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Dreams as explained by discussion on pramAnas

From: Venkat Nagarajan (
Date: Fri Apr 14 2000 - 10:05:05 PDT

Dear Bhagavatas,

Note: Key Reference: Sri. S.M.S. Chari*s book *Advaita and Vis*istAdvaita: A Study Based on VedAnta Desika*s S*atadUsanI.*   

The issue of dreams is dealt with in the broader discussion of pramAnas-valid sources of acquiring knowledge.  The content of dreams are objects of senses, or verbal testimony (note verbal testimony is imbibed through sense organs), or inferential knowledge (note that inferential knowledge produces new knowledge but makes use of premises based on perception and or verbal testimony.)  Because perception is the substratum of verbal testimony and inferential knowledge, the main discussion revolves around nature and content of perception.  

The question to be addressed is whether an illusory object can produce a real effect?

Advaitic claim: An illusory object can produce a real effect.  

The Advaitins make use of analogies to support this claim.  The Advaitin*s goal is to establish this claim, so that he can conclude that, although scripture is illusory, it can produce a real effect.	

1.Rope-snake, is an illusory (something that appears to be present but is really not) object but it generates a real effect, fear. 	

2. Objects experienced in dreams are not real yet they produce effects that are real.

Vis*istAdvaitic Claim: Only a real object can produce a real effect.

The rationale for the claim is as follows.  It is cognition that produces the effect; the content of cognition is real; therefore a real object causes a real effect.

The Advaitin may object as follows:

The catalyst for the cognition is an illusory object; therefore an illusory object is the ultimate cause of the real effect.

Vis*istAdvaitic Counter Argument beautifully formulated, by the quintessential profound idealist (KavitArkika Simham) Sri. Vedanta Desika:

Objects by themselves are not capable of being catalysts; it is direct sense contact that gives rise to cognition (direct sense contact either at the time of cognition or at some earlier point in time.)  Thus, it is not the object that is the cause of a real effect, but rather the cognition triggered by direct sense contact (contact either at the time of cognition or at some earlier point in time.)  The object of cognition is real, so a real object leads to a real cause. 

For example:	when one sees a rope snake, 

1.the thought of a snake arises; 
2.   the snake is a real object; knowledge about the snake was obtained at some prior point in time when direct sense contact took place;  
3.  it is the cognition of the snake that produces fear and not the rope that appears to be a snake.

To summarize, only real objects can lead to real effects.  The objects of dreams are the objects of cognition.  The objects of dreams are real even though they are not physically present during a dream.  Thus, dreams involve real objects leading to real effects.    

ramanuja dasan,

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