Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sense-perception cannot tell us anything about dharma

We need an authoritative Sacred Text not in order to know about the world of common experience; sense-perception and the other instruments of knowledge are enough for this purpose. We need it in order to know what ought to be done, since there is no way one will be able to understand out of sense-perception that vegetable sacrifices have to be performed on the New-Moon day, that one should go to church on Sundays, or that one should rather avoid switching on the light on Saturdays.

In his discussion about the validity of Sacred Texts, in Nyāyamañjarī 4, Jayanta seems to propose a similar argument, since he says that:

Nor are they (dharmaśāstras, i.e., texts prescribing ethical and social norms) based on experience, since sense-perception is not able to determine a duty which has the form of something to be done and is not determined by the three times.

What does "not determined by the three times" (trikālānavacchinna) mean? The Granthibhaṅga (the only ancient commentary on the NM) describes the three times as the domain of sense-perception. I would add that dharma escapes the three times (past-present-future), insofar as it belongs to neither of them. It belongs to a modal, not temporal dimension. Therefore, it is not "eternal" in a temporal way.

I already discussed the impossibility of sense perception to grasp dharma in this post (from the point of view of Mīmāṃsā).


Jayarava said...

What are you translating as "sense perception" in this case?

elisa freschi said...

pratyakṣa. Why?

Jayarava said...

The English term "sense perception" is used a lot in Buddhism. Sense perception would usually be saṃjñā (Pāli saññā) I think.

In Pāli pratyakṣa becomes paccakkha. It's not used very often except in the commentarial tradition.

I've been working on the word papañca (Skt. prapañca) lately and it is closely linked to saññā: sense perception is the origin of papañca. This shows up in my post from last Friday on types of knowledge. Sense perception is usually said to lead to confusion rather than clarity.


elisa freschi said...

Thanks Jayarava, I did not know and it is quite significant, I think. For "Sanskrit" philosophy pratyakṣa is a chief term (see the two posts after this one), possibly due to the predominant role of epistemology, which shapes all other branches of knowledge.
saṃjñā seems to be used in Sanskrit, as far as I know, in the sense of "consciousness" and not in the specific sense you mention.

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