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Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -10

ABHAVA AND ANUPALABDHI OR Non – Existence and Non – perception


The perception of non – existence is obviously rendered by the means of knowledge known as anupalabdhi. This pramana or right means of knowledge has to be admitted because it is claimed that this is a case of kevalavyatireki as a matter of fact for in the example ‘when there is no vision of an object there is no existence of it also since where there is vision of an object there is its existence. But it is seen that there is no manner by which one can grasp the want of vision or want of existence. This negative conjunction, if we may so say is a case of kevalavyatireki and it can never be really a method of arriving at an invariable concomitance. Negative being is held to be not an object of perception though Naiyayikas have held that non-existence is perceived as when we do not a fruit on a table where it was before. There is no doubt that we see a place empty of a thing we look out for. Thus non-existence is dependent only in respect of objects which are objects of perception, or revelation.

One of the most important defects of medieval logistics is that it does not see that its illustrations aim at proving the truth of revelation from the observance of ordinary experiences or perceptions. Understood in the sense, that the main motive of these scholars was to accept the pramanas which indirectly can prove their metaphysical assumptions from revelation, we can find that non-perception is used as a pramana to substantiate the non-existence of an object. “Non-perception of a sensible object generates the notion of negation immediately and not through other negations”. (Das Gupta. Vol I.p399). Advaita utilizes this anupalabdhi of the Mimamsakas (Kumarila school) to hold that negation is not a perception but merely the absence of perception. Thus abhava is an inference based on the absence of perception.

However let us ask ourselves in what context this pramana is being used even as pratyaksa, anumana and sabda are being used.

The logic of Negation in Advaita Vedanta proceeds on the ground of fundamental contrariety between perception facts and revelational facts. The word ‘facts’ is used to designate the reality and existence of these kinds – the phenomenal and the noumenal. This basic difference has to rest on the reality or existence of both kinds of realities, the sensate and the non-sensate (Brahmic). The two are in a sense related to each other as a appearance and reality. If the two realms are held to be equally present as facets or faces of one reality it would follow that we grant to the appearance a permanence that cannot be removed. This is indeed a difficulty for the general purpose of knowledge which assumes that there is a wide divergence between the two and seeks to get rid of appearance as equivalent to non-existence.

Thus it assumes that there is contrariety between Brahman and the world including the souls, and if the one is positive the other is negative and this logical assertion is based on the psychological experience of non-presence of the characteristics of the one in the other. Thus the world has qualities, has change, has motion and differentiation or plurality, and contrarily Brahman has the non-presence of these. However whilst we see the world, we do not see inferential one so long as there is no intuitive anubhava of Brahman. The contrariety then ceases to be just logical but becomes psychological. That this experience of Brahman should lead to the denial of the characteristics of the world and the souls of it is but natural but not inevitable. The experience of Brahman as existence, intelligence, bliss is a positive one, whereas the experience of its being without the qualities of nature or its characteristics is a negative one in relation to the known world and self. The former is intuitive and transcendental to the inferential and perceptual and as such ‘other’ than these but need not be contradictory but only an other: the latter is a logical hypostatis of the non-existence of the perception as the Brahman – an inferential conclusion based on the correlativity of negational predications.

Advaita thus in so far as it uses anupalabdhi or non-perception of the non-existence as a means of proof or right knowledge concerns itself with the field of non-perceived existents but how it could pass to non-existence is a mystery. Non-perception of non-existence is not capable of yielding any real positive knowledge of the existents. The question then to be considered is how we can speak of Maya as a existence or non-existence or both at once or as indescribable in logical alternatives (kotis). Further to hold that anupalabdhi is capable of being the proof for non-existence almost amounts to the solipsistic view of esse ist percipi which is its polar-opposite-criterion.

That this is certainly not the view of Advaita we can immediately realize and therefore it is necessary to inspect a little more carefully what anupalabdhi means. It is the most important part of our investigation to ask whether upalabdhi means just sensory perception or all experience of anubhava. By parity of reasoning which we adopted in respect of upamana and Upanishad, upalabdhi refers to the concept of near or correspondential or similar identity. The non-existence of that correspondential or similarity is what is strictly meant by anupalabdhi. In respect of the real transcendental which is beyond all perceptions and mindings and language, which cannot be grasped by any of these modes of knowings, it is clear that it must be seized by a mode which is not like other pramanas. Thus it follows the existence of the transcendent is known negatively by denial of the known characteristics in every sense of these. It is not therefore that anupalabdhi (non-perception) is non-experience of the non-existence, which is the significance of the negation of the nirvana concept of the Buddhists. On the other hand, the anupalabdhi reveals the existence of the transcendent, however much in a negative way.

The mimamsa explanation (of kumarila) for the acceptance of this pramana lies in his trying to explain the dynamic nature of negative perception or non-perception or perception of the non-existent as in the case of the apurva or the potency that works later rather than immediately as in causation, through arthapatti or presumption is sufficient, yet in respect of the dynamic nature of negation to which Buddhism had called attention, regarding even the efficacy of the rites or karmas.

Though anupalabdhi is a species of inference in the sense of our making an immediate inference yet it is not strictly an inference based on vyapti or invariable concomitance, observed in perception. Though a logical instrument it is yet seriously dependent on the necessity to substantiate the theory of the transcendent which is beyond all perception, which sabda cannot by itself as aptavacana do. Indeed one is forced to the conclusion that arthapatti and anupalabdhi and upamana as represented by the Naiyayika and Purva mimamsa are assumed as the principles of the ‘Logic of the Infinite’ or the transcendent which help the communication of the truths of the transcendent or the real infinite to the finite consciousness.

‘A logic of the Infinite’ thus requires the adaptation of the same principles of our ordinary finitised and atomized and sensate thinking to the levels of the Infinite. If we understand the technique of the liaison performed by these principles without, as it has been unfortunately done even by the expositors of these principles reducing them to the level of mechanical sensate explanation or exposition, they would regain the flexibility and mobility and suggestibility that is the nature of the Infinite consciousness. The sabda as revelation tries to convey the truths of the transcendent and the Infinite to the finite sensate mind through these triple pramanas of Upamana, Anupalabdhi and Arthapatti.