Preceptors of Advaita
S. S. SURYANARAYANA SASTRI
M.A. (Madras), B.Sc (Oxon), Bar-at-Law
*An adaptation of the article ‘A Little-known Advaitin’, published in Collected Papersof Professor S. S. Suryanarayana Sastri, University of Madras, 1961.
Towards the close of the first chapter of the Siddhantalesasangraha, its author, Appaya Dikshita, devotes a considerable amount of space to the exposition of the view of a Kavitarkikachakravarti Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya. Though the author’s main purpose in that work is the statement of rival Advaita views and not any appraisal of these, yet he indicates, here and there, at least that amount of criticism of a doctrine, as is imminent in the formulation of a rival view. The exposition of the Chakravarti’s views is remarkable not merely for its length, but also for the absence of any criticism thereof. One feels that the Dikshita was probably in great sympathy with the doctrine expounded. This feeling is confirmed when one turns to the Parimala on the adhyasa-bhashya, especially the position relating to such illusions as the yellowness of the shell and the bitterness of sugar. Here, the Dikshita offers an interpretation of Vachaspati, which, though quite consistent with what he says, is not quite clear from his own words or from those of his commentator, Amalananda; and the words used by the Dikshita, in his exposition, are practically those he puts in the mouth of the Chakravarti, in the Siddhanta-lesa-sangraha. Appayya Dikshita’s interest would warrant one in holding that the Chakravarti was an Advaitin of some eminence; and even a slight examination of his views, as set forth by the Dikshita, confirms our impressions. It is all the more surprising that nothing more has come down to us about this Vedantin, except the name and a second-hand exposition of his views.
We shall now set forth the views of Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya as expounded in the Siddhanta-lesa-sangraha.
External sense-perception, for the Advaitin, consists in the intelligence that is specified by the internal organ flowing out through the sensory channel and taking on the form of the external object perceived. One of the many questions that arise in this connection is the need for this flowing out (bahir-nirgamana) of the psychosis (vritti). What exactly does it achieve? One answer is that it brings about the identification of the cognising intelligence with the object-intelligence or that it manifests the non-difference between the intelligence that perceives the object and the intelligence that is Brahman. Another answer is that the outgoing psychosis destroys the ignorance that envelops the object, and by thus removing the hindrance to knowledge brings about knowledge. This view has the merit of conforming to the general Advaita position that the function of psychosis is primarily negative, that knowledge is not produced so much as manifested by the removal of obstacles thereto. But it is not without its difficulties. One of these relates to a continuous stream of cognition (dharavahikajnana) relating to one and the same object. Here, the first psychosis in the stream destroys the ignorance veiling the object. What about succeeding psychoses? What is there for them to destroy? If they do not destroy any ignorance, are they really psychoses at all? The discussion is of some interest and one answer goes so far as to say that the succeeding psychoses are not authoritative, relating as they do to what is already apprehended and that, hence, the question is of little importance. With this difficulty we are not here directly concerned.
The problem of illusion, however, presents more serious trouble, for; it requires the co-operation of knowledge and ignorance. There can be no illusion except on a given substrate and this substrate (adhisthana) must evidently be known. And the illusion itself is the product of ignorance; ignorance is its material cause (upadana). If the act of cognition which makes us aware of the substrate destroys ignorance relating to the object, then there can be no cause for the illusion at all. If it does not destroy ignorance about the object, what else does it do? It may be possible to say that of the two aspects of an existent, existence and content, existence alone is apprehended by the first psychosis and that ignorance not being wholly dispelled, there is room for a second mental act which relates the ‘that’ to a wrong ‘what’, superimposes an unsuitable content of the given substrate. The reply is not very satisfactory, for the question is as to what the ignorance relates to, in such a perception as ‘this is silver’, in the case of nacre. Does it relate to the this-ness of the confronting substance? If so, the psychosis does not dispel any ignorance. If not, and if the ignorance relates only to the content, the ‘what’ of the perceived that, then the illusion should be of the form ‘nacre is silver’, not ‘this is silver’, as we find in experience. To get over this difficulty, a distinction is resorted to by some writers1 between the substrate (adhisthana) and the support (adhara) of the illusion, the latter appearing in the illusory cognition, not the former; in the cognition of the nacre as silver, this-ness is the support and nacreity is the substrate, the latter being that to which the ignorance relates. The distinction is cumbrous and has little to recommend it. And greater plausibility attaches to the view of some others who resort to the well-known distinction between the obscuring and projecting powers of nescience and hold that though the psychosis relating to this does dispel ignorance in its obscuring aspect, ignorance continues to exist and function through its projecting aspect; hence the illusion.
