Pramāṇas

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Pramanas, PramANas, Pramaanas


Pramāṇas literally means ‘those which measure,’ ‘valid means of knowledge’.

All the six darśanas[1] accept certain basic sources or means of knowledge known as ‘pramāṇas’ upon which they further develop their theories. These pramāṇas vary from a minimum of three to a maximum of six. They are as follows.

Classification of Pramāṇas

Pratyakṣa

Pratyakṣa means a direct or immediate perception having two stages of development. As soon as the sense-organ comes into contact with the sense-object, there is a general awareness of it, as something existing. This is called nirvikalpaka-pratyakṣa. In the next stage, all the details will be noted in the light of past experience which is savikalpa-pratyakṣa.

Anumāna

Anumāna means inference. It gives us the knowledge of a thing indirectly, when we see some liṅga or sign invariably connected with the original. For instance, by seeing smoke on a yonder hill, we can infer that there is fire there, even though we do not see it directly, since it is known from previous observations and experience that smoke is invariably associated with fire.

Upamāna

Upamāna means comparison which is an another source of knowledge. On seeing a rat, one recollects that it is like the mouse he had seen earlier. He then comes to know that the remembered mouse is like the perceived rat. This type of knowledge comes through upamāna.

Śabda

It means verbal testimony. The Mīmānsā Darśana pays the greatest attention to this since it has to justify the undisputed authority of the Vedas. The words of a reliable person are believed to be true. This is called āptavākya. However, the Verbal testimony is of two types:

  1. Pauruṣeya - personal, same as āptavākya
  2. Apauruṣeya - impersonal

The Apauruṣeya denotes the Vedas since they were not created by any human agency. The Vedas are supremely authoritative since they are the ‘Book of Commandments’ and also give us authentic knowledge of the unseen and the unknown truths. Again, their main purport and purpose lies in propagating sacrificial rites. The Vedas are eternal, not as the printed Book nor as the orally transmitted mantras but as the eternal teachings contained in them. These teachings are conveyed through the ṛṣis or sages in every age. Since the Vedas are mainly concerned with giving commands[2] about the yāgas or sacrificial rites and other associated rituals, only those sentences containing such commands as expressed through the verbs couched in ‘vidhiliṅ’[3] and other forms should be taken as authoritative and the rest as aids to it. Such verbs have an innate power of urging the hearer to do the sacrifice. This is called ‘bhāvanā’. The urge contained in the Vedic words is known as ‘śābdi- bhāvanā’.[4] On hearing it, the person who hears it, gets the urge to perform it. This secondary urge is named ‘ārthībhāvanā’.[5] All this depends upon the correct understanding and interpretation of the Vedic sentences. For this, the Mīmānsā gives six steps:

  1. Upakrama - beginning
  2. Upasanhāra - concluding
  3. Abhyāsa - repetition for the sake of emphasis
  4. Apurvatā - not being known earlier by any other means
  5. Phala - utility
  6. Arthavāda - mere eulogy
  7. Upapatti - logic and reasoning

Once the correct meaning is thus ascertained, the command may be implemented.

Arthāpatti

Arthāpatti means postulation or presumption. It is the necessary supposition of an unperceived fact which alone can explain an anomaly satisfactorily. For instance, if a person is noticed to be getting fat even though he does not eat during the day, it can safely be presumed that he is secretly eating at night! Knowledge obtained by arthāpatti is distinctive since it cannot be got by any other means.

Anupalabdhi

Anupalabdhi means non-perception. It has also been accepted as a source of knowledge since it gives the immediate cognition of the non-existence of an object. If it is found that a jar which had been kept on a table earlier is not perceived now, its non-existence is cognized.


References

  1. Darśanas means the systems of philosophy.
  2. These commands referred here are vidhis.
  3. Vidhiliṅ means the imperative mood as in ‘svargakāmo yajeta,’ ‘One desirous of attaining heaven should sacrifice!’.
  4. It is known as word.
  5. Artha means utility, useful activity.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore