knowledge of even the existence of an object takes place in our minds. The
mind becomes conscious of the various ‘objects’ by the various ‘faculties’ available
to it. The very fact the mind has various faculties at its disposal shows
that knowledge of different objects call for taking resort of different
means. It is extremely important that we take resort to the right means,
otherwise even the existence of that object will not be evident to us.
These ‘means of knowledge’ are called Pramanas. Before we jump into the
bandwagon of people who want to know ‘all the different facets’ of this
beautiful blessing called life, it is extremely important that we first
know which all faculties or rather means of knowledge are at our disposal.
teachers of Advaita Vedanta philosophy have gone into this aspect of the
process of knowledge in great detail, and have enumerated ‘six’ pramanas.
Which pramana has to be resorted to & also when, is decided by the
situation and the nature of object concerned. These six means of knowledge
are Pratyaksha (Perception), Anumana (Inference), Upamana (Comparison),
Arthapatti (Postulation), Anupalabdhi (Non-apprehension), and Sabda (Verbal
Testimony). These are the six valid means of knowledge available to us, and
we consciously or unconsciously use them too in our day to day life to
‘know’ various things which come our way. It is extremely important for us
to understand each of these pramanas properly, so that we dont start using
the wrong means to know a particular kind of object. This is specially so
when we are inquisitive to know the Self, the Atman, which is the ultimate,
transcendental, infinite, non-dual truth referred to as the Brahman in the
Upanishads. Proper understanding of Pramanas not only facilitates
channelising of our energy properly but also culminates in the attainment
& fulfillment of the objective.
1. Pratyaksha : Pratyaksha or Perception implies direct, immediate cognition.
There are two kinds of direct perception, external and internal. The
‘external’ perception implies cognition of sense objects, namely - sound,
touch, form, taste and smell by our five sense organs (ears, skin, eyes,
tongue and nose). When the sense organs contact their respective objects
then the Pratyaksha knowledge takes place. The ‘internal’ perception means
the direct & immediate cognition of pain, pleasure, love, hate, anger,
knowledge or ignorance of various objects etc. in & by our minds. The
Acharyas elaborately reveal that in any direct perception, the awareness
existing at the level of mind of the person desirous to know an object, as
though flows out through his respective sense organ and envelops the
available & illumined object. This awareness is thereafter presented to
the knower in the mind as a thought of the object, who then ‘knows’ the
object. The entire process is extremely fast and implies the involvement of
both the mind and the sense organs in all direct perception. Sitting in one
place the knower knows even far off objects directly, provided they come in
the range of our sense organs. The immediacy of direct cognition is the
intrinsic characteristic of perceptual knowledge, and does not merely
depend on the organs of perception.
……… In all
direct perception the knowledge is extremely clear but its scope is very
limited. What we can directly see not only constitutes an extremely small
iota of the wide spectrum of things existing in this universe, but many a
times that which is directly cognized is far from truth. We have an
extremely beautiful creation right in front of our eyes, but we dont see a
creator directly, but as there cant be an effect without a cause so we have
to take resort of some other valid means of knowledge to know that
inevitable creator. So also regarding the internal perceptions, the thoughts
are gushing through our minds, but we dont directly see their cause, which
has to be inevitably there. Moreover, we directly see a rising sun but
astonishingly our deeper probes reveal that the sun never rises. Thus come
the great necessity of other means of valid knowledge.
2. Anumana : Literally translated the word anumana means ‘knowing after’.
It means the method by which knowledge is derived from another knowledge.
It is an indirect, mediate knowledge. We have knowledge of an invariable
relationship between two things and on that basis while seeing one we
deduce the presence the other. Thus anumana refers to the logical process
of gaining knowledge. The knowledge thus gained is called inferential
knowledge or the logical deduction. The nearest word to anumana is
inference. We say it is nearest word simply because of a slight difference
between the exact process of logical deduction in Eastern thought as
compared to the Western system of logical deduction.
forms the basis of anumana, but at the core of all inferential knowledge
lies the knowledge of vyapti or the ‘invariable concomitance’, the
invariable relationship between the two objects. We know on the basis of
our perceptual knowledge that wherever there is smoke there is fire (the
opposite however may not be true). Having known the invariable connection
between the two we can logically deduce the presence of fire whenever we
see smoke. This is anumana.
……… In all
inferential knowledge there are definite steps to be followed. The
following steps are accepted for logical deduction of knowledge by the
teachers of Advaita Vedanta :
a. Perceptual evidence - We see
smoke on the hill
b. Invariable concomitance -
Wherever there is smoke there is fire, as seen in kitchen.
c. Conclusion - Therefore the hill has fire
3. Upamana : The Mimamsakas & Advaitins define Upamana as the process
by which the knowledge of A’s similarity to B is gained from the perception
of B’s similarity to A, which has been seen elsewhere. This methodology is
seen as distinct from mere inference, and is thus accepted as a valid
mediate method of knowledge. For example, a person who has seen his cow at
home goes to a forest and sees a gavaya (a wild cow but without dewlap).
