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Śrī Jīva Goswami explains the types of perception

A skeptical reader asked where Śrī Jīva Goswami explicitly states that experience, which is a type of perception, requires a mind-body complex. That this is so is a rather commonplace feature of Vedantic thought, although the reader seemed to think that this is somehow a feature of the nyāya school alone. Further, the reader asserted that “other theistic Vedantic schools accept that the self can think, will and feel without instruments”. This latter assertion is also mistaken.

I get asked such questions every now and then. While I have written several articles on this topic already, it appears that more clarity is needed. I therefore decided to translate the Sarva-saṁvādinī commentary of Śrī Jīva Goswami on the topic of perception. In addition, I have written a previous article which also makes Śrī Jīva Goswami’s views clear and may be useful for readers.

There are ten pramāṇas

I pick up the thread in Tattva Sandarbha, Anuchheda 9, where Śrī Jīva Goswami writes (Śrī Babaji’s translaton):

athaivaṁ sūcitānāṁ śrī-kṛṣṇa-tad-vācya-vācakatā-lakṣaṇa-sambandha-tad-bhajana-lakṣaṇa-vidheya-saparyāyābhidheya-tat-prema-lakṣaṇa-prayojanākhyānām arthānāṁ nirṇayāya tāvat pramāṇaṁ nirṇīyate | tatra puruṣasya bhramādi-doṣa-catuṣṭaya-duṣṭatvāt sutarām alaukikācintya-svabhāva-vastu-sparśāyogyatvāc ca tat-pratyakṣādīny api sa-doṣāṇi ||9||

Four topics were suggested in the verse from the previous anuccheda : Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the subject ( viṣaya ) of this book; the book’s relation ( sambandha ) to Him is that of signifier ( vācaka ) to the signified ( vācya ); devotional turning of all the faculties to Him ( bhajana ) is what is meant to be enacted in all circumstances ( vidheya ) [lit., “that which is to be done,” or “duty”], also known as abhidheya , and unconditional love for Him is the ultimate completion of such devotional turning ( prayojana ). Now, in order to investigate these four topics, we should first determine a means of valid knowing ( pramāṇa ) [by which these topics can be ascertained].
In this regard, perception, inference, and other such methods are deficient, because human beings are prone to four defects: They are subject to delusion, they make mistakes, they are liable to misrepresentational bias, and their senses are limited in functional capacity. Furthermore, these methods of acquiring knowledge are not at all suited to approach the transcendental Entity, whose nature is inherently inconceivable and beyond phenomenality.

Śrī Jīva Goswami’s commentary on this passage is as follows (my translation):

sarva-saṁvādinī : atra puruṣasya iti | atraitad uktaṁ bhavati—yadyapi pratyakṣānumāna śabdārṣopamāṇārthāpatty-abhāva-sambhavaitihya-ceṣṭākhyāni daśa pramāṇāni viditāni, tathāpi bhrama-pramāda-vipralipsā-karaṇāpāṭava-doṣa-rahita-vacanātmakaḥ śabda eva mūlaṁ pramāṇam |

Here, this needs to be said: Although ten pramāṇas are known, namely, pratyakṣa, anumāna, śabda, ārṣa, upamāna, arthāpatti, abhāva, sambhava, aitihya, and ceṣṭā, even so, śabda, which is constituted of statements that are free from the faults of bhrama, pramāda, vipralipsā and karaṇāpāṭava, alone is the primary pramāṇa.

We see that Śrī Jīva Goswami accepts ten pramāṇas for gathering knowledge, although he places śabda above all. For comparison, Śrī Vaiṣṇavas accept three: pratyakṣa, anumāna and śabda. Advaitins accept six: pratyakṣa, anumāna, śabda, upamāna, arthāpatti, and anuplabdhi.

śabda is above all pramāṇas

Śrī Jīva Goswami explains why śabda is above all:

anyeṣāṁ prāyaḥ puruṣa-bhramādi-doṣamayatayānyathā-pratīti-darśanena pramāṇaṁ vā tad-ābhāsaṁ veti puruṣair nirṇetum aśakyatvāt, tasya tu tad-abhāvāt | ato rājñā bhṛtyānām iva tenaivānyeṣāṁ baddha-mūlatvāt, tasya tu nairapekṣyāt, yathā-śakti kvacid eva tasya taiḥ sācivya-karaṇāt, svādhīnasya tasya tu tāny upamardyāpi pravṛtti-darśanāt, tena pratipādite vastuni tair viroddhum aśakyatvāt, teṣāṁ śaktibhir aspṛśye vastuni tasyaiva tu sādhakatamatvāt |

Because the pramāṇas other than [śabda] are generally seen to be unreliable owing to the faults of human delusion etc., it is not possible to ascertain for a person whether they are a valid pramāṇa or not [i.e. whether the knowledge they provide is valid or invalid is difficult to ascertain in a given situation]. These faults are absent in śabda. Therefore, like the servants of a king, other pramāṇas are bound by śabda alone, while śabda is independent. Other pramāṇas act as the servants of śabda according to their individual capacities. śabda, on the other hand, is independent, and is seen to function, overriding others even. Other pramāṇas cannot contradict the existence of objects that are established by śabda. śabda alone is the means to attain those objects that other pramāṇas do not have the power to touch. [For all these reasons, śabda is the primary pramāṇa].

Pratyakṣa occurs through the senses and the mind

Next, Śrī Jīva Goswami explains briefly each of the ten pramāṇas. He starts with pratyakṣa:

tathā hi, pratyakṣaṁ tāvan mano-buddhīndriya-pañcaka-janyatayā ṣaḍ-vidhaṁ bhavet |

pratyakṣa or perception is of six types, being generated by the mind/intelligence, and by the five senses.

Here we see that Śrī Jīva Goswami explicitly states that the mind and senses are needed for perception. Experience is basically a type of perception. That the mind and senses are required for perception is also accepted by Advaitins and by Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. When we obtain knowledge through the senses, that is external perception. The perception of love or hate, pleasure and pain occurs in the mind, and knowledge acquired thus is internal perception. In this way, there are six types of perception.

Perception can be determinate or indeterminate

Śrī Jīva Goswami makes further divisions of pratyakṣa:

pratyekaṁ punaḥ savikalpaka-nirvikalpaka-bhedena dvādaśa-vidhaṁ bhavati |

Each type of pratyakṣa is again [of two types]: savikalpaka, determinate, and nirvikalpaka, indeterminate. As such, there are twelve varieties of pratyakṣa.

Readers have argued with me in the past about nirvikalpaka pratyakṣa, claiming that Śrī Jīva Goswami does not accept such a type of pratyakṣa. As is clear above, he does accept it. Śrī Babaji explains indeterminate perception thus:

“Perception is of two types, namely, indeterminate ( nirvikalpaka ) and determinate ( savikalpaka ). When a proficient sense faculty comes in contact with a perceivable object under favorable conditions, it relays the sensation to the mind. At the first instance, the mind is unable to decipher the sensation and only perceives it as something without any distinction of the object qualified by its attributes. In this micro instant one knows that there is something without any clear determination of the object. This is what is meant by indeterminate knowledge of the object.”

vaiduṣa or divine perception is flawless and the basis of śabda

Now he makes two further divisions, resulting in 24 divisions of pratyakṣa:

tad eva ca punaḥ vaiduṣam avaiduṣaṁ ceti dvividham | tatra vaiduṣe ca vipratipattih bhramādi-nṛ-doṣa-rāhityāt, śabdasyāpi tan-mūlatvāc ca |

And that also is again of two types: vaiduṣa and avaiduṣa. In vaiduṣa pratyakṣa, there is no erroneous perception, because human faults like bhrama etc. are absent, and because vaiduṣa pratyakṣa is the very basis of śabda.

Śrī Babaji has explained these two types of perceptions as follows:

“Vaiduṣa – pratyakṣa belongs to God, His associates, and the perfected beings, while avaiduṣa – pratyakṣa belongs to ordinary humanity. It is the divine perception that is free of any defects and that forms the basis of śabda.”

Vaiduṣa pratyakṣa of a subject who inhabits the material body does not occur by the subject’s independent power to experience , but through self-revelation by Bhagavān Himself. It is unmediated by the material mind and senses.

Experience of Brahman is indeterminate perception of Bhagavān

The experience of formless Brahman when one is in the body falls into the category of vaiduṣa, nirvikalpaka pratyakṣa. It occurs through Brahma-ākāra-vṛtti, i.e. the mind takes the shape of Brahman. Because Brahman is shapeless and infinite, what this is meant to convey is simply that Brahman self-manifests in the mind, and not that the mind’s own power enables the perception.

The experience of Brahman occurs through oneness with it, where a subject-object relationship is absent. After death, when one attains Brahma-sāyujya, the mind and senses are not present. In that state, no subject-object relationship is present, and so it is meaningless to dissect who is experiencing what, and how.


Perception occurs through the mind and five senses, and is therefore of six types.

Perception can be savikalpaka, determinate, or nirvikalpaka, indeterminate.

Vaiduṣa pratyakṣa, divine perception, is flawless, and is the foundation of śabda.

Categories: Brahman, concepts, jīva-tattva

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