A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of perception in the light of elucidation by the later members of the ramanuja school: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the tenth part in the series called the “philosophy of the ramanuja school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 10 - Perception in the light of elucidation by the later members of the Rāmānuja School

Rāmānuja and his followers admitted only three kinds of pramāṇas : perception, inference and scriptural testimony. Knowledge, directly and immediately experienced, is perception (sākṣāt-kāriṇī pramā pratyakṣam). The special distinguishing feature of perception is that it is not knowledge mediated by other knowledge (jñānā-karaṇaka-jñānatvam). Perception is of three kinds: God’s perception, perception of yogins, and perception of ordinary persons. This perception of yogins includes intuitive perception of the mind (mānasa-pratyakṣa) or perception of sages (ārṣa-pratyakṣa), and the yogi-pratyakṣa is due to the special enlightenment of yoga practice. Ordinary perception is said to be of two kinds, sarikalpa, or determinate, and nirvikalpa, or indeterminate. Sazñkalpa pratyakṣa is the determinate perception which involves a spatial and temporal reference to past time and different places where the object was experienced before.

Thus, when we see a jug, we think of it as having been seen at other times and in other places, and it is this reference of the jug to other times and other places, and the associations connected with it as involved in such reference, that constitutes the determinate character of such perceptions, by virtue of which they are called savikalpa[1]. A perception, however, which reveals the specific character of its object, say a jug as a jug, without involving any direct references to its past associations, is called indeterminate perception or nirvikalpa jñāna[2]. This definition of nirvikalpa perception distinguishes the Rāmānuja conception of nirvikalpa knowledge from the types formulated by many other systems of Indian philosophy.

It is now obvious that according to Rāmānuja philosophy both the savikalpa and the nirvikalpa knowledges are differentiated and qualified in their nature, referring to objects which are qualified in their nature (ubhaya-vidham api etad viśiṣṭa-viṣayam eva)[3]. Veṅkaṭa says that there is no evidence whatsoever of the existence of indeterminate and unqualified knowledge, at even its first stage of appearance, as is held by the Naiyāyikas; for our experience is entirely against them, and even the knowledge of infants, dumb persons, and the lower animals, though it is devoid of concepts and names, is somehow determinate since the objects stand as signs of things liked or disliked, things which they desire, or of which they are afraid[4]. For if these so-called indeterminate perceptions of these animals, etc., were really absolutely devoid of qualitative colouring, how could they indicate the suitable attractive or repulsive behaviour? The Naiyāyikas urge that all attribute-substance-complex or determinate knowledge (viśiṣṭa-jñāna) must first be preceded by the knowledge of the simpler element of the attribute; but this is true only to a limited extent, as in the case of acquired perception.

I see a piece of sandal to be fragrant; fragrance cannot be seen, but the sight of the colour, etc., of a piece of sandal and its recognition as such suggest and rouse the nasal impressions of fragrance, which is then directly associated with vision. Here there must first be the perception of the attributes of the sandal as perceived by the visual organ, as rousing sub-conscious impressions of fragrance associated with the nasal organ and giving rise to its memory, and finally associating it with the attributes perceived by the visual organ. But in the perception of attribute and substance there is no necessity of assuming such a succession of the elements constituting a complex; for the data which give rise to the perception of the attribute and those which give rise to the perception of substance are presented to the senses simultaneously and are identically the same (eka-sāmagrī-vedya-viśeṣaṇeṣu tan-nirapekṣatvāt)[5]. The main point of this discussion consists in our consideration of the question whether relations are directly perceived or not.

If relations are regarded as being the very nature of the things and attributes that are perceived (svarūpa-sambandha), then, of course, the relations must necessarily be perceived with the perceived things and attributes at the first moment of sight. If the relation of attributes to things be called an inherent inseparable relation (samavāya), then this, being an entity, may be admitted to be capable of being grasped by the eye; and, since it constitutes the essence of the linking of the attributes and the thing, the fact that it is grasped by the eye along with the thing and the attribute ought to convince us that the relatedness of attribute and thing is also grasped by the eye. For, if it is admitted that samavāya is grasped, then that itself makes it unexceptionable that the attribute and things are grasped, as the former qualifying the latter. Like the attribute and the thing, their relation as constituting their relatedness is also grasped by the senses (dharmavad dharmivac ca tat-sambandhasya py aindriyakatvā-viśeṣeṇa grahaṇa-sambhavāt)[6]. For, if the relation could not be grasped by the senses at the time of the perception of the thing and the object, it could not be grasped by any other way at any other time.

In the savikalpa perception, the internal impressions are roused in association with the visual and other senses, and they co-operate with the data supplied by the sense-organs in producing the inner act of analysis and synthesis, assimilation and differentiation, and mutual comparison of similar concepts, as involved in the process of savikalpa perception. What distinguishes it from memory is the fact that memory is produced only by the rousing of the subconscious impressions of the mind, whereas savikalpa perception is produced by the subconscious impressions (saṃskāra) working in association with the sense-organs[7]. Though the roused subconscious impressions co-operate with sense-impressions in savikalpa perception, yet the savikalpa can properly be described as genuine sense-perception.

It may be pointed out in this connection that difference is considered in this system not as a separate and independent category, but as apprehended only through the mutual reference to the two things between which difference is realized. It is such a mutual reference, in which the affirmation of one makes the affirmation of the other impossible, that constitutes the essence of “difference” (bheda)[8].

Veṅkaṭanātha strongly controverts the Śaṅkarite view of nirvikalpa pratyakṣa in the case where a perception, the materials of which are already there, is made on the strength of auditory sensation in the way of scriptural instructions. Thus, when each of ten persons was counting upon leaving himself out of consideration, and counting nine persons instead of ten, another observer from outside pointed out to the counting person that he himself was the tenth. The Śaṅkarites urge that the statement or affirmation “thou art the tenth” is a case of direct nirvikalpa perception. But Veṅkaṭanātha points out that, though the entity indicated by “thou” is directly perceived, the proposition itself cannot be directly perceived, but can only be cogitated as being heard; for, if whatever is heard can be perceived, then one can also perceive or be directly acquainted with the import of such propositions as “thou art virtuous”— dharmavāṃs tvam. So the mental realization of the import of any proposition does not mean direct acquaintance by perception. It is easy to see how this view controverts the Śaṅkarite position, which holds that the realization of the import of the proposition “thou art that”— tat tvam asi —constitutes direct acquaintance with the identity of self and Brahman by perception (pratyakṣa)[9].

It has already been pointed out that nirvikalpa perception means a determinate knowledge which does not involve a reference to past associations of similar things (anuvṛtty-aviṣayaka-jñāna), and savikalpa perception means a determinate knowledge which involves a reference to past association (anuvṛtti-viṣayaka). This amivṛtti, or reference to past association, does not mean a mere determinateness (e.g. the perception of a jug as endowed with the specific characteristics of a jug— ghaṭatva-prakārakam ayaṃ ghaṭaḥ), but a conscious reference to other similar objects (e.g. jugs) experienced before. In savikalpa knowledge there is a direct perception by the visual organ of the determinate characters constituting a complex of the related qualities, the thing and the relatedness; but that does not mean the comprehension or realization of any universals or class concepts involving a reference to other similar concepts or things. Thus, the visual organs are operative equally in savikalpa and nirvikalpa, but in the former there is a conscious reference to other similar entities experienced before.

The universals or class concepts are not, however, to be regarded as a separate independent category, which is comprehended in savikalpa perception, but a reference or assimilation of similar characteristics. Thus, when we refer to two or more cows as possessing common characteristics, it is these common characteristics existing in all individual cows that justify us in calling all these animals cows. So, apart from these common characteristics which persist in all these individual animals, there is no other separate entity which may be called jāti or universal. The commonness (anuvṛtti) consists in similarity (susadṛśatvam eva gotvā-dīnām anuvṛttiḥ)[10]. Similarity is again defined as the special cause (asādhāraṇa-kāraṇa) which justifies our regarding two things as similar which exist separately in these things and are determined by each other. The application of a common name is but a short way of signifying the fact that two things are regarded as similar. This similarity is of two kinds: similarity of attributes (dharma-sādṛśya) as in substances, and similarity of essence (svarūpa-sādṛśya) as in all other categories of qualities which are not substance (a-dravya)[11].

In perception two kinds of sense-contact are admitted: sense-contact with the object (saṃyoga) and sense-contact with the qualities associated with the object (saṃyuktā-śraya). Thus, the perception of a jug is by the former kind of contact, and the perception of its qualities is by the latter[12].

Footnotes and references:


tatrā’nuvṛtti-viṣayakaṃ jñānaṃ savikalpakam anuvṛttiś ca sarnsthāna-rūpa-jāty-āḍer aneka-vyakti-vṛttitā, sā ca kālato deśataś ca bhavati.
MS. No. 4988.


ekasyāṃ vyaktau gḥaṭatva-prakārakam ayaṃ ghaṭa iti yaj jñānaṃ janyate tan nirvikalpakam.


Nyāya-pariśuddhi, p. 77.


bāla-mūka-tiryag-ādi-jñānānāṃ anna-kaṇṭaka-vahni-vyāghrā-di-śabda-vaiśiṣṭyā-navagāhitve’pi iṣṭa-dvaiṣyatā-vacchedakā-nnatvā-hitva-kaṇṭakatvā-di-prakārā-vagāhitvam asti.
commentary on Nyāya-pariśuddhi by Śrīnivāsa, p. 78.


Nyāya-pariśuddhi, p. 78:

surabhi-catidatmṃ so’yaṃ ghaṭa ity-ādi-jñātieṣu saurabhatā-ṃśe cakṣuṣah sva-vijāiīya-saṃshāra-janyāyāḥ smṛter viśeṣaṇa-praty-āsattitayā apekṣaṇepi cakṣur-mātra-janye ghaṭa-jñāne tud-apekṣōyā abhāvāt.

Nyāya-sāra, p. 78.


Ibid. p. 79.


smṛtāv iva savikalpake saṃskārasya na svātantryeṇa kāraṇatvaṃ yena praty-akṣatvaṃnasyāt kintu indriya-saḥakāritayā tatḥā ce’ndriya-janyatvena pratyakṣam eva savikalpakam.
p. 80.


yad-graḥo yatra yad-āropa-virodhī sa hi tasya tasmād bhedaḥ.
p. 86.


ata eva tat tvam-asy-ādi-śabdaḥ sva-viṣaya-gocara-pratyakṣa-jñāna-janakaḥ .. .ity-ādy-anumānātii nirastāni.
p. 89.


ayaṃ sāsnādimān ay am api sāstiādimān iti sāsnādir eva anuvṛtta-vyavahāra-viṣayo dṛśyatc.
MS. No. 4988.


MSS. No. 4988.


The sense-contact with remote objects can take place in the case of the visual and the auditory organs by means of a mysterious process called vṛtti. It is supposed that these senses are lengthened as it were (āpyāyamāna) by means of their objects.

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