Author Topic: pramaaNa - Means of knowledge  (Read 477 times)

Dr. Sadananda

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pramaaNa - Means of knowledge
« on: March 01, 2015, 01:59:23 PM »
pramaaNa - Means of knowledge

      pramaa means valid knowledge and pramaaNa means valid means of knowledge. In contrast to this, there is bhramaa, meaning illusory knowledge. Understanding of the nature of pramaaNa becomes important in Vedanta. The science of knowledge and means of knowledge and the errors in knowledge, etc., constitute the Science of epistemology.
      The knowledge of epistemology helps to understand the ontological aspects, that is the reality of the objects. Our philosophers have done extensive analysis of pramaa and bhramaa. Its importance can be recognized in Vedanta, since it addresses what is real and what is unreal. For example, if I want to know the Brahman, I need a proper means to know Him, as He is not directly visible or whatever is that is directly visible cannot be Him. It becomes important then to know whether the knowledge that I have gained is pramaa, valid, or bhramaa, invalid, or the means for gaining that knowledge, pramaaNa, is appropriate for the task or not. This requires an analysis or understanding of the source and types of errors that can occur in the knowledge to make sure the means of knowledge to know Brahman is error-free. A student of science, for example, learns first about the 'parallax error' before he starts correctly measuring the dimensions of an object. Without that understanding and without applying that understanding in his measurements, his length measurements could be erroneous. Hence the need to study the right means of knowledge, more so for Brahmavidya, which is beyond the human comprehension. In the final analysis a valid knowledge, pramaa, is the one that can not negated by subsequent investigations.

      There are six accepted means of knowledge or pramaaNa - They are pratyaksha, anumaana, arthaapatti, upamaana, anupalabdhi and shabda. Some philosophers reduce these to three, pratyaksha, anumaana and shabda. The other three are considered as parts of anumaana itself. pratyaksha is the direct perception, particularly through sense organs, the five senses and sometime mind is included as the sixth, since mind can imagine things from the past or project things into future which are not directly perceivable in the present place or time. Each sense organ is very specific - eyes are means only to see form and color of an object but not to hear sounds from the object. Likewise each of the indriya-s function within their field of operation. Thus we make a general rule that each pramaaNa is very specific to its field of operation. That which cannot be directly perceived by pratyaksha can be inferred. Hence anumaana becomes an important source of knowledge for objects that cannot be directly perceived. That which is beyond sense input and that which cannot be logically inferred, can only be learned through shabda pramaaNa. An example is the knowledge of heaven or hell. shabda includes shaastra, science or scriptures and sometimes aapta vaakya, statements of the trustworthy. For sanaatana dharma, shruti, which are Veda-s, form the main or ultimate source of shabda pramaaNa. It is believed that Veda-s being apaurushheya (not authored by humans), they are free from the defects associated with human authorship. In a general sense, one can say that they are revelations to the sages who are in contemplation who assimilated them and passed them on to their disciples by word of mouth. Thus they are handed down through generations 'intact' and they are called shruti since they are learned by hearing to the teacher, who heard from his teacher, thus a guru-paramparaa. Brahmasutra relies heavily on anumaana, inference and shabda pramaaNa. We will discuss here a few aspects of anumaana. We may note here that Brahmasutra is not apaurushheya, that is, it is authored by human, that is sage Badarayana to present the coherent theme contained in the shruti. It is still an opinion of an author who is well versed in the scriptures and hence cannot be as valid pramaaNa as the shruti on which it is based. Even when Krishna teaches Bhagavad Gita, He refers to the fact that the teaching is not new but is what the sages have declared in the shrutis - 'R^ishhibhiH bahudhaa giitam..'. pramaaNa therefore is a valid means of knowledge and for brahmavidyaa, shaastras or shabda pramaaNa becomes an ultimate means of knowledge.