Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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Cognitive Function

Hari OM

'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.

[You are reminded that reviewing the previous week's posts will become essential as the meanings of the Sanskrit terms may not be repeated. There may come additional or alternative meanings, but all should be noted. As study progresses, the technical terms must necessarily become 'second nature' to the student. When the Sanskrit is used, the translation will fall easily into place - or likewise, if the English is used, the Sanskrit term must easily come forwards.]

Please revisit THIS post and chant the mangala-charana. Please use the TattvabodaH label to access all posts relevant to this text.

The Subtle Body - suukshma shariira - was our subject last week and you were left to ponder what may come next according to the question answer methodology of Sanskrit teaching… it is hoped you came up with  "What are the indriyas?"! In the text, the Guru has seen the shishya's face and known the need for expansion, therefore the question is not actually voiced. Instead, the Guru goes straight into a description of the jnaanendriyaanis - the organs of knowledge.

श्रोत्रं त्वक् चक्षुः रसना घ्राणं इति पञ्चज्ञानेन्द्रियाणि।
श्रोत्रस्य दिग्देवता। त्वचो वायुः। चक्षुषः सूर्यः। रसनाया वरुणः।
घ्राणस्य अश्विनौ। इति ज्ञानेन्द्रियदेवताः।
शोत्रस्य् विषयःश्ब्दग्रहणम्। त्व्चो विषयः स्पर्शग्रहणम्।
चक्षुषो विषयः रूपग्रहणम्। रसनाय विषयः रग्रहणम्।
घ्राणास्य विसयः गन्धग्रहणम् इति।

shrotrasya digdevataa. tvacho vaayuH. caxuSaH suuryaH. rasanaayaa varuNaH.
ghraaNasya ashvinau. iti GYaanendriyadevataaH.
shotrasy viSayaHshbdagrahaNam. tvcho viSayaH sparshagrahaNam.
chaxuSo viSayaH ruupagrahaNam. rasanaaya viaSayaH ragrahaNam.
ghraaNaasya visayaH gandhagrahaNam iti.

"The five organs of perception are the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose. The presiding deities of the organs of perception are - space of the ears, air of the skin, sun of the eyes, water of the tongue and the twin princes of the nose. The field of experience of the organs of perception are - cognition of sound for the ear, cognition of touch for the skin, cognition of form for the eyes, cognition of taste for the tongue and cognition of smell for the nose."

Here we begin to appreciate the understandings of the Rsis for how the amazing thing called the body operates!

Notice that the elements are now given proper nouns, to identify the 'power' behind their function. Thus aakaasha becomes Dig-devataa, Vayu retains the name, agni is Surya (sun), jal becomes Varuna and prithivii, which is earth and representing smell/nose, has the Ashvini-kumars. At this point in the text, remember, we are exploring the subtle senses. [It is worth noting (though not given as such in the text at this point) that the physical structures of the gross body such as ear, eye and so on are known as the गोलक /golaka - dish/recepticle - that part of the body which gathers the information.]

The five organs of perception have the capacity to;
Hear (thus we understand 'ear' in this context to be the faculty not the physical structure)
Feel (the skin contains the faculty of perception through touch)
See (signals which are translated into form)
Taste (through the tongue's signals)
Smell (through the signals of the nose)

Each of the organs can only do what it is designed to do. Eyes cannot hear, neither can the ears assess odour. When one or other of the sense fails, each of the remainder may strengthen their sensitivity within their own realm only - they do not take up the work of the lost partner. Knowledge gained through the senses is called प्रत्यक्ष ज्ञानम् /pratyaksha jnaanam - direct perception. The majority of our knowledge is gained in this manner, or based upon the information gathered in this manner. We respond accordingly.

Every department in an organisation has a departmental chief who is responsible for controlling and functioning within that department. Even an automatic machine needs an operator to maintain it, to switch it on or off or to carry out repairs. Hence, without the sentient entity, the inert cannot function. In the shaastra, these sentient beings ( देवताः /devataas - deities) which control the functioning of the various departments of the universe are said to be thirty three crores (millions) in number… let it be clearly understood that Hindus believe in only One God (ईष्वर /Iishvara), and they accept that every funcrtional 'chief' draws his power, strength and knowledge from the One. It may seem a colourful methodology for describing scientifically-based processes, but bear in mind that this thinking is certainly six thousand years old and possibly much older. That the structure given still holds up and matches modern scientific understanding is impressive indeed.

Think about it. To hear, there must be physical space inside the ear's construction to allow the sound to carry and vibrate and thus create the signals that the brain brings to the mind and permits us to form an impression of variation and colour for our communication. We know it as the eustachian tube, the chamber within which the ossicles and eardrum can move to form the vibrations; here we are told simply that the space exists and is 'operated' by the subtle energy (devataa) called Dig.

Similarly, we know that without the presence of air, touch would become difficult to interpret for us. It is buy the movement of air out of the way and permitting contact between surfaces which permits touch to become meaningful. Without light, sight is nothing - so important is the Sun and its light to us, we have attempted to emulate its properties through technological means. Further, without the saliva (water) in the mouth, the tongue cannot translate taste for us and without the draught, the movement of breath, smell is much reduced.

Does this not bring biology into focus?! It is so deceptively simple, so profoundly applicable.

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Hari OM
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