Here steps in Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya, saying that the whole question is misconceived, since there are not two psychoses at all, one relating to the ‘that’ and another to the superimposition of an erroneous what on the that. What comes to us is essentially one cognition, relating to a ‘that’ in conjunction with a ‘what’, not to the ‘that’ alone or to the ‘what’ alone. This is but reasonable, for we never cognise immediately the bare existence of anything. The knowledge of existence comes to us, if at all, only along with the knowledge, more or less determinate of some property or properties. If the knowledge is very indeterminate, we have doubt; if it is determinate, but the properties are not really those of the object, there is illusion. The illusory experience is due to the contact of a defective sense with the object before us. What happens in such a case is that, because of the defect, the distinctive features of the object are not perceived and their place is taken by other properties supplied from memory. Thus, in the shell which is seen, but not as while, because of a defect in the sense of sight, yellowness is supplied from memory; so too, when the child finds its mother’s milk to be bitter, the bitterness, though not previously experienced in this life, is supplied from the impressions of a former existence. The sense-element and the memory-element together constitute the object of a single act of cognition. That is why one says ‘I see this to be silver’, - ‘this sugar tastes bitter to me’. There is no such experience as that of the bare substrate (adhisthana), that being impossible in the case of the shell, for example, since the sense of sight which apprehends colour must apprehend the shell as possessing some colour or not at all. Nor is the ‘what’ experienced immediately as such, as will be evident from such experiences as ‘the lump of sugar tastes bitter.’ The lump of sugar in so far as it is not experienced as sweet is the object of the tactile sense; the bitterness is a former taste-experience, which is synthesized with the present actually experienced sugar, in a single act of cognition. Nor does this view become indistinguishable from the view of the Naiyayikas that what is perceived in error is what exists elsewhere; for, on their view, the illusory silver, being merely existent elsewhere, cannot be an object of immediate experience, whereas we do say that it is so experienced, not, however, as existing elsewhere, but as the content of the single psychosis produced simultaneously with it, by nescience, which is set in motion through the act of cognition. Again, in the experience of the shell as yellow, it is not the yellowness of the bile in the eye that is perceived; for, if that were the object of perception, neither the shell nor its relation would be the object of perception; and such a conclusion conflicts with experience. Nor does the yellowness go forth with the bile through rays from the eyes and envelop the object; for, once this is done, the shell should be perceived by all and sundry as yellow, as if it were gold-covered. The only hypothesis, then, which fits the perceptual nature of the superimposition and the non-perceptual nature of the ‘what’ by itself would seem to be the recognition of a single psychosis embracing the perceived ‘that’ and the remembered ‘what.’ Any modern psychologist would recognize this synthesis of sensed and associated elements as characteristic of all perception. The only difference in the case of illusion would be that the functioning of the sense-organ is defective. Illusion is a defective variant of perception, not a correct perception of the ‘that’, with an incorrect perception of the ‘that’ and the ‘what’ super-added to it.
It may be said that at least in those cases of illusion where similarity is the cause, as in nacre being mistaken for silver, the knowledge of the ‘that’ is the cause of the illusion and must come before the illusion; for, knowledge of similarity presupposes knowledge of what are similar. The discussion of the whole question is interesting. The essence of the reply is that recognition of similarity is no part of super-imposition. A blue expanse of water is seen where there is but a sandy waste; water is super-imposed on sand and blueness is super-imposed on the water, which, if present, would be really colourless. There is no similarity which determines either of these super-impositions. Either the sense fails to perceive or the mind fails to attend to those details of the object which would clearly show it to be a sandy waste; and the blueness and wateriness of other experiences are cognized along with the ‘that’ noted defectively by the sense of sight. So too, when nacre is mistaken for silver, all its properties except its glitter fail to be noted; and because of the glitter, silveriness is super-imposed thereon. What is called similarity and what determines the association with silveriness is really the partial identity with silver, in the matter of its glitter. Were the identity realized to be but partial, there would be but recognition of similarity, not super-imposition. A bar of steel lying in a treasury is thus mistaken for a bar of silver. Here, again, is a realization of the psychological truths that association is purposive and that association by similarity is in truth but a case of association by partial identity.
Vachaspati Misra, in the Bhamati, seems to waver between two explanations of the experience of the yellowness in the shell. He mentions the yellowness of the bile which goes out through rays from the eyes; he mentions also the yellowness experienced on previous occasions in the heated ball of iron, etc. He leaves us in doubt whether the yellowness of prior experience is super-imposed or whether the identical reference (samanadhikaranya) of the former experience of the yellow iron ball is super-imposed on the shell and the yellowness of the present experience. The question is that context is whether there is any element of prior experience at all in the illusory cognition of the shell as yellow. So long as the identical reference at least comes from prior experience, the question is answered in the affirmative; and it need not be shown further that the yellowness itself comes from prior experience. But to treat the yellowness as present in the bile and cognized through that would lay the theory open to the criticism urged by the Chakravarti (whose criticism was probably directed against Vachaspati himself). Appayya Dikshita makes out, therefore, that criticism like that of the Chakravarti (whom he does not mention by name in the Parimala) may be directed against the Tarkikas (who are anyathakhyati-vadins) and not against Vachaspati. For Vachaspati, the yellowness too comes from prior experience, like that of the heated iron ball. The earlier commentator, Amalananda, appears not to have noticed any such difficulty. Appayya Dikshita’s own interpretation of Vachaspati’s doctrine is not as satisfactory, as it is ingenious; for, if yellowness is not cognized from its presence in the bile, there is no reason for its being mentioned as present in the bile, which goes with the rays from the eyes. Even assuming that this was the view of the Tarkikas, there was no need for Vachaspati to mention it, except to approve or to condemn; and approval may not unreasonably be assumed, in the absence of condemnation.
On the assumption that Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya was criticising Vachaspati and that he was not noticed by Amalananda, he should be assigned to some period between the latter and Appayya of Amalananda. The present writer’s attention has been drawn by Dikshita. At the earliest, he might have been a contemporary his colleague, the Professor of Indian History, to two inscriptions2 in a Vishnu temple at Sri Kurmam, Ganjam District. They commemorate the erection of a tower (prasada) and the gift of money for perpetually feeding a lamp, by the wife of one Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya, a contemporary of King Ananga Bhima and a famous performer of sacrifices (sarva-kratu-suyajin). The date of the endowment for the lamp is Saka 1205 (1283 A.D.) This is not an improbable date for our Kavitarkika-chakravarti. In the absence of further details, it is not possible to be sure of the identification. It is to be hoped, however, that more details will be made available about one who made such significant and valuable contributions to Advaita thought.
2. Nos. 296 and 298 of 1896 from Sri Kurmam (Ganjam)
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Preceptors of Advaita