A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of vedanta theory of perception and inference: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourteenth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 14 - Vedānta theory of Perception and Inference


Pramāṇa is the means that leads to right knowledge. If memory is intended to be excluded from the definition then pramāṇa is to be defined as the means that leads to such right knowledge as has not already been acquired. Right knowledge (pramā) in Vedānta is the knowledge of an object which has not been found contradicted (abādhitārthaviṣayajñānatva). Except when specially expressed otherwise,pramā is generally considered as being excludent of memory and applies to previously unacquired (anadhigata) and uncontradicted knowledge. Objections are sometimes raised that when we are looking at a thing for a few minutes, the perception of the thing in all the successive moments after the first refers to the image of the thing acquired in the previous moments. To this the reply is that the Vedānta considers that so long as a different mental state does not arise, any mental state is not to be considered as momentary but as remaining ever the same.

So long as we continue to perceive one thing there is no reason to suppose that there has been a series of mental states. So there is no question as to the knowledge of the succeeding moments being referred to the knowledge of the preceding moments, for so long as any mental state has any one thing for its object it is to be considered as having remained unchanged all through the series of moments. There is of course this difference between the same percept of a previous and a later moment following in succession, that fresh elements of time are being perceived as prior and later, though the content of the mental state so far as the object is concerned remains unchanged. This time element is perceived by the senses though the content of the mental state may remain undisturbed.

When I see the same book for two seconds, my mental state representing the book is not changed every second, and hence there can be no such supposition that I am having separate mental states in succession each of which is a repetition of the previous one, for so long as the general content of the mental state remains the same there is no reason for supposing that there has been any change in the mental state. The mental state thus remains the same so long as the content is not changed, but though it remains the same it can note the change in the time elements as extraneous addition. All our uncontradicted knowledge of the objects of the external world should be regarded as right knowledge until the absolute is realized.

When the antahkaraṇa (mind) comes in contact with the external objects through the senses and becomes transformed as it were into their forms, it is said that the antahkaraṇa has been transformed into a state (vṛtti)[2]. As soon as the antahkaraṇa has assumed the shape or form of the object of its knowledge, the ignorance (ajñāna) with reference to that object is removed, and thereupon the steady light of the pure consciousness (cit) shows the object which was so long hidden by ignorance.

The appearance or the perception of an object is thus the self-shining of the cit through a vṛtti of a form resembling an object of knowledge. This therefore pre-supposes that by the action of ajñāna, pure consciousness or being is in a state of diverse kinds of modifications. In spite of the cit underlying all this diversified objective world which is but the transformation of ignorance (ajñāna), the former cannot manifest itself by itself, for the creations being of ignorance they are but sustained by modifications of ignorance. The diversified objects of the world are but transformations of the principle of ajñāna which is neither real nor unreal. It is the nature of ajñāna that it veils its own creations.

Thus on each of the objects created by the ajñāna by its creating (vikṣepd) capacity there is a veil by its veiling (āvarana) capacity. But when any object comes in direct touch with antahkaraṇa through the senses the antahkaraṇa becomes transformed into the form of the object, and this leads to the removal of the veil on that particular ajñāna form—the object, and as the self-shining cit is shining through the particular ajñāna state, we have what is called the perception of the thing. Though there is in reality no such distinction as the inner and the outer yet the ajñāna has created such illusory distinctions as individual souls and the external world of objects the distinctions of time, space, etc. and veiled these forms.

Perception leads to the temporary and the partial breaking of the veil over specific ajñāna forms so that there is a temporary union of the cit as underlying the subject and the object through the broken veil. Perception on the subjective side is thus defined as the union or undifferentiation (abheda) of the subjective consciousness with the objective consciousness comprehending the sensible objects through the specific mental states(tattadindriyayogyaviṣayāvacchinnacaitanyābhinnatvam tattadākāraviṣayāvacchinnajñānasya tattadamśe pratyakṣatvam). This union in perception means that the objective has at that moment no separate existence from the subjective consciousness of the perceiver. The consciousness manifesting through the antahkaraṇa is called jīvasākṣi.

