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Pramana

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By Sangeetha Rajah

The word Pramaanam comes from Pramaa Karanam. Pramaa means true knowledge and Karanam can be loosely translated as the special causative factor. So Pramaanam is “the means of knowledge” or “that by which knowledge is gained”. In Indian philosophy, the means by which one obtains accurate and valid knowledge about the world is called Pramaanam. The word Pramaanam also stands for testimony, proof, evidence. Our saastraas are our pramaana to know, analyse, realise and experience the ultimate reality that everything around us and all that is happening around us are NOT real. The quest for the ultimate reality starts here when a saadhaka or a spiritual aspirant engages himself in scriptural study. Some of the terms related to Pramaanam are:

  • Pramaa
  • Apramaa
  • Prameya
  • Pramaataa

Contents

Pramaa

Pramaa is Yataartha Jnaana (true knowledge), obtained from yataartha anubhava (true experience), like seeing a pot with one’s own eyes, experiencing the heat of fire, realising God, etc...

Apramaa

Apramaa is Ayataartha Jnaana (false knowledge) arising from ayataartha anubhava (false experience), like mistaking a rope to be a snake, experiencing this world of maayaa to be the truth, etc.....

Prameya

Prameya is the object of Pramaana. The object of our sense organs and mind are the source or object of Pramaana since we gain knowledge from them. It may vary from a little worm to a big ocean tide to anything in this universe.

Pramaataa

A person in the quest of Pramaa is called a Pramaataa. A pramaataa gains yataartha jnaana from a yataartha anubhava, arising from the contact of his sense organs and mind with prameya. There are many Pramaanas elucidated in our saastras. Different schools of thought and philosophy rely on different Pramaanas to explain their principles. The Pramaanas found in our scriptures are

  1. Pratyaksha
  2. Anumaana
  3. Upamaana
  4. Sabda
  5. Arthaapatti
  6. Anupalabdhi
  7. Itihaasa
  8. Sambhava
  9. Aitihya
  10. Abhaava
  11. Ceshta
  12. Yukti

Pratyaksha

The karanam or the special cause for direct perception (Pratyaksha) and true knowledge (yathaartha Jnaana) is called Pratyaksha Pramaanam. The true knowledge obtained from direct perception is called Pratyaksha Pramaana. For instance, when a pot is placed before our eyes and there is no obstruction, a contact takes place between our eyes and the pot, by which the knowledge “This is a pot” is obtained. This is called Pratyaksha Jnaana or true knowledge. In short, the knowledge born out of the contact between the sense organs and their respective objects is called Pratyaksham.

Anumaanam

The word Anu means “to follow” and Maanam means “to gauge, guess or infer”. So Anumaanam is the knowledge obtained by inference, based on logic. For instance, inferring fire on seeing smoke, inferring fruit on seeing a seed, inferring rain on seeing the clouds, etc...

Upamaanam

The word Upa means nearness and Maanam means to gauge, guess. So the knowledge of a new subject / thing obtained by comparing the similarity with an already known thing is called Upamaanam. Thus Upamana describes knowledge imparted by means of analogy. For instance, when the meaning of Gavaya (wild ox) is unknown, the similarity of the name to the word Gaus (cow) will provide knowledge that Gavaya is in the bovine family. This applies not only to words, but everything from animals to plants to persons.

Saabda or Aagama or Aapta Vaakya

Aapta means trustworthy, authoritative, valid. The Vedas, Srutis, Smrtis, Saastras and Puraanas are the authority on Hinduism and they give knowledge about the ultimate reality. The knowledge obtained through either adhyayanam (study), or sravanam (hearing), or smaranam ( remembering), or mananam (memorising) of our ancient scriptures, leads to the knowledge of ultimate reality. As the origins of our Vedas and aagamas are anaadi and as they have passed the test of time, they are our authority. Aapta vaakya may be so simple like Satyam vada – Speak the truth, or revealing the ultimate reality like Aham Brahma Asmi – I am the Brahman.

