaking, we should not equate Self-realisation with intuition in the sense of any kind of perception, even if it be the highest perception, for Self-experience is being itself. Swami Sivananda remarks: “Knowledge through the functioning of the causal body (Karana-Sarira) is intuition.” “Atma-Jnana (knowledge of the Self) is above intuition. It transcends the Karana-Sarira. It is the highest form of knowledge. It is the only reality” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 83).

Intuition gives an entire and concrete insight into reality, while intellect gives partial knowledge abstracted from reality. Intuition reveals the cosmic interrelatedness of things, while intellect gives a static picture of isolated objects. Intuition gives a synthetic view of reality, while intellect provides us with analytic concepts of falsely bifurcated entities. The universe is presented as a collection of fragments due to the discursive and dividing activity of the intellect. An intuitive knowledge of an object bestows supreme power on one over that object. The intuition of Reality is, verily, omniscience, and omniscience is at once omnipotence. This is to attain to existence, knowledge, power and freedom in their completeness. Knowledge relating to truth is the only normal knowledge in a person, error being an exception to the rule. The essence of man is truth, and not error. Error is an aberration from one’s own being. Wrong is action done against oneself. The law of perfection, in general, is in relation to and in consonance with the inner perfection of the individual. The individual and the universe are not two realities but one in their substratum. To get at the inner essence of thought is, in fact, to possess in it a true characterisation of reality. Truth is not a concept but true existence,—universal, general and necessary.

“Inspiration, revelation, insight, intuition, ecstasy, divine sight and supreme bliss are the seven planes of knowledge. The vast majority of people will always want something concrete to hold on to, something around which, as it were, to place their ideas, something which will be the centre of all thought-forms in their minds. This is the very nature of the mind” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 82). “There are four sources of knowledge, viz. instinct, reason, intuition and super-intuition or Brahma-Jnana. Instinct is found in animals, birds, etc. In birds (for example) the ego does not interfere with the free divine flow and divine play. Hence the work done by them through their instincts is more perfect than that done by human beings. Have you not noticed the excellent work done by birds in their building of wonderful nests? Reason is higher than instinct, and is found only in human beings. It collects facts, generalises, reasons out from cause to effect, from effect to cause, from premises to conclusions, from propositions to proofs. It concludes, decides and comes to judgment. It takes one safely to the door of intuition and leaves him there. In intuition there is no reasoning. There is direct perception of truth. We know things by a flash. Intuition transcends reason, but does not contradict it” (Ibid. p. 83). Intuition is the voice of the inner man, the faculty by which the individual tries to apprehend itself in eternity. Empirical knowledge is an image cast in the mind by the imperishable wisdom that shines in intuition. Reason itself discovers, in the end, a realm lying beyond its operational field. The knowledge of the limitations of reason is an acceptance of there being a knowledge transcending reason. Knowledge of a boundary implies the knowledge of what extends outside the boundary. The aspiration for infinite knowledge, the urge for perfection, points to an experience which speaks, in the language of silence, of its supremacy over all things known to man. Intuition is, as it were, the antenna by which the Absolute feels its own self in the objects of the universe. Intuition heralds the coming of the experience of Brahman. It establishes in the universe a divine family, and fulfils the promise of a universal brotherhood of all created beings. A feeling of kinship with all things is possible only on the foundation of the perception of oneness. Perfect knowledge has the characteristic mark of uniformity, for it depends on self-accomplished and truly existing objects. Whatever is permanently of one and the same nature and endures without undergoing change in the history of time is acknowledged to be true. The knowledge of truth is perfected knowledge. In it a mutual conflict of opinions is not possible, for it is rooted in what is equally true to all persons and things, everywhere and at all times. Intuition is the golden key to blessedness.