Inference (anumāna), according to Vedānta, is made by our notion of concomitance (vyāptijñāna) between two things, acting through specific past impressions (saṃskāra). Thus when I see smoke on a hill, my previous notion of the concomitance of smoke with fire becomes roused as a subconscious impression, and I infer that there is fire on the hill. My knowledge of the hill and the smoke is by direct perception. The notion of concomitance revived in the subconscious only establishes the connection between the smoke and the fire. The notion of concomitance is generated by the perception of two things together, when no case of the failure of concomitance is known (vyabhicārājñāna) regarding the subject. The notion of concomitance being altogether subjective, the Vedantist does not emphasize the necessity of perceiving the concomitance in a large number of cases (bhūyodarśanam sakṛddarśanam veti viśeṣo nādaraṇīyaḥ). Vedānta is not anxious to establish any material validity for the inference, but only subjective and formal validity.

A single perception of concomitance may in certain cases generate the notion of the concomitance of one thing with another when no contradictory instance is known. It is immaterial with the Vedānta whether this concomitance is experienced in one case or in hundreds of cases. The method of agreement in presence is the only form of concomitance (anvayavyāpti) that the Vedānta allows. So the Vedānta discards all the other kinds of inference that Nyāya supported, viz. anvayavyatireki (by joining agreement in presence with agreement in absence), kevalānvayi (by universal agreement where no test could be applied of agreement in absence) and kevalavyatireki (by universal agreement in absence).

Vedānta advocates three premisses, viz.

  1. pratijña (the hill is fiery);
  2. hetu (because it has smoke)
  3. and dṛṣṭānta (as in the kitchen) instead of the five propositions that Nyāya maintained[3].

Since one case of concomitance is regarded by Vedānta as being sufficient for making an inference it holds that seeing the one case of appearance (silver in the conch-shell) to be false, we can infer that all things (except Brahman) are false (. Brah-mabhinnam sarvam mithyā Brahmabhinnatvāt yedevam tadevam yathā śuktirūpyam). First premiss (pratijñā) all else excepting Brahman is false; second premiss (hetu) since all is different from Brahman; third premiss (dṛṣṭānta) whatever is so is so as the silver in the conch[4].

Footnotes and references:


Dharmarājādhvarīndra and his son Rāmakrsna worked out a complete scheme of the theory of Vedantic perception and inference. This is in complete agreement with the general Vedānta metaphysics. The early Vedantists were more interested in demonstrating the illusory nature of the world of appearance, and did not work out a logical theory. It may be incidentally mentioned that in the theory of inference as worked out by Dharmarājādhvarīndra he was largely indebted to the Mīmāṃsā school of thought. In recognizing arthapatti, upamāna Śabda and anupalabdhi also Dharmarājādhvarīndra accepted the Mīmāṃsā view. The Vedantins, previous to Dharmarā-jādhvarīndra, had also tacitly followed the Mīmāṃsā in these matters.


Vedānta does not regard manas (mind) as a sense (indriya). The same antah-karaṇa, according to its diverse functions, is called manas, buddhi, ahaṃkāra, and citta. In its functions as doubt it is called manas, as originating definite cognitions it is called buddhi. As presenting the notion of an ego in consciousness ahaṃkāra, and as producing memory citta. These four represent the different modifications or states (vṛtti) of the same entity (which in itself is but a special kind of modification of ajñāna as antaḥkaraṇa).


Vedānta would have either pratijñā, hetu and udāharana, or udāharana, upanaya and nigamana, and not all the five of Nyāya, viz. pratijñā, hetu, udāharana, upanaya and nigamana.


Vedantic notions of the Pramāṇa of upamāna, arthāpatti, śabda and anupalabdhi, being similar to the mīmāṃsā view, do not require to be treated here separately.

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