Arthaapatti

Arthaapatti is postulation. It is described as the necessary supposition of an unperceived fact that demands an explanation. Arthaapatti means that which easily becomes evident. For instance, if one sees a very healthy person, but never sees him eating or drinking in the day time, which is generally expected, then one may reasonably deduce that this person must be eating or drinking during the night.

Anupalabdhi

Anupalabdhi means unavailability or absence. It tells us about the non-existence of objects. The knowledge that a particular object is not present (here) is Anupalabdhi. For instance, when we do not perceive a pot on a table before us, we come to know that it does not exist.

Itihaasam

Iti means thus. Ha means indeed, and As means to be, exist, live. So Itihaasa means “thus indeed was or happened”. Various incidents of the lives of different kings, empires and people of the past were recorded and told in the form of stories with a moral behind it. This was done to emphasise the attainment of Purushaarthaas and to realise the ultimate reality. Raamaayana and Mahaabhaarata are examples of Itihaasa pramaana. In these epics, the past is narrated in the form of a story and we come to know what happens when we lead our life in a dhaarmic way like Raama and the Paandavaas. We also learn from the lives of Raavana and the Kauravaas that we should never go out of the dhaarmic way to achieve our ambitions.

Sambhavam

Sambhavam means equivalence. When we take a vessel to an experienced cook, he can say with certainty that a particular amount of rice can be cooked in that vessel. Similarly, one hundred exists in one thousand. When such an understanding appears in the intellect, it is known as Sambhava.

Aitihyam

Aitihyam means a traditional account. This pramana applies when something is known by common belief or tradition but the original source of that knowledge is unknown. For instance, the old fort in New Delhi is believed to have been built by the Paandavas. Though there is no scriptural evidence to support this, still this belief lives to this day.

Abhaavam

Abhaava is the absence of any existence. An object cannot be perceived by the senses if it does not exist in their proximity. For example, a person standing on one side of a high wall cannot see a pot lying on the other side of the wall. Incomprehension of the existence of the pot is called abhaava.

Ceshta

Ceshta means movement. By body language and different gestures we gain knowledge. A saadhaka realises the ultimate reality by performing various mudraas.

Yukti

Yukti comes from the root Yuj, which means to bring together, join, yoke. Through proper presence of mind, intellect and co-ordination of the aatma, sense organs and their objects, one is able to perform all activities properly.

Yukti is accepted as a Pramaanam by Acharya Caraka (300BC), an expertise in Ayurveda and the authorr of Caraka Samhita. For instance, when a person is suffering from fever and the medical care is inaccessible, the physician uses his yukti to find remedy with the limited resources. He advises the patient to intake warm water and also prepares a home remedy using pepper, cumin seeds, etc. The following table illuminates on the school of thought and the Pramaanas they rely on.

Schools of Thought Classified

School of ThoughtNo.of PramaanasName of Pramaanas
Chaarvaaka1P
Vaiseshika, Buddhism2P, A
Saankhya, Visishtaadvaita3P, A, S
Nyaya, Tarka4P, A, S, U
Advaita, Praabhaakara5P, A, S, U, AR
Bhatta meemaamsakara, Vedanta6P, A, S, U, AR, AN
Pouraanika8P, A, S, U, AR, AN, SA, AI
  • P - Pratyaksham
  • A - Anumaanam
  • S - Saabdam
  • U - Upamaanam
  • AR - Arthaapatti
  • AN - Anupalabdhi
  • SA - Sambhavam
  • AI - Aitihyam

Pramaanas and the Present Era

A closer look at all the pramaanas will bring to light the fact that they all fit in very well in today’s scientific era. They stand a testimony to prove that true knowledge never changes with the passing time. In fact all experiments being done today, are based on Pratyaksha, Anumaana, Upamaana, Saabda and other pramaanas.

References