Why Veda? – Epistemology of Indian Darshanas #2

Tandaveshwara (Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ezee123/30146433520 credit Anoop Negi)


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.


Pramaanam – Means of gaining Valid Knowledge.

The previous post looked at the definition of  valid knowledge (pramaa) and erroneous knowledge (bhraanti). By what do we gain valid knowledge? This is now answered.

Means of Valid Knowledge (PramANam – प्रमाणम्):

The process of gaining Valid Knowledge (pramA) constitutes the following four elements.

(a) PramAtA- प्रमाता : The Knower
(b) PramANam – प्रमाणम् : The means of Valid Knowledge (which will be defined shortly)
(c) PramEyam – प्रमेयम् : The Object of Valid Knowledge.
(d) PramA – प्रमा : Valid Knowledge itself

The relationship between the above four constituents of gaining valid knowledge clarifies the definition of a pramANam.

A PramANam-प्रमाणम् is an instrument which when operated properly by a knower (PramAtA-प्रमाता) generates PramA or Valid Knowledge about an object (PramEyam – प्रमेयम्) to which the particular pramANam has access to.

Consider the following examples.

A person (pramAtA) with a normal sense of sight has the ability to possess valid knowledgeabout the form and colour of objects. Thus eyesight is a pramANam for the knowledge of form and colour (pramA) of visible objects (prameyam).
A person who has the ability to apply his mind to logical thought has the ability to know about things which are not directly seen or felt. For example, feeling the heat on the skin in the early morning, one knows that the sun must have risen though one has not seen it yet. In this caseInference acts as a pramANam.
A person who is acquainted a particular language has knowledge about something when one reads something in that language. In this case, words act as pramANam.
The above examples indicate different types of pramANams. The Vedantic tradition lists six categories of such PramANams. They are as follows.

Six types of PramANams:

[1] Pratyaksha PramANam – प्रत्यक्षम् (Direct Perception) : This includes all the primary senses – the Sense of Hearing, Touch, Sight, Taste, and Smell. Broadly they can also be referred to using the common sense organs (Ears, Skin, Eyes, Tongue, and Nose).

However, to be exact the Pratyaksha PramANams are differentiated from the physical organs since the existence of physical organs itself does not guarantee the generation of knowledge about sound etc.

Pratyaksha also includes the Inner-Witness or SAkshi Pratyaksham – साक्षी प्रत्यक्षम् , by which one becomes aware of thoughts and feelings without the operation of any sense organs.

There are four other PramANas which are various forms of Inference.

[2] anumAnam – अनुमानम् (Inference): This PramANa indicates the knowledge gained by inferring about the present from some present event. For example, consider the knowledge gained as follows
“The hill is on fire because smoke is seen arising from it”
Here the pramA (valid knowledge) generated by using inference is that “The hill is on fire”, which is not seen directly. Also, the hill is on fire at the same time as the smoke arising from it is seen, i.e., both are at the present. This characterises anumAnam.

[3] arthApatti – अर्थापत्तिः (Postulation): This is another inference-based PramANam, where there is a time gap between the events observed and the event inferred. For example, a person wakes up in the morning and finds that the streets filled up with water in the morning. Having considered and rejected all other options, he infers that “It must have rained last night”. This knowledge is about an event in the past, but it is inferred through an observation in the present.

[4] UpamAnam – उपमानम् (Comparison) : This is a PramANam by which one learns something about a thing A based on its similarities with a thing B. For example, consider the statement.
” A bison is like a cow ”
Suppose a person has the knowledge gained through Pratyaksham about what a cow is, but does not know what a bison is. Then through the statement “A bison is like a cow”, he/she learns that the bison has a similar shape as the cow and so on.

[5] anupalabdhi – अनुपलब्धिः (Non-cognition) : This PramANam is peculiar in the sense that it is Knowledge gained about an object from its absence rather than presence.

For example, suppose a person A was asked to find out whether the person B is in a room or not. Then person A walks into the room and looks around. Not being able to find “B” (that is, noticing B’s absence), the person A reports “Person B is not available in the room”. Thus person A gains a knowledge about B from person B’s absence.

Finally, there is the sixth and the most important PramANam in the context of the series here, which is known as Shabda.

[6] Shabda – शब्दः (Verbal Testimony) : Shabda PramANam is the means of valid knowledge through spoken or written words.

For example, all one gains valid knowledge through books, newspapers, teachers, etc., through spoken and written words, provided that the language, grammar, context, terminology, etc., are all understood.

This PramANam is uniquely different from the all of the previous ones in the sense that it requires no Pratyaksham on the part of the user to gain knowledge.

For example, consider the case where a person A gains the knowledge of who his/her father is through his/her mother. The mother points out to A that “B is your father”. Person A has no possibility of verifying whether what his/her mother says is 100% true or not . However, since A finds his/her mother a completely trustworthy person, A accepts what she says and gets the knowledge that B is indeed his/her father.

The traditional status of the VedA is that it is a Shabda PramANam. However, it is not an ordinary Shabda PramANam, like the above words spoken by a human being. The next article will further elaborate on the characteristics of Shabda Pramaana, the uniqueness of the VedA’s Shabda PramANyam, and its consequences.


  1. Respected author. Thank you so much for posting this page. Pujya Swami Paramasukhanandaji is now posted in Chennai, and we are indeed blessed to be learning more from him at the Chennai Math. With regards, Serene

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