Satadusani –Pramanas and Their Validity – Part-5


The SatadUshaNi is an important classic of Visishtadvaita Vedantha composed by Swami Desikan, in which as the title suggests, one hundred philosophical issues have been chosen for systematic criticism directed against the school of Advaita. Previous parts of this article can be read from:



A study of the pramanas is an indispensable prolegomena to all metaphysical investigation. The exponent of every system has to show that the theory propounded by him is well grounded on the valid means of knowledge. In the absence of any valid proof in support of his theory, it is bound to be rejected as non-authoritative. The adherents ofthe orthodox schools of Indian Philosophy have generally accepted that perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumaana) and scripture (aagama) are the three important pramanas. Of these, scripture has been admitted to be the final authority in spiritual matters.

Scripture as a Pramaana :

The metaphysical position held by the Advaitin presents some difiiculties with regard to the pramaanas and their validity. According to him Brahman alone is absolutely real and everything else is illusory. Pramaanas, then, are not absolutely real. The first question that naturally arises out of this position is whether such pramaanas, particularly the revealed scripture, can be evidence leading to and guaranteeing the knowledge of reality. If a pramaana is not real, can it tell us anything about the absolute reality? Secondly, if scripture too is illusory in character, how can it be claimed as the ultimate authority in spiritual matters?
Regarding the first question the Advaitin answers that although a prarnaana is illusory it can yet reveal what is absolutely real. There are numerous instances of what is real being revealed by what is not real. The shell-silver, which is only illusory, causes joy. The rope-snake produces fear. The objects experienced in dreams are not real; and yet they produce effects which are far more real than the dream-objects. In all these cases the effects are definitely of a higher grade of reality than their causes. It is, therefore, possible that scripture, though it is illusory, can yet reveal the Absolute.
Vedanta Desika examines the above argument in great detail. The main point of criticism, which is based upon the Vishistaadvaitic theory of knowledge, is that in the instances cited by the Advaitin, it is not the alleged illusory objects but their cognitions that produce the effects in question. The cognitions, on this view, are real. In the case of the shell-silver, it is the cognition which apprehends the shell as silver that causes the joy in the individual. Similarly, the cognition which apprehends a rope as a snake is the cause of fear. In the case of the dream too, it is the experience of the objects in the dream that is the cause of the real effects. The experience itself is real, because it is not denied by the waking experience. On the contrary, the objects seen in the dream are sublated by waking consciousness and hence they are not real. It may be asked whether the cognition can be real while its corresponding object is not real.

This is possible, contends Vedanta Desika. What is needed for a cognition to be real is that it should have a reference to an object (saalambanatva  maatraniyamaat) and it is not necessary that the corresponding object should exist at that time. The mere appearance of an object is sufficient to serve the purpose of a content of’ the cognition.”
In the instances under consideration, there is the appearance of the objects to the respective cognitions owing to the defects of the object, the sense organs etc. These objects, since they are sublated later on by the succeeding cognitions are regarded as non-real. But the cognitions as such are not sublated and hence they are real. An objection may be raised. In the instances cited above, the mere cognition as such cannot produce the effects. If that were the case, the effects should have been produced even by some other cognition. On the contrary, it is only such cognition as is qualified by a particular object, say shell-silveror
rope-snake, that produces the effects in question.” A qualification may be of two kinds, qualification per proprium (vishesana) and qualification per accidens (upalaksana). The former is a distinctive mark which is syntactically related to the predicate and the latter is that which, while present, distinguishes without syntactical relation to the predicate. In either sense, an illusory object has to be admitted as a qualification of the
cognition. If that be admitted, it would follow that an illusory object is the cause of a real effect.‘ The above objection is met in more than one way. It is no doubt true that a cognition by itself does not give rise to the
effects in question.

Nevertheless there is no room for the possibility of their being effected by some other cognition since the cognitious themselves are diversified in their nature (vicitra shaktitvat). This diversity of cognitions is not so much due to the respective objects as to the accessories of knowledge (saamagrI vaicitrya). In other words, the relation of the cognitions to the respective objects is determined by the different accessories of knowledge.” It cannot be said that an object too constitutes an accessory of knowledge. This is true in the case of the perceptual knowledge where the object serves as the basis of sense-contact (indriya samprayogaadhaarataa). But in the case of inferential cognition of` the objects of the past and future, there is no possibility of an object being an accessory of knowledge.
As regards an illusory object, it has no existence before it is manifested by knowledge and, as such, it cannot serve as the basis for the sense-contact. The shell-silver is not, therefore, the cause of joy in the capacity of its being a qualification per proprium (vishesana) of the cognition.

The cognition qualified per accidens by the object, say shell-silver, may be considered as the cause of joy. Even then, shell-silver would not be the cause. There are three factors, the shell-silver, the cognition of shell-silver and the effect viz.,joy. The shell-silver by itself does not produce the joy. On the contrary, it is the cognition of the shell-silver that gives rise to joy. The cognition of the shell-silver is, therefore, the cause of joy. The object is only its upalakshana. What is only an upalakshana of the cause cannot itself be the cause of the effect as it would result in undue extension. In other words, the object is only concomitant with the effect by its being an upalakshana of the cause and as such causality does not pertain to it.”

Further, an upalakshana by itself does not denote the upalakshya. On the other hand, it denotes it through the knowledge that cognises it (sva-jnaanena). In other words, it is not the mere upalakshana but its knowledge that gives rise to the knowledge of the upalakshya. Causality, therefore, pertains only to the knowledge.

To be continued….


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