Why Veda? – Epistemology of Indian Darshanas #1

Dakshinamurti Stotram[(007237)20-50-08]
Sri Gurubhyo Namaha

These are quick notes for Brahma Sutra Bhaashya (authored by Sri Shankaracharya) classes that were taught by Swami Paramasukhananda, which I was a student of during 2011-2013. What I feel like recording I record. They are not a substitute for live classes, but done as my cogitation.

For other such short notes, check – https://vairaagya.wordpress.com/tag/brahmasutranotes/

  • Prasad.


A question was raised by a questioner in the previous post :

Now given all of your claims that Upanishad is not simply literature or words of the Veda, but rather the knowledge, then why should we study the Upanishad? Maybe there is another way to get Atma jnaana than studying the Upanishads?

To answer this question, we must enter into a brief study of the epistemology of Indian Shaastras. An understanding of Indian Epistemology is absolutely essential for one who wants to understand the Indian philosophical traditions, right from the Materialist (ChArvAka) to the VedAntA traditions. Epistemology means the

In particular, the following terms will be defined with examples.

  1. Knowledge
  2.  Valid knowledge
  3. Erroneous Knowledge
  4. Means of valid knowledge

In the light of our concern about the VedA, one may similarly ask the question, “Is there any truth in what the VedA reveals?”. The Vedic tradition holds it to be so, however it is not trivial ‘faith in the book’, but a carefully thought about statement based on how knowledge is gained by human beings. Therefore we require the study of epistemology, which involves understanding knowledge (both true and erroneous), as well as the various means to arrive at it.

We now begin with Knowledge.

Knowledge (Jnaanam – ज्ञानम्)

Everybody has a rudimentary idea of what knowledge is. It is simply the gain of the process by which one says “I know ___”. What is gained by this process of “knowing” is called Knowledge.

The words “I know” can be replaced by any equivalent word such as “I see“, “I hear”, “I remember“, “I understand”, etc. For the purposes of this series, Knowledge is categorised into three types.

  1. Valid Knowledge (PramA – प्रमा)
  2. Erroneous Knowledge (BhrAnti JnAnam – भ्रान्ति ज्ञानम्)
  3. Remembrance (Smruti – स्मृति)

Remembrance (Smruti – स्मृति) is simply knowledge about something recollected from valid or erroneous knowledge already generated at a previous time. Thus we shall focus on defining and differentiating between Valid Knowledge and Erroneous Knowledge.

Valid Knowledge (PramA – प्रमा): 

PramA-प्रमा (Valid Knowledge) is a type of Knowledge (ज्ञानम्) which satisfies the following three criteria.

  1. anadhigatam – अनधिगतम् (Novelty) : Valid Knowledge revealed through a particular means of knowledge (a term yet to be defined) should reveal something new about the object of knowledge, which is not revealed by any other means of knowledge.
  2.  abAdhitam – अबाधितम् (Non-negatability) : Valid Knowledge should not be negated (refuted) by valid knowledge from the same or from different means of valid knowledge.
  3. phalavat – फलवत् (Utility) : Valid knowledge should be useful.

Among these three criteria, the most important criterion is the second one , abAdhitam – अबाधितम् (Non-negatability) .  For example, consider the following statement – “The apple on the table is round”. This piece of knowledge is novel (अनधिगतम् ) as it is uniquely revealed by the sense of sight [please read the section on Means of knowledge-PramANam to understand more]. Moreover it is also useful (फलवत् ) because with this knowledge, one can approximately identify the round shape as the shape of apples. Most importantly, it stands unnegated (अबाधितम् ) by any other valid knowledge about the apple’s shape. Thus the statement “The apple on the table is round” is PramA or Valid Knowledge.

3. Erroneous Knowledge (BhrAnti JnAnam – भ्रान्ति ज्ञानम्) : 

Now that we have defined what valid knowledge (pramA) is, it is easy to see what Erroneous Knowledge (BhrAnti JnAnam) is.

Erroneous Knowledge is simply that Knowledge (JnAnam) which fails the most important criterion of Valid Knowledge, i.e., Non-negatability (abAdhitam). It is therefore refuted or negated (bAdhitam) by Valid Knowledge (pramA).

It is important to note that any JnAnam can be categorised as BhrAnti (erroneous) only after it has been negated by PramA (Valid Knowledge). For example, the statement “I see a lake” said in the middle of a desert becomes Erroneous Knowledge as soon as the person understands that it was a mirage.

Thus, we have arrived at the following definition of right knowledge in tradition –

“That knowledge which is not supplanted or invalidated by other knowledge is called pramaa or Valid knowledge”

In the next article, we look at the means of valid knowledge (PramANam – प्रमाणम्).



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