Friday, October 2, 2009

Vedānta Deśika on the boundaries of sense perception

The following is the beginning of Vedānta Deśika's discussion on whether dharma can be siezed by sense perception. He has four arguments in favour of that (in yellow is a point I am not sure about):

Once the investigation on dharma has been undertaken through the [question] on whether there is no instrument for knowing [dharma] and whether there is another instrument for knowing [it], here first of all is confuted the validity of other [instruments of knowledge], according to the succession (krama) of the two established ascertainments in regard to the possibility of the compound in its parts “codanālakṣaṇa” [to express two meanings] [see Vedānta Deśika on MS 1.1.2, where codanālakṣanaḥ is first interpreted as "having no other instrument of knowledge outside Vedic prescription" and then as "having prescription as instrument of knowledge [and hence not being unknowable]"]. Hence, in this case, can [direct perception] be an instrument for knowing dharma or not? –this is the point to be inquired. What is correct? It can. To elaborate: here, substance, action (kriyā), quality, etc., which can be talked about through the word “dharma”, are established through direct perception –this is agreed upon by everyone. The fact that they can be instruments to realise something good, on the other hand, although it is difficult to be seized by people like us at once (that is, through direct perception) (sahasā), is nonetheless easily grasped through the direct perception, assisted by a heap of saṃskāras, of those who are used to that, like the reality of a precious stone (ratna) [is easily grasped by experts, but not by common people]. [Moreover,] like in the case of the appearances of the beloved one for one who is love-sick (kāmātura), an intense meditative visualization (bhāvanā) can raise a directly perceivable idea (dhī). [Furthermore,] one commonly experiences that there is a graduation in the grasp of sense faculties, like in the case of crows, owls, vultures, etc. And the obtaining of the pitch is seen in regard to those who take part to this graduation. And hence either the graduation in intensity gets somewhere exhausted, because of its nature of graduation [just like one cannot jump until the moon, no matter how long one practices –as pointed out by Kumārila] like the graduation of measures, [and it is] so for every sense faculty, or [the graduation in intensity] could generally (that is, in all cases) be practised (prayuj-, caus.) as a graduation in intensity of direct perception. If this is the case, all super-sensuous object is established to be sensory in relation to someone
[e.g. perception of small ants is sensory for one who has well trained eyes], because the exhaustion [of the graduation of intensity of direct perception] would not be possible without (that is, before) the fact that everything [has become] its content (viṣaya). As for the topic under discussion (prakṛta), this can be inferred in detail: dharma etc. can be grasped by someone's sense faculties, because they are knowable things, like the palm of a hand. Or, for the mīmāṃsakas, in regard to this premiss (“dharma etc. can be grasped by someone's sense faculties”) (pratijñā) [the reason is:] because they are directly perceivable, like our own pleasure and [pain]*. [Lastly, we know that dharma is perceivable out of śabdapramāṇa. In fact,] the great ṛṣis themselves speak about the direct perception of great ṛṣis and yogins, engendered by their dharma and energy: “Hence, he clearly sees all, as it is, through the energy of dharma”.

*One needs an additional argument for Mīmāṃsakas, since the sheer fact that "they are knowable things" would not be enough for a Mīmāṃsaka to prove that dharma, etc., are seizable by the sense faculties. They could be known –a Mīmāṃsaka would argue– through the Veda. On the other hand, the second argument would not be valid for non Mīmāṃsakas, since pleasure and pain are, according to non Mīmāṃsakas not seized by the senses, rather they are by themselves known. In fact, they are believed to be instances of cognitive acts and, hence, self-luminous (svayaṃprakāśa).

(Seśvaramīmāṃsā, ad 1.1.4) (This translation has been discussed with Marion Rastelli)

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