The person sees the similarity ‘This gavaya is like my cow’, and on this
basis also concludes the opposite to be equally true, that ‘My cow is like
this gavaya’. Thus by upamana he gains the knowledge of his cow’s similarity
to the gavaya from the perception of the gavaya’s similarity to his cow.
is a distinct means of knowledge, and cannot be clubbed under anumana,
because we cannot have a universal proposition that a thing is similar to
whatever is similar to it. Such a knowledge cannot be gained without the
observation of the two similar things together. The Advaitins use this
method of knowledge by comparison & similarity to logically communicate
the nature of Brahman and various other things. Brahman is said to be
resplendent as the sun. By perceiving the luminosity of the sun, the seeker
can appreciate the terms like the self-luminosity of Brahman.
4. Arthapatti : This means postulation, supposition or presumption of a fact.
It is a distinct valid method of mediate knowledge. It is in fact a method
of assumption of an unknown fact in order to account for a known fact that
is otherwise inexplicable. The classic example of this method of knowledge
is a fat person A says that he never eats in the day, then we can easily
postulate that he eats in the night, for the simple reason that without
this assumption his fatness & also his getting fatter cannot be
explained. Arthapatti can either be from what is seen or from what is
heard. The use of this method in Vedanta is in assuming rightly the
implications of Upanishadic statements. Like in the statement ‘The knower
of Self transcends grief’. Here we see that merely knowledge destroys
grief, then it can be assumed without any doubt, that all grief has to be false
then alone it can be destroyed merely by knowledge. So this is assumption.
5. Anupalabdhi : The Advaitins and the Mimasaka school of Kumarila Bhatt
believe Anupalabdhi to be a separate independent pramana. It literally means
non-apprehension. Non-existence of a thing is apprehended by its
non-perception. By not seeing a jar in a place one knows that it is not
there. We use this method of knowledge also very often, and this is evident
from statements like : ‘There is no teacher in the class-room’, There is no
sound here’, ‘This flower has no fragrance’ etc. It may seem paradoxical
that non-apprehension of a thing is a means to the apprehension of its
non-existence (abhava). But in fact both non-perception as well as perception
serve as a means to get various knowledge, for the simple reason that the
knower is conscious of both. They lead to positive & negative
experiences. Knowledge of non-existence of a thing can be on the basis of
direct or indirect knowledge. It could either be on the basis of our
immediate non-perception of a thing or even on the basis of inference or
verbal testimony. In the former the knowledge is immediate while in the
latter case, which is applicable in suprasensual objects, the knowledge of
abhava of a thing is mediate.
6. Sabda : Sabda pramana is verbal testimony. It is also called
‘apta-vakyas’ (statement of a trust-worthy person’, and agama (authentic
word). A verbal statement, uttered or written, is man’s most potent
instrument for transmitting knowledge. We learn mostly by means of words.
An oral or written message is a universal mode of communication. We
constantly get various information, direction & knowledge through
words. Right from school days to this moment we use words as a valid &
effective means of bringing about awareness of things, ideas or emotions.
Books, magazines, newspaper, letters, conversations, chats, radio, TV,
movies, songs etc. etc. All use or depend on words. We cannot do without
……… A verbal
statement conveying valid knowledge must have an authentic source which
must be free from defects. Only a competent person possessed of knowledge
can impart accurate knowledge. Such a knowledge needs no verification,
unless of course there is doubt about its reliability. If all that we know
from verbal testimony were to await confirmation, then the bulk of human
knowledge would have to be regarded as baseless. Among the Western
philosophers only a few recognize verbal testimony as a valid &
independent means of knowledge, but a majority of Indian philosophers do.
Those who do not accept it as an independent method of knowledge do realise
its great role but simply club it along with other means like inference
etc. The process of verbal knowledge cannot be clubbed with inference
because it does not involve any knowledge of invariable concomitance as is
the case in inference. So it is a category by itself. It is interesting and
also worthwhile to go into the exact process of derivation of meaning from
a sentence. At times there is substantive-adjective relationship between
the subject & predicate of the sentence and at times there may not be
such a relationship, but a non-relational entity could form their locus.
Such understanding becomes important when it comes to derivation of meaning
form sentences like ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ (That thou art). Lot of work has been
done in regards to derivation of meaning of a sentence, specially by the
Mimamsakas. Only that combination of words is called a sentence when four
factors are taken care of. They are expectancy (akanksa), consistency
(yogyata), contiguity (asatti), and knowledge of the purport
(tatparya-jnanam). Understanding of all this facilitates us to understand
why verbal testimony is an independent means of knowledge very different from
……… Having known these ‘pramanas’, when a qualified ‘pramata’
(knower) takes resort of these and turns his focus to ‘prameya’ (object of
knowledge) then ‘prama’ or valid knowledge is instantaneously brought
about. The knowledge brought about by any valid means of knowledge is alone
valid knowledge, it does not & can not depend on verification by other
means, because the other means have no reach to that. The right knowledge
does have some definite indications and thus validity of a means is
confirmed by the perception of those indications in the pramata. So instead
of wasting ones time trying to see a form by our nose we should rather open
our eyes and fulfill our aspiration. This alone is the objective of
understanding the various means & methods of knowledge at our disposal.