A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of inference of ajnana: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the sixth part in the series called the “controversy between the dualists and the monists”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

It is held by Prakāśānanda in his Vivaraṇa that ajñāna can be inferred; the form of the inference that he suggests is:

“A valid cognition is associated with a positive veil upon its object, which veil is removable by the cognition itself, and such a veil is different from the negation-precedent of its self.”[1]

Vyāsa-tīrtha, in refuting this inference, starts by criticizing the concept of the minor term (pakṣa, i.e., pramāṇa-jñāna). He says that according to the above form of inference consciousness of pleasure, which is a valid cognition, should also appear after removing the veil on itself, but the pleasure-consciousness, being of the nature of sākṣi-conscious- ness, is unable (according to the theory of the Śaṅkarites themselves) to remove ajñāna. If the concept of the minor term is narrowed to vṛtti-jñāna, or cognitive states in general, then also it is not possible; for, if a mediate cognitive state be supposed to remove the veil upon its object, that would mean that there is a direct revelation of intuitive consciousness through the object, which would be the same as saying that mediate cognition is perception. If the concept of the minor be narrowed down to immediate perception, then the above definition would not apply to mediate cognition, which is a valid cognition. Even in the case of the immediate cognition of error there is an element of the intuition of “being”

to which also the above definition would apply; for certainly that does not manifest itself after removing a veil of non-being, since the intuition of being is universal. Moreover, if that could remove the ajñāna, then ajñāna would have no being and so could not be the material cause of illusion. The ajñāna which has “being” for its support is regarded as the material cause of illusion, but is never the object of illusion itself. If the concept of the minor is further narrowed, so as to mean merely the cognitive states, excluding the underlying “being,” then in the case of successive awareness of the same entity the awareness at the second and third moments cannot be supposed to remove the veil itself, since that was removed by the first awareness. If the concept of the minor term is further narrowed, so as to mean merely the direct cognition of the material object, then also, since the Śaṅkarites do not admit that there are veils on the object, the object-cognition cannot be regarded as having removed such a veil. If in answer to this it is held that the mental state, e.g., the cognition of jug, involves a limitation of the pure consciousness by the jug-form and, since the ajñāna has the same scope as the above limitation, the removal of the veil on the jug-form limitation means also the removal of the veil of ajñāna to that extent, the reply is, first, that on the view that there is only one ajñāna the above explanation does not hold; secondly, since the pure consciousness, limited in any form, is not self-luminous, it cannot, according to the Śaṅkarites, be associated with a veil, which can only be associated with the pure self-luminous consciousness. Moreover, if the removal of the veil is spoken of as having reference only to material objects, then, since the verbal proposition “this is a jug” has the same content as the jug itself, the removal of the veil with reference to the material object—the jug—which has the same content as the mediate verbal proposition, ought not to take place.

Again, since on the Śaṅkarite view the vṛtti-knowledge is itself false, there cannot be any possibility that illusory objects should be imposed upon it. On the other hand, if the pure consciousness, as manifested by the vṛtti, be synonymous with knowledge, then, since such a consciousness is the support of ajñāna, it cannot be regarded as removing ajñāna. Thus the requirement of the inference that knowledge establishes itself by removing ajñāna fails; further, the requirement of the definition that the veil that is removed has the same location as the knowledge fails, since the ajñāna is located in pure consciousness, whereas the cognition is always of the conditioned consciousness.

