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The archetypal illusion

Samedi 16 janvier 2016

"7. You and he are to me subjects individualised in the objective body, the body being, however, as much distinguished from them as from myself. Like their bodies they also can be spoken of as individual, but while the individuality of he is evidently derived from his body which is this to me, the individuality of you appears to be prior to that of your body. You are individual to me primarily through my act of addressing and only secondarily through what appears to my imagination as your identification with or appropriation of your body."

Krishna Chandra Bhattacharyya, The Subject of Freedom

A unique quality of Krishnachandra's style was in his sober choice of the exact words and his minimalist writing of concise, short works. “His own written style, as Burch described it [“Contemporary Vedanta philosophy,” p.486], precise, literal, lacking any rhetorical adornments of illustration or analogy, and using ordinary words in extraordinary ways, is extremely difficult.” An additional challenge to the competent reader is to place the underlying Sanskrit words under his clean and elegant philosophical English, I mean, to trace the Vedantic concepts and problematics underlying his argument. The foregoing quotation from §7 of The Subject of Freedom, which elaborates upon the foundational adhyāsa [superimposition] of the body on the self, gives an excellent example of his style and argument.

Krishnachandra here has drawn attention to the fact that the identification of the self with the body, though involuntary and natural — it constitutes the foundational adhyāsa on which all other erroneous cognitions are based —, is always secondary whereas the identification of the Other with his or her body is almost always primary.

I am citing Daya Krishna, “Can the analysis of adhyāsa ever lead to an Advaitic conclusion?” [2001], repr. in Contrary Thinking. Selected essays of Daya Krishna (Oxford, OUP, 2011), p.213.

“The identification with the body is perhaps the most involuntary identification that we know of. It is also the most foundational, primal and natural identification as it is not only the seat of pleasure and pain, but also responsive to our acts of will and thus the main centre through which we act on the world. Others too identify us primarily through our bodies and even in it mainly through the face as becomes evident when one has to identify a dead body. In fact, there is a radical distinction between the identification of the self with the body and the identification of the others with his or her body.

The former, though involuntary and natural, is always secondary whereas the latter is almost always primary. K.C. Bhattacharyya has drawn attention to this fact in his remarkable work entitled Subject as Freedom wherein he had built his whole philosophical edifice upon the notions of identification and deidentification and suggested that when one has deidentified one realizes that the prior identification must have been volontary [i.e. one's responsibility was engaged] in the sense that it need not have been there as there was no necessity about it.”

Daya Krishna eventually departs from Krishnachandra's description (“But he has not seen that…”). As for us, we shall keep to Krishnachandra's showing my responsibility in my wrongly identifying you with your body. I am responsible for this illusion, because I had been primarily addressing you before I secondarily mistook you for your body. The dialogue with the Other immediately preceded the identification of his or her self with his or her body.

Daya Krishna has shown that the Vedantic source of Krishnachandra's foregoing phenomenological description was the very beginning of Śaṅkara's Brahmasūtrabhāṣya:

George Thibaut's translation (1904)

It is a matter not requiring any proof that the object and the subject whose respective spheres are the notion of the ‘Thou’ (the Non-Ego) and the ‘Ego,’ and which are opposed to each other as much as darkness and light are, cannot be identified. All the less can their respective attributes be identified. Hence it follows that it is wrong to superimpose upon the subject — whose Self is intelligence, and which has for its sphere the notion of the Ego — the object whose sphere is the notion of the Non-Ego, and the attributes of the object, and vice versa to superimpose the subject and the attributes of the subject on the object. In spite of this it is on the part of man a natural procedure — which has its cause in wrong knowledge — not to distinguish the two entities (object and subject) an such as ‘That am I,’ ‘That is mine.’ — But what have we to understand by the term ‘superimposition?’ — The apparent presentation, in the form of remembrance, to consciousness of something previously observed, in some other thing.

Traduction Louis Renou (Prolégomènes au Vedānta, 1951)

Etant acquis que l'objet (viṣaya) et le sujet (viṣayin), domaines de la notion du toi et du moi, opposés par nature comme les ténèbres et la lumière, ne peuvent s'interpénétrer, et que leurs propriétés (dharma) peuvent s'interpénétrer bien moins encore, on doit considérer comme erroné de surimposer au sujet, essence spirituelle (cit), domaine de la notion du moi, l'objet, domaine de la notion du toi et les propriétés de l'[objet], et inversement de surimposer à l'objet le sujet et ses propriétés. Pourtant, surimposer à l'un l'essence et les propriétés de l'autre, en manquant à distinguer ces deux catégories (dharmin) et leurs propriétés, qui sont choses absolument distinctes, accoupler ainsi le vrai et le faux en disant ‘je suis ceci’ ou ‘ceci est à moi’, — c'est là une pratique innée de la vie courante, qui dérive d'une connaissance erronée.

Question. — Qu'appelle-t-on surimposition (adhyāsa)?

Réponse. — C'est le fait que telle chose déjà vue apparaît [à la conscience] (avabhāsa), dans telle autre chose, sous forme de souvenir (smṛti).

Krishnachandra innove sur deux points par rapport à Śaṅkara, en affirmant d'une part le rôle fondamental de la présence d'autrui et d'autre part notre responsabilté dans l'illusion dont nous sommes victime.

Krishnachandra departs from Śaṅkara's description on two points. First, the dialogue between me and you is foundational, and Speech precedes Perception. The act of addressing the Other comes first and before any confusion between the Self and his or her Body: “You are individual to me primarily through my act of addressing and only secondarily through what appears to my imagination…” Moreover, my relationship to the Other is constitutive of my relationship to my body or belongings. Second, precisely because I first spoke to you before I could see you in your body, I am fully responsible for confusions and illusions through which selves are identified with bodies.