(adapted from Swami Shuddhabodhananda's book on Tattva-viveka Prakaranam of Panchadashi)
Vedanta is shabda-pramana – a means of knowledge in the form of words. It’s subject matter is to reveal the identity between the individual and Brahman.
The literal meaning of words cannot reveal the nature of Brahman. Why? The nature of Brahman or the self defies description through the direct meaning of any word or sentence. Brahman/ the self is free from all attributes. How can it is be on object of perception or words. Words can describe only those things which can fit into the categories of species (jati), attributes (guna), action (kriya), relation (sambandha).
Brahman the Self, who is all-pervasive is free of all these categories. Therefore the Upanishads themselves declare Brahman as the one from whom words along with the mind returns without being able to objectify it.
However the Upanishads uses special means of communication within a known context to convey the nature of Brahman, using LAKSHANA VRITTI.
When a sentence is used as means of knowledge (pramana), its operation is effective, provided the meaning of the words therein and the sentence as a whole are properly understood.
The meaning of a given word or a sentence can be literal, implied or figurative depending on how it is employed. The inherent capacity of words to yield the appropriate meaning as per a context is called as VRTTI. It indicates the relation (sambandha) between the word (pada) and its meaning (padartha), resulting in an understanding of the word (shabda-bodha).
Vrttis are of three types.
1. Abhidha Vritti : It gives the literal meaning (vaacyartha) of a word. It is also called mukhya vritti. For example, ‘this is a cup’ – the direct meaning of cup is immediately understood.
2. Lakshana Vritti: When the literal meaning of a word or a sentence does not fit in with the meaning then either the meaning must be wrong, or we have to look for the implied meaning. If the sentence is not wrong, there may be a possibility of conveying some meaning other than the direct one. This is called lakshana vrtti. It gives the lakshyartha – the implied meaning. In this case some aspects of the word or words may have to be deleted, retained or added, depending on the context. We will see the three sub-division of this vritti.
In the case of the maha-vakya tat tvam asi, this type of vritti is employed as the direct meaning does not make sense.
3. Vyanjana Vritti: This gives the figurative meaning. When the first two vrittis fail to convey the meaning, one can look into this.
The three sub-divisions of lakshana vritti are as follows.
a. JAHAL-LAKSHANA VRITTI
Jahal-lakshana vrtti is the lakshana vritti which discards (jahati) some aspect. Here the primary sense of a word is given up, yielding a different sense which is connected to the primary one in some way.
A familiar instance is gangaayaam ghoshah – “a village on the Ganga. A village on a flowing river is not possible. So we discard the meaning of a flowing river Ganga and interpret the word Ganga as the ‘bank of the Ganga’.Thus the implied meaning is that there is a village on the banks of the Ganga.
b. AJAHAL-LAKSHANA VRITTI
Here the original sense of a word used is not given up but it is supplemented by a relevant word.
‘Shono dhaavati’ – meaning “the red runs”. Now the red colour by itself cannot run; therefore it means “a red horse runs”.
c. BHAAGATYAAGA –LAKSHANA VRITTI
In bhaagatyaaga-lakshana vritti or jaha-ajahal-lakshana vritti, words convey the implied sense by discarding the mutually contradictory aspects. “Soyam devaduttah”- This is that Devadutta’ .
You were going to your office. On the way you met your friend who was talking to a bearded man in a suit. You friend introduces this man as “This is that Devadutta’. Immediately you recall who the person is – you remember the owner of the chai shop in Calcutta where you used to drink tea in your college days. That guy never had a beard, and used to be dressed in a dirty lungi and banian. Later he also came to Dehradun and became a successful businessman, which you never knew about.
In this sentence, “that” represent Calcutta, the time twenty years ago and the person the chai-shop owner. “This” means the present time at Dehradun, and the businessman. In point of fact, both these group of characteristics qualify the same person, Mr Devadutta. Yet there is an apparent contradiction because they differ from each other and cannot be the same. So to understand the statement what happens in your mind, before recognition takes place is that you have discarded the mutually opposite aspects, (the place and the looks) (bhaaga-tyaaga) and retained only the locus, who is the individual Mr. Devadutta.
Bhaaga-tyaaga is an important means of communication provided the context is known. This lakshana vrtti is used to understand the maha-vakya “That You Are”.
Om Tat Sat