The inference supposes that there is a removal of the veil because there is a manifestation of the unmanifested; but this cannot hold good, since the Brahma-knowledge cannot be manifested by any thing other than pure consciousness, and the self-luminous, which is the basis of all illusions, is ever self-manifested, and thus there is ṇp possibility here of the unmanifested being manifested. Moreover, if the ajñāna be a positive entity existing from beginningless time, then it would be impossible that it should be removed. It is also impossible that that which is a veil should be beginningless. So it is possible to have such counter-arguments as that beginninglessness can never be associated with veils, since it exists only as beginningless, like the negation-precedent; or that a valid knowledge can never remove anything else than negation, because it is knowledge. The manifestation of the unmanifested does not imply any positive fact of unmanifestation, but may signify only an absence of manifestation. Moreover, the light manifests the jug, etc., by removing darkness, because light is opposed to darkness, but the manifestation of knowledge cannot be opposed to ajñāna ; for pure consciousness underlying the objects is not opposed to ajñāna. The opposition of vṛtti to ajñāna is irrelevant; for vṛtti is not knowledge. What may be said concerning the rise of a new cognition is that it removes the beginningless negation of the knowledge ot an object of any particular person.

Madhusūdana in reply says that the term “valid knowledge,” which is the minor term, has to be so far restricted in meaning that it applies only to the vrta-knowledge and not to the sākṣi-conscious-ness which reveals pleasure or bliss; the vṛtti-knowledge also has to be further narrowed down in its meaning so as to exclude the substantive part (dharmy-aṃśa) of all cognitions, the “this” or the “being” which is qualified by all cognitive characters. Pramāṇa-jñāna, or valid knowledge, which is inferred as removing a veil, means therefore only the cognitive characters revealed in the vṛtti. Even in the case of parokṣa (mediate knowledge) there is the removal of its veil, consisting in the fact of its non-existence to the knower; which veil being removed, the object of the mediate cognition is revealed to the knower. Thus the valid cognition includes the cognitive characters as appearing both in mediate and in immediate vṛttis. The reason for the exclusion of the substantive part, or the “this,” from the concept of valid knowledge under discussion is apparent from the fact that there is no error or illusion regarding the “this”; all errors or doubts can happen only with regard to the cognitive characters. The “this” is as self-existent as the experience of pleasure. There cannot, therefore, be any such objection as that in their case also there is a revelation of the unknown and therefore a removal of the veil. If, however, it is urged that, though there may not be any error or doubt regarding the “this,” yet, since there remains the fact that it was first unknown, and then known, and therefore it involves the removal of a veil, there would be objection on the part of the Śaṅkarites to admitting such a removal, which may well be effected by the cognitive state or the pramāṇa-vṛtti. In such a case, however, the removal of the veil is not of the ordinary nature; for this ajñāna, which consists only in the fact that the entity is unknown, is different from the ajñāna the extent and limit of which can be regarded as a positive ignorance having the same defining reference as the object of cognition. In this view, therefore, the ajñāna is to be defined as that which has the capacity of producing errors, since there cannot be any error with regard to the substantive part, the “this.” The fact that it remains unknown until cognized involves no ajñāna according to our definition. Thus it may well be supposed that in the case of the cognition of the “this” there is, according to the definition contemplated in the scheme of the inference of ajñāna under discussion, no removal of ajñāna.

In the case of continuous perception, though the object may remain the same, yet a new time-element would be involved in each of the succeeding moments, and the removal of the veil may be regarded as having a reference to this new factor. It is well known that according to the Śaṅkarites time can be perceived by all the pramāṇas. Again, the objection that, since material objects can have no veil and since the ajñāna cannot be said to hide pure consciousness which is its support, it is difficult to say which of these is veiled by ajñāna, is not valid; for, though the pure consciousness exists in its self-shining character, yet for its limited appearance, as “it exists,” “it shines,” ajñāna may be admitted to enforce a limitation or veiling and to that extent it may be regarded as a veil upon that pure consciousness. Madhusūdana further adds arguments in favour of the view that ajñāna can be inferred; these are of a formal nature and are, therefore, omitted here.

Footnotes and references:


vivāda-gocarāpannaṃ pramāṇa-jñānaṃ sva-prāg-abhāva-vyatirikta-sva-viṣayāvaraṇa-sva-nivartya-sva-deśa-gata-vastv-antara-pūrvakaṃ bhavitum arhati aprakāśitārtha-prakāśakatvād andhakāre prathamotpanna-pradlpa-prabhāvad iti.
p. 13.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: