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Akhyati In Hindu Philosophy

Akhyati is non-apprehension or non-discrimination in Hindu philosophy. It is a theory propounded by the Prabhakara Mimamsakas to account for the so-called cognitive errors and illusions. When, for example, the shell of an oyster is mistaken for silver, the judgement is expressed as ‘this is silver.’ The ‘this’s is presented directly in sense- perception, where as ‘silver’ is merely a representative remembrance of silver. Illusion arises when the perceptions of ‘this’ (shell) and the memory of ‘silver’ are not distinguished from each other. By dint of similarity, and other accessory factors such as defects in the senses, memory becomes obscured and the perceiver fails to notice the special distinguishing features of the shell. As a result, the single erroneous judgment ‘this is silver’ is made. In reality, however, there are two judgments involved here – I perceive this and I remember the silver. ‘Shell’ and ‘silver’ are real entities existing in their own time and place. They are not illusory. But, because of non-discrimination between the perceived and the remembered elements, one single judgment is made, which leads to the shell being mistaken for silver.

This akhyati (non-apprehension) is not the absence of knowledge because in deep sleep, where knowledge is absent, there is no incidence of illusion. Non-apprehension is only an expression for such vyavahara (wrong inferences) as ‘this is silver’. That does not refer either to the ‘this’ (shell) or to the silver; both are in themselves unquestionably real. Then, in the judgment ‘this is silver’, what is the alambana (supporting base) for the knowledge of silver? If it is the oyster-shell because of its presence there, then any object present at a place will become the supporting base for the knowledge of any other thing and therefore, will be mistaken for something else. Even a clay pot or a dog will be mistaken for silver. This will be atiprasanga dosha (the error of hyper-context). The sense-organ, the eye also cannot be the base of erroneous knowledge because the role of the sense organs is to provide correct knowledge, not erroneous knowledge. Therefore, the only basis of the knowledge of silver is the memory of silver itself seen earlier. The shell is the supporting base for the knowledge of ‘this’ only. And, a mixture of these two elements of knowledge comes up as error.

When the wrong usage is corrected subsequently as ‘this is not silver’, what is cancelled is only the non-discrimination. Neither the ‘this’ nor the ‘silver’ is cancelled. There is no false knowledge, for th simple reason that there are no illusory entities. On the contrary, the two real entities are known as they really are.

The Prabhakaras, realists as they are, believe that knowledge as such can never be false. Every piece of knowledge is real. Otherwise, no knowledge could be certain and would result in universal